How to Make Video Look More Like Film

It ain't that easy, especially with consumer camcorders.

I believe the biggest difference between film and video is the sharpness of backgrounds determined by the depth of field. Soft backgrounds behind people give a 3-dimentional look that we are used to on film. Video cameras have much shorter focal length lenses for the same field of view as 35-mm film cameras. It makes it much more difficult to soften backgrounds, especially camcorders with 1/4" video chips and their 4 to 40 mm lenses. The equivalent zoom lens for a 35-mm camera is a 25-250 mm lens. The less depth of field of 2/3 inch chips professional cameras with a 10 to 120 mm lens help some, but there are still problems. Video cameras shoot better images when the lens is not wide open (f-1.4). Film lenses are usually sharp and can be used wide open.

Depth of field is dependent upon only 2 factors. Focal Length and F-Stop. If a 40 mm lens is telephoto on a consumer camcorder but slightly wide angle on a 35 mm movie camera, you have to place the camcorder a long ways away from your subject to get the same depth of field and frame size. When you do this you have a much more difficult time making small composition moves on your tripod and the selection of background is very dependent upon small changes in the camera position. Go outside with your camera and try this to understand what I am talking about.

Finding a camera position with the right background and a place for your talent becomes a challenge if you want a soft background. If you are also directing your talent, being 20 or 30 feet away is not easy. If you are intentionally wanting a candid camera look, placing the camera at a distance is good. Getting the camera far away can relax non-actors.

To shoot at a wider F-stop you can increased the shutter speed on a video camera, but the results can produce objectionable strobing. Neutral density filters in front of the lens are a better solution. (Besides the one build into many professional camera.)

I believe that lighting is a second important factor. Film shooters who understand the limits of video can photograph some very good-looking video images. Video people who learned under the conditions of old tube cameras with contrast limits have to learn how much more freedom the new cameras allow. News people have often lower requirements of "acceptable" quality.

© Copyright 1999-2004 Ron Dexter. All Rights Reserved.