Supplementary instructions for Canon Optura

This very well thought out camera is capable of high quality video and stills. The design and instruction book tend toward a hand held, "point and shoot" operation. To realize the full potential of this camera a tripod and other more professional techniques are necessary. I have ignored the "bells and whistle" not useful in professional shooting.

This is supplementary instruction book to read along with the well-written book supplied with the camera. Terms in CAPS are terms from the instruction book.

There are a few terms that may be confusing.

When the book says MOVIE it means video. PHOTO means still photo.

LENS ANGLE AND PICTURE ANGLE mean focal length and size of shot the lens includes, not the relationship of camera and subject. TV PROGRAM has nothing to do with TV sets or TV programs. I will use "tele" to mean telephoto and "wide" to mean wide angle.

8. Be sure to wait for the camera to finish any operation before removing the battery or power.

9. BATTERIES: Use a full battery or use the power supply when recording a long program. Use partly used tapes and batteries for stock shots and cut-a-ways.

Number the back of batteries and turn used batteries over in your bag.

Before removing batteries or power, listen for the motors inside to stop while the camera finish a cycle.

Make sure that the room light switch doesn't turn off the plug for your battery chargers.

10. Why remove cassette and battery?

13. Use cleaning cassette when? LP mode quality?

14. The camera will focus much closer as you zoom wider.

The OPTICAL ZOOM is approx. 5 mm to 73 mm. or equivalent to 40 to 400 mm on a still camera. The DIGITAL ZOOM uses less of the recording chip's image areas and therefore provides lower resolution.

To estimate if you are close enough for a maximum optical or digital zoom shot, use your finger's width held at arms length as a guide. Two fingers held at my arms length is equal to optical tele zoom frame height @ 73 mm. One finger for max. Digital zoom. Calibrate your own fingers and arm.

This camera will not focus closer than 30 inches at full tele. Get close and wider for close-ups. Use your tripod! Camera shake is reduced with wide-angle settings.

Do Not leave lens on tele after a shot. The auto focus might not work and it will be difficult to find your subject especially if your viewfinder is tilted up. Zoom wider before you shut down by turning the standby lever to lock.

15. COLOR VIEWFINDER AND LCD SCREEN. These are useful to check exposure and color balance but their resolution is much less than the camera is recording. This is especially evident on wide-angle lens settings. Your eye has to be carefully centered to judge the image for correct exposure and color balance (white balance).

To test how your eye position effects the apparent image, shift your eye position from top left to lower right. The brightness should be the same, but the brightness and color changes a lot when the eye is shifted lower left to top right. Practice looking at the center of the viewfinders.

16. Watch the second row of SCREEN DISPLAY in the upper right of the viewfinder and LCD screen for time code numbers. If they ever say 00-00-00 and not numbers except at the beginning of a tape you are on blank tape and must rewind to already recorded tape or you will have a problem in editing and reading the amount of recorded tape. The counter starts over if it starts on blank tape.

Play back tape occasionally to check for noise, good sound and images. After checking tape, DO NOT leave any blank tape. Record over the end of the last shot. To give a little buffer, you can record a throw-a-way photo at the end of critical material and restart in the middle of the photo and not risk blank tape.

22. These tips are pretty good as far as they go, but we will get much deeper in composition and camera operation as we proceed. For moves on a tripod, turn the image stabilizer off!

Telephoto pans are very difficult without an expensive tripod head and heavy legs. Off set zooms toward a side or corner are better than straight in zooms.

If you expect a wide angle/close shot while waiting for camera to turn on, zoom wide while waiting.

23. PICTURE ANGLE = LENS ANGLE = focal length, not the relationship between objects in the frame to the camera. Yes, shooting different size images is necessary, but not by just zooming in. We will get into this more later in composition.

24. The IMAGE STABILIZER is a great device to get a shot that would not be possible otherwise, BUT it does not replace a tripod for carefully controlling the camera. In many situations, such as traveling in a vehicle, a solid PHOTO image for 6 seconds or 30 FPS stills are better than an unusable shaky VIDEO images.

25. Practice accessing the MENU and making changes. Check periodically to see what settings you have chosen.

28. Turn the TALLY LAMP off if you don't want people to know the camera is recording.

29. It seems to be not possible to record time code and other information on the image when not intended, a great feature. They are accessible during playback.

30. DATA CODE display is valuable to know what your camera is doing for exposure, but gain information is not accessible. A pouch for the controller is helpful for easy access or a slot in your bag.

31. middle. "If you want to change the still picture" applies only to focus, zoom position and exposure. A change in composition that doesn't need any of those changes can be recorded by just pushing the record down all the way. (Different than operation of the Sony VX 1000.) Learn to "squeeze-off" (push gently) shots to avoid camera shake in photos and at the beginning and end of movie recordings.

PHOTO MODE records 6 sec. of sound while the camera is recording the shot to tape. Keep the camera stable if you want this sound usable. You can also make audio notes during this time.

After the camera has recorded the photo for 6 seconds, reset the lens to wide angle and return the program to "easy program" to be ready for a next video opportunity. The return to wide angle is important because it will be harder to find your subject at tele and the auto focus will have a difficult time "locking in focus". It is also more difficult to find objects when the viewfinder or LCD finder is tilted up.

If the shot was wide angle, it is OK to turn the PHOTO-MOVIE switch to LOCK before the camera has recorded the PHOTO for 6 seconds. If you don't want the sound recorded, you can put the camera in you bag while it is recording the photo. A reason to keep the camera in position while recording is to record usable sound during that time. You can also make verbal notes if the sound is not usable.

If you want usable background sound for editing, longer takes of good sound is needed. Don't be stingy. (More later.)

45. The ability to use speedlight flash (only certain Canon models) is a great feature.

33. If the "movie mode" menu is set to "Pro Scan", all programs will record in pro scan EXCEPT "easy recording". If you are alternating between photo (stills) and movie (stills), I suggest using the easy program for movie and TV program for photos. This avoids "field slippage"= strobbing on your movie shots. We will get into what is and is not acceptable in pro scan movie shots later.

Freezing a frame of non-pro scan "movie" image will not have the quality of a frozen frame shot in pro scan. You can't play back a non-pro scan image with pro scan to fix the image. You get one or the other.

Again: Pro scan for 30 FPS photos in TV mode and "Easy Recording for movie.

If you are shooting all video, turn off pro scan.

34. Don't leave any blank tape after viewing with "rewind search" or VTR mode. If your time code line (top right) says __ __ __ the camera is parked on blank tape. Rewind back onto recorded tape. If you have finished a shot and don't want too risk loosing any of the shot, record a throw-a-way photo before viewing the tape that you can stop in the middle of.

After viewing shots, return camera to expected program and modes.

35. If "pro scan" is set in the menu, all programs EXCEPT easy recording will be in pro scan. I suggest using only "easy recording" program for video ("movie") and TV program for photos until you are very acquainted with the camera.

36. "Sand and snow" and "spot light" are useful programs, but I suggest that you learn manual exposure control (pg.46) and make all adjustments by eye. For point and shoot and no thinking these two programs are useful. Sand and snow over exposes one stop, spotlight two stops under.

37. The TV PROGRAM along with PRO SCAN is a very powerful tool. Slow shutter speeds under low light situations allow increased color saturation and reduction of gain (noise in the image). It comes at a price. Unless you want a MTV smearing effect, the camera has to be stable on a tripod or held very carefully to get sharp images.

37. Bottom "Image quality may suffer slightly" means if the camera is not stable. The auto focus will work if the camera is stable and wide enough to lock on. (More about auto focus later.)

ADJUSTABLE LOW SHUTTER SPEEDS. This camera will receive information for less than 1/60 second (down to 1/8 sec.) and play it back at 30 frames per second along with real time sound. This was a feature only available shooting film at a slow speed and doing a complicated film to video transfer. This feature is used on MTV and TV commercials. This feature also allows better images in low light situations. (See section on Low Light Conditions.)


As the light level decreases, the camera compensates by opening the iris completely wide, and it warns you to switch the ND filter switched OFF and last the gain is automatically increased. At lower levels you DO NOT see any indication of gain increase in the viewfinder. You have to go to manual exposure mode to see if the camera has increased the gain. For the best image quality try to keep the gain at no more than -3 db. (-6db, -9db to -18db are increased gain to be avoided.) Gain increase increases noise and loss of color saturation.

If there is little motion in the shot and you can tolerate blur, reduce the shutter speed so that the gain is back to "0" or -3db. The camera will have to be on a tripod or some kind of support or you will defeat the purpose of better image quality with blur. The slow shutter gives results just like a still camera. In wide-angle settings the lens has a faster maximum f-stop and will also give you a better image.

In bright light conditions 30 FPS photos can be made by increasing the shutter speed as high as light conditions allow and you to record MOVIES. Each frame will be very sharp and capturable as a still photo. The advantage is you will have the choice of 30 frames each second instead of one 6 second shot.

38. The f-stop reading in the viewfinder will flash if the camera is no longer able to control exposure with f-stop adjustments.

40. FADES can be done with complete control in editing if needed, but if done "in camera", you are stuck with them. I would avoid this feature for now.

43. Sound recording "slightly better than CD" is a joke. The camera probably can record CD quality, but the microphones built into a noisy camera just won't capture CD quality sound even if the camera will record it. Accessory microphones will improve sound recording with this camera, but being limited to automatic recording and unbalanced inputs, this camera suffers here.

Headphones are important to monitor what you are getting.

The WINDSCREEN is only low frequency cut-off that lowers the sound quality.

AUTO/MANUAL AUDIO. The camera does quite well on auto, but compresses the audio reducing the dynamic range and automatically adjusts for different sound levels. This causes the audio gain (recording level) to increase during quiet pauses to hear the camera motors and unwanted distant sounds. The camera increases gain after about 4 sec. of quiet and continues increasing for 4 seconds more. You can test this by talking and then listening with headphones. The camera instantly reduces gain when a louder sound resumes.

This camera will work very well with Dynamic Cardioid Microphones held close to the mouth, news interview style. Seeing the mic. on camera is usually acceptable under these conditions. Getting the mic. a few inches from the mouth will provide reasonable sound even in noisy locations. A lavaliere mic. 8 inches away on the chest will not be nearly as good.

45. A great feature. The Canon Speedlite 380 EX has no advantages usable over the 220 EX. It may be a bit more powerful, but is much larger and costs more. If you would use the 380 EX on other Canon still cameras, you might consider it.

For more creative lighting, the extension cable and some diffusion would help for close ups.

46. ADJUSTING EXPOSURE MANUALLY is an important feature to learn to make exposure corrections in difficult lighting situations.

This camera adjusts exposure four ways.

1. With an auto/manual iris from f 1.8 to f 32.

2. Auto gain increase up to 18 db? . which degrades the image.

3. With manual adjustable shutter speeds. (Auto on PHOTO MODE)

4. With automatic shutter speed adjustments.

This camera will automatically adjust for good exposure under most conditions, but manual control under low light conditions can reduce noise and increase image saturation. As the light level decreases, the iris opens all the way and the gain is automatically increased with no indication in the viewfinder.

Maximum F-STOP is 1.8 to 3.2 The F-number increases (less light) on telephoto. This is common with video lenses and is compensated for by auto exposure. This is noticeable under low light situations in MANUAL EXPOSURE MODE as you zoom in to tele the image gets darker. In low light use wide angle if possible to use the larger F Stops.

47. FLEXIZONE is useful for MOVIE, but is not available for PHOTO.

The AUTO FOCUS works very well but will have a problem with an out of focus image on telephoto if you left the zoom on a TELE for a previous shot. Auto focus also has problems with low detail subjects, no horizontal detail and low light. Manual focus is useful when a subject is moving side to side in the frame and the camera gets focus information from undesired objects in the center. On wide angle, it is impossible to see focus in the LCD finder. The manual focusing ring doesn't work on auto focus.

MANUAL FOCUSING. A small rotation of the focus wheel at WIDE ANGLE positions results in a large focus distance change and the same rotation of the focus ring in the TELE position results in a smaller change in focus distance. This is just like different fixed focus still camera lenses, but not like most pro. zoom lenses. This means that you can't use the same focus rotation adjustments at different focal lengths. If you zoom in to focus (standard procedure) then zoom back, the focus will hold, but the same rotation of the focus ring will NOT give the same change of focus distance. Use the auto focus whenever conditions are favorable.

DEPTH OF FIELD. At 5mm and even a wide-open iris at f 1.8, the camera has a great depth of field. This means you can zoom wide and get a sharp image without re-focusing. Zoom in, focus on a distant object, zoom back to a wide angle, * lock focus and shoot. You will probably see no difference in the viewfinder.

The focus wheel changes focus distance slower at TELE than at WIDE. If you manually change focus while cam is off it will remain on the last setting before turning camera off.

48. The MANUAL FOCUS works, but I suggest using the auto focus whenever possible because it works so well. 1. The manual focus will focus "beyond infinity" so you can't set it at infinity, which with wide-angle depth of field puts almost everything in focus. 2. It is difficult to see focus, especially on wide angle, on the LCD finders.

Fortunately you can zoom in, focus and reset your wider frame size. Just don't change the focus adjustment because it will not function as most zoom lenses do. At wide angle a small adjustment will cause a large focus distance change and at telephoto the same adjustment will make a much smaller focus distance change. The rotary wheel is not the easiest to use.

Under unfavorable focus conditions (pg.63) you can usually find enough detail to get the autofocus to lock in. Then you can turn auto focus off and shoot as long as the subject keeps within a reasonable range from the camera.

49. White balance. How these cameras know what to do is a mystery to me.

Set White Bal under mixed light (Daylight and/or Fluorescent and/or Incandescent (light globes)

Set white bal with white paper or pure white painted wall in the SAME LIGHT as on the face of your subject. Adjust the color balance for the dominant light on a person's face and not for light on the background or edge light on the person which can be off color.

You can change manual WHITE BALANCE during recording if the color of light changes by pressing the balance button under WHT BAL button. On AUTO it will adjust on its own in a few seconds.

50. Green plants and especially forests can be a problem with both exposure and color balance. Most of the time you can underexpose about a stop (-x) on the exposure wheel and get good results. White card or white object white balance is wise.

Why they think close-ups are problem, I don't know. Saturated flowers might be a problem.


The Canon supplied batteries are good for more than an hour of continuous recording if the image stabilizer and auto focus are off. If you are going to be away from power and have no way to charge batteries, some other arrangements are necessary. One is a portable 12-volt battery and either the Canon CB 900 Car Battery Adapter or an adapter from NRG or Bescor. An 10 amp-hour 12-volt battery with an adapter will run the camera for many hours. The battery weighs more than the camera but this is an answer. Any 12-volt battery will work with the Canon, NRG or Bescor adapter. Motorcycle batteries are available in many places along with chargers. Airline regs and your own safety exclude larger battery air shipment. A short can cause a fire. Motor cycle batteries can leak if tipped, but they will last for many hours. They are also useful for 12-volt lights. Carrying a cigarette lighter socket with lugs and/or alligator clips (color-coded for polarity) is good insurance. Bescor and others are making 8-volt packs and "Smart" chargers that charge at a high rate then trickle finish. ($40.) Cheap chargers take longer and have no way of telling how much charge is in the battery. ($10.)


The two prong "European" plug is standard in much of the world, but many nations have a safety grounding plug that does not allow the simple two prong plug use. You can sometimes get a local adapter Having an USA to two prong adapter is handy.

56. I don't know why they recommend to discharge batteries as recommended for storage, keep the camera on without tape in it.

59. To differentiate between dirt on the front element and in the viewfinder, 1. Change viewfinder focus and watch for dust at a different focus distance than the image pixels. 2. Zoom all the way wide and manually focus as close as possible. You are now seeing focus on the front element. Look at a plain background such as white paper to see dust. As you move the paper away from the lens dust will go out of focus. If the specks stay in focus they are in the viewfinder. Compare with dust seen by focusing the viewfinder. Remember, the viewfinder resolution is much less than what the 3 chips record. The camera will record more flaws that you can see. Keep the lens very clean! Use the same procedure with wide-angle adapters.

63. Find focus and lock it so it doesn't search.

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