My Wish: SemiAuto Shooting…

… or something that would make your work look better without you doing any extra work…

As a filmmaker I walk into various situations and encounter a lot of gear designed to make our life easier to make movies that people enjoy. And some time ago I started doing some literal film-making with old-as-f**k super8-cameras. And there’s something about them that I like and that probably should be on modern cameras. What is this? Why, I’m glad you asked.


Have you ever been at a friend or family-members home. Even relatives count in this. And you sit there for hours upon hours of footage of people walking and cameras running in bags etc. etc. You know… Boring as heck. But you wait it out because you are too polite to give them lessons in how cameras work.

But there was a time when this didn’t happen. When the reels from your aunts vacation had footage that never where more than three minutes and twenty seconds without cuts. It was the time of suber8-cameras!

Yes, it was grainy and in modern ways ugly looking. But the great part of super8 was that… it was expensive… Reels where 15 meters long and you only had about one or two per vacation because of the cost to buy and develop the strips of film that amounted to a total of 3 minutes and 20 seconds when shot in 18fps.

This meant that filming was kept to a minimum. And the cameras where designed with a fool-proof system. As long as you pressed the button, the film rolled. When you release the button, it stops. And you knew that you shouldn’t film anything for too long because you only have 6 minutes and 40 seconds of film if you bought 2 reels.

Then when video arrived this mechanism of holding the trigger for the whole record duration ended. I guess it was because tape was cheap and it took a while for the gears to get the recording going. And the era of hour-long watching shaky-footage of the ground started.

Then we arrive in hour age and I wonder why we can’t bring this back? As I said, especially for the consumer-point & shooters. Then they WILL know that they are recording. At least while they consciously are holding the record button. I think this would dramatically decrease the amount of boring footage brought home from Thailand and Greece.

But wait… there’s more!

What’s more?

Well. Another thing I hate is more of a pet-peeve. And that is… Auto-exposure wobble. What’s that? Well, consider this example:

You find yourself in a situation that you want to record. That situation is a table where one of your friends is sitting by a window. It’s super-sunny outside and burns out everything of the exterior. You start by filming your other friend that’s sitting in the shadow and the camera adjusts as needed. Everything’s dandy and A-OK. And then you swing over to the window-friend. Your camera throws a fit.

It reads the background as super-bright. Thus adjusting by closing the iris and/or increasing the shutter-speed. And your Caucasian friend turns black as the background get’s the proper exposure. You turn back to the ones in the shadows and it’s pitch black in the image. So it’s adjusted again to an OK image. Back to the window and your friend is leaning from side to side during the story s/he is telling. And therefore the friend is increasing and decreasing the average amount of light hitting the camera. And the camera is desperately trying to get a good exposure by increasing and decreasing the values of exposure. In the end the story is forgotten for the viewer because the auto-exposure has turned the scene in a quiet café into a strobe-lit disco!

Ok, maybe most people wouldn’t react as much as me to a wobbly auto-exposure. But nothing screams amateurish footage more than a wobbly exposure. That and bad sound has killed the professional feel of more movies than my other pet-peeve – blooming vignette’s.

But surely, we can’t expect the average Joe ‘n Jane to waste time with trivialities such as exposure, right? Asking the friend to stop the story while you bring up the histograms and do a white-balance on the waitress blouse? So what’s my solution to this age-old problem? Well, as a matter of fact, both no and yes.

No, we can’t expect everyone to stop while you get your gear together to make a decent exposure when you’re on a regular dinner with your friends who are not at all interested in what it takes to make a shot look good. Heck. I wouldn’t even ask the cameraman for a couple of hours while I try to teach him how the iris and shutter is worked in manual-mode. But…

Yes, there’s a way to get it anyways. And that is, I propose, Semi-Auto exposure!

What I mean with semi-auto is that it indeed is auto. You just press record and let the camera do the thinking as always. But it is semi-auto in the way that a semi-auto rifle only shoots once when you press the trigger. By that I mean that when you press record; the camera does the normal exposure-adjustments automatically, BUT (here’s the sweet part) from there, it goes to manual.

So in the example above, you point your camera towards the friends in the shadow and press record. This engages the auto-functionalities and exposes the image properly. Then it leaves the settings alone. So when you swing over to the one in the window, the camera ignores the over-bright background and keeps the exposure as is. And your window-friend is therefore properly exposed. And no distraction occurs. Of course, if the window-friends face isn’t in the shadow as the other fellows are, then it will be blown out. But at least it will be constant. And you can concentrate on the story and not what’s outside.

This could also be done with the sound-track to get rid of the normal auto-gain that destroys so many soundtracks out there. We could even assign a button for a Push-Auto functionality if we need to re-adjust during recording.

And when I thought of both these features I imagined myself having them both and then realized that I had the features for an ultimate run-n-gun-solution-camera! Perfect for documentaries and TV and the likes where speed is often prioritized over the itty bitty details. A good image now is probably better than a perfect image too late. You point the camera and shoot, the exposure gets in the ball-park and stays stable no matter how many windows you pan over or tunnels of darkness you enter. And when you’re done with the recording you release the button and therefore you’re not wasting memory or tape.

Ok, it’s not a perfect solution, but it’s better. At least in my own humble opinion. Better than something that reminds you of dreary booooooring hours of polite comments of someone that accidentally filmed his big toe for twenty minutes.

See ya!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.