What's a Camera Test?

What's a Camera Test?

Veteran DPs (directors of photography) will shoot camera tests in advance of filming a project – trying different lenses and different camera settings to achieve the visual style and effect they want for the film.  Rolling some tape well in advance of your shoot, in one of your locations or somewhere similar and experimenting will give you a huge advantage on the day of the shoot.

This means you won't be burning time experimenting with camera settings, filters, and mics on the actual shoot- just concentrating on getting the framing and performance you want. This will lead to a much more productive, less stressful shooting day and excellent looking and sounding footage that is ideal for your project.

It can give a great boost to the quality of your footage if you can plan to set up in your location the day before, shoot a little test footage with full lights and sound, then review your test footage that night, making a few adjustments the next morning before the actual shoot to make everything perfect. Even if your actual location is not available the day before, just setting up all your gear somewhere similar and shooting some test footage will help prepare you for the shoot.

You are also making sure your camera, mics and all other equipment is in perfect functioning condition. (Stan Smith's tip!)

And, if you pack up right afterwards, it will also ensure you don't forget any gear or accessories you'll need.

Here are some things to keep in mind while shooting camera tests:

  • Where in this location will I put the camera?
  • What time of day works the best in this location (if daylight is a factor)?
  • Should I shoot this project in normal video mode, or a lower frame rate? Should I shoot with normal exposure, or slightly over- or underexposed?
  • What shutter speed will give me the look I want?
  • Should I tweak the sharpness or setup levels on my camcorder up or down for this project?
  • Should I shoot with filters? Which one(s)?
  • Should I use a wide angle lens for a lot of shots?
  • What framing looks better'tighter or wider?
  • Should I use a lot of low or high angles, Dutch angles, or straight on shots?
  • Do I need to rent, borrow, or buy a camera stabilizer so I can get smooth moving shots? How about a jib arm?
  • What microphone and accessories should I use? How should I set my audio levels- manual, or auto?
  • What is the complete list of gear I need to bring to this shoot?

4 Comments

  1. Stan Smith 12 years ago

    The number one reason for camera tests (this cannot be emphasized enough) – Ensuring your camera works properly. Plain and simple. Even if you have no intention of doing a pre-light and shooting tests, you MUST perform a test to validate your cameras ability to function as expected.

  2. Josh Mellicker 12 years ago

    Excellent comment Stan! I will add this to the article and credit you!

  3. Carlos Avila 12 years ago

    Super Guide for a pro or a beginer thanks DVCreators the best idependent filmaker site Congratulations

  4. Sed Sim 8 years ago

    Thank you for the time and energy you’ve put into this article; it has really helped me focus on the important elements of shooting any kind of scene. Keep up the good work!

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