Avi Flax

Avi Flax

Hi, I'm a total beginner with video, and I have a project that I'd like to start: interviewing my wife's grandparents about their experiences during the Holocaust.

I thought I'd use my Canon HF100, but during some test shots, my wife's face was a little distorted — it was a little wider than in real life. I'm concerned that there's something about the lens of this camera that's leading to a less-than-natural perspective.

This is beyond the scope of my expertise at this point, but I know I've read that different focal lengths distort proportions in different ways. In still cameras, I've read that a focal length of 80–90mm (35mm equiv) is preferred for "portraits".

Looking at the stats of the HF100, the focal length ranges from 42–514mm (35mm equiv) — which makes me think that I should be able to get a zoom level around 80–90mm, which theoretically, I'd guess, would give me natural results. Since the camera has no precise focal length indicator, however, I'm not sure how to do this, except perhaps by guessing and trial and error, which seems… iffy.

Also, in my test shots, I was zoomed way in… I'd say maybe 350–450mm, guesstimating. Shouldn't the proportions at those focal lengths have been decent?

I did some test shots with my DSLR, with a 50mm lens, which with my APS-C sensor has about an 85mm equivalent — it's supposedly near-perfect as a "portrait lens". Those shots came out nearly perfect — so there's at least *something* to all this focal length stuff. I'm just not sure if there's a problem with the HF100 itself, or how I'm using it.

I'm hoping someone might be able to give me some guidance here, on:

(1) am I thinking accurately about focal lengths?

(2) might the HF100 be capable of achieving accurate, attractive, and natural-looking proportions of interview subjects?

(3) if not, can anyone recommend a good camera for this purpose? I'm thinking perhaps I'll just get a DSLR with video capability, and use my 50mm lens… but I'm not sure if that'll really work well either.

Thanks in advance!
Avi Flax
New York

Duncan Birnie

Duncan Birnie

Were you at all zoomed in when trying with your HF100? If you were on a wide and relatively close to your subject you will have got an unnatural look to it...

Avi Flax

Avi Flax

Hi Duncan, thanks for the help. My first test shot I had the camera about 10 feet from the subject, and zoomed in fairly well, perhaps 75% of the total zoom possible. So it wasn't wide or close.

I just did another test shot, where I moved the camera closer, maybe 4 feet, and used a little less zoom, maybe 10–20%. I think it came out a little better. I was holding the camera by hand, though, so it's hard to tell. I'm going to try to sit it on something (I really need to get a tripod!) and shoot another test.

I guess at this point I'm just kinda confused about what focal length and shooting distance is good for interviews, and provides a natural and flattering sense of proportion. I'm sure I could find all sorts of info on that that's written for still shooting, but I'm uncertain whether it applies to video. If it's all just about optics, I would think so — but I don't really know. If you or anyone could help me understand, if possible, that'd be great.

Thanks!

Duncan Birnie

Duncan Birnie

Just as long as you are not on a wide and don't have the camera up in their face, you should find that your interviewee looks fairly natural. Half of it is to do with lighting, you want to keep it fairly flat and well lit, and at the very least add a backlight to give it some definition.

Purchasing a new camera just for interviews seems a little extreme to me, as I'm sure what you have will be adequate. Of course if it's an excuse to get one anyway, I'd be happy to help with your purchase. ;)

Mike Daly

Mike Daly

I think lighting and audio are really important too. Some softbox lights and a portable audio recorder or mics attached to the camera can really help.

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