Knight Digital Media Center Multimedia Training

Tutorial: Sony PD 150/170 Video Cameras

By Paul Grabowicz, Ellen Seidler, Vanessa Kaneshiro, Pamela Reynolds

For updates and discussion on this tutorial, visit:
http://kdmc.berkeley.edu/tutorials/vidcams/

Introduction

Digital video cameras store video as digital bits on a mini-DV or micro-MV tape, as opposed to analog cameras that record a continuous signal. It's similar to the difference between an old record album and a CD.

So why use a digital video camera rather than a usually cheaper video camcorder, like an 8 mm Hi-8?

The main reason is that it will be much easier to transfer the video directly into a computer for editing. With traditional tape you'd need a VCR into which to insert the tape, and a capture card to convert the video into a digital format for the computer.

With an analog tape you also lose some quality in the process of converting the tape into a digital format (similar to what happens when you make a photocopy of a photocopy of a print document). But in digital video, each copy is nearly an exact replica, without any significant loss in quality.

Digital video has also brought video editing to the desktop. Older video formats required video editing stations that cost thousands of dollars. Now you can use a desktop or laptop computer to do sophisticated editing, including special effects.

Firewire CableWith a digital video camera you use a cable - usually Firewire - and move the video directly to the computer using video editing software like iMovie or FinalCut Pro for the Mac, or Premiere for the Windows PC.

 So which digital video camera should you buy? The most popular brands are Sony, Canon, JVC and Panasonic. At the UC Berkeley and USC journalism schools we use Sony cameras, but other programs and news organizations use the other brands as well.

The cameras range in price from several hundred to thousands of dollars. For Web video you can definitely get by with the cameras on the lower end of the price spectrum.

But one thing to consider is whether to get a1-chip or 3-chip camera...

One Chip vs. Three Chip

One measure of the video quality of different cameras is whether the camera is 1-chip or 3-chip.

The 1-chip camera uses a single computer chip to process the colors the camera sees. The more expensive 3-chip camera has three separate computer chips. Each chip processes a separate primary colors - red, green or blue. Because of this, the video quality is much better with a 3-chip camera.

The cameras often are labeled as 1 CCD for a 1-chip camera or 3 CCD for a 3-chip camera (CCD stands for "Charge Coupled Device").

One rule of thumb on buying a digital camera:

If you're going to be using the video for a Web site, you can probably get by with a 1-chip camera. The video served up on the Internet right now is still pretty low quality, mainly because it must be compressed so it transmits more quickly. So whatever quality you might gain initially from using a 3-chip rather than a 1-chip camera will be mostly lost when you later have to compress the video for use on the Web.

But if you're planning to also use the video for broadcast (such as in partnership with a television station), then you'll want a 3-chip camera because it produces video that is "broadcast quality". Video taken with a 1-chip camera will look much more like amateur video when broadcast by a TV station.

Once you've picked a camera, you're ready to get started.

Batteries

The first thing you'll need to do is put a battery in the camera.

The newer batteries are called lithium-ion batteries that hold a longer charge. They come in various sizes - one hour, four hour, nine hour, etc. - and the larger the battery the longer the battery life.

On most cameras the battery is inserted into a slot in the rear of the camera by pressing down on a tiny release button and then sliding the battery into the slots or rails (a battery usually has an arrow on the top so you'll know which end to slide in).

You'll usually also have to pull up the viewfinder on top of the camera to make room for the battery to be inserted.

To remove the battery, press the release button and slide the battery upward and out of the slots.

MiniDV Tapes

Most cameras have a compartment on the side that you can open up and then insert a mini-DV tape. There's usually a release button to push, and the cassette compartment will then slowly pop out.

On the Sony TRV900 the release button is blue and labeled Eject, and is on the right rear of the camera.

On the Sony PD150 and PD170 the release button is blue and labeled Eject, and is on the right rear of the camera.

On the Sony TRV11, the release button and tape compartment are on the bottom of the camera.

When the compartment is completely open, insert the mini-DV tape into the compartment, with the window on the tape facing out and the red end with the arrow pointing down.

Then close the compartment by gently pushing it back in.

On the Sony TRV900, PD150 and PD170 there's a button on the side labeled Push to tell you where to place your finger when closing the compartment. The compartment will not close unless you press on the Push button.

Mini-DV tapes are usually good for about an hour of recording (you can set the camera to long-playing mode to double the recording time, but we don't recommend it as that decreases the quality of the video - see the camera menu settings section)

Once you've recorded some video on a tape and you don't plan to record anything more on it, you can lock the tape to avoid recording over it. To do that look for the tiny white tab on the side of the tape and slide it over to lock.

Note: It's good practice to stick with one brand of mini-DV tape, rather than using different brands of tapes on the same camera.

Diifferent chemicals are used in the different brands of tapes, and when different tape brands are used in the same camera the chemicals can mix together and gum up the camera. So if you started out using one brand of tape - such as Sony tapes which we use in our cameras - stick with it for the same camera.

Power Button to Record

On most cameras there's a power dial button - usually on the back of the camera - that you use to select:

Some cameras also have a memory setting, which you use with a memory card to record still images (this isn't the only way to shoot still photos, see the section on shooting still images)

To start recording, you first turn the power dial to the Camera setting. (this is when you can make any of the focus or exposure adjustments we'll be discussing later)

Then press and hold down the red record button, usually on or near the power switch, to begin recording.

On the Sony TRV900 PD150 and PD170, the power dial is on the back of the camera. Press and hold down the tiny green button to turn the dial to the Camera setting (if the dial won't turn, make sure the tiny Lock button is pushed toward the front of the camera to unlock the dial)

Then press the red start/stop record button, which is in the middle of the power dial, to begin recording. Press the start/stop record button again to stop recording.

On the Sony PD150 and PD170, there's an alternate start/stop record button on the top right toward the front of the camera.

Viewing

You can view what you're recording in two ways:

The LCD screen can then be rotated for better viewing.

Note: pulling out the LCD screen will deactivate the viewfinder, so you must use one or the other. The only exception is if you rotate the LCD screen 180 degrees so it is facing toward the front of the camera, in which case the viewfinder may be reactivated for viewing.

Zooming

Most digital video cameras have a rocker switch button you can press to zoom in for a close up shot or zoom out for a wide-angle view.

On the Sony TRV900, PD150 and PD170, the rocker switch zoom button is on the top back of the camera on the right.

Press on the end marked T (for telephoto) to zoom in, or on the end marked W (for wide angle) to zoom out.

Experiment with the zoom button before you start filming. Depending on the camera, you can usually zoom in and out with varying speeds, and this takes a little practice to master!

Focusing

Digital video cameras have a built-in automatic focus feature, and most of them are good enough for doing the vast majority of your shooing.

Still, it is good to learn how to focus the camera manually for those occasions when you'll need it. And if your career plans include being a cameraperson on documentary or feature films, manual focus is the industry standard.

Manual focus is good to use when:

To switch to manual focus, look for the focus button and switch it from Auto to Manual.

Then adjust the focus by turning the large focus ring on the lens toward the front of the camera.

On the Sony TRV900, PD150 and PD170, the focus button is on the left front of the camera. Slide it from Auto to Manual.

The focus ring is the large silver ring on the TRV900 and the large black ring on the PD150 and PD170 on the lens toward the front of the camera.

There is often a third option for the focus button - Infinity. Use that setting to set the focus for a distant background shot, such as of a landscape, or for shooting through glass or wire mesh windows, when the camera will want to focus on the wire or glass rather than the object beyond you're trying to film.

Returning to Automatic Focus

To return to auto focus, just slide the focus switch back from Manual to Auto.

Tip - if you decide to use the manual focus and you're also planning to zoom in and out of a shot, start by zooming all the way in on the main subject of your shot. Then set the manual focus for that shot and zoom back out from there.

This will allow you to zoom in and out while keeping the main subject of your picture in focus at every point between the close-up and a wide-angle shot.

Don't start by zooming all the way out in a wide-angle shot, and using that to set the focus on your subject. This will make the picture blurry when you zoom in.

Exposure and Light

Digital video cameras have built-in automatic exposure, or iris, which is pretty good for most purposes. You usually can just depend on the auto exposure to give you the best lighting (although just as with manual focus, if your career goal is to be a professional cameraperson, it's in your interest to learn how to do manual exposure).

Exceptions to just using auto exposure are if there's very little light and you need to open up the iris on the camera to let in the maximum amount of light, or if the background is too bright (called back lighting), and you need to close the iris to reduce the amount of light.

To manually adjust the exposure, look for the exposure switch button, which usually has three settings:

Set the button to Manual, then adjust the exposure to the level you desire.

Sony TRV900

On the Sony TRV900 the exposure switch button is on the left rear of the camera and is labeled Auto Lock.

To switch to manual exposure, move the switch button to the middle position.

Then press the button on the back of the camera labeled Exposure.

Now open the LCD screen on the side of the camera so you can see a display of the exposure settings.

Use the little Sel/Push Exec dial on the back of the camera just below the Exposure button to increase or decrease the exposure.

Moving the dial toward the + sign on the LCD display increases the exposure and makes the picture lighter, while moving the dial toward the - sign decreases the exposure and makes the picture darker.

When you've selected the exposure you want, move the Auto Lock switch button to the Hold position and shoot your video.

Returning to Automatic Exposure

To return to auto exposure, move the switch button back to the top Auto Lock position.

Sony PD150 and PD170

On the Sony PD150 and PD170 the exposure switch button is on the back of the camera on the left and is labeled Auto Lock.

To switch to manual exposure, move the button to the middle position.

Then on the left side of the camera, just in front of the LCD screen, press the button labeled Iris.

Now open the LCD screen on the side of the camera so you can see a display of the exposure settings.

Use the little dial just in front of the Iris button to increase or decrease the exposure. 

Moving toward the dial toward the + sign on the LCD screen increases the exposure and makes the picture lighter, while moving the dial toward the - sign decreases the exposure and makes the picture darker.

When you've selected the exposure you want, move the Auto Lock switch button to the Hold position and shoot your video.

Returning to Automatic Exposure

To return to auto exposure, move the switch button back to the top Auto Lock position.

White Balance

White balance has to do with differences in color caused by the intensity or "temperature" of the light and how the camera compensates for these differences in color. Sunlight is rarely pure white, but rather takes on different shades, such as a yellow or red tinge at sunrise and sunset, or a blue tinge in a shaded area.

Digital video cameras come with an automatic white balance meter that essentially tells the camera which intensity of the color white is in the picture, and the rest of the colors in the spectrum are adjusted accordingly to make the video look as natural as possible.

But there are cases where a video camera may misconstrue the intensity of the lighting because it is measuring the general intensity of the light it sees through the lens rather than the intensity of the light at the location of the subject of your shot. The result is either a blue or orange tone that makes your entire video tinted the wrong color.

For example, if your camera is in bright light, but the subject of your shot is in the shade, the camera will be reading the light as more yellow in tone, because the camera is in yellowish sunlight. The subject of your shot thus will come out looking slightly blue, because they are actually lit by bluish shade light.

White balance button on back of cameraTo fix this problem, you should hold up a piece of white paper next to the subject of your shot, and then zoom the camera in on that white paper. Then push or select the white balance button on your camera to set the proper white balance at the position of your subject.

The camera essentially is forced to look at a true white color at that point, and then balance the rest of the color spectrum around that true white that it sees.

On the Sony TRV900, PD150 and PD170 the white balance is adjusted by sliding the Auto Lock switch near or on the back of the camera to the middle setting, just like for adjusting exposure. 

Then press the Wht Bal button on the very back of the camera. 

Now open the LCD screen on the side of the camera so you can see a display of the white balance settings.

Below the Wht Bal button is a little Sel/Push Exec control dial you can use to toggle through three settings:

To set your own white balance, use the Sel/Push Exec control dial to toggle to the Manual icon setting.

Aim the camera at a piece of white paper that is next to the subject of your shot and push in the Sel/Push Exec control dial. The manual icon will flash briefly and then stop when the manual white balance setting has been locked in.

Returning to Automatic White Balance

To return to automatic white balance move the Auto Lock switch to Auto Lock.

Audio

Built-in or Shotgun Microphones

If you're using the built-in or shotgun microphone on a camera, the automatic audio settings generally work pretty well, automatically adjusting to the level of sound being recorded.

On the Sony PD150 and PD170 you just need to make sure the camera is set to power the shotgun microphone. To do that, check the audio settings for the microphones on the top left of the camera toward the front. Make sure the Record Channel Select button is set to CH1 (to record the audio to a single channel),the Input Level button is set to Mic and the +48V button (which is the power source for the shotgun microphone) is set to On.

External Microphones

If you're attaching external microphones to the camera, you may want to manually adjust the audio.

If you have a camera that does not come with built-in XLR connectors, we recommend you purchase an audio adapter that attaches to the bottom of the camera and has XLR connectors for attaching microphones. The adapter also has simple dials you can use to manually set the audio input from microphones connected to the adapter.

This is what the audio adapter on a Sony TRV900 looks like, including the dials for manually setting the audio.

If your camera has built-in XLR connectors for microphones, then you'll need to change your camera settings so you can manually adjust the audio. This often is done using the camera menu.

Sony PD150 and PD170

To manually adjust the audio for external microphones on the Sony PD150 and PD170, first you need to set the audio settings for the microphones on the top left of the camera toward the front. Make sure the Record Channel Select button is set to CH1 (this will allow you to record audio on two microphones if you want), the Input Level button is set to Mic, and the +48V button (which is the power source for the microphone) is set to On if you're using the built-in shotgun microphone, or Off if you're using a microphone that has it's own power (such as a Sennheiser handheld mic or Sony lavalier mic - although these two particular microphones will work even if the +48V button is set to On).

Then you need to select and adjust some settings in the camera menu.

First open the LCD screen on the side of the camera.

Press the Menu button on the left side of the camera where the LDC screen compartment is located.

That will display the camera menu settings on the LCD screen.

Use the Sel/Push Exec dial on the bottom back of the camera to scroll through the entries on the menu until you highlight the yellow icon that looks like a tape.

Push in the Sel/Push Exec dial to select that entry.

Now use the Sel/Push Exec dial to scroll through the new entries and highlight the Audio Set entry.

Push in the Sel/Push Exec dial to select that entry.

Use the Sel/Push Exec dial to scroll to and highlight AGC CH1 to allow manual adjustment of the audio level for a mic attached to the input 1 XLR mic cable connector on the right front of the camera.

Push in the Sel/Push Exec dial to select that entry.

Use the Sel/Push Exec dial to scroll to and highlight OFF (which turns off the automatic audio and allows manual adjustment)

Push in the Sel/Push Exec dial to select that entry.

If you're using a second mic on the input 2 XLR mic cable connector on the right front of the camera, and you also want to manually adjust its audio, use the Sel/Push Exec dial to scroll to and highlight AGC CH2. Then repeat the above steps with this second channel to switch off automatic audio and allow manual adjustment.

When you're done setting the channel or channels to manual audio, press the Menu button to clear the LCD screen.

Now on the back of the camera, press the button labeled Audio Level.

This will display on the LCD screen an audio level indicator for CH1/input 1 (and a second indicator for CH2/input2 as well, if you have a second microphone you've set for manual audio adjustment)

Turn the Sel/Push Exec dial to change the audio to the desired level for the CH1/input 1 mic.

If you also want to manually adjust the audio level for a second microphone, push the Sel/Push Exec dial to move to CH2/input 2.

Then turn the Sel/Push Exec dial to change the audio for the CH2/input 2 mic to the desired level.

You can continue to make adjustments to the audio levels on either channel using the Sel/Push Exec dial as described above.

Returning to Automatic Audio

When you're done, you should return the camera to the automatic audio level settings. Otherwise the next time you use the camera you may think you're using automatic audio, when you've actually manually set the audio to a level that isn't appropriate for the new shooting situation.

To return to automatic audio, press the Menu button on the left side of the camera where the LDC screen compartment is located.

That will display the camera menu settings on the LCD screen.

Use the Sel/Push Exec dial on the bottom back of the camera to scroll through the entries on the menu until you highlight the yellow icon that looks like a tape.

Push in the Sel/Push Exec dial to select that entry.

Now use the Sel/Push Exec dial to scroll through the new entries and highlight the Audio Set entry.

Push in the Sel/Push Exec dial to select that entry.

Use the Sel/Push Exec dial to scroll to and highlight AGC CH1 to allow manual adjustment of the audio level for a mic attached to the input 1 XLR mic cable connector on the right front of the camera.

Push in the Sel/Push Exec dial to select that entry.

Use the Sel/Push Exec dial to scroll to and highlight ON (which turns on the automatic audio and allows manual adjustment)

Push in the Sel/Push Exec dial to select that entry.

If you're using a second mic on the input 2 XLR mic cable connector on the right front of the camera, you also need to set that to automatically adjust its audio.

Use the Sel/Push Exec dial to scroll to and highlight AGC CH2. Then repeat the above steps with this second channel to switch on automatic audio.

When you're done setting the channel or channels to automatic audio, press the Menu button to clear the LCD screen.

Finally, you should change the _audio settings for the microphones on the top left of the camera toward the front, so they once again provide power to the built-in shotgun microphone. Make sure the Record Channel Select button is set to CH1 (this will allow you to record audio on two microphones if you want) the Input Level button is set to Mic and the +48V button (which is the power source for the microphone) is set to On (so power is provided to the shotgun mic)

Shooting Still Images

There are several ways to shoot still images with a digital video camera:

To take a picture with the TRV900, PD150 or PD170, first make sure the power button on the back is set to Camera mode (which means you're ready for recording, but you haven't pressed the video record button).

Then press the Photo button and hold it in until the image freezes on the screen. Now press the button in fully to take the still picture.

Camera Menu Items

Video cameras have menus for adjusting settings on the camera.

Before you go out on a shoot, you should check these menu and other settings to make sure everything is set correctly, especially if you're sharing the recorder with others.

After you return from a video session, you should restore any menu settings you've changed, especially if you're sharing the camera with others.

Usually you can access the menu by opening the LCD screen. On the side of the camera you'll see a button labeled Menu.

Press the Menu button and the choices then are displayed on the LCD screen.

On the Sony TRV900, PD150 and PD170, use the Sel/Push Exec dial on the back of the camera to scroll through the menu items. Press the dial to select an entry.

Here are some standard menu settings that you should check/set before shooting:

Besides the menu settings, you also should make sure you're camera is set, at least initially, to auto focus, auto exposure and auto white balance.

For other more advanced menu settings, such as using color bars to check your color balance, or "zebras" to measure lighting, consult your camera's manual (if you're going to make a career out of camera work, you should be skilled in manually setting or adjusting color bars, zebras and audio levels).

Note: You can usually reset all the menu items on a video camera to the factory default settings by using a reset button (although this will also probably erase the any changes you made to the date and time settings for the camera, such as changing to a different time zone, so you'll have to restore those if needed).

To restore the factory defaults for the camera menu items, locate the reset button on the camera and press and hold it in for several seconds.

On the Sony TRV900, PD150 and PD170, you access the reset button by opening the LCD screen. On the side of the camera, look for the tiny reset button toward the bottom.

Use a sharp instrument, such as the tip of a ball-point pen, and press and hold in the reset button for several seconds.

Then you can press the Menu button as described above to customize the menu settings, such as setting the record mode to SP and the audio mode to 16 bit.

You'll also have to re-enter any changes you made to the current date and time, as the date and time are restored to the settings made at the factory when the reset button is pushed.

To do that, press the Menu button and use the Sel/Push Exec dial on the back of the camera to scroll through the menu items to the Clock Set listing, and then change the date and time.

Recharging Batteries

You can recharge your camera battery using the video camera and a power adapter. Or you can purchase a separate battery charger, which is recommended.

To charge a battery using the camera, insert the battery into the camera as you normally would for shooting video. Then plug the end of one cord from the power adaptor into the camera.

On the Sony TRV900, PD150 and PD170, the power adapter cord plugs into the DC IN connector on the bottom rear of the camera (you'll have to unhook the rubber flap to expose the connector).

Plug the end of the other cord from the adaptor into a regular AC outlet. Leave the camera's power switch in the OFF position. The battery will charge.

On most cameras there's a tiny display window where you can check the progress of the charging, both in minutes of battery life now available and with a bar that shows how much the battery has recharged.

On the Sony TRV900 the display window is on the left side toward the top of the camera.

On the Sony PD150 and PD170 the display window is on the left side toward the back of the camera.

Rather than using the camera to recharge your battery, you can buy a separate battery charger that plugs into an AC outlet.

We recommend getting a charger because it saves wear and tear on the camera and allows you to charge one battery while you're out shooting with a second battery.

Chargers often have a display window that tells you the remaining battery life in hours and minutes, which makes it easy to determine what's left in your battery.

About this Tutorial

This tutorial is based on lectures Ellen Seidler gave in multimedia skills classes at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. It was written by Paul Grabowicz and edited by Vanessa Kaneshiro and Pamela Reynolds. Pamela Reynolds also provided illustrations.

Republishing Policy

This content may not be republished in print or digital form without express written permission from KDMC. Please see our Content Redistribution Policy at kdmc.berkeley.edu/license.