You Took Your Camera Out Of Auto, Now What?

There are hundreds of different cameras out there but most of them have some key components in common. In this lecture, I will go through some terminology for your fancy camera and give you some tips on how to use it. I will use a Panasonic AG-HMC 150 and DSLR as examples.

If you have some extra time, I highly encourage you to check out Pro Video Tips on Lynda. This is free for USF students. Just log in with your USF email.

If you’d like a refresher on videography basics like composition, framing and angles please check out the Photography & Videography Basics lecture. The most important reminders from that lecture:

  • Lead room, head room and the rule of thirds are crucial.
  • Shoot extreme close ups. Then shoot more. And more. Extreme close ups, extreme close ups, extreme close ups. I’ve never told a student their video had too many extreme close ups. Please make me proud by being my first.
  • Once you hit record, don’t touch your zoom.
  • If you really want to move your camera while you’re recording trucking looks a lot more professional than panning or tilting. You don’t need expensive equipment, a towel or skateboard will do the trick.
  • Don’t shoot an interview or standup in the shadow of a tree and don’t over backlight your interviews unless you’re trying to create a silhouette.

Good video needs good lighting so don’t forget to watch the Lighting Tips & Tutorials lecture.

How to use a Panasonic AG-HMC 150

Step 1: Select your filter.

Filters are like sunglasses for your camera lens. You may look super cool wearing sunglasses inside, but your video won’t. If you’re inside, you shouldn’t use a filter. Only use a filter when it’s super sunny outside. Otherwise, you will reduce the quality of your video.

If you’re breaking this rule, do it right. Watch how you can use a combo of filter and reflection to shape light here. I don’t suggest attempting this until you master the rest of the basics so you have more control.

Step 2: Turn on your zebras

Zebra Pattern is a camera feature that overlays some stripes into the image that indicates exposure levels. It shows a striped pattern on the areas that are close to overexposure. If your video is overexposed, there’s too much light coming into your camera. Your video will be too bright and lack detail. Your zebras will guide you in deciding how open or closed your iris should be.

Step 3: Adjust your iris. 

Your camera’s iris kind of works like the iris of your eye. When it’s too sunny, your pupils will get smaller. When it’s dark out, your iris will open your pupils to let in more light so you can see more details. Auto iris works like your eye. But you should control your camera’s iris, so take it out of auto and adjust it to each individual shot.

The only time you want to add gain is when your iris is all the way open, and it’s still not bright enough. Gain will make the image more grainy, but it may be helpful at night when the environment is super dark and you don’t have extra lighting available.

Step 4: White balance

Always white balance before you shoot. The color temperature of lights varies greatly. It’s important to white balance so your camera will display true whites despite if it’s in the sun light, fluorescent lights or studio lights. If your video looks like there’s a blue or red tint, white balance again.

Place a true white card in the area you intend to shoot so the lighting hitting the white card is the same lighting you’re planning on standing in. If you white balance in a shadow, but shoot in the light, your white balance will not be accurate.

Step 5: Focus

The Rock says you need to focus! If your shot is out of focus, it better be on purpose. To make sure your focus is on point, zoom all the way into the person or thing you’re trying to focus on. Then focus. Then zoom out before you hit record.

Rack Focus

A cool technique is called a rack focus, or pull focus. That forces your viewers to focus on one thing, like this man’s face. Then, you adjust the focus so their eyes are drawn to the gun. It’s easier to do this with a longer lens. But you can still create this effect with your Panasonic if you adjust the physical distance between the camera and the item or person you’re focusing on.


The worst feeling is having a great shoot on the beach to come home and find grains of sand on your camera lens. Your video will look bad and your poor camera will not be happy with you.

Beyonce may look amazing in the rain, but your camera lens (and your video) will not. Be extra focused on cleaning your camera lens often if you do shoots on the beach or in the rain.


Extra tips

Shooting a performance or speech under stage lights? Want more examples of how to use zebra? Here’s how to use proper exposure by adjusting your aperture/f-stops.

Cinematic Look

After you’ve mastered the basics, I encourage you to experiment with frame rates to understand how your camera works and to get creative looking video. WARNING: Don’t test this out on an important shoot. Experiment before you commit to shooting something important in a different frame rate so you can learn from your mistakes and not risk ruining all of your crucial footage.

DSLR Camera Tips

DSLR cameras are used for still photography. More videographers are using their DSLR cameras to shoot video because it gives the video a different look. DSLRs work a little differently than the camcorder we just looked at. Here are some videos that may help you understand how to master your DSLR.

More Resources

This tool will help you figure out how your fancy camera actually works

Camera Vocabulary

B&H has a great list in their glossary I encourage you to review. Here are some of the most common terms you should know.


Also known as “Full-HD,” 1080p is a shorthand term for video recorded at 1920 lines of horizontal resolution and 1080 lines of vertical resolution, and optimized for 16:9 format playback. The “p” stands for progressive, which means all of the data is contained in each frame, as opposed to “interlaced” (i), in which the image data is split between two frames in alternating lines of image data.


Similar to 1080p video, the “i” stands for “interlaced,” which differs from 1080p (progressive) video in that each frame contains two fields of data (but typically has double the frame rate). While progressive video is too large for broadcast, 1080i exists primarily for broadcast use, as the lower frame rate allows the signal to be sent over 60 Hz systems. The signal is 60i for NTSC or 50i for PAL.

Anti-Shake (Image Stabilization)

Also known as Image Stabilization (IS), Vibration Reduction (VR), or simply image stabilization, anti-shake technology is a method of reducing the effects of camera movement on the photographic image. Image stabilization can be achieved in the lens or in the camera body. In-camera image stabilization is achieved by mounting the camera sensor on a “floating” micro-geared stage that rapidly shifts the sensor in the opposite direction of the camera’s movement, which effectively cancels out the image movement. With in-camera image stabilization, the benefits of the system can be realized with any attached lens.

The alternative method of canceling camera movement is by employing a gyroscopically driven “floating” element in the rear portion of the lens that rapidly shifts the element in the opposite direction of the camera movement. Needless to say, either process is quite complex and requires extreme high-speed data processing coupled with precision lens/sensor movements to achieve the desired effect.

The ultimate benefit of image stabilization technology is that it enables you to handhold a camera several shutter speeds slower than non-image-stabilization-enabled cameras or lenses. For more on this subject, see the explora article, “Image Stabilization: When to Use it and When to Turn it Off.”


The adjustable opening—or f-stop—of a lens determines how much light passes through the lens on its way to the film plane, or nowadays, to the surface of the camera’s imaging sensor. “Faster” lenses have wider apertures, which in turn allow for faster shutter speeds. The wider the aperture is set, the shallower the depth of field will be in the resulting image.

Wider apertures allow for selective focus, the ability to isolate your subject from background and foreground elements within the frame. Conversely, if you stop the lens aperture down to its smallest openings, you increase the depth of field, or the amount of focus from foreground to background. Generally speaking, most lenses display the highest level of resolving power when set to about three stops down from the widest aperture.

The term “highest level of resolving power” does not mean the greatest level of depth of field. It just means what is in focus cannot be rendered any sharper by that particular lens, regardless of the image’s depth of field.

For more on aperture, see the explora article, “Understanding Aperture.”


The ability of the camera and lens to keep the subject in focus during an exposure. Autofocus can be Continuous, meaning focus is maintained regardless of where it moves within the frame, or Single, meaning the point of focus is locked regardless of where the subject may move. For more on this subject, see the explora article, “How Focus Works.”

AWB (Auto White Balance)

An in-camera function that automatically adjusts the chromatic balance of the scene to a neutral setting, regardless of the color characteristics of the ambient light source. For more on this subject, see White Balance, below, as well as this explora article, “Understanding White Balance and Color Temperature in Digital Images.”

Although AWB generally does an acceptable job of cleaning up the color balance of a scene, there are times when AWB should not be used. Examples of times you should avoid AWB are sunrise and sunset—such scenes would lose their warm qualities with the camera set to AWB. When capturing sunrises and sunsets, the camera should be set to Daylight to maintain the warm tonalities that make dawn and dusk so visually inviting.

Color Temperature

A linear scale for measuring the color of ambient light with warm (yellow) light measured in lower numbers and cool (blue) light measured in higher numbers. Measured in terms of “degrees Kelvin*,” daylight (midday) is approximately 5600K, a candle is approximately 800K, an incandescent lamp is approximately 2800K, a photoflood lamp is 3200 to 3400K, and a midday blue sky is approximately 10,000K. For more on this subject, see the explora article, “Understanding White Balance and Color Temperature in Digital Images.”

Depth of Field (DOF)

Literally, the measure of how much of the background and foreground area before and beyond your subject is in focus. Depth of field can be increased by stopping the lens down to smaller apertures. Conversely, opening the lens to a wider aperture can narrow the depth of field. For more on this subject, see the explora article, “Depth of Field, Part I: The Basics.”

Digital Zoom

Unlike an optical zoom, which is an optically lossless function of the camera’s zoom lens, digital zoom takes the central portion of a digital image and crops into it to achieve the effect of a zoom. This means that the existing data is not enhanced or added to, merely displayed at a lower resolution, thereby giving an illusion of an enlarged image.

DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex)

A single lens reflex (SLR) camera that captures digital images.


Exposure is the phenomenon of light striking the surface of film or a digital imaging sensor. The exposure is determined by the volume of light passing through the lens aperture (f/stop) combined with the duration of the exposure (shutter speed). For more on this subject, see the explora article, “Understanding Aperture.”

The proper exposure, which is best determined using a light meter, can be established in a number of exposure modes including manual, program (automatic), shutter priority, and aperture priority. For more on this subject, see the explora article, “Understanding Camera Shooting/Exposure Modes.”

F-Stop (Aperture)

A term used to describe the aperture, or diaphragm opening of a lens. F-stops are defined numerically:  f/1.4, f/5.6, f/22, etc. Larger, or wider apertures, allow more light to enter the lens, which calls for faster shutter speeds. “Faster” (wider) apertures also allow for selective focus (narrow depth of field), while slower (smaller) apertures allow for greater depth of field. Wider apertures are preferable for portraits, while smaller apertures are preferable for landscapes. For more on this subject, see the explora article, “Understanding Aperture.”


Gain refers to the relationship between the input signal and the output signal of any electronic system. Higher levels of gain amplify the signal, resulting in greater levels of brightness and contrast. Lower levels of gain will darken the image, and soften the contrast. Effectively, gain adjustment affects the sensitivity to light of the CCD or CMOS sensor. In a digital camera, this concept is analogous to the ISO or ASA ratings of silver-halide films.

ISO (International Organization for Standardization)

Film speed rating expressed as a number indicating an image sensor’s (or film’s) sensitivity to light. The higher the number, the more sensitive and faster the sensor (or film) is. Although traditional cameras don’t have a specific ISO rating, digital cameras do as a way to calibrate their sensitivity to light. ISO is equivalent to the older ASA.

Most digital cameras have native (basic) ISO ratings of about 100, but can be “extended” far beyond this base rating in order to capture sharp imagery under lower lighting conditions. When shooting at extended ISO levels, image quality begins to suffer in terms of sharpness levels, noise, contrast, and added “graininess.”


A data-compression technique that can reduce the detail of a digital image file. Most video compression techniques utilize lossy compression. See non-lossy or lossless.

Racking Focus

Racking focus is the technique of directing the attention of the viewer of video footage by shifting the focus of the lens from a subject in the foreground to a subject in the background, or vice versa.

SD Card (Secure Digital)

Far smaller than CompactFlash (CF) cards, Secure Digital memory cards have enabled camera manufacturers to further reduce the size of digital cameras. They are also commonly found in cell phones, PDAs and other small electronic devices that incorporate removable memory. Newer-generation (and faster) SD cards include SDHC and SDXC memory cards.


A mechanism in the camera that controls the duration of light transmitted to the film or sensor. Leaf-shutter lenses, which include most view camera lenses and many medium-format lenses, contain their own proprietary shutters.

Shutter speed

The length of time the shutter remains open when the shutter release is activated, most commonly expressed in fractions or multiples of a second.

White Balance

The camera’s ability to correct color cast or tint under different lighting conditions including daylight, indoor, fluorescent lighting, and electronic flash. Also known as “WB,” many cameras offer an Auto WB mode that is usually—but not always—quite accurate.

Published by JeanetteAbrahamsen

I am an instructional designer and TV news instructor at the University of South Florida. My passion for innovating learning led me to pursue my PhD in Curriculum and Instruction with a concentration in Instructional Technology. I love creating media to enhance eLearning and foster online engagement. I teach students to create multimedia stories for broadcast, web and social media platforms. I lead the Florida Focus class where students produce daily news shows that air on Tampa's PBS station. My reporting classes collaborated with Tampa's NPR station to produce award-winning stories. I am an Emmy Award-winning journalist. I produced thousands of hours of TV news in some of America's largest media markets at Tampa's NBC station, San Diego's ABC station and the San Diego Union-Tribune. I also produced immersive 360-degree virtual tours at the University of South Florida and reported for Hashtag Our Stories.

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