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Interview Focus

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    Interview Focus

    When I was editing interviews I filmed I noticed most of the subjects were soft. I don't do this type of work on a regular basis and even though I set the focus and left it in manual the subject must have moved after. Because I was using 1" sensor camcorder, F/5 apterture, waist up shot, with the subject was roughly 5' away I thought I'd have a wide margin for error. I was even monitoring it on 7" Atomos. I didn't have focus peaking turned on because I was trying concentrate on their expressions and eyes looking directly at the camera and the exposure. I couldn't have left the camera in AF because the client requested the subject be off center.

    I'm thinking when the subject sat down or got up to avoid the boom mic they slide the chair back. I do remember having to readjust the boom mic but it didn't occur to me the chair was moving further away. I also noticed that many subjects were leaning back once the interview started.

    I'm curious for those who do interviews how do you keep the subject in focus especially if your using a large sensor. I was using 1" sensor that's pretty small with a fairly large dof and a fairly small aperture.

    edit: I used an online a dof calculator and was surprised to find I only had 1ft latitude
    Last edited by Peter C.; 06-18-2022, 04:57 PM.

    If you had the right focus system with eye-AF you could have had the subject anywhere.

    In general, this is the main reason I've invested over $25K in AI AF cameras since 2016...the interviews I shoot are shallow and too important to mess up (and before usable AF I missed focus too much shooting on APS-C+ sensors with people rocking back-and-forth).

    I would say 99% of people who shoot interviews with non RED or ARRI cameras use eye-AF from Canon or Sony. It's so simple, so bulletproof. Never, ever fails in regular interview situations (meaning you're not making it difficult for the camera with lights moving around or flashing in the background or something else).

    The big boys and gals without AF usually have 4-5 monitors going (with different people observing) and use all kinds of focus peaking tools to make sure those eyes are in focus no matter what. [RED has an excellent "EDGE" mode which turns the image into a trippy black, cartoon-like display and you can see all of the edges in focus so clearly.]


      I thought about picking up a mirrorless for this type of work. I was even leaning towards a BM 6k pro but I now see without AF and shallower dof I be making harder for myself considering I shoot solo with relatively small monitor. Maybe a C300 (not sure how good the AF is), Sony A73 (although that's FF),... Considering I don't do enough of this work to justify a major expenditure I'll need to be more mindful of the focus and use peaking.


        The a7IV is the best value in the business right now (with AF).

        But you can get a used a6400 for $500. It was Sony's first to have AI eye-AF and it's a 9/10 compared to the 10/10 new ones.

        The quality isn't as good as the a7SIII and company, but it will likely look nicer than your camcorder for the sole reason of tricking brains with more shallow DOF ("ooooo, I love the blurry background!").


          If you’re working alone, (or even with a small crew) modern, eye-tracking AF is a great investment. Nothing comparable. It’s not just the flawlessly in-focus results, it’s also that you get to use your brain for other things while the machine does what it’s better than you at doing.

          I’m no longer staring at peaking inside eyeballs for the duration of an interview (if I’m not doing the interview). I’m still monitoring, but I’m looking at the whole image and somewhat less intensely. I’m more likely to notice if the composition is a bit off (cos the interviewee shifted slightly) or to get an idea for a b-roll shot for later, or for an interview question for now.
          Last edited by Andy9; 06-18-2022, 05:55 PM.


            I agree that eye-tracking AF is a lifesaver for this kind of thing. Personally, I would't say it's flawless, but it's very good indeed. Generally I would check shots before packing the kit away. (Using Canon C70 and R5.)

            A couple of things I would suggest though:

            Get a lens with minimal breathing. Even some of the expensive Canon lenses have bad breathing, because they're designed for stills. So, in a piece to camera, if you move a little, the focus tracks you and the background expands or shrinks. This is made a lot worse if you have stuff near the edge of the frame -- it can pump left and right really badly.

            Second, maybe invest in light. More light will generally help AF. Having said that, I recently tested my R5 by the light of one candle, and even there it held focus better than I would have expected.


              Canon's likely going to eventually get some of this going soon (only the second minute is relevant):


              Of course not the same as using glass that's designed to not do this in the first place, but more than enough to help many of us with the work we're doing (if necessary) and the level we're on.


                Before I starting using AF (or when I'm using the FS7), I would frequently magnify the image on the monitor to check focus, and also rack in and out a bit while magnified to make sure it's still precisely focused. It takes a lot of time and attention to do that and I don't miss it at all

                I think there should be new APS-C cameras coming out from both Sony and Canon that will probably be cheaper than the A7IV. The A7IV also has breathing correction (as I'm sure the new cameras will), so that should eliminate most autofocus-related breathing problems.

                From the river to the sea


                  It's tough to go one man band without AF (I did it for years). It's a natural thing for subjects to move and gesticulate when speaking and asking them to sit still often inhibits them, which is the last thing you want to do. AF has been a life-saver for me as a solo shooter... In lieu of AF I would recommend going with a deeper DOF.
                  Last edited by scorsesefan; 08-07-2022, 04:16 PM.