Putting pressure on TV cinematographers

Variable focus in Medium It isn’t easy to be a TV cinematographer these days. The other night I was watching Medium on high definition TV. The pre-titles opening scene was, as usual, one of Alison Dubois’ dreams. Mrs Dubois is the titular Medium, and every week she solves some murder in Phoenix, Arizona, thanks to her ability to communicate with, or at least receive dreams informed by, the dead.

But just as important in the progress of the show is her family: her husband Joe (essentially, a rocket scientist) and her three daughters.

In the episode of interest, Very Merry Maggie, the dream is of her and her family, represented by dolls. Photographing small objects, such as dolls, is difficult to get right. The use of any form of macro lens induces a very limited depth of field, so focus has to be absolutely perfect. Unfortunately, in this episode, the camera-people didn’t quite pull it off. Some of the doll shots were nicely sharp, while others were quite fuzzy. I doubt that you would notice this on a good old-fashioned CRT TV, but with a Runco VX-2000 projector, with its 1,920 by 1,080 pixel resolution ($AUS36,000), fed from a Strong SRT-5490 high definition TV receiver, with a 1,440 by 1,080 pixel high definition digital TV signal, this difference became obvious.

This (shown to the right) isn’t the only example. Quite often live shots exhibit variable focus sharpness. This is most obvious during dialogue, when the camera is switched between the participants. Sometimes I’ve even noticed the camera focus searching, going a little either side of accuracy, before settling on the right setting.

This is something you don’t see in movies. Looks like TV cinematographers are going to have to work a little harder.

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