Learn what to look for and how to perform a correct camera test.
Digital Video Test
Film shoots are sensitive to get together and hard to pull off. You have so many independent factors ranging from the preparation of the actors, the production design, the complicated video lighting, and not to mention preparing the location in general. What this means is that you have to know that your video equipment is going to both work and capture what you want when the time comes. To really make sure this happens you have to have extensive pre-production from the producer and director, but also immediate preparation for the shoot and the equipment you are using. A camera test is important for making sure that you know that your camera is working correctly, how to get the appropriate settings together for your upcoming shoot, and just simply to know where everything is on the camera and how it works. Here are some tips for performing a proper camera test in preparation for your production day.
Digital Video Preparation
A camera test is going to be used at all levels of production. When you first decide on a camera type you are obviously going to want to perform a series of camera tests with the director, director of photography, camera operator, and assistant camera. This is done so that you can try out a few image types, see what you want, and how to get it there. If you are shooting on 16mm film then this is a little bit of an expensive proposition, but you are going to be incredibly tied to running through several test rolls. This is also done so that you know exactly what specifications and treatments you want to request out of the lab where you are having it processed and possibly color corrected. The same is true on digital video and HD, but you do not need to go through as expensive of stock. Instead you want to go through a few image specifications, frame rates, compression rates, formats, and the like so that you know how to make your correct choice. You should go through the full process of capturing or transferring the footage into your non-linear video editing software so that you have a clear idea of what you are dealing with. You may even want to export a test clip from your non-linear video editing software so you know for sure that the image you are seeing is what you will end up with. This is also really a chance for you to check all associated gear that you will be using. Plug in your external monitor and see how the image compares and if you are going to need to use extensive calibration. If you are using a digital storage medium, like a P2 card, then this is your chance to make sure you have the post-production media management workflow down. Check all lenses, mattes, and other attachments that you may need for digital video imaging. All external microphones should be attached, especially if you are using outside pre-amps.
Immediately Before Production
The director of photography, camera operator, and second camera will likely already know the camera inside and out before filming starts. All the relevant settings should be marked down ahead of time so that the camera can be prepared according to the pre-decided specifications. This does not take away the need for a pre-shoot camera test. This is not going to be the same for 16mm film. In the case of motion film you are simply going to want to check over the camera to make sure everything is ready to go. For the digital video or HD camera you will want to shoot a little bit of test footage just to make sure everything is in working order. This is the perfect situation for you to test out the light of the area, get an idea of what kind of light kits and gels may be needed, and get a clear idea if there are sources of sound that may interfere. You will want to create a checklist of different camera settings that you want to go through so that you know everything is up to par. If you are renting a camera from a video equipment rental house then this is going to be extra important as the settings will likely be off and you will have to return them to proper order.