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The best way to ensure that your digital video camera is going to perform the way you want it to every time you are in the field is to go through a checklist of various camera functions and settings every time you are about to shoot. This way you can make sure that you did not keep a setting from your last shoot or forgot to do something simple as adjust the white balance.
The first thing you should always do is make sure that the battery is secure in the camera and that the DV tape that you are using is in and completely rewound. If your camera has removable microphones attached to it make sure it is plugged in and is set to the correct channel to record.
Next you should go through all the relevant settings on the camera and make sure they are where you would like them to be for this shoot. Check the shutter speed, aperture, and audio levels to make sure that you are getting the right type of visual light and audio feedback that you wanted. This is where you might need to adjust the aperture depending on how light it is or change the audio levels depending on how loud it is. Then go through and make sure the ND filter and gain are not activated because this could dramatically alter the image.
No matter what you are shooting or where you are, make sure that you adjust white balance on an object of pure white. White balance tells the camera what true white is and how to interpret all the other colors with this setting. Make sure that automatic white balance is off since this is hardly ever a reliable setting.
Make sure to calibrate the focus by zooming into the object that is the farthest away, putting it into focusing, then zooming back to the range of depth you want to be at. Like white balance, this is something you should try to do for every shot to ensure you are never shooting out of focus. Auto focus should not be relied on unless you or the object you are filming, will be moving constantly while you are recording.
Make sure you have the framing options on the camera you prefer. If you are shooting in 16:9 widescreen make sure that is what is selected and that you are not shooting in 4:3 ratio.
Now make sure that the tripod or whatever support device you are using is secure and that the camera is securely fastened to it. If you are planning to move the camera at all by panning or tilting make sure that those locks are not secure so you will be able to rotate and move the camera on the tripod head.
If you go through a mental or written checklist of all these things before you hit the record button, then your shoot will go a lot more smoothly. Make sure the tape and battery are ready to go, all the camera settings are where you want, the white balance and focus calibration are done, the framing options are correct, and that the tripod is secure before you ever press the record button.
Otherwise, you could find out that your image is off-color or out of focus, or worse yet, not even recorded when you are reviewing the tapes.