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The 3-CCD Camera Reference Guide - Old Article

Getting The Most Out Of Your 3 CCD Video Camera

Now that you’ve spent your hard earned money on that brand-new 3-Chip wedding camera and your shoulder is aching from that additional ten pounds of weight, you would probably like to see some quality video emitting from it. Like higher resolution. Truer colors. And improved low-light sensitivity. You would think that after spending over six thousand dollars for a video camera, it would come standard with an array of automatic functions that would make the camera’s operation ever simpler than your single-chip Panasonic AG-455 or AG-456.

But there is no auto-focus. No color viewfinder. No digital effects. No backlight button. No built-in titler. Not even a fade control.

So what did you get for all of that money?

You have a camera that does nothing. That is, does nothing but shoot very high quality video. The owner’s manual tells you the names of the fifteen new buttons and switches, but it probably doesn’t tell you what they are for or how to use them. This reference guide will act as a written companion to our instructional video, “The Professional Guide to 3-CCD Cameras.”

The operation procedures that will be described here and on the instructional video apply to virtually any professional 3-Chip camera, whether it be a Sony EVW-300, a JVC X1, X2, X2B, X3, KY-19, KY-27, Panasonic Supercam or WV-F500. WV-F700, Toshiba TSC 100/200 or even an Ikegami docked with a Betacam SP or MII deck.

3- Chip Configuration

3-CCD cameras come in three basic forms, the one-piece camcorder, the two piece “dockable” and the stand-alone camera head configuration.

Cameras such as the JVC X3, X2B and the Panasonic Supercam as typical examples of the one-piece camcorder style. They are usually about 3 pounds lighter than their two-piece dockable counterparts (i.e. KY-27/BR-S422, WV-F565/AG-7450, etc.)

The major advantages of the dockable cameras is that you can remove the ride-along VCR from the back and replace it with a different format (S-VHS, Hi-8, Betacam SP). This allows your camera to be custom configured to the needs of the shoot. A wedding videographer can pull off his or her S-VHS VCR during the week to shoot corporate/industrial jobs on Betacam.

And the stand-alone version is merely a dockable type camera with the VCR removed and replaced with a camera head adapter. This makes the entire camera shorter in length and even though no VCR is attached to record the video signal, the camera adapter sends a variety of video and audio outputs to stand-alone portable VCRs, camera control units (CCUs) or directly into a video switcher for live switching. The optional camera head adapters run about $900 to $1200.

More Power To You

Since the more you spend on professional equipment, the less you get, you’ll have to purchase both an A/C power supply and/or battery charger and camera batteries as optional accessories. All of the major 3-Chip camera manufacturers sell their own brand name of AC power supplies, typically ranging in price from $250 to $500.

Making the power connection between the AC adapter and the camera will require a 4-pin XLR power cord which usually cost about $85 form the camera manufacturer, or about $15 in parts if you make your own. Just remember that pin #4 is positive and pin #1 is negative when you solder your connections.

Camera batteries vary in price from about $75 for a Sony type NP-1 to about $145 for a JVC NB-G1U (both of which will fit in the JVC X1/X2 camcorder and the KY-27/422 combo). Or you can even spend as much as 800 on an Anton-Bauer “brick” battery if you don’t mind the extra weight and you need substantially longer running timers. (Adapter brackets are available for virtually all professional cameras to accommodate the Anton-Bauers.)

Depending on the current draw of the specific camera, running times with a single battery will vary from less than 20 minutes to over an hour and a half. One might even want to consider powering their professional 3-Chip from a battery belt with a power rating of 13.2 to 14 volts (professional cameras can be fed up to 15 volts as the maximum, however, most will stop working once the voltage drops below 11 volts).

Generally, a single power switch will control both the camera section and the recording deck of the 3-Chip camcorder and usually there are three positions on this switch: “Off”, “Save” (camera only), and “On/Standby” (power to both camera and record deck). To conserve power, use the “Save” mode for setting up white balance and other parameters prior to your shoot if you’re on battery power.

A Balance Of Black and White

Though some of the newer 3-Chip camcorders do have provisions for automatic white balance, in order to achieve the most accurate depiction of colors in a given lighting environment, you should manually white balance and black balance your camera for every different lighting condition.

Also, 3-Chip cameras require that one of their three built-in color temperature filters be called up for that specific illumination. The three filters, which are mounted on a rotating turret immediately in front of the CCD devices, are: 560K+ND (neutral density) for outdoors in bright sunlight. 5600K for outdoors in normal sunlight. And 3200K for low-light outdoors or artificial light (indoors or outdoors). Some cameras have additional filter on the turret for special effects (star filter, fog filter, etc.).

To set up your camera for the appropriate lighting conditions, select the proper filter and point your camera at a true white source (a white card, white T-shirt, wall, etc.). Fill the viewfinder with this white source and press the “set-up” on the lower front end of the camera head. First the camera will align it’s black balance and then it will set up it’s white balance.

Generally, it is only necessary to adjust the black balance once during your shooting day, however, you’ll have to change the white balance setting as your lighting conditions change (usually the same switch marked “white balance” nearby). The entire procedure takes about three seconds and the word “completed” will appear in your viewfinder when the camera is satisfied. This particular white balance setting will go into whichever user memory position was selected at the time of the set-up. Typically, two user memory positions are available in addition to a factory preset 3200K position.

Let The View Find Her

Since you are now blessed with a 1.5 inch viewfinder, it’s a good idea to set it up properly. First of all, the diopter adjustment is made by loosening the twist ring around the eyepiece, slide the eyepiece in or out to obtain the clearest image, and then re-tighten the twist ring.

To adjust the viewfinder’s contrast and brightness, call up the color bars on the camera head and turn the brightness knob until the far right color bar is solid black (not dark gray, not saturated black). Now, turn the contrast knob until the far left color bar is true white (not dirty white, not bright white).

The viewfinder’s displays are self-explanatory and they can be directed to show you almost every status of your camera. At the very minimum, you should be displaying the voltage status of your camera’s battery.

There’s A Zebra In My Camera!

You probably don’t carry around a light meter at a wedding like your still photographer counterpart does, so how do you know if you’re over or under exposed?

Under normal lighting conditions, your automatic iris does a reasonable job, but to check if you do have a fairly accurate iris setting, you can call up a feature on your 3-Chip called “Zebra”, named after the zebra-like stripes that appear in your viewfinder over extremely bright objects.

If you shoot weddings, these stripes will almost always appear on the bride’s dress or any other white-colored subject and a good rule of thumb is to not let more than one third of the overall picture be zebra stripped. If so, then you’re probably over-exposed.

Any less than one fifth of the picture with zebra stripes is an indication of under-exposure.

By the way, your “zebra will only appear in the viewfinder. It will not be recorded onto tape.


Three-Chip cameras don’t have one zoom speed. They don’t have two. Or three. They have continuously variable speeds. And to go from powered zoom to manual zoom, you must first flip a small lever on the bottom of the lens to disengage the zoom ring from the servo motor. Attempting to move the manual zoom level while it is still engaged could cause damage to the servo motor.

It should also be noted that you can purchase for your 3-Chip camera’s lens, a tripod handle mounted remote zoom control and a remote focus control, for about $400 to $500 each.

A Gain and A Gain

Located on the forward left side of the camera head is a three-position switch that controls the electronic gain boost. Position #1 is Zero Gain, which means no additional gain is being added to the camera’s imagery. Position #2 is usually +9dB gain, which is typically used if lighting conditions are below par and additional brightness is required to make the picture more viewable.

The trade-off is, however, that the overall picture becomes slightly grainier, the degree of graininess dependent upon the individual camera. Position #3 kicks the camera up to +18dB.

At this point, you’ll be looking at a pretty fuzzy picture, but sometimes that’s what is required to obtain a viewable image under some of the worst lighting conditions.

Some of the newer cameras permit the user to assign different gain boost value to the otherwise +9 and +18 positions, such as +6 and +12, etc. Some cameras allow one of those two positions to be a continuously variable gain (between zero and +18) that is automatically selected by the camera.

The light sensitivity of 3-Chip cameras vary vastly between different brands and models and the rating system for comparing low-light capabilities of a given camera is done by listing it’s F-stop opening under a 2000 lux lighting environment.

The higher the F-stop number, the smaller the iris opening, thus, the better the light sensitivity of that camera. (the X2, the Supercam and most other current cameras boast a sensitivity of F8.0 at 2000 lux.)

Having A Chip On Your Shoulder... Or Three

You will notice a little more heft on your right shoulder, especially after a five hour wedding reception or some ENG style coverage of a car show. You’ll probably be a little sore the next day. Not so much because of the additional weight, but because you haven’t changed your “shouldering” style.

With your AG-455/456, you became accustomed to contorting your body into a quasi question-mark shape in order to steady your camera, which is totally contrary to what your middle and lower back were designed to do.

With the larger 3-chips, you must teach your body to relax, stand straight, and let the weight of the camera plant itself on your shoulder. Don’t arch your back like you used to do.

Like Three Chips Passing In The Night.

Now that the “big three” camera manufacturers (JVC, Sony, Panasonic) are catering to the needs of event and wedding videographers, we should see the appearance of a number of new 3-chip cameras in the future that will probably be competing with the JVC X2B and Panasonic Supercam. Prices will undoubtedly be competitive and additional features will be added to make our life and work substantially easier.

With competition among our colleagues in the same market becoming more fierce, we will have to do whatever possible we can to produce the highest quality wedding videos within our means. And that means removing our cameras as the weak link in our signal path.

Physical size and price tag size may prohibit the acquisition of a 3-chip camera for right now for some. But eventually these monster cameras are going to be as commonplace as the higher-resolution video formats (SVHS, Hi8, Digital) that almost all of us use.

Video production customers are becoming very quality conscious these days and the one piece of video equipment that can make or break the quality of a video is the camera that shoots it. The professional 3-chip video camera, and it’s proper use, is the best way to achieve this quality.

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