The Secret to Better Zoom Shots

By Barry Casson

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In the early days of television the cameras had three lenses mounted on what we call a turret. This turret could be turned around to have the right lens in place for shooting.

The lenses would consist of a wide angle, a standard lens and a telephoto lens.

Now someone comes along and invents the "zoom" lens.  Now I may be wrong but I suspect that this new lens with its variable focal length (this just means that the lens can go from wide angle to telephoto) was made so that you could change the focal length quicker than turning the turret.  Makes sense to me.

Then someone notices that you can even keep shooting while you do this! Ah, ha!! but alas, too late! The cat is out of the bag.   So now we have the "zoom lens".

Now there are some inherent problems with zooming. IN my opinion only Superman should zoom.  Most amateur film and video makers never do a smooth zoom.  This could be because the automatic zoom button on the camera usually gives you little real control over the speed of the zoom.  Professionally we use a device called a "joystick" that has a servo motor attached to the lens barrel that allows you to crawl the zoom or pick another speed, all executed very smoothly.

Zoom shots can be a big problem in editing.  The reason being that the zoom is moving and the shot you cut to or from is more often that not static.  What you get when you cut like this is a jerky edit, (a jump cut on the screen) because the zoom movement stops abruptly at the static shot.

Now here is away around the problem.

When you decide to do a zoom shot the first thing you want to do is zoom slowly rather than quickly.  Start with a wide angle shot of the subject that you are going to zoom into.  Now, (without rolling any tape in the camera), zoom into the subject with the end framing that you want.  When you are framed up, check your focus and make sure it is sharp.  Zoom back to the wide angle setting, (still not rolling any tape).  Take the wide angle shot (rolling tape) and hold for 5 - 7 seconds. When you feel you have enough, zoom slowly into the end shot (that you have already focused) and when you get to this tighter the end shot, hold it for 5 - 7 seconds.

The beauty of this technique is that you have now given yourself choices in editing.  If the zoom shot doesn't work for you, you can simply use the static portion of the wide shot before you started to zoom and simply cut (make the edit) from the wide shot to the close up shot at the end of the zoom.  This way you don't have to use that lousy zoom shot that you wished you could have done more smoothly.  If more people used this technique we, the audience would not have to look at those jerky zoom shots.

"May the Focus Be With You"...Barry

For more video shooting tips, go to and grab your copy of Barry's book, The Video Bible.

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