Camera Troubleshooter

In the sections below, I cover the common problems you’ll encounter while using cameras.

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Camera - blurry image+

Do you need glasses or has the camera thrown a wobbly? In this section you'll find solutions for blurry images. I'll look at camera settings and optical issues.

The picture is out of focus / blurry

You are unable to bring the image into focus. The whole or part of the image is out of focus.

Solutions

Check the lens immediately. A loose lens can fall off the camera. Detach it from the camera and re-attach. Make sure it’s securely locked in place. If you’re not sure how the lens attaches, refer to the manual. You can damage the mounting pins or the electrical connectors.

  1. If you’re using autofocus, check if your lens has a limiter for the autofocus range.
  2. If you’re using a viewfinder instead of a screen for monitoring the image, check it’s in focus. There’ll be a diopter wheel on the viewfinder.
  3. If the focus is being controlled remotely by a wired system, unplug and replug the cable. Check that the camera is set to receive focus control from the remote device.
  4. If the focus is being controlled remotely by a wireless system, reset the connection. Start by switching the camera off and on again.
  5. If you’re using a wide angle or telephoto adaptor, make sure it’s attached to the lens correctly.
  6. If the lens requires an active mount, but the camera only has a passive mount, you will not be able to focus the lens. You’ll need one with manual focus control.
  7. Have you changed lenses recently? The current lens could be faulty. Try a different lens to make a comparison.
  8. Make sure the lens and camera are in manual mode. While looking into the lens, turn the various rings and see how the mechanism behaves. Does the lens appear centred in the housing? Do the blades of the aperture appear even? Does is jam or hitch? Does it make noises? Unusual behaviour could be a sign the lens is faulty. Consider having the lens serviced if this is the case.
  9. There are certain situation that might require you to calibrate the back focus (flange focus) on your camera. These are:
    • When you start using a lens adaptor. Refer to the guide that came with it.
    • When you’ve changed the lens mount on your camera.

Depending on your camera, calibration could be a menu option, it might require a mechanical adjustment, or you might need to insert shims. Shims are very thin spacer rings made of metal or plastic. With some cameras you’ll find calibration is only necessary if you use autofocus. If you need to use shims, they should come with a detailed setup guide.

  1. Are you using a vintage lens for the first time? If you’re seeing partial blurring, especially around the edge, this could be a characteristic of the lens or it could be faulty.
  2. Are you shooting with an anamorphic lens for the first time? Partial blurring, especially at the edges of the frame could be a characteristic of the lens.

Picture out of focus at infinity

When used normally the image appears fine. But when you set the lens to infinity, distant objects appear blurred.

Solutions

This is usually caused by using a lens adaptor. Attaching the adaptor shifts the back focus (flange focus).

Focus to infinity, then back it up until the image is in focus.

Slow, smeary picture

Not only does the image appear smeary or blurry on motion, but the speed seems wrong too.

Solutions

The shutter angle is too large or the shutter speed is too slow.

The default shutter angle is around 180º. The default speed is twice the frame rate. For example, if your frame rate is 24 frames per second, then the default shutter speed will be 1/48.

Wobbly picture

The image goes wobbly on fast camera movements.

Solutions

This is the rolling shutter effect, also known as jelly-cam (jello-cam to our North American cousins). Although sensors are improving, you might still see this when shooting with DSLRs and mirrorless cameras.

All you can really do is avoid fast, jerky movements. Play to your camera’s strengths and compensate for its weaknesses. There’s a reason why DSLR advocates used s-l-o-w slider moves in their videos.

Camera - colour+

Don't freak out if the colours look like an explosion in a surrealist's studio. There's usually a reason... and a solution.

Colours are all wrong

All the colours in the image look wrong and completely unnatural.

Solutions

This is most likely the false colour feature. It’s coloured coded to show you different exposure levels across the image. You can deactivate it via the touch screen or menu.

If your camera is the Panasonic EVA1, colours can look strange because you’re able to disable the infrared filter. To solve this issues, reactivate the IR filter from the menu.

Check out my Recommended Camera info for more detail on the Panasonic EVA1’s unique feature.

Colours look unnatural

The picture colours look slightly wrong or unnatural. They might be too orange or too blue. The contrast and saturation (colour intensity) might be off.

Solutions

  1. If you’re very new to filmmaking, you might not know cameras require colour balancing to display correctly. Use your camera’s built-in tools to do this:
    • Perform an auto white balance in the shooting environment with a neutral white or grey card.
    • Or manually adjust the colour temperature and tint settings until the image looks correct.

There are two colour axis you need to correct for. Colour temperature is the blue / orange axis. Tint or CC is the green / magenta axis.

  1. If you’re shooting in Raw or Log and the image looks washed out and desaturated, then you need a preview LUT to normalise the image. A LUT is a preset that changes the colours in the picture. Choose Rec. 709 as your LUT.
  2. If that’s not the issue, then maybe a LUT is causing the problem. One might already be applied to your camera screen or external monitor. You can deactivate it using the touch screen or menu.
  3. Check the contrast and saturation settings on your monitor. For the default positions, you usually set the sliders to the centre.
  4. If you’re using LED or fluorescent lights, they can create a colour cast in the image. This is usually on the green / magenta axis. With an LED light, you might be able to compensate by changing the colour settings. Some LEDs have filter presets built-in. So if the image looks to green, you could add a magenta filter to compensate. Some even have presets for particular cameras.
  5. For a fluorescent light or an LED without colour settings, you’ll need a gel to compensate for the colour cast. To accurately gauge which gel is required, you’ll need a Lumu Power light meter or a spectrometer.

Camera - picture brightness+

Good exposure is an essential part of cinematography. Shooting Log or Raw won't solve all exposure problems, because the sensor has its limits.

If you do shoot Log or Raw, make sure you're monitoring the full dynamic range.

The picture is too dark

The picture is under-exposed. Areas of the image are so dark, detail is lost in the shadows.

Solutions

  1. Is there simply not enough light at the location? You might need film lights to illuminate your scene.
  2. Make sure the camera is in manual mode, so you have full control of the exposure settings.
  3. If your camera has a built-in ND filter, check its setting. Switch it to clear if necessary.
  4. If your camera has a matte box, check for glass filters that might be cutting the light.
  5. Make sure the aperture is open. The more open the aperture, the lower the f-stop. The f-stop will be written on the lens or appear in the camera display.
  6. Check if the ISO has been set too low. ISO is also called EI, Gain and Sensitivity. The typical recommended ISO is 800, but check your camera manual.
    If you camera appears on my Recommended Cameras page, you can check the native ISO by selecting your camera.
  7. Check the shutter settings. If your camera uses shutter angle, the default is around 180º. If you camera uses shutter speed, the default is twice the frame rate.
    For example, if your frame rate is 24 frames per second, then the default shutter speed will be 1/48.

The picture is too bright

The picture is over-exposed. Areas of the image are so bright, detail is lost in the highlights.

Solutions

Check if the ISO has been set too high. ISO is also called EI, Gain and Sensitivity. The typical recommended ISO is 800, but check your camera manual.

If you camera appears on my Recommended Cameras page, you can check the native ISO by selecting your camera.

You might be shooting with a high dynamic range, but viewing as standard dynamic range. This would make the image look blown out. Use a Rec. 709 LUT to normalise the image, or alter the brightness range on your monitor to display the full dynamic range.

Camera - picture noise+

Noise reduction in cameras is improving all the time. And we're seeing innovations such as dual ISO.

But all sensors have their limits. It this section I'll take you through dealing with static and moving noise.

Static noise in the picture

Static noise can appear as bright points of light or a faint pattern over the image.

Solutions

Uneven readout from the sensor causes static noise. Perform a black balance on your camera. This function might also be called ABB or Black Shading.

Moving noise in the image

The whole image is covered in moving grain or video noise.

Solutions

This is usually caused by the ISO being set too high. On some cameras ISO is called EI, Gain or Sensitivity. Here’s how you can reduce noise:

  • If your camera has dual ISO, try switching to the higher one.
  • If it has single ISO, lower the level until the noise is an acceptable level.

Shooting in Log or Raw can make the image look grainy on the preview monitor, but it’s fine once normalised in post. Shoot some tests and see how the pictures look in your editing or colour grading software.

Camera - recording+

I know that feeling. You keep pressing the REC button hoping something will change and the camera will magically start rolling.

Take a deep breath, we're going to find a 100% non-supernatural solution.

Camera card appears full

The media card appears to be full, even after formatting it in the camera.

Solutions

If you’ve used a card in different cameras or audio recorders, the media from the other devices can stay on the card. Formatting it in the camera won’t resolve the issue.

  • Connect the card to a computer, wipe it completely and reformat as exFAT.
  • Format it in the camera to create the media database.

Camera won’t record

You press the record button, but nothing happens.

Solutions

  1. This is usually because the card slot door isn’t closed correctly. Check the door and try recording again.
  2. The camera must have at least one card inserted, otherwise it won’t record.
  3. If you haven’t done so already, format the card in the camera.
  4. Try a different card. If the new card works, put a piece of tape on the faulty card and test is again later.
  5. Check the card isn’t locked. You might see a ‘Card Protected’ warning on the display. Eject the card and check the position of the lock switch.
  6. Sometimes ejecting the card and reinserting can solve the issue.
  7. Do you have more than one type of recording media attached to the camera? If you have an SSD (solid state drive) connected, it might prevent the card slot from working.
  8. If you’ve used the same card in different cameras or audio recorders, the database from the other devices can remain on the card. This confuses the current camera and stops it recording.
    • Connect the card to a computer, completely wipe it and format as exFAT.
    • Format in the camera to create the media database.
  9. If the camera has more than one record button, try a different one.

External Recorder won’t record

Nothing happens when you hit record on the device or you triggering record from the camera.

Solutions

  1. Check the cables between the camera and recorder are plugged correctly.
  2. Try a different cable. If that works, put a piece of tape on the faulty cable and test it again later.
  3. Check the connection point can handle the signal. For example, a single cable carrying a 4K picture should be connected to an HDMI 2.0 or a 12G-SDI input on the recorder.
  4. Reseat the SSD (solid state drive).
  5. Check the SSD has been installed in the caddy correctly.
  6. Check the SSD has been formatted and isn’t full.
  7. Make sure the format settings between the camera and recorder are compatible: resolution, frame rate, bit-depth.
  8. If the record function is triggered from the camera, make sure it’s active. Also make sure the camera timecode is set to Rec Run and not Free Run.

Camera - setup+

When we use a camera for the first time, the global and format settings can be the most confusing things. It's a good idea to keep the camera manual handy, so you can always refer to it.

Unexpected equipment settings

You might find your camera or sound recorder has been setup strangely and you're not sure how to solve the issue. If you rent your camera or borrow it from a college media centre, it's something you could encounter.

Solutions

One solution is to know where the reset option is in the menu. This will set your device back to its factory default.

If you use the same model of camera or recorder regularly, you might be able to create your own preset. Some devices enable you to store your customised settings on a media card. You can load these up every time you use it.

Camera is in wrong language

You've hired or borrowed a camera and discovered it's been set to a foreign language.

Solutions

This is where the camera manual comes in handy. The different menus and settings usually have an icon associated with them. Use the manual to identify the icons for the menu and the setting.

Look for a menu called System or Setup. It might have a wrench as its icon:  

Look for the Language setting, it might have a speech bubble as its icon:  

Camera settings unavailable

There are settings you want to use on the camera, but they are greyed out or locked.

Solutions

Certain camera modes make other settings unavailable. For example, different shooting modes might affect ISO and colour space settings. All cameras have their individual quirks, so you will need to check the user manual.

When choosing format settings, it can be a juggling act. For example, if you choose the highest resolution and highest quality, your frame rate choices will be limited. So if you want to shoot at a higher frame rate, you’ll need to make compromises with resolution or quality.

Camera - various issues+

Here you'll find a collection of camera issues that don't fit into the other categories. I cover some camera settings that beginners might not be familiar with.

The picture is strobing

The picture looks like its strobing and areas of movement look too sharp.

Solutions

It’s likely the shutter angle is too small or the shutter speed is too high. The default shutter angle is around 180º. The default speed is twice the frame rate. For example, if your frame rate is 24 frames per second, then the default shutter speed will be 1/48.

Diagonal lines in picture

There are diagonal lines over some areas of the image.

Solutions

This is the zebra. It’s a feature for showing exposure levels on the image.

You can deactivate it or change the settings in the camera or monitor using the touch screen or menu.

Lines around objects

There are white or coloured lines around some objects or detail in the shot.

Solutions

This is the focus assist tool. It shows you which objects are in focus.

You can deactivate it or change the settings in the camera or monitor. Use the touch screen or go into the menu.

Flicker from screen or lights

There is visible flicker in the shot caused by a TV screen or domestic lighting. It can be banding or flickering over the whole image, or on a screen in the shot.

Solutions

This is less of an issue with modern TV screens and their fast refresh rates. But you still occasionally see this with domestic LED and fluorescent lights. They pulse at the rate of your local power frequency.

Fortunately those lovely RED Camera folks have a Flicker Free Video Calculator. Enter your details and the calculator will suggest shutter angles or shutter speeds to use.