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Cameras

Can compact cameras zoom during video?

My compact camera won't zoom when I'm filming video. Are there any compacts out there that will?

My digital compact camera has video, but it won't zoom during filming -- very annoying! My son has a Sony T100 that does, but are there any others out there that will zoom during fiming?

Alan

Not being able to zoom during filming of video is more common than you'd think and is rarely the sort of thing you'd check in the shop. The simple answer to your question, Alan, is yes. The Kodak EasyShare Z712 IS is one camera that does zoom during filming.

That said, if you are serious about your videos, your camera's refusal to zoom might actually be a blessing in disguise. Bear in mind that zooming in exaggerates camera shake, so tread carefully if not using a tripod. Also, compacts might not be able to cope with changing focus as you zoom, leading to blurry or distorted pictures.

Stylistically speaking, zooming in and out is something beginners tend to do to try and vary things when pointing a camera at a subject. There is also a tendency to sweep the camera back and forth. What they may not realise is that zooming is not always the best way to vary things.

Next time you watch television or a film, look out for zooming and you won't see it used in an otherwise static shot very often. Instead, things are varied by editing together shots from different angles. Often, the best way is to let the subject speak for itself by keeping it within the frame.

Zooming in and out draws attention to you and your camera rather than the subject, and you will often see zooms used to create a stylised effect. A slow zoom may be used to crank up tension as a particular character fills the screen, while a fast zoom brings a subject to our attention in an exciting way. We still love the legendary crash zoom that introduced John Wayne in John Ford's classic western Stagecoach (1939).

It is also worth noting that zooming and moving the camera create very different effects. When you zoom, the elements in the frame -- such as a person in front of a wall -- get bigger but do not change in relation to each other. The person will fill the frame and the wall be cropped off. But when you physically move the camera -- also known as tracking, or dollying -- towards the person, the relationship between camera, person and wall change.

The difference between zooming and tracking is revealed by the zoom dolly shot, invented by Hitchcock and popularised in Jaws (1975). The camera zooms and tracks at the same time, creating the effect that Roy Scheider's horrified face is filling the frame while the background appears to drop away. This vertiginous shot is often seen in car programmes like Top Gear, when a camera travelling in a moving car zooms in or out on another moving car and causing the background to swoon in or out.

So unless you want to achieve a particular visual effect by movement within the frame, zooming may not be for you. Of course, rules are made to be broken, and the main advantage of small compact cameras and commercial camcorders is their size and portability, so you could always try emulating Martin Scorsese's famous long-take steadicam shot from Goodfellas (1990).

Try moving between 'takes', and editing together a patchwork of multiple angles, close-ups and cut-aways with stylised movement and dynamic zooming. You'll be in Hollywood in no time!