Achieving Shallow Depth of Field with a Canon HV20 Without a DOF Adaptor

As I've mentioned before, last year I purchased a Canon HV20 that was on clearance (vendors were making way for the newer models). The HV20 was appealing to me on a couple of counts: 1) Amazing quality HD video from a small, compact camera with just enough basic manual controls, and 2) I could attach an old VHS-C camcorder and dub old family videos to DV tape and ingest into my Mac for further editing, enhancement, and archiving.

The HV20 records video in 1080i (interlaced) onto DV tape whereas the newer HV models record 1080p (progressive) to tape or disk (depending on the model). However, the newer models do not have the analog video dubbing capability of the HV20.

It would be nice if the HV20 shot video in progressive mode at 30 fps. If I want that, I'll have to buy a newer HV model. If you select HDV(PF24) and CINE MODE on the HV20, you can get 24p. But the workflow for that is a bit of a hassle. I generally just shoot the video at 1080i.

The small sensor of the HV20 makes it difficult to achieve shots with shallow depth of field - which in my opinion is one of the best techniques of getting a filmic look with video. There are a number of depth-of-field (DOF) adapters available that can be used with the HV20. With a DOF adapter you can attach a fast 35mm lens to the HV20. The image from the 35mm lens is projected onto a ground glass within the adapter. Since the HV20 can focus down almost right up to the front element of it's built-in lens, it's easy to focus on the ground glass and record the projected image. Viola! Beautiful bokeh - shallow depth of field. One of the least expensive adapters on the market comes from Twoneil. Available for Nikon lenses - the Twoneil HD + TwoneilPlus combination DOF adaptor costs a modest $268. Other, more expensive DOF adapters are available from Letus Direct, RedRockMicro, and Cinevate.

Adding a DOF adapter certainly adds to the heft and size of the tiny HV20. Sometimes you just want to carry around a small camera unencumbered.

Can you get shallow depth-of-field with the camera with no DOF adapter?

Well, a couple of weeks ago I was visiting my wife's family in Tiger, Georgia and found myself in a situation where the lighting was beautiful and diffuse and all I had with me was the HV20 and a monopod - no DOF adapter or tripod. As I wandered about the farm and the surrounding woods, I found pockets of beauty everywhere. It would have been a perfect opportunity to use a DOF adapter. But I didn't have one.

Fortunately, the HV20 allows you to shoot in aperture priority mode - so you can open the aperture as wide open as it will go. The diffuse light allowed me to use aperture priority to good effect. Since I was in the open outdoors it was relatively easy to step back from the subject of the video and use the zoom to get close. Using the zoom decreases the depth of field. So, by opening up the aperture wide open, stepping back further from the subject and zooming in, and the happy coincidence of beautiful, diffuse light made for beautiful, near-filmic video - all without the use of a DOF adapter.

Here's a quick edit of the results on Vimeo. The video was ingested and edited into Final Cut Pro. The music is from Patrick O'Hearn's So Flows The Current

VideoCarl Olson