The Camera Assistant's Manual: 6th Edition (Paperback) book cover

The Camera Assistant's Manual

6th Edition

By David E. Elkins, SOC


596 pages

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Excel as an Assistant Cameraman (AC) in today’s evolving film industry with this updated classic. Learn what to do—and what NOT to do—during production and get the job done right the first time.

The Camera Assistant’s Manual, Sixth Edition covers the basics of cinematography andprovides you with the multi-skill set needed to maintain and transport a camera, troubleshoot common problems on location, prepare for job interviews, and work with the latest film and video technologies. Illustrations, checklists, and tables accompany each chapter and highlight the daily workflow of an AC.

This new edition has been updated to include:

  • A fresh chapter on the entry level camera positions of Camera Trainee/Production Assistant
  • Coverage of emerging iPhone apps that are used by filmmakers and ACs on set
  • An updated companion website offering online tutorials, clips, and techniques that ACs can easily access while on location (
  • All new sample reports and forms including AC time cards, resumé templates, a digital camera report, and a non-prep disclaimer
  • Instruction and custom forms to help freelance filmmakers keep track of daily expenses for tax purposes

The Camera Assistant’s Manual, Sixth Edition is an AC's bible for success and a must-have for anyone looking to prosper in this highly technical and ever-changing profession.


"David Elkins is an elite craftsman who really knows his stuff! The Camera Assistant’s Manual, Sixth Edition contains all of the essential, up-to-date information on how to fulfill the duties of a Camera Assistant with complete professionalism. If you aspire to a career in the camera department, this is a must own book!"
-Randolph Sellars, Director of Photography and Founder at Reel Pro Mentor

"This new edition of The Camera Assistant’s Manual blends technical information with descriptive procedural narration that will help you be in the right place at the right time and perform those duties that are expected of you as a member of a camera crew. If you are an aspiring cinematographer, by all means, put this book at the top of your reading list, and if you’ve been in the business for years, but have not brushed up on the latest procedures, it’s time to review and gain new knowledge!"

-Stan McClain,

"The film industry is finding itself in the most dynamic technical changes in its history, yet David's manual continues to keep up with changing trends. I not only recommend this book to the new Camera Assistant, but anybody who wants a real world understanding of what to expect on-set."
-Jim Roudebush, Panavision Inc.

"Elkins takes the best of the old school–techniques used to craft the best films ever made–and updates them for the digital world. Short of being on a set, this book is a great introduction to the most technically critical job in production."
-Art Adams, cinematographer/educator,

Table of Contents

Preface xvii

Acknowledgments xxi

Introduction xxv

1 Basics of Cinematography 1

Film Formats 1

Single Perf or Double Perf 2

Videotape and Digital Shooting 4

Aspect Ratios 4

Shots and Composition 8

Film Stock 12

Emulsion 13

Base 13

Anti-halation Backing 14

Types of Film 14

Negative Film 14

Reversal Film 14

Film Speed 15

Sync Speed 16

Exposure Time 16

Exposure Meters 17

Color Temperature and Color Balance 19

The Camera 20

Gate 21

Intermittent Movement 21

Pull Down Claw 22

Registration Pin 22

Aperture Plate 23

Pressure Plate 23

Shutter 23

Shutter Angle 24

Inching Knob 25

Viewing System 26

Diopter Adjustment 26

The Lens 27

Primes and Zooms 28

F-stops and T-stops 28

Magazines 30

Motor 30

Batteries 30

Additional Camera Components 31

Sync and MOS 32

Filters 32

Conversion Filters 33

85 Filter 34

80 A Filter 34

Neutral Density Filters 34

Polarizing Filters 35

Combination Filters 35

Optical Flat 35

Diffusion Filters 36

Fog and Double Fog Filters 37

Low-Contrast Filters 38

Soft-Contrast Filters 38

Ultra-Contrast Filters 38

Coral Filters 38

Enhancing Filters 39

Graduated Filters 39

Diopters 39

Filter Manufacturers 40

Camera Mounts 40

Tripods and Spreader 40

High Hat/Low Hat 42

Tripod Heads 42

Fluid Head 42

Gear Head 43

Steadicam 44

Dolly 45

2 The Camera Department 48

Film Productions 48

Director of Photography 49

Preproduction 51

Production 52

Postproduction 52

Camera Operator 52

Preproduction 53

Production 53

First and Second Assistant Cameramen 54

First Assistant Cameraman (1st AC or Focus Puller) 54

Preproduction 54

Production 55

Postproduction 56

Second Assistant Cameraman (2nd AC or Clapper/Loader) 56

Preproduction 56

Production 57

Postproduction 58

Film Loader 58

Preproduction 58

Production 59

Digital Productions 59

Digital Imaging Technician (DIT) 60

Video Controller 60

Camera Utility 61

Digital Utility 62

Digital Loader/Data Manager 62

3 Camera Trainee and Camera Production Assistant (PA) 64

Preproduction 65

Working with the Film Laboratory 66

Obtaining Laboratory Supplies 66

Choosing and Ordering Expendables 66

Preparation of Camera Equipment 66

Preparation of Camera Truck 67

Production 67

Start-of-the-Day Procedures 67

Camera Reports 68

Recording Shot Information 69

Marking Actors 69

Slates and Slating 69

Changing Lenses, Filters, Magazines, and Accessories 70

Using a Video Tap and Monitor 70

Record Keeping and Filing of Paperwork 70

Packing Equipment 71

Tools and Accessories 71

Camera Trainee and PA Tips 71

4 Second Assistant Cameraman (2nd AC) and Film Loader 74

Preproduction 75

Working with the Film Laboratory 76

Obtaining Laboratory Supplies 77

Choosing and Ordering Expendables 78

Preparation of Camera Equipment 79

Preparation of Camera Truck 80

Preparation of Darkroom 81

Production 82

Start-of-the-Day Procedures 83

Setting Up the Camera 84

Organizing Equipment 85

Film Stocks 87

Film Stock Packaging Sizes 89

Camera Reports 90

Recording Shot Information 102

Magazines 104

Loading Magazines 106

Unloading Magazines 115

Using a Changing Bag or Changing Tent 119

Marking Actors and Camera Positions 122

Slates 127

Slating Procedures 132

Changing Lenses, Filters, and Magazines 137

Using a Video Tap and Monitor 140

Preparing Exposed Film for Delivery to the Lab 140

Shipping Film (Exposed and Unexposed) 144

Film, X-Rays, and Carrying Film on Planes 144

Ordering Additional Film Stock 145

Using Short Ends and Recans 147

Storage and Care of Motion Picture Film 148

Unexposed Film 148

Exposed Film 149

Film Inventory and Record of Film Shot 149

Completing Film Inventory Forms 152

Distribution of Reports 170

Record Keeping and Filing of Paperwork 170

Performing the Duties of First Assistant Cameraman 172

Packing Equipment 172

Tools and Accessories 173

2nd AC/Loader Tips 174

Resources 181

Postproduction 181

Wrapping Equipment 182

Working in Digital Video 182

Preproduction 183

Production 184

Setting Up the Camera 185

Camera Reports 185

Magazines 186

Marking Actors 187

Slates and Slating Procedures 187

Moving the Camera and Setting Up the Video Monitor 189

Preparing Media Cards and Hard Drives 189

Ordering Additional Media Cards 190

Storage and Care of Media Cards 190

Videotapes, X-Rays, and Magnetic Fields 190

Tools and Accessories 191

Postproduction 191

Wrapping Equipment 191

Review Checklist for Second Assistant Cameraman

(2nd AC or Clapper/Loader) 192

Preproduction 192

Production 192

Postproduction 193

Review Checklist for Film Loader (Loader) 194

Preproduction 194

Production 194

5 First Assistant Cameraman (1st AC) 195

Preproduction 195

Choosing Camera Equipment 196

Choosing and Ordering Expendables 196

Preparation of Camera Equipment 197

The Rental House 199

Camera Prep Checklist 202

Production 222

Start-of-the-Day Procedures 223

Loading and Unloading Film in the Camera 225

Keeping the Camera Clean 226

Oiling and Lubricating the Camera 226

Setting the Viewfinder Eyepiece 228

Lenses 233

Prime Lenses and Zoom Lenses 234

Checking for Lens Flares 237

Depth of Field 239

F-stops and T-stops 250

Changing Lenses, Filters, and Accessories 253

Focus Measurements and Following Focus 255

Getting Your Marks 261

Focusing Tips 263

Zoom Lens Moves 268

Shooting the Shot 269

Footage Readings 270

Checking the Gate 271

Moving the Camera 273

Performing the Duties of Second Assistant Cameraman 274

End-of-the-Day Procedures 275

Packing Equipment 275

The Walkaway 275

Tools and Accessories 276

Using Computers and Technology 277

1st AC/Focus Puller Tips 280

Resources 290

Postproduction 290

Wrapping Equipment 291

Working in Digital Video 291

Preproduction 292

Choosing and Ordering Expendables 293

The Rental House and Preparation of Camera Equipment 293

Production 293

Setting Up the Camera 294

Loading and Unloading Media Cards into the Digital Camera 295

Swapping Hard Drives 296

Lenses (Primes and Zooms) 296

Checking for Lens Flares 296

Focusing and Depth of Field 296

Moving the Camera 300

White Balancing 300

Tools and Accessories 300

Postproduction 301

Wrapping Equipment 301

Review Checklist for First Assistant Cameraman

(1st AC or Focus Puller) 301

Preproduction 301

Production 302

Postproduction 303

6 Problems and Troubleshooting 304

Camera Problems 306

Camera Will Not Run 306

Camera Does Not Stop When Switched to "Off" 308

Camera Starts and Stops Intermittently 308

Camera Stops While Filming 309

Camera Is Noisy 310

Shutter Does Not Spin (No Flicker Seen through the

Viewfinder) 311

Unable to Thread Film into the Gate Area 311

Camera Door Does Not Close 311

Film Jams in Camera 312

Film Rips or Has Torn Perforations 312

Film Loses Loop 312

Camera Does Not Run at Sync Speed 312

Viewing System Is Blacked Out 313

A Fuse Blows When Connecting Electrical Accessories 313

When Shooting a Television Monitor or

Computer Screen, a Roll Bar Moves through the Screen 314

Magazine Problems 314

Film Cones When Removing from Magazine 314

Film Does Not Take Up 315

Magazine Is Noisy 316

There Are Scratches on the Film 316

Lens-Related Problems 317

Lens Will Not Focus 317

Image Is Fogged When Looking through Viewfinder 319

Zoom Lens Motor Runs Erratically 319

Zoom Lens Does Not Zoom throughout

Its Entire Range of Focal Lengths 319

Lens Flares Are Seen When Looking through the Viewfinder 320

Unable to Adjust F-stop/T-stop 320

Battery Problems 321

Battery Loses Power 321

Battery Will Not Hold Charge 321

Video Assist Problems 321

Image on Video Monitor Is Out of Focus or Is Tilted to the Side 321

There Is No Image on Video Monitor 322

Tripod and Head Problems 322

Tripod Head Does Not Pan or Tilt 322

Tripod Legs Do Not Slide Up or Down 322

Weather and Environmental-Related Problems 323

Shooting in Extreme Cold Weather 323

Shooting in Extreme Heat 323

Filming in or Around Salt Water and Camera and

Magazine Fall into the Water 324

Color Balance/Filter Problems 324

Filters Don’t Fit in Matte Box 324

Shooting Outside Using Tungsten-Balanced Film

Without an 85 Filter 325

Shooting Inside with Tungsten Light Using Daylight-Balanced

Film Without an 80A Filter 325

Developed Image Problems 326

Projected Image Is Shaky or Unsteady 326

Projected Image Is Out of Focus 326

Projected Image Contains Spots or Lines 327

Image Is Not Aligned During the Video Transfer 328

Shooting in Foreign Countries 328

Shooting in Countries Using a Different Electrical System 328

Troubleshooting Tips 328

7 Film Cameras 330

Aaton A-Minima 331

Aaton Xterà and XTR-Prod 332

Aaton 35-III 333

Aaton Penelope 334

Arriflex 16 SR1, 16 SR2, and 16 SR3 335

Arriflex 416 336

Arriflex Arricam Lite (LT) 337

Arriflex Arricam Studio (ST) 340

Arriflex 235 342

Arriflex 535A and 535B 343

Arriflex 435 345

Arriflex 35BL3 and 35BL4 347

Arriflex 35-3 348

Arriflex 765 352

Moviecam Compact and Moviecam Super America 353

Moviecam SL 356

Panavision Panaflex 16 358

Panavision Panaflex Gold and GII 360

Panavision Panaflex Millennium and Millennium XL 362

Panavision Panaflex Platinum 364

Panavision Panastar II 366

Panavision Panaflex 65 367

Panavision 65 mm High Speed 369

Panavision 65 mm Handheld 371

Photo-Sonics Actionmaster 500 372

Photo-Sonics 1VN 373

Photo-Sonics 35-4B/4C 374

Photo-Sonics 35-4E/ER 376

Photo-Sonics 35-4ML 378

8 Before, During, and After the Job 379

Union or Non-Union 379

IATSE and Local 600 381

Joining the Union 382

Before the Job 386

The Résumé and Business Cards 387

Email and Web Sites 392

The Job Interview 393

The Deal Memo 396

During the Job 397

On-Set Etiquette 403

After the Job 404

Invoicing and Time Cards 404

The Next Job 409

Networking 410

The Freelance Filmmaker and Taxes 411

Appendix A Film Stock 419

Appendix B Equipment, Software, and Apps 422

Appendix C Camera Department Checklists,

Production Forms, and Labels 442

Appendix D Tools, Accessories, and Expendables 493

Appendix E Tables and Formulas 518

Recommended Reading 551

Glossary 558

Index 586

About the Author

David E. Elkins, SOC has over 25 years of professional experience as a Camera Operator and First Assistant Cameraman, working on feature films, television series, commercials, music videos, educational films, industrial films and much more. He is an active member of the International Cinematographers Guild Local 600 and Society of Camera Operators.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
PERFORMING ARTS / Film & Video / General

Companion Website

Be sure to visit this book’s companion website, There you will find the following supplementary materials:

  • All forms, labels, and checklists included in Appendix C
  • Selected camera and magazine illustrations and threading diagrams, including some that are not in this edition of the book
  • Links to selected camera manuals
  • Links to cinematography apps for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.
  • Over 300 links to cinematography web sites.
  • Selected tables and formulas from Appendix E