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How to Use a Camcorder (Video Camera) to Videotape Table Tennis Matches

Keeping an Eye on Your Competition...

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Camcorder Positions for Table Tennis

Camcorder Positions for Table Tennis

© 2008 Greg Letts, licensed to About.com, Inc.
In this article I'd like to pass on a few tips about how to use a camcorder (video camera) to get the best footage possible when videotaping table tennis matches. I've been videotaping ping-pong matches since 2004, and since then I've discovered a number of tips and traps that I'm going to share with you here.

What Type of Camcorder Should You Use?

This article is not about choosing a camcorder, but more along the lines of how to get the most out of the camcorder you have. I'll just briefly say that both times I bought a camcorder (a Canon MVX3i in 2004, and a Canon HG10 in 2008), I spent a little more money to make sure I was getting excellent picture quality, and I haven't regretted it either time. Both of these cameras produce great DVD quality table tennis footage.

Storage - Mini DV Tape, DVD, Hard Disk?

I'll just make a brief comment on storage types here. My first camcorder used mini DV tape, and as mentioned, the results are excellent. The only hassles are when you are planning to tape a week long tournament (which I do every year at the Australian Open), you need lots of tapes - I was using around 30-40! This is a significant expense, and if you plan to reuse the tapes each year you also have convert the tapes into computer format for storage purposes, which takes a lot of time as well. Camcorders that store footage directly to a DVD are convenient in that the footage is already stored in computer format, but you again have to carry a number of DVDs around with you - although blank DVDs are cheap these days.

My latest video camera (the HG10) is a hard disk camera, which is capable of storing up to 11 hours of high quality video on the 40GB hard disk. So I can video tape all day, and dump the footage on to my laptop at night, so I'm ready to go again the next day. Brilliant!

Tips for Using a Camcorder to Video Tape Table Tennis Matches

Now let's get to the nitty gritty, how to get the best results when videotaping table tennis matches. Here's my list of tips and traps to keep in mind when filming.
  • Where to Place the Camcorder - There are four basic positions to choose from when videotaping, which I have shown in the accompanying diagram. These are:
    1. Behind and Above - This is the typical view you see on a lot of TV coverage. Provided you can get high enough (perhaps in the grandstands), you can get a good overall view of the whole court and the action. The downside is that you reduce the apparent speed and vertical movement of the ball. Plus of course the player nearest to the camera basically has his back to the viewer most of the time.
    2. Behind and to the Side - This is generally my favorite position. I use a tripod that puts the camcorder up at around 6 feet high, so this positioning gives a fairly good view of the action for two right handers, while still maintaining most of the speed perception, and allowing good viewing of the vertical movement of the ball. It also gives good court coverage in most instances. It still suffers from the nearest player having his back to the camera a lot of the time, and occasionally the nearest player will block your view of his opponent. It's not perfect but a good compromise in all aspects.
    3. Three-quarters View - Place the camera so that it is roughly on the diagonal formed by the nearest player's half court. This position gives an improved view of what the player nearest the camera is doing, especially on the right hander's forehand side. It also has less problems with the nearest player blocking your view of his opponent. It gives good speed perception and viewing of the ball's vertical movement. However, the angled view that you get of the match is not to everyone's taste since many viewers prefer a more front-on view of the action. Plus it can sometimes be more difficult for the camera to cover the entire court, due to the more side-on angle.
    4. Side-on View - This view is mainly used by a second camera during a match, where the main camera is set up in one of the above three positions, and the view is switched from time to time to the side-on shot of one of the players. It can be a very useful perspective for training and analysis purposes though, especially if you can include a view of the player's feet. This type of view allows you to determine just how far away from the table a player moves during a rally, from serve or serve return, through to blocking, looping, chopping or counterlooping. It's also a great view for analyzing the technique of players, allowing you to see exactly what stance, knee bend, racket preparation, waist and shoulder turn, length of swing, swing angle, and amount of forward lean are used by a player.

      This angle can also be used to view both players at once, giving a much better idea of how each player changes his distance from the table depending on the strength of his own shot and the strength of his opponent's return.

  • Get a Wide Angle Lens - A wide angle lens is invaluable for those situations where you have to place your video camera close to the court. Without a wide angle lens, the nearest player would often end up off-screen. In actual fact, I simply leave my own wide angle lens on the camcorder all the time.

  • Zooming - In general, I'd say find a perspective with good court coverage and leave your camera alone. You'll get better battery life and your viewers will thank you later - it takes a lot of practice to get a nice smooth zoom using a camcorder. The only exception I'd make to this rule is where you have a match where one player lobs from time to time or there are a few counterlooping rallies - you may want to pull back the zoom in those situations to give a better view of the action.

    One other possibility is where you have an attacker playing a long range defender or lobber, in which case you may want to adjust the camera between games to give more court coverage for the defender and less to the attacker.

    Finally, get the score counter in the picture if you can. Just keep in mind that some TVs cut off a little of the viewing area of your footage, so if you put the score counter right on the edge of the screen, you might not be able to see it later on your TV.

Continued on next page...

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