Thursday, December 1, 2011

T3i Picture Profile Camera Tests

After a bit of trial and error, here are some picture profile tests I shot using the T3i.

I'm having to re-orient my video brain a bit, but aside from the moire/color fringing artifacts, this camera beats my old Sony HDV camera handily (especially as a stills camera :) ).

My next round of tests will focus on adjusting the in-camera sharpening and color within these looks, trying to see if I can "bake-in" the look more so that I don't have the same dire need to color correct in post.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Long-Expected Update - DSLRs and Cineform

So, I finally got a DSLR - A Canon T3i, to be exact. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. It's pretty cheap. For around $1500, you can get a camera with a kit zoom lens, a decent prime lens (I chose the Canon 50mm f/1.4 USM, which works out to about an 85mm equivalent on the T3i due to it's sensor size), a bunch of decent SD memory cards, a bunch of batteries, and a basic filter kit.
  2. The T3i has a sort of sensor crop mode that's called "digital zoom', even though it only becomes that (as far as I know) once you increase the zoom factor more than the basic 3x level. This is nice for those of us who don't necessarily want to lug around a big zoom lens all the time, but it's really important if you need to shoot a subject that would normally cause moire and aliasing issues - since the sensor is cropped to 1920x1080 resolution instead of line-skipping from a higher resolution, the aforementioned artifacts are significantly reduced - at the cost of some image sharpness. Also, it's a 3x crop factor, so to keep the same framing and depth of field you might have to change to a wider lens/focal length or back up and sacrifice some of the image characteristics of having the camera closer to your subject.
  3. It has an articulating rear LCD display. This means you can see what you're shooting without having to always be right behind the camera. You can even flip the display over for checking framing while shooting yourself (which you might literally consider once you see how goofy you look on camera).
  4. It provides an upgrade path to other Canon DSLR and cinema cameras. By getting prime lenses that work on full-frame cameras, you're essentially future-proofing your investment in good glass that you can use on either better DSLRs or cinema cameras with a Super35-sized sensor and a Canon mount/adapter. The C300 seems like a decent upgrade goal, but you can also use Canon (or Nikon) glass on the newer Red cameras with an adapter.
The only problem with getting the T3i is that I have a fairly old computer (built late 2008) that coughs and wheezes when trying to playback the H.264 video footage that this camera produces. It's also a PC, so no ProRes love.

The good news? I got Cineform Neo. Here's why that's awesome:

  1. It lets me transcode the 8-bit, 4:2:0 footage to 10-bit, 4:2:2 footage, at a fraction of the disk space of uncompressed footage - just like ProRes. Why is this important when it's not actually increasing the quality of the shot? Two words: Color correction. In general, any post processing that you do on footage benefits from a higher color bit-depth.
  2. Speaking of color correction, Cineform Neo has FirstLight, which is kind of the poor man's version of RedCineX. Like RedCineX, FirstLight lets you tweak color and contrast in meta-data. Translation: It lets you do really basic looks and color correction without rendering out a new file, and you can change the settings at any time, and those changes will show up in any program that can play the file.
  3. Cineform is a wavelet-based codec, which means that it kind of smooths the image a little, and compression artifacts look more like smears than blocks. This is an aesthetic preference, and it won't solve glaring compression artifacts from the original footage (I'm considering getting the Neat Video plugin for After Effects to help with that a bit), but it's still pretty cool.
  4. Like ProRes, Cineform is made to hold quality through multiple recompressions. I have yet to test this, but Cineform says anything at "High" quality or better can do this.
  5. It has a decent built-in capture program, so no need to launch your massive video editing program just to do a decent video capture.
  6. It has built-in presets for Premiere Pro, which happens to be my video editor of choice/necessity.
  7. It has no real image size constraints, so it can work with footage of any size, even 6K Red Epic footage (if you're insane).
There's only a couple of issues with Cineform:

  1. To get all the nifty features I've outlined above, you have to pay $300. I think they're worth it, but I could definitely see folks getting turned off by the price. The good news? Cineform NeoScene gives you just the conversion ability for $129.
  2. Cineform is about 2-4x larger than H.264 files depending on the source image complexity and Cineform's quality setting, so you'll need a bunch of storage space to convert your footage. Personally, I'm going to try to go for a film-style workflow and only convert clips as I intend to use them.
  3. Larger files means larger datarates, and if you're rocking single un-RAIDified hard drives like I am, your realtime capture will be thusly limited to standard definition (unless you like dropped frames).
I've been playing around with picture profiles for the T3i, and have decided that the low-contrast profiles are best for cinema shooting, rather than general purpose. For wildlife videography, I think a little sharpness and baked-in color actually is a good thing, although this is definitely a personal preference rather than a professional opinion.

Next up? Trying out the proxy generation feature of Cineform; which retains the metadata of the parent file, even if you manipulate it after making the proxy. Translation: any color corrections made in FirstLight is automatically applied to both the proxy and the original Cineform files. Also, I'm trying to figure out how to expose outdoor scenery properly. I think a color chart might be in order. Oh, and maybe posting some of my test videos like I promised people ages ago.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Stabilizing footage on the cheap with VirtualDub and DeShaker

So, I recently shot some helicopter footage... handheld. It has a raw feel to it that I like, but I wanted it to be smoother so I could speed it up without it looking like a Keystone cops action scene. I've tried to use After Effects (CS3) to stabilize footage, but it takes forever and produces some ugly-looking moving black borders.

Enter VirtualDub and the DeShaker plugin. Here's my tests:

First time:

Second time:

Pretty cool, yeah? So, a fellow Vimeo member sent me a message asking for my settings. Since he was using an AVCHD camera, I directed him here first:

And then the rest of the reply:

Stop when you get to the section called "Deshaking :". If your video is now loaded (successfully) in VirtualDub, continue. If not, then you should probably export your footage over to an .AVI format using your usual editing program (Vegas, Premiere Pro, etc.) and load that into VirtualDub.

1) Go to the Video menu, and select "Filters". click "Add", select "DeShaker", click okay. This will get you to the DeShaker controls.

2) Make sure you have "Pass 1" selected. If your footage is interlaced (I think yours is), make sure to select that in the "Video Type" menu.

3) Set "Scale" to "Full (most precise)". Set "Use pixels" to "All (most robust)". Uncheck "Detect zoom". Click "OK", then "OK" again to close the Filters window.

4) Make sure your footage is at the beginning, then hit the F5 key, and watch as the calculation pass runs. :) It may take a while...

5) When it's done, open the Filters window again, select the DeShaker plugin and click on "configure".  Select "Pass 2". Set the "Edge compensation" menu to "Fixed zoom (no borders)". Click "Ok", then "Ok" again.

6) If you have enough hard drive space to use uncompressed video (around 400 GBs per hour), then go to the File menu and click on "Save as AVI". If you don't, make sure you go the the "Video" menu then click on "Compression" to set a different video compression format (that your video editing program can use).