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Simple, elegant screenwriting.

Needables
  • Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4KBODY 16.05MP Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera with 4K Cinematic Video (Body Only)
    Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4KBODY 16.05MP Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera with 4K Cinematic Video (Body Only)
    Panasonic
  • TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder
    TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder
    TASCAM
  • The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    by Stu Maschwitz

Entries in HDSLR (62)

Friday
Apr132012

Canon Cinema EOS 1D C

From Canon:

With an 18.1-megapixel full-frame 24mm x 36mm Canon CMOS sensor, the camera records 8-bit 4:2:2 Motion JPEG 4K video to the camera’s CF memory card at 24 frames-per-second.

Well that’s one way to create a sharp 1080p image.

Note this bit:

4K video is captured by an approximately APS-H-sized portion of the full image sensor, while [1080p] video can be captured in the user’s choice of two different imaging formats… …the full 36mm width of the CMOS sensor… [or] An optional Super 35 crop.

More confusing, imperfect, and expensive options for making beautiful images. With the odd trade-offs in functionality between cinema offerings from two different internal divisions, Canon is starting to remind me of that scene in Bridesmaides where Kristen Wiig and Rose Byrne keep grabbing the microphone from each other.

Tuesday
Apr102012

Prolost Flat

For shooting video, I’ve set up every Canon HDSLR I’ve owned the same way since the very beginning, and the 5D Mark III is no different.

  • Start with the Neutral Picture Style
  • Set Sharpness to zero—all the way to the left
  • Set Contrast all the way to the left
  • Set Saturation two notches to the left

That’s it. That’s Prolost Flat—the Picture Style of choice for Vincent Laforet, Philip Bloom, Jason Wingrove, and many others.

Prolost Flat FAQ

How did you come to these settings? How do you know they’re right?

They’re not “right,” they’re just good. Prolost Flat has been tested the only way I care about—by shooting stuff and trying to make it look great.

What about [some other custom picture style]?

It’s probably great. But it is possible to over-think this stuff, and there is such a thing as too flat.

All we’re trying to do here is bring back everything the camera has to offer in an easy-to-color-correct package. To put it another way, what you want from a flat profile is to eliminate the contrast s-curve that the most Picture Styles bake into the footage. Some custom Picture Styles go so far beyond “flat” that they actually invert this curve. This not only makes the image harder to grade, it can cause quantizing and compression artifacts to show up right in the middle of your tonal range, where they’re most noticeable.

What about log? Isn’t log the best transfer function for grading?

Yes. And in particular, Technicolor CineStyle is very nice. If you like it too, please do use it. It’s great.

But without meaning any disrespect to the folks at Technicolor, there’s one big reason why you might not want to use their Picture Style. Prolost Flat can be set up in seconds on any Canon HDSLR, in the field, without any cables, computers, or downloads. What if your camera dies on a remote shoot and you rent a replacement? Or a friend shows up with his 7D and offers it as a B camera? Or you need to work with footage from another crew? Prolost Flat is always available and works on every Canon HDSLR. It’s easy to set up and you can coach someone through the process over the phone, or even in a text message.

I’ve heard a lot of people use Prolost Flat, but bump up the sharpness a bit. Canon HDSLR video is so soft, isn’t a little sharpening a good idea?

Yes. But not in camera. Never use in-camera sharpening.

  • It tends to be of a poorer quality than what you can do in post.
  • It’s very difficult to monitor and set up accurately in the field. What looks good on a portable LCD might look hideous back in the grading suite in your calibrated, 1080p display.
  • Different scenes can benefit from amounts of sharpening. What worked on the low-contrast charts at your test bench might create horribly over-sharpened results with a high-contrast exterior shot.
  • Baking sharpening into your footage is as permanent as a bad tattoo. On your face. Better to give yourself the option to dial it in later, under controlled circumstances, using the amazing array of powerful post-production tools available.
  • Different output media require different amounts of sharpening. The sharpening you use for a YouTube upload will be different than what you want for a broadcast master, which will be different than a Blu-ray master.

In the slideshow below, you can see one example of sharpening using the After Effects Unsharp Mask effect, with an Amount of 120 and a Radius of 1.1. You can download full-res comparison frames here.

But doesn’t in-camera sharpening happen before compression? If I’m sharpening in post, aren’t I also sharpening and enhancing compression and noise?

Yes. But in-camera sharpening is such a blunt instrument that even its privileged position of operating prior to compression can’t save it.

A light pass of noise reduction from something like Magic bullet Denoiser II not only cleans up some compression artifacts, it also can promote your 8-bit footage to higher color fidelity by interpolating new, high-bit-depth pixels. So your HDSLR processing pipeline should look like this:

  1. In a 16 or 32bpc environment…
  2. Reduce noise
  3. Visual effects, if any
  4. Color correct
  5. Sharpen
  6. Add back some noise/grain to taste
  7. Titles or graphics, if any

Sharpening is a perceptual exercise. You want to sharpen what the viewer sees. So it’s critical that sharpening be performed after color correction.

Everyone says the 5D Mark III’s video is even softer than the Mark II’s. Maybe just a little in-camera sharpening?

No. The Mark III’s softness is simply the lack of artificial sharpness that came from the aliasing that plagued the 5D Mark II. This means that the footage takes sharpening in post even better than 5D Mark II footage, because there are fewer inherent artifacts to bring out.

It would be nice if the 5D Mark III resolved more detail than it does (there is plenty of room for improvement there), but adding in-camera sharpening won’t make that dream a reality. It only adds permanent, ugly artifacts to your image.

Cool. I’m just going to bump up the sharpening by one tick. Sorry.

Are you sure you wouldn’t be better off with a hacked GH2?

One last strike against in-camera sharpening: It limits your ability to add additional sharpening in post. You don’t want to sharpen sharpening artifacts. You can see in the below comparison how even one notch of Sharpness adds ringing artifacts that will make sharpening in post problematic. These are 1:1 crops—you can download an archive of the full-res frames here.

I’m just a shooter and don’t always have control over what happens to my footage. I like to add sharpness so my clients don’t complain about soft footage. My children need wine!

You might also want to re-think shooting flat then. Prolost Flat is designed to be graded—and specifically, graded underneath an s-curve. If you’re not going to be around to see this done properly, you might not be pleased with how your footage winds up looking in the final conform.

What about Highlight Tone Priority?

Highlight Tone Priority is an optional method Canon uses to capture more highlight detail by “pushing” the ISO one stop. The result is one extra stop of highlight detail (roughly), coupled with one extra stop’s worth of noise (also roughly).

When I first posted about Prolost Flat, I recommended using HTP for bright scenes with difficult highlights. But since then, I’ve completely stopped using it. The benefits don’t tend to outweigh the risks. And by “risks,” I mean that you might leave HTP on and shoot a bunch of raw stills, and wonder why they don’t look as nice as they should in Lightroom. Unlike other settings discussed here, HTP does affect raw stills. Oops.

Speaking of which, what happens if I leave my HDSLR set to Prolost Flat when I shoot stills?

JPEG shots and the embedded JPEG preview in raw files (what you see on the camera’s LCD when chimping) will be created using the Picture Style. But of course, the actual image date in the raw file is unaffected. And of course you’re shooting raw, right?

I leave my cameras in Prolost Flat all the time, even for stills. If find that the flat preview image gives me a better sense of the actual raw “negative” that I’m capturing. The only thing you have to get used to is that it’s easy to underexpose slightly if you judge exposure by the preview image, as the Prolost Flat preview looks a touch brighter than most default raw processing.

What’s the right s-curve to use?

The one that looks best to you. All I’ll suggest is that you use the same one from shot to shot.

You can watch me setting up some s-curves and grading under them in my Colorista II tutorials and my demonstration of color correcting food photography.

Share this article using the url prolost.com/flat

Friday
Mar022012

Why I Bought a 5D Mark III

Image courtesy fxphd.com

You probably saw this one coming. I just pre-ordered a Canon 5D Mark III from Amazon. Here’s why.

A Focus on Photography

I shoot a lot of stills with my 5D Mark II. It’s a great camera. But it’s a camera out of balance. The sensor can work in light so low that the autofocus system, inherited from the original 5D, can’t keep up. The 5D Mark II today is still a great camera—but its autofocus technology is six years old!

The 5D Mark III, on the other hand, arrives with Canon’s most recent and potentially most awesome autofocus system to date, the same one as the highly anticipated 1D X.

This plus the 6fps burst speed means the next time I’m chasing three-year-olds around Oakland with a fast 50, I hope I’m using the 5D Mark III.

Medium Megapixels

Speaking of shooting stills, I’m thrilled at the restraint that Canon showed in the 5D Mark III’s megapixel count. It’s barely bumped from the Mark II, meaning that all the advancements in sensor tech translate directly into reduced noise.

I’m not a resolution fetishist, and I still kinda miss the enormous, velvety-smooth pixels from my original 5D. So my hopes are high that Canon’s restraint reflects well in the 5D Mark III’s stills.

Moiré? Significantly Less Ré.

As much as I love shooting stills, video is a huge part of my purchasing decision. For the first time, Canon’s marketing directly addresses the HDSLR community’s biggest gripe about EOS video: the aliasing/moiré artifacts caused by the hasty downsampling off the sensor. The sample films we’ve seen so far back up Canon’s claim that the 5D Mark III features a dramatic reduction in these artifacts.

DPReview had this to say:

Although at first glance the video specifications of the 5D Mark III might look very similar to those of the 5D II, the results should be greatly improved. From our limited use, the new sensor shows much less of the rolling-shutter effect that was very apparent with fast movement on the Mark II. The more powerful Digic 5+ processor is also able to reduce moire artifacts in videos, giving cleaner output.

If this doesn’t turn out to be true, I can always send the 5D Mark III back. Pre-ordering now gives me that option. But I’m sure long before it shows up at my door, we’ll all be treated to endless “short films about charts” showing just how the Mark III behaves itself around tiny lines. I just hope some are as good as this one.

Sound On

The 5D Mark III is the first EOS DSLR to feature a headphone jack for audio monitoring. Embarrassing, but true. This, combined with the manual audio level control, might save me from a dual-system audio setup on some shoots. When you’re as lazy as I am, that’s a good thing.

The other thing that I like about Canon’s commitment to audio is the touch-sensitive feature of the rear dial. You can silently adjust audio levels while recording.

HD Out

Although the 5D Mark III’s HDMI out is not a clean, capturable 1080p, it is HD, which is not the case with its predecessor. This should make catching focus on my 5” Marshall LCD easier.

This is a real concern, by the way. One of the sneaky reasons it’s possible to manually focus your HDSLR off the tiny rear LCD screen is the very line-skipping that the Mark III allegedly does away with. The artificial sharpness of the poorly-sampled video we’ve grown accustomed to from our EOS HDSLRs causes in-focus detail to “pop” into crisp relief, acting as a kind of peaking focus assist. Unfortunately, this effect is permanently burned into your footage. If the 5D Mark III truly addresses the downsampling/moiré issue as Canon claims, the downside may well be that we’ll find it even harder to keep our crazy-shallow DOF shots in focus. An EVF or external LCD may go from a nicety to a necessity.

60p

Full-frame slowmo. Hopefully with less ré.

Last Longer

Again, quoting from DPReview:

The camera is also happy to record for its maximum 29:59 minutes without overheating risks in normal working temperatures and can split a single clip across multiple files so that it isn’t impeded by the 4GB file limit of the FAT 32 file system.

My Pants Still Fit

All of my existing support gear for my 5D Mark II and 7D will work beautifully with the 5D Mark III, including my batteries and chargers. No need to upgrade my Redrock Micro shoulder rig or my various other camera support gear.

Bigger is More-er

I’ve long characterized the 5D Mark II as the video DSLR that makes up for its technical shortcomings with gobs of sex appeal. Though I love so very much about the Canon C300, its Super 35 sensor is, you know, “only” as big as motion picture film. Once you get a taste for the sultry, soft depth-of-field control possible with a full-frame sensor, it’s hard to go back.

I don’t know about you, but when I feel a $3,500 purchase dimishinging my desire to make a $16,000 one, I go with that feeling.

Canon 5D Mark II For Sale

Seriously. It’s still an amazing camera, and I’ll probably get decent money for it, so although I agree with those who lament that the Canon 5D Mark III is “overpriced,” I can’t exactly say that it’s “too expensive,” because, looking less at the price tag and more at the upgrade cost after selling both my 5D and my 7D, I just ordered one.

If you do the same, and go through these links (Amazon, B&H), you help support my hasty decision-making and encourage future Prolost blathering. And your earn my gratitude. Thanks!

Thursday
Mar012012

Canon 5D Mark III

The Canon 5D Mark III has been announced and is already up for pre-order at B&H and Amazon. $3499, availability said to be late March.

Canon has shown restraint with the megapixels, which is nice. But they seem to have shown restraint everywhere else as well. Although the 61-point autofocus system (same one as the 1D X) is probably enough to get me to upgrade.

  • 22.3 Megapixel, full-frame CMOS sensor
  • 61-point AF with up to 41 cross-type AF points
  • DIGIC 5+ processor
  • Up to 6fps shooting speed
  • ISO 100 to 25,600 standard, 50 to 102,400 with expansion
  • HDR shooting in-camera
  • Full HD Movie shooting with ALL-I or IPB compression
  • 29mins 59sec clip length in Full HD Movie
  • Timecode for HD Movie shooting
  • Headphone port for audio monitoring
  • Transparent LCD viewfinder with 100% coverage
  • 8.11cm (3.2”), 1.04 million-pixel Clear View II LCD Screen
  • EOS Integrated Cleaning System (EICS)
  • CF and SD card slots
  • Silent control touch-pad area
  • Dual-Axis Electronic Level

What about video? From the product description (emphasis mine):

Full HD video recording is supported in multiple formats, including 1080/30p, 24p, 25p; 720/60p, 50p; 480/60p, 50p. While recording video, a 4GB automatic file partition is employed in order to gain longer continuous recording times, up to 29 minutes 59 seconds. Both All i-frame and IPB compressions are supported as well as the standard H.264/MPEG-4 AVC codec. Embedding the timecode is also possible…

Video performance is further enhanced with the ability to manually adjust your exposure settings and audio levels while recording. By employing Live View, you can view your recording on the LCD and make settings changes with a dedicated menu tab on the fly. The DIGIC 5+ processor also dramatically improves video response times and helps to reduce color artifacts, aberrations, and moiré.

Sounds good. We’ll have to see. The Verge writes (again, emphasis mine):

Unfortunately, there’s still no option for clean HDMI output (which allows the uncompressed video footage to be captured on an external recorder)—when we asked about this, Canon’s reps said “not yet.” However, it does sound like the HDMI signal output won’t downsample from 1080p to 480p when recording, thanks to the DIGIC 5+.

I know the lack of a clean HDMI out upsets a lot of people, but personally I’ve never been a fan of the outboard recorder workflow. The 5D Mark III’s updated autofocus for stills, 720p60, manual audio levels and headphone jack, and the promise of reduced moiré may not add up to “revolution: part 2,” but they may well be worth the upgrade for many.

The bummer for me is the lack of an articulated LCD, but I imagine this has to do with weatherproofing requirements.

More thoughtful analysis to come of course! And I’ll let you know when and if I pull the trigger and order one.