UPDATE: This article contains some out-of-date information. See follow-up here.
In my last post I wrote about the Canon 5D Mark II’s well-known tendency to crush black in-camera, and that “This is a separate issue from the one facing Final Cut Studio Users.” Oops. It’s not. And this is really good news—and really bad news too.
Reader urmel commented on that post:
if you recover the clipped whites and black in Apple’s color you don’t need any custom picture style. Camera Standard with Sat -1 and sharpness set to 2 works fine.
And I thought, no, that’s not true.
Then I tried it. Damn it, urmel is right. Well, except for the sharpening part. Definitely don’t turn sharpening up on the 5D when shooting video—the line-skipping used in video mode means the images are already too sharp in a very sizzly way, like scaling down an image in Photoshop using Nearest Neighbor sampling.
Sorry, got distracted. The point is that the clipping seen in Final Cut Pro is also seen in Quicktime, which means its also seen in After Effects. But Apple’s Color, that magnificent bastard, can recover it. The clipping is not in-camera after all!
Here’s a frame from my Stunt People shoot. This is how it looks in Quicktime, in Final Cut, and in After Effects:
Here you see it in Apple Color, with the Grade disabled. Note the values above 100 IRE and below zero. Those don’t always display, but with Disable Grading on (press Control + G [yes, Control, not Command—WTF Apple?]) you can usually see if there’s anything lurking there.
Turn off Disable Grading and lift Primary In Shadows up a bit to bring up the blacks, then lower Highlights to bring the brightest whites down to 100 IRE (as I mentioned, you may not see the out-of-range values in the waveform when doing this, but you’ll see them being brought into range). Here’s the result:
Wow. So there really was extra information lurking there all along. That’s the good news. The bad news is that this is the only way I’ve found to get at it (Final Cut Pro itself could read and rescue these values if it saw 5D clips as YUV, but it forces them to RGB instead).
The Canon 5D Mark II still doesn’t shoot 24p or have manual control. That’s the bad news.
Although we no longer seem to have as dire a need for contrast-reducing Picture Styles, it is still a valid and worthwhile thing to set up the 5D to shoot a flat, low-con image. Now that I’ve seen what Color can rescue from this footage, those settings I used in-camera (similar to urmel’s, but based on the Neutral preset with reduced contrast and saturation) seem like they might actually have been flat enough—but I still like the extra control offered by Picture Style Editor.
So in closing, while a custom Picture Style to flatten out and make more post-friendly the movies from the 5D is a good idea, it’s not a dire necesity. The harsh crushed blacks we associate with the 5D’s motion output are a decoding error, not baked into our footage.