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Canon XF Series HD Camcorders
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Old June 23rd, 2012, 10:56 AM   #1
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Beginner badly needs help: Setting up XF100 for low light

I am just getting started on these camcorders, so please forgive my lack of knowledge. This is why I am asking for help.

I just bought an XF100 for shooting videos of live band performances at local clubs. This is all I use it for. I am stepping up from a Canon HF M40. The conditions in these small clubs are normally a combination of overall low light, with some areas of the stage spotlighted and very bright.........a very wide range.

On the first shoot with the XF100 I tested it just like it arrived, with factory settings and full automatic. I shot at: 50Mbps, 1920x1080, 30p. The auto settings generally ran: Shutter 1/30, Aperture F1.8, Gain 12 and above. The resulting video looked pretty good, but there was (1) some blurring with motion and (2) some graininess. So, I’d say not fully “professional” looking, but much better than these bands normally get.

On the 2nd shoot I decided to experiment with settings, based on some of the recommendations I have seen in this forum.
I changed settings to those recommended by Alan Roberts in Addendum 65:
• Gamma Normal 3
• Knee Automatic Off
• Knee slope 12
• Knee point 85
• Sharpness level -5
• Sharpness HV detail balance +2
• Color matrix RG -8

Then, I:
- Set Shutter manually to 1/60 (180 degrees) rather than 1/30
- Left Aperture on auto, which resulted in F1.8
- Set Gain to +6dB.
I did the above based on comments here to (1) avoid shutter of 1/30 @ 30p (360 degrees), and (2) avoid Gain above +6dB and push in post for better color and noise .

I could see while shooting there was clearly inadequate exposure at these settings during the 2nd shoot…………I could see the footage was too dark and if I switched to auto Gain, it would go above 12. But, I stayed with the settings, hoping I could successfully push in post.

The results were terrible. In post in FCP X, I had to raise Exposure Highlights to 100% to get reasonable exposure. The resulting colors looked washed out but were OK, but this was a minor matter compared to the graininess. It looks like a 50’s home movie, very grainy. I don’t see any way to salvage it.

So, the lighting appears to be inadequate to accommodate the preferred settings of Shutter of 1/60 and Gain of no more than +6dB. Instead, it appears I must use Shutter of 1/30, Aperture at max open of F1.8, and Gain of +12 or more.

I am surprised. The conditions are certainly low light, but these are not candlelit rooms, they are public clubs where the lighting is adequate to walk around, and the spotlights brighten some areas. But, my results are what they are.

Beginner questions:
(1) Am I just doing something dumb? Are there settings which will significantly lessen my problem? I have to believe I am just doing something stupid. Sometimes you guys must certainly have to work in worse lighting conditions than these clubs. I sure hope I'm the problem and not the camera (which is likely).

(2) On the other hand, have I just got the wrong camera for this purpose? I love the feel of this camera, sturdy but light, and I sure want to keep using it if possible. A camcorder is so much better for my needs than a DSLR. For example, the audio quality is critically important for live band shoots and the XF100 easily accommodates a high end external stereo mic. I could step up to an XF300 if needed, but my impression is that this won't help much with the low light issue.

I would sure appreciate any help you can give me.

(BTW, if it would help I can email a link to someone so you could download a short clip of each shoot...........I am not authorized to post them on the Internet. Probably nobody has the time to do this, but I am just mentioning it.)

Last edited by Michael Holmes; June 23rd, 2012 at 12:30 PM.
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Old June 23rd, 2012, 04:02 PM   #2
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Re: Beginner badly needs help: Setting up XF100 for low light

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Originally Posted by Michael Holmes View Post
In post in FCP X, I had to raise Exposure Highlights to 100% to get reasonable exposure. The resulting colors looked washed out but were OK, but this was a minor matter compared to the graininess. It looks like a 50’s home movie, very grainy. I don’t see any way to salvage it.
Without seeing the original footage, it is difficult to know whether it can be salvaged or not. However, it is surprising how bad high definition footage can be effectively filtered to make a reasonable standard definition DVD. I've used a workflow like

720p60->color grading->temporal noise filter->spatial noise filter->480p30

Also, crush the blacks while increasing contrast until the performer's faces are correctly exposed. The resulting image will still be dark so noise is less apparent but at the same time will not look underexposed anymore.
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Old June 23rd, 2012, 11:19 PM   #3
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Re: Beginner badly needs help: Setting up XF100 for low light

Eric,
Thanks so much for the advice.

I have emailed you a link to three short clips, if you have time to look at them (if not, I understand):
(1) My "good shoot" with everything on auto, usually running 1/30, F1.8, Gain 12+.
(2) My "bad shoot" @ 1/60, F1.8, Gain +6. Very dark.
(3) The "bad shoot" color-adjusted in FCP X. Still embarrassing.

I think I should just toss the bad shoot and focus on finding settings which will get the best out of the XF100, then decide if it will do this job or not. The "good shoot" is the starting point.

Thanks again for your help!
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Old June 24th, 2012, 01:19 AM   #4
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Re: Beginner badly needs help: Setting up XF100 for low light

Ok, go back to basics. 180 degree shutter is a nonstarter. Use 24 p for low light, and the same as auto settings, so you'll get an extra stop of light. But learn how to get off auto settings pronto. Stop futzing with the settings until you get time away from the main shoot (unless it isn't that important of a shoot).You can get decent footage out of the box, use standard choices,by just adding gain. Start there and let us know when you practice this a bit. 24p and +6 gain should be more than enuff with spots.

How low is the lighting? Do you have decent stage lighting?

I've shot in pretty dim light, and while not as good as my canon 7d, the xf100 does ok.

Best of luck.
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Last edited by Al Bergstein; June 24th, 2012 at 06:20 AM.
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Old June 24th, 2012, 06:43 AM   #5
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Re: Beginner badly needs help: Setting up XF100 for low light

I shoot a lot of live music so I feel your pain. I always make sure to show clients examples of work in different lighting environments so they know what to expect. Some gigs I also check with the band and the LD to see if we can work together to compromise on lighting.

Using 24p is a great tip. I use a DSLR and it's great for low light, especially with a fast lens. I can even push the ISO pretty hard and get a decent image. As far as the audio issue, I use a rode pro for basic reference audio. I've had some really great results with this surprisingly, and people with small budgets have been happy. I also offer using a second system and charge more. A lot of gigs in Chicago offer in house live recordings. Usually for only 50 bucks too, so I try and convince the band that is the best option. Otherwise I try to make nice with the FOH engineer and hope to get a feed from his board.

Sometimes in post I try to expand what is considered mid-tones and boost them if needed in dark images. I also don't recommend using 1/30 in 30p, the blur just seems really distracting to me.

Also, a lot of work I do is mostly for YouTube output anyway so I don't fret too much about some noise. Eric's idea to down-convert is great if you can.
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Old June 24th, 2012, 08:01 AM   #6
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Re: Beginner badly needs help: Setting up XF100 for low light

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Originally Posted by Michael Holmes View Post
On the other hand, have I just got the wrong camera for this purpose?
Other people may disagree, but I would say YES! 1/3" cameras are the worst cameras you can buy for low-light shooting, and it sounds like you have already done a great job of trying different settings -- with no success.

You say you can afford an XF300? A better, and less expensive option would be to try a Sony FS100 with a couple of fast SLR lenses. That camera is GREAT in low light because of the super-35mm sensor. 0db on the FS100 is probably equivalent to +50 on the XF100, with virtually no noise. And you won't believe how clean the gain is even above +20db.

With the FS100 you get the great look of an SLR, but still have all the features and functions of a video camera. The FS100 isn't perfect, but it is a much better choice for what you are doing.

Even if you found the right combo of settings to make your XF100 look slighty better would you be happy, then? I don't think so. You need a different camera because you are so far away from getting the look you want.

Just my 2 cents.
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Old June 24th, 2012, 10:04 AM   #7
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Re: Beginner badly needs help: Setting up XF100 for low light

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Originally Posted by Al Bergstein View Post
180 degree shutter is a nonstarter. Use 24 p for low light, and the same as auto settings, so you'll get an extra stop of light.

24p and +6 gain should be more than enuff with spots.

How low is the lighting? Do you have decent stage lighting?
I will certainly give 24p a try. I am still worried about getting the needed exposure at +6 gain, given that in auto it is running above 12 @ 30p, but I'll sure try.

There is minimal stage lighting in most of these clubs, and what is there is localized and harsh. These are local club bands, not big name bands, and these small clubs could more accurately be called "dives". :)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jerry Karvasale View Post
As far as the audio issue, I use a rode pro for basic reference audio. I've had some really great results with this surprisingly, and people with small budgets have been happy.
I use a Pearl MS 8CL stereo mic and I process the audio separately in Pro Tools. I am very happy with the results, so at least I don't have to worry about this.



Doug, I am actually giving the FS100 a hard look. I went with the XF100 because I thought it would do the job at a lower cost. Several reviewers actually praised the XF100 for low light performance. But, my conditions are pretty extreme, I guess. I really love the feel of the XF100, but yes, I am fearful I am always going to be fighting this issue. This is the only use for the camera. I'll give 24p a try while I do more research on the FS100.

Any one else have comments on the FS100 for this particular very-low-light work, pro or con?
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Old June 24th, 2012, 11:01 AM   #8
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Re: Beginner badly needs help: Setting up XF100 for low light

Obviously, having an HDSLR is the best for super low light conditions, but I'm amazed at how good my xf100 is at shooting in these conditions. As long as there are actually spots aimed at the band, even with colored gels, the xf100 does a pretty good job. If you wanted to spend the money on a HDSLR then yes, stepping into these would be great. The new cameras that have real camcorder bodies seem like a natural. You might also look at the Panny AF100, since it seems the first wave of buying has peaked and the camera is now out there in used configurations. If you are shooting in Chicago, you should try and go do some rentals first. Portland does have a rental shop if I remember from my excursion there to shoot a year or so back. Up on the NW side of the city, but the name escapes me. I did love the night I spent at the Jupiter...man, what a scene...

But I wouldn't give up on the XF100. I just shot some stuff for composer Wayne Horvitz inside some 1900's era bunkers. A still from the shoot is here: (I am not able to show footage yet as the project is still under way).
https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?f...type=3&theater

and a montage at
http://www.mountainstoneproductions....3173&k=67pHSkb

But what you see is a xf100 shoot with one lightbulb (yes a standard variety 100 watter) on the left and a small camera mounted LED Flolight above the lens lighting the forground. I was pushing +6 db on top of 24p wide open. This really surprised me, I must admit (I've only had the camera about two months, I also have an xf305). I used a tripod for all this, to minimize any camera movement.

I also used the Infrared and was really pleased with the shots, in almost pitch dark. I could not have done it with any other similar priced camera. Just great 'film noire' shots. The client was amazed we could shoot without lights!

A montage of the infrared is here:
http://www.mountainstoneproductions....0451&k=HNsxg8X
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Old June 25th, 2012, 04:19 AM   #9
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Re: Beginner badly needs help: Setting up XF100 for low light

Try use normal gamma, coring +7 (less detail = less noise), sharpness -1, gain +6dB, 1/50 (1/60) shutter speed, NoiseReduction auto with 1920x1080/50i(60i) record (deinterlaced in postproduction). With small movement at scene try record 25/24p and 1/25(...) vs 1/50(...) shutterspeed.

If this don't help, you need a better camcorder .-) .
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Old June 25th, 2012, 03:23 PM   #10
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Re: Beginner badly needs help: Setting up XF100 for low light

Shooter friend here in Austin TX produced the followign video about his XF100 settings. He mainly shoots weddings, I know you are shooting music, but he tweaked BBC settings for low light / high range.

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Old June 25th, 2012, 04:00 PM   #11
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Re: Beginner badly needs help: Setting up XF100 for low light

Thanks, Philip.
I note that he is working at 24p and +12dB gain. I am OK at around +12dB (f/1.8, 1/30 shutter), if the color will hold up at that gain...........it is trying to hold to max of +6dB gain that won't work.
I am going to try 24p (rather than 30p) and some different custom settings in a local club tomorrow evening.
Thanks again!
Mike
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Old June 25th, 2012, 10:43 PM   #12
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Re: Beginner badly needs help: Setting up XF100 for low light

I'm still learning about all this myself, but the Vimeo XF group (which seems to have disappeared now) once offered a HiGAIN settings file for controlling noise at higher gain settings.

It used:
Normal4 gamma
Black Master Ped -3
Sharpness Level -10
H. Detail Freq. +8
Coring +10
Noise Reduction Auto
Color Matrix Normal3
Color Matrix: Gain +20

I think the logic was that Normal gammas require less light, and dialing down the sharpening (-10 Level and +10 coring) helped minimize the effects of high gain. I would definitely experiment with gain between +6 and +12 to see if those are acceptable for your needs.
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Old June 25th, 2012, 10:52 PM   #13
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Re: Beginner badly needs help: Setting up XF100 for low light

Thank you very much, David. I will make this one of my custom settings to test tomorrow evening.

FYI, here are other settings I am familiar with from this forum (I hope I got them right). I couldn't get my spacing to save, so the order of the 3 sets of numbers are: Factory, Alan Roberts, and Lou Bruno. The first two are general settings, not aimed at low light situations.


Setting Factory Roberts Bruno
Gamma Normal 1 Normal 3 Normal 4
Black Master Pedestal 0 0 -4
Black Gamma Level 0 0 -5
Low Key Saturation Enable Off Off On
Level 0 0 6
Knee Enable On On On
Automatic On Off Off
Slope 0 12 11
Point 95 85 95
Sharpness Level 0 -5 -7
H Detail Frequency 0 8 0
Coring Level 0 12 10
HV Detail Balance 0 2 3
Knee Aperture Gain 0 0 0
Slope 1 1 1
Color Matrix Select Normal 1 Normal 3 Normal 4
Gain 0 0 15
R-G 0 -8 0
Gain L 0 -6 0
M 6 -3 7+
H 12 6 10.5
AGC Limit Off Off 12
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Old June 25th, 2012, 11:28 PM   #14
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Re: Beginner badly needs help: Setting up XF100 for low light

Brian Weed from the Vimeo Group posted this:

While the full 1080 HD quality of the XF camcorders is absolutely astounding, I also find myself to be continually amazed at it's 720 resolution setting. One thing I've noticed is that at the same Gain/Iris/Shutter, the Canon XF300 is 5/6 stop more sensitive in 720 resolution mode than it is in 1080. It's equivalent to adding 5db of gain.
All of these clips have been recorded at 0db, 24p, 180 degrees with 50Mbps CBR using my XF Mojo CP (downloadable in the Canon XF Vimeo Group forum). The only thing changed between the shots is resolution. If you need an extra 5/6 stop of light and you don't mind 720, this is a great thing to know. I'm very interested to see if this happens on the XF100/105 series as well.
One thing to note - even though the 720 footage has been uprezzed to 1080, it holds up remarkably well. It actually looks to resolve better than a lot of 1080 camcorders I've used.
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Old June 25th, 2012, 11:51 PM   #15
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Re: Beginner badly needs help: Setting up XF100 for low light

Thanks, Harry. I have never really even considered 720 but worth a try, particularly since I can still keep 50Mbps and 4:2:2.
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