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Canon XH Series HDV Camcorders
Canon XH G1S / G1 (with SDI), Canon XH A1S / A1 (without SDI).


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Old November 21st, 2008, 05:41 PM   #1
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XH-A1 by candlelight

I have the need to shoot the XH-A1 under very low light, so I decided to conduct a few tests with a subject (my daughter) by candlelight. Understanding that low light performance isn't the XH-A1's strongest attribute, I knew I was in for a challenge. The compression by Vimeo doesn't help your judging, but you can download the wmv file for better comparison, understanding it too has fairly heavy compression. At full resolution the results are pretty good.

Canon XH-A1 Candlelight Test on Vimeo

Last edited by Roger Shealy; November 21st, 2008 at 09:44 PM.
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Old November 21st, 2008, 08:02 PM   #2
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I'm very familiar with the damage +12 db of gain can do in low light shooting. Not good. As a personal preference, I liked the one with the 60W bulb at +6 because I think bringing up the background a bit fills in the scene. I don't shoot film features or shorts... all real world stuff so my opinion probably isn't worth much.

You didn't mention which preset you shot with. I'm guessing the "Factory". You might want to look into a low light preset. There are apparently a couple of them out there but I have not tried them.
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Old November 21st, 2008, 08:33 PM   #3
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Tripp,

I was using the Panalook2 preset. I use Panalook2 a lot, but am at the point where I'm ready to create my own presets for my own camera and shooting styles.
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Old November 21st, 2008, 09:02 PM   #4
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I think more light looks better. I think the picture should appear/feel as the scene would if sitting there in real life in front of the candle.

Candles give off a lot of light for people, lighting up the area. I think the picture should show this. Otherwise, it just looks too dark and very unreal.

I think maybe a 100w bulb is in order, with gain at 0.
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Old November 21st, 2008, 09:42 PM   #5
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Jack,

Thanks for the input and you could be right depending on the effect you want to achieve. When I started pumping up the wattage, I felt it washed out the effects on the wall, chair, book, and ribbon.

If I continue more testing, I will try a more focused light source of lower wattage, shining through the flame onto the subject. Using the camera light I had to glance the light off of the subject to avoid light reaching the back wall and ruining the candle's effects on the wall and other surroundings. Most of the light was wasted because it was directed between the subject and the lens (leading me to believe I could use a much lower wattage bulb if directed better). What I like about the final selection is the clarity of the face. The other lights were soft and I felt it muted the subject's features too much.

Subjective points aside, I feel that I am able to get a solid low light appearance if I carefully manipulate the light in production and the image in post. There is very little noise in the picture and the blacks are black without me having the manipulate the color curves.
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Old November 22nd, 2008, 11:00 AM   #6
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There are two noise reduction modes, NR1 as I remember causes ghosting trails on movements, but preserves image sharpness. The other, NR2 doesn't give the ghosting, but softens the picture a bit. This is from memory, I don't have the cam in front of me.

But NR1 if you could accept the minor ghosting, was actually rather effective at hiding video noise, allowing you to raise the gain for more light sensitivity. Slowing the shutter speed down to 1/30th also works really well, but blurring you have to manage.
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Old November 22nd, 2008, 12:21 PM   #7
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Tom,

I wasn't aware of these functions. I'll have to give them a try.
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Old November 22nd, 2008, 12:34 PM   #8
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Roger:

Are you trying to achieve a look that is specifically shot in low light or just a low-key looking image (i.e. "believable" as if lit by candelight)?

If it is the latter, there is no reason to shoot in low light--it's just a matter of picking the right instrument, positioning it and cutting it properly. The intensity is somewhat irrelevant--you could light this scene with much bigger instruments than the ones you are using and achieve exactly the right look (it's just a matter of stopping down the lens). I feel like this is something you came around to during your tests, but your initial post seems to point otherwise (that you needed to shoot under "very low light"). One advantage of shooting at a higher stop is that you may start to be able to capture some detail in the flame of the candle itself rather than have it burn out completely--this is how the amazing fire sequences in movies such as "Backdraft" were captured (overall light levels were high and lens stopped down).

Duplicating the look of candlelight is actually tricky; because it is a small point source, it should nominally be duplicated with a small unit that delivers hard shadows. However our perception of candlelight is that it is "soft" and pretty, so a more diffuse light often appears more believable than a literal interpretation of true candlelight.
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Old November 22nd, 2008, 01:26 PM   #9
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Charles,

My desire is to create what looks like candlelight by whatever means (or other low light situations other than candlelight). How would you go about using higher wattage lights and not lose the effects of the flicker of the candle and its glow and shadows on the wall? This is new territory for me, so basic advice is very welcome.

Do you have any examples of creating this look at higher intensities you can share?
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Old November 22nd, 2008, 02:22 PM   #10
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Roger:

The "real" way to create flicker is with a flicker box, that electronically creates a fluctuating output to a fixture that duplicates the shifts in intensity that flame creates.

Barring that it is very possible to recreate this in a low-tech fashion by waggling things in front of the fixture, from strips of diffusion to one's own fingers. It depends how hard your light source is to begin with, a direct light will cause this method to appear as literal shadows (not good).

In reality, candles don't create that much of a flicker, if they are burning consistently (as the one in your test video is). It many instances it can be fine to forego the literal concept of building a fluctation into your lighting--it would have to be so subtle to not look "hokey" that it's almost not worth doing. Having the right "feel" to the lighting is more important, that a function of placement, quality and color.

The way I would light this scene would be to use a small unit with Chimera out of frame left and flag it off the candle and ribbon. This would create the appropriate lighting on the girl and allow the light to falll off on the back wall (most likely a separate flag would be used to cut down the amount of light on the wall vs the girl). I would also add a small unit directly above the candle pointing straight down with a bit of diffusion and a snoot to limit spill; this would pick up some detail in the ribbon (from the proper direction, above) and perhaps I would allow it to play a little on the girl's shoulder which would further enhance the proximity of the candle. Both units would get 1/2 CTO to match the candle. Depending on the mood of the scene, I might also add some very soft fill from the right, flagged off to avoid leaking on the back wall, and probably neutral in color (no gel) to give a little bit of contrast. If she was to look to her left (right side of the frame) this would allow her to have a touch of detail in the face and eyes as opposed to falling into complete blackness. Again this all depends on the scene and the overall style of the film--this is clearly a moody setup but for a comedy, a less literall approach and higher key look might be more appropriate.
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Old November 22nd, 2008, 02:46 PM   #11
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Meant to add and forgot--a very simple and inexpensive way to create a low-frequency flicker for simulated fire or watching-TV light is to use a household lamp dimmer. Be VERY careful that you only plug in a light that is under the load limit of the particular dimmer. Then it's just a matter of finding the right amount and speed of adjustment to make during the shot (less is usually more).
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Old November 22nd, 2008, 06:43 PM   #12
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Thanks Charles, I will investigate some of this further. I appreciate you taking the time to comment.
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Old November 23rd, 2008, 01:20 AM   #13
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The articles in American Cinematographer often reveal surprising lighting setups that are much different from what one would expect after watching a film.

Recently the article on Atonement, the section on the instruments used (and size, and how) in the library scene surprised me after watching the film. This page of the article has several interesting insights:
American Cinematographer: Irretrievable Deeds

This magazine is definitely worth a trial subscription at least, in my opinion.
Subscriptions*::*The ASC Store

Much of what's talked about is far beyond the scale of the individual, but the principles can be applied at any scale.
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Old November 23rd, 2008, 06:02 AM   #14
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Thanks Jack. I gave my son a subscription last year for Christmas. I think I'll dig through his stack and take a look! I'm crunching through the Filmmaker's Handbook 2008 also, which may address some of these special lighting situations as well. It also is a great read.

Last edited by Roger Shealy; November 23rd, 2008 at 03:03 PM.
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Old November 28th, 2008, 09:00 PM   #15
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low watt source

I have made several low watt source lights with track light heads from Home Depot for about $9 each, plus a cord, in-line switch and a clamp base. They are 50 watts each and easy to pack and carry.
Lew

Quote:
Originally Posted by Roger Shealy View Post
Jack,

Thanks for the input and you could be right depending on the effect you want to achieve. When I started pumping up the wattage, I felt it washed out the effects on the wall, chair, book, and ribbon.

If I continue more testing, I will try a more focused light source of lower wattage, shining through the flame onto the subject. Using the camera light I had to glance the light off of the subject to avoid light reaching the back wall and ruining the candle's effects on the wall and other surroundings. Most of the light was wasted because it was directed between the subject and the lens (leading me to believe I could use a much lower wattage bulb if directed better). What I like about the final selection is the clarity of the face. The other lights were soft and I felt it muted the subject's features too much.

Subjective points aside, I feel that I am able to get a solid low light appearance if I carefully manipulate the light in production and the image in post. There is very little noise in the picture and the blacks are black without me having the manipulate the color curves.
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