Frustration... Can't seem to figure what I'm doing wrong at DVinfo.net

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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 September 20th, 2009, 08:17 PM   #1
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Frustration... Can't seem to figure what I'm doing wrong

Greetings, all. I hope this is the correct part of the forum to post this. If not, I apologize.

I've been using the XH-A1 for about two years now, and I still don't know what I'm doing wrong. I see these beautiful clips posted here and on vimeo.com shot with the A1, but mine seem to all look... well... bad compared to these.

I normally shoot at 30p, and normally in either shutter speed priority or aperture priority, with no presets. I use a Steadicam Merlin to get moving shots. I capture with HDV Split to capture and Premiere Pro CS3 to edit with. The only effect I really use is Magic Bullet Looks. I export to vimeo.com using the settings recommended on their site.

But everything I put up just looks bad. It looks noisy (even when the scene is well-lit), it looks jumpy, and just generally not sharp and poor.

I have tried lots of different settings, framerates, shutter speeds, export settings, and everything else I can think of. Does anyone have any idea what is going wrong?

Here are a couple of recent clips where it's obvious to me.

Wagner Game for KDT on Vimeo

919 Myrta Street on Vimeo

Thanks to anyone who has any tips or advice.
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Old September 20th, 2009, 10:42 PM   #2
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You have to use presets with the XH A1 to make it look good. The most important thing I noticed that cleans up the image is to "press" the blacks and put the NR2 on medium. Do both of these things in presets and the image will be cleaner and more contrasty.

Always shoot in -3 gain, even in dark situations. Stay away from positive gain settings. The A1 is a camera, not military night-vision goggles. If you don't have enough light, open the iris wide open and lower the shutter don't pump up the gain. I wouldn't go below 1/24th shutter in 24p mode or below 1/30th in 30p mode, or you risk bad motion blur.

Also, always shoot in full manual mode. Don't use aperture priority or anything like that. If you like to shoot in any of the auto modes, might as well own a palm-corder instead of a nice camera with manual controls, like the A1.

And I can't stress this enough: Make sure you are shooting with the correct exposure, shutter and white balance. A poor white balance will be hard to correct in post, if you can correct it at all. White balances can be anywhere from 1900k to 8000k, depending on the lighting. Set your zebras to about 80 or 85 and expose to that. Some people like really flat exposures, some people like crispy, blown-out highlights. This is all dependent on the project and the subject matter it's an artistic choice. But unintentionally over-exposed footage looks bad and is pretty much useless, so be careful.

Play around with shutter speeds. A slow shutter gives the surreal, blurry, slow-mo look. A fast shutter gives the crisp, jittery motion with no motion blur. A strong project may use various shutter speeds based on the scene. Standard shutter speed is 1/48th in 24p and 1/60th in 30p.

Play with selective focus. Zoom in and focus on one object/subject, then rack to something in the foreground or background. Staying on the wide end of the lens gives you the flat, video look (everything is in focus).

Turn your sharpness setting in the presets to zero or perhaps -3. The positive settings add too much artificial sharpening to the image and make it look too video, unless the super-sharp look is what you want. Again, this is all dependent on the artistic choice. You can always add sharpening in post, so I tend to sway towards unsharpened footage.

If you're using FCP, capture with Apple Pro Res 422 (HQ) 1920x1080. This converts the HDV footage to a less-compressed 10 bit codec. You can do more in post if you capture at this setting.

Keep at it and you will pick up more tricks along the road. These are just some of the things that I can draw off the top of my head.
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Old September 21st, 2009, 03:10 AM   #3
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All of the above is true.

I thought your videos looked pretty good. You need to remember you're shooting in natural light, so the "pop" you see in some videos here and elsewhere is often the result of considerable preparation in the lighting category. Also overcast days can be lackluster at best in creating a beautiful looking image.

I'd just like to say that the thing that stuck out the most to me was the blurring in the videos. I'm fairly sure that this blurring of movement is caused by your noise reduction settings within the custom preset (NR1 and NR2). It doesn't quite look like motion blur caused by a slow shutter speed.

Custom presets can be a scary thing if you're new to them, but they make all the difference in tweaking the XH's image to something more aesthetically pleasing. Here's a good place to start.
XH Custom Presets Download Library (copy)

You can download presets from other users without having to make them yourself. A nice looking preset (in my opinion) for everyday use that's not too stylized is the Panalook preset made by Steven Dempsey. It also does not use any noise reduction, so those weird blurs should disappear. A few of my other favorites are the Panafilm and Vision presets, which you can find on this site and elsewhere with a little searching. More dramatic for film use and such. If you have any trouble, message me and I'll send you a whole bunch that you can try out.
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Old September 21st, 2009, 05:07 AM   #4
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That's true, Nate. You have to be careful with NR1 and NR2. I personally never use NR1 and will not go above medium on NR2. I haven't had any issues yet. But I'm also not shooting sports and fast motion too often. Probably better to not risk it if you're going to be shooting fast-moving objects....
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Old September 21st, 2009, 08:16 AM   #5
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Gabe and Nate,

Thanks so much for your thorough responses. I'm new to presets, but I'm going to give them a try right away. Thanks a lot for the recommendations -- they all make a lot of sense. I have a new list of skills to brush up on and a checklist of things to remember! The main problem that's been driving me nuts is the blur. Hopefully the NP options will help that.
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Old September 21st, 2009, 02:58 PM   #6
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Hi Aaron,

I thought the clips looked OK too - the colours are nice, quite flat and 'un-poppy' true, but personally I prefer that. Excessively rich colours look good at first but seem unrealistic and sickly after a while. The greens did look a bit too flat perhaps. I did notice the motion blur and confess to having problems with this myself. One thing to try is to run the footage back to tape to see if it is still there because is could be caused by interlacing though if shot at 30p obviously not. I have had great problems with motion blur when viewing my HD footage (shot on the XH-A1) on any kind of computer screen or linked to an LCD but found that as soon as I printed it back to tape (from FCP) it looked fine on the same LCD.

All the advice above is excellent.

I'd like to ask Gabe though about Prores - does it really 'uncompress' HDV footage? Can't see how that is possible, but then again I'm pretty ignorant! Also doesn't using the HQ setting create huge files?
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Old September 21st, 2009, 09:13 PM   #7
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Thanks for all the positive reinforcement. It really means a lot when people from this forum think things look pretty good!

One thought I just had as I've been playing around in my apartment with the Merlin and trying out your advice... Could the jittery movement have anything to do with the Image Stabilization feature in the A1?

I don't know if it's been on or off for some of the films I asked you guys to look at because I use two A1s and my two helpers also change some settings depending on the purpose.

Could the stabilizer cause such poor looking results with the Merlin?
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Old September 22nd, 2009, 02:32 AM   #8
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Hi

Another thing I thought of when I saw the football game video was the contrast. It's a real nightmare to film bright white objects beside darker objects. You either end up with overexposed whites to get the background normal, or underexposed background to get the white players normally exposed. The dynamic range of the camcorder is to small to acheive a good exposuer in those situations. What you can do is, again, use presets and play around with different gamma curves, knee, pedestal and so on, or download presets and see what they can do. As I know, two presets that are frequently used are VIVIDRGB and PANALOOK2. I myself mostly use a modified VIVIDRGB which I like a lot and which give me a result I like without having to do so much color correction in post.

As I can see you have some kind of jib and a cam stabilizer which give you a lot of nice shots!

Regards,

/Bo
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Old September 22nd, 2009, 02:49 AM   #9
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Hi

That's exactly what I thought when looking at the footage of the house interior ie that maybe the image stabiliser was kicking in. It should be off, of course. I suppose that autofocus was on, which is understandable as you are using something like a Merlin. The combination of the two might cause the focusing problem.

But the picture generally was a bit soft, noisy and fuzzy. I don't know what's causing this. There seems to be quite a bit of light in the rooms so I wouldn't have thought you would need to have the aperture wide open. I don't know what combination of shutter speed and aperture you were using. The XH A1 seems to like an aperture of around something like 5 ideally. An extreme aperture might degrade the image like this I suppose

The football looked fine I thought.

ps I wasn't paying attention. I looked at the video again. It's all on auto isn't it. The aperture can be seen to change. If it's any help you can look at my showreel via the link below. At around 54" there are two XH A1 shots on a Merlin, on full auto in similar lighting conditions to your house interior I think, which look much cleaner.
Are your experiments without AIS turned on producing better results?
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Old September 22nd, 2009, 05:47 AM   #10
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Hi again

Also make shure that you're not using a preset unintentionally. If you think youre not using any presets, or have chosen the wrong one, but accidently have chosen one you're not knowing the settings for, you might have unpredictable results.


/Bo
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Old September 22nd, 2009, 08:42 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gabe Spangler View Post
Always shoot in -3 gain, even in dark situations. Stay away from positive gain settings.

What do you find wrong with 0 gain??
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Old September 22nd, 2009, 02:00 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard Gooderick View Post
I looked at the video again. It's all on auto isn't it. The aperture can be seen to change. If it's any help you can look at my showreel via the link below. At around 54" there are two XH A1 shots on a Merlin, on full auto in similar lighting conditions to your house interior I think, which look much cleaner.
Are your experiments without AIS turned on producing better results?

Richard,
I use two other shooters besides myself for football, and I've been putting their A1's on Shutter Priority. But yeah, the aperture opens and closes too much. They're just volunteers so they're not good with full manual controls, and I don't want to have a bunch of blown out highlights from their footage.

My Merlin stuff is looking better now that I have the AIS off, full-manual controls, and the PANALOOK2 preset. I hadn't realized how much difference the presets can make! You learn something new every day....

I'm going to keep experimenting with the presets and the Merlin, and maybe soon I'll have a good preset for use specifically with the Merlin.

Thanks!
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Old September 22nd, 2009, 11:32 PM   #13
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Geoffrey,

Pro Res doesn't "uncompress" footage. If I gave that impression, I am sorry. From what I've read, it converts the 8 bit HDV footage to 10 bit. Since I've started using it, I've noticed I can do more with color in FCP.

If you're shooting in HDV and editing in FCP, it's the way to go, in my opinion. File sizes are pretty big, though. 1080-24p footage is about 1.3 gigs per minute of footage, so a 60 minute tape is about 75 gigabytes. You need a lot of storage to use it.
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Old September 23rd, 2009, 01:20 PM   #14
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Thanks Gabe, that's very clear. Would like to try using it more but just don't have the memory! Some say it's also easier / smoother for editing than HDV - do you find this?
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Old September 23rd, 2009, 07:32 PM   #15
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I never had a problem with either, but then again I have a Mac Pro....
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