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Old December 18th, 2012, 10:28 PM   #1
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Filming outside CHRISTMAS lights with XH-A1

Hello esteemed colleagues!

Anyone have much experience with shooting brightly colured CHRISTMAS lights, outside, on HOUSES at nightime?

I did some test shots with the camera set on the 'SPOTLIGHT' mode and to be honest, it wasn't bad! Would greatly welcome, and be appreciative of, any other advice on settings.

Happy Christmas guys and girls.
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Old December 19th, 2012, 11:57 AM   #2
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Re: Filming outside CHRISTMAS lights with XH-A1

Mike.
The XHA1 is a brilliant camera but performance in low light is its weak spot.
It should pick up the highlights well if they are bright enough.
You could try slowing the shutter speed if your shots are static.
There were lots of settings recipes formulated years ago and posted to DVInfo.
I dare say that you can still find some lowlight settings.
But the standard spotlight setting that you are already using is probably as good as any.
If you are trying to do any serious work I would suggest hiring or borrowing a large chip camera.
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Old December 19th, 2012, 03:04 PM   #3
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Re: Filming outside CHRISTMAS lights with XH-A1

I haven't done Christmas Lights specifically, but I did do quite a bit of architectural filming at night recently by available light with a small portable fill light for foreground details. For low light work, I now mostly use the "PF Vision" preset, but there are others worth a try. I don't go higher than +6dB gain and try to use less if possible. I use full manual settings.

Best Low Light Preset is worth a read, and the sticky at
XH Custom Presets Download Library (copy) contains all the recommended presets.

I don't know how much you want of the background to the lights - it will take a bit of experimentation so as not to overexpose the lights themselves - you don't want the colours washed out I imagine.

This screengrab has lamps in shot which are not too overcooked and the grain isn't totally disastrous.
Attached Thumbnails
Filming outside CHRISTMAS lights with XH-A1-screenshot.jpg  

Last edited by Colin McDonald; December 20th, 2012 at 03:16 AM. Reason: Added image
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Old December 19th, 2012, 03:05 PM   #4
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Re: Filming outside CHRISTMAS lights with XH-A1

Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard Gooderick View Post
Mike.

If you are trying to do any serious work I would suggest hiring or borrowing a large chip camera.
While I agree that trying to capture images in low light on the XHA1 can be a challenge, isn't the XHA1 considered a large chip camera? As Richard suggested, if necessary, you might consider other options.
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Old December 19th, 2012, 05:36 PM   #5
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Re: Filming outside CHRISTMAS lights with XH-A1

Hi Mike,

there's a trick that worked well for me several times:

# put the camera on a tripod.

# lower your shutter speed to whatever youn need (may be 1/12th, 1/6th...).

# make sure, that there are no moving elements in the image (people, pets, moving branches...)

#take the shot. Make it long enough (at least four times as long as you'll need).

Now you'll have of course a shutter effect in the take, but never mind. Just increase the speed in your NLE. I found that an increase of 200%- 400% (depending on the exposure time you use) is sufficient to let the shutter effect disappear - and the result is a clean, well exposed image you couldn't produce otherwise with the XH A1.
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Old December 19th, 2012, 06:18 PM   #6
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Re: Filming outside CHRISTMAS lights with XH-A1

Sensor technology has advanced a lot in recent years, so you do not need a big-sensor camera (with accompanying lack of sharpness and moire if you are talking DSLR) to get good low-light performance (you do need a wide aperture).

The main trick is to actually close down the lens - lights are, well, bright and if you want to see colors you need to darken the scene.

Here are two Christmas night light frame grabs taken with a recent small one-chip camcorder (if 1/2.88" is considered small) at 1/60th of a second; no tricks. The first focuses on lights, and ensures the colors are apparent. The second allows more of the setting to be seen (the lights are not colored). The noise is way less objectionable than that in the frame grab posted above, which is not only noisy but not very sharp.
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Filming outside CHRISTMAS lights with XH-A1-20121213195059-1-2-.jpg   Filming outside CHRISTMAS lights with XH-A1-20121213195059-1-3-.jpg  

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Old December 19th, 2012, 06:47 PM   #7
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Re: Filming outside CHRISTMAS lights with XH-A1

I'm with Richard on this. The larger the sensor, the greater the dynamic range, i.e the better the ability to handle highlights and shadows. Neither of the posted pictures does it for me I'm afraid (sorry guys) - the first one is too grainy and the second one is too dark - and I'm not convinced that you will find any small chip camera (1/3" or less) that gives an acceptable result ('acceptable' being very subjective, of course).
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Old December 19th, 2012, 07:18 PM   #8
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Re: Filming outside CHRISTMAS lights with XH-A1

You did not comment on the *third* one, which is neither too dark nor too grainy, right? Btw, the criterion I use is whether the shot *accurately* portrays the scene. These do that - in fact the first was a scene that was pitch black; there were no lights other than the decorations.

I agree that dynamic range is important if you want to capture bright lights and some detail in the setting. Of course, no camera has the dynamic range of the human eye, but too many night shots brighten the real scene unnaturally.

And it would be really nice if you provided an example that did better.
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Old December 20th, 2012, 03:09 AM   #9
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Re: Filming outside CHRISTMAS lights with XH-A1

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mark Rosenzweig View Post
... The noise is way less objectionable than that in the frame grab posted above, which is not only noisy but not very sharp.
<Screen> grab, not a frame grab - explains (some) of the lack of sharpness. :-)

I agree with Richard too, BTW, but I thought it might be of interest to post something that was actually taken on an XH-A1.

If we are considering lateral solutions, then I would suggest not shooting the Christmas lights at night, but choosing a time when there is just enough light left to see something other than darkness along with correctly exposed Christmas lights. That would apply whatever the size of sensor, although a larger one would do a better job. Just an idea.
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Old December 20th, 2012, 07:25 AM   #10
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Re: Filming outside CHRISTMAS lights with XH-A1

Mark, yes you're right, sorry, I didn't actually see there was a third picture! It is much better (although still a tad too dark for my taste). As you rightly say, though, if it is an accurate representation of what the scene was like at that time then no argument from me on a technical level.

I suspect, though, that the OP's objective is to capture the scene in its best light and to make it as attractive as possible to look at, rather than wanting it to be an absolutely pinpoint accurate representation of the scene at that time. I am happy to be corrected.

Finally, I'm not interested in competing with you for 'who can get the best shot in low light'! Besides, I have now sold my XH-A1s and bought a large sensor camera with some very fast lenses, so I'd win ;-)
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Old December 21st, 2012, 11:02 AM   #11
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Re: Filming outside CHRISTMAS lights with XH-A1

Thanks. Nothing beats a large sensor and wide aperture for low light (ignoring moire, rolling shutter, and lower resolution in video, of course). Always trade-offs. ;-)
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Old December 21st, 2012, 12:00 PM   #12
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Re: Filming outside CHRISTMAS lights with XH-A1

Rolling shutter - definitely an issue but much less so on the AF-101 than any other large sensor CMOS (so I pan slowly or not at all - occasionally it's restricting, I agree). Moire - it's an issue on DSLRs but not an issue on the AF-101 (or the Sony FS100); neither is aliasing particularly troublesome, unless you start deep pixel peeping. Lower resolution? How so?

But as you quite rightly say, Mike, there are always trade-offs, and the perfect camera for every situation simply doesn't exist. My biggest issue with the AF-101 is that it takes me twice as long to set up the best shot. With the Canon I could get a pleasing picture very quickly. With the Panasonic I have to think harder and work at it. It's challenging, but rewarding, plus having a sensor that's 13 times the size of the XH-A1S is fun!

Having said that, the Canon was/is by far the best in its class and I loved using it.

Merry Christmas!
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