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Old January 14th, 2004, 03:30 PM   #1
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Jon Fordham's HD10 Review Part III, Heath's Short Film

First off, let me say to those of you who have been looking forward to, waiting for, and even bitching at me about the footage from the comparison I shot between the HD10 and the Varicam, the footage is coming. The downconverts were done shortly before Christmas and clones are now in Heath's possesion. It's now up to Heath and the powers that be to post the footage for you to view. I trust that the footage from the HD10 will also be downconverted to Standard Definition DV25 for proper comparison. If comparison of the footage in Standard Definition is unacceptable, then someone will have to volunteer to post the footage from both cameras in High Definition. I will make the Varicam footage available to anyone in New York City who has the proper facilities to capture and post the 1280x720 DVCPROHD tapes. These HD masters are however part of a film that is currently being offlined. Therefore the HD masters will not leave the producer's possesion. Either myself, the producer, or director will accompany the footage to the facility to oversee the capture and leave with the tapes in thier possesion. If you or an associate of yours wants to take on the responsibility of doing this capture for the sake of this board, then I will accomodate.

Now, on to the next chapter of my experiences with the HD10...

As Heath has already posted, he and I made some time to meet up and shoot a little short film with his HD10 over the Christmas Holidays. Heath and I have known each other for awhile and have been discussing my involvement as Director of Photography with his upcoming feature film. We both wanted a chance to see how we worked together and a short film with the HD10 seemed like reason enough to test out our working relationship.

Prior to this I had been doing some informal tests with the HD10. After putting it next to the Panasonic HDC27F Varicam, I spent a couple weeks doing some side by sides with the DVX100. I attempted to convince Heath to shoot this short film with the DVX100, but he was much more interested in working with the HD10 for tests purposes.

The script, entitled "Release Me", was a modest page and a half. We wanted to take our time and not make a big production out an informal test of our working relationship and HD10 curiousity.

Unfortunately, due to the fact that we didn't want to make a big production out of this one and also because we did not have a proper budget, I did not have the size of crew that i am use to working with. Nor did I have the size G&E package that I am accustomed to. Leaving us at the mercy of circumstance and our own ingenuity.

After doing some shooting with the HD10, I've found the edge enhancment (yes, even on the HD10) to be objectionable. I chose to use a light to moderate diffusion filter. I removed the JVC lens hood and replaced it with a Cokin A series modular hood and attached a C830 diffuser. For those who have asked, I used the A series size for two reasons. One, because they are the perfect size for the smaller handycams like the HD10. And two, because it fit much nicer in my backpack on the plane trip to Florida. And Heath owes me some warmer sunshine cause when I got to Florida it was ridiculously cold that week... :) And if Florida weather is cold to a guy who lives in NY then something is definately wrong.

The shooting conditions consisted of a handful of day exterior shots coupled with some day interiors and some night interiors.

The only G&E I had at my disposal was a Arri tungsten kit consisting of 2 650's and 2 300's, 4 stands, and few sheets of 250 & black wrap.

We started out with the day exteriors. The shot consisted of few angles of a couple putting some boxes in a SUV, getting in and driving off. With no 12x silk, no HMI's, no bounce boards, and no crew, I was forced to shoot with natural and available light only. Heath and I chose to put the SUV in a spot with as much shade from direct sunlight as possible. This helped out a great deal, but did not completely shield them from sunlight.

Immeadiately I had problems with highlights. The sunlight hitting the SUV's corner in a wide shot, hit the diffuser and created a bit too much of a noticeable higlight 'ping' in my opinion. Not enough to justify losing the diffuser, but enough for me to wish I had more control over the light.

Next we moved into MED's and CU's. These put us out of direct sunlight and the exposure evened out a bit. Unfortunately, I was again plagued by lack of control. This time the choice was between locking exposure or locking shutter speed. I chose to lock the exposure only to find that my shutter speed decided to change and compensate for my exposure level! We got through the MED's and CU's of the talent and decided we'd try a shot from inside of the SUV looking out of the actor opening the rear door and placing one of the boxes inside. I knew this probrably wasn't going to work. But we decided to try it anyway. In true HD10 form, the camera tried compensate for the changing light levels, going from a bit underexposed to drasticly overexposed, then clamped down to exposure, then to drastic underxposure... We tried it twice locking different single values down, but in the end we weren't able to get a shot that was usable from beginning to end. Perhaps the magic of post will be able to cut around it.

After getting the exteriors we moved inside for the rest of the shoot. With AC power, I was now able to use a small 19" consumer television. Certainly not perfect, but a much appreciated CRT to view my shots. Unfortunately, being a consumer television we couldn't monitor our images in a letterboxed form showing us the "real" top and bottom of the frame. Heath and I found that the HD10 will only display a letterboxed image live when there is no tape loaded. Even with the menu set to "4:3 TV". Whether or not this is a quirk of Heath's unit or particular to all HD10's I don't know. I don't recal reading about such a function in the manual, but i could've missed it. The fact that once I noticed what it was doing, it continued to follow the same pattern of displaying a letterboxed image only without the tape loaded, makes me think that this a design of the HD10 and not a defect of Heath's camera. We pressed on viewing the image in its anamorphic state.
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Old January 14th, 2004, 03:31 PM   #2
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First we attempted a shot of the actor coming in through the front door and walking through a hallway into the room. I had lost most of the daylight coming through the windows and decided to break out the Arri's. I set up the 650's and attempted to give some highlights coming through the hallway. The 650 wasn't the right tool for the job and it showed. Lacking the proper tools I opted to try and get the shot without. The proved to create a very muddy image with little color at all and no contrast what so ever. I knew the HD10's lack of color and poor performance at handling contrast extremes. But I was a bit surprised at how muddy and horrible this particular setup proved. My hope was that the sharp edge enhancment and the 720 HDV resolution would save me. But alas, it did not.

We next attempted a few different setups in various places about the apartment. A hallway, a bedroom morning shot, etc. All with varying degrees of success. After a break for lunch, we tackled the remaining setups.

First up, a dinner scene. A simple setup of the two actors at a table having a meal together. With no color or contrast in the room, the shot was difficult. We were shooting into a window with miniblinds and a bare wall. Heath did a little art direction by placing a poster for his film, Skye Falling (go to his website and buy a copy on DVD today!), on the bare wall. He then dressed the table and brought in the talent. It was very small space to work in and my lighting options were limited. I was able to work in the 2 300's with a little 250 and then adjusted pratical overhead to my liking. The table was candlelit and finding a balance of mood and exposure is always a bit tricky. Fortunately, this was one of those situations where all of the variables lined up in the HD10' favor. The lack of extremes and the ability to control as much as possible in the small space came together in a shot that didn't look half bad on the monitor. I was actually satisfied with what we achieved in this setup.

Finally we wrapped up with some shots of our beautiful leading lady getting ready for the dinner. Some CU's of putting on lipstick in the mirror some MED-WIDE's of her zipping up her boots from outside the bathroom, etc. These shots worked out pretty well also. Certainly not how I would've approached them with the proper tools. But definately acceptable.

Following our martini, Heath and took a few minutes to review some of the footage on his 16/9 HD LCD via the HD10's component output. Reviewing footage immeadiately after I shoot it is something I hate doing, but I decided to relax and enjoy it.

What I noticed when viewing the footage on the LCD was the usual chroma and compression artifacting. The artifacting was most apparent in shots where there was a lack of contrast and large areas of black. The artifacting resulted in images that were not as clean as I would like and a bit muddy in terms of contrast.

Heath and I took some time to meet up a few days later at a local Circuit City and check out some of the footage on a few CRT selections. First up, a 34" Sony 16/9 High Definition CRT Television. We set the HD10's menu to "16:9 TV" and 1080i output. What was immeadiately noticeable to me was the MPEG compression and lack of color saturation. The image had a very "pixelated" or blocky look to it. As if you were seeing actual "pixel blocks" or something is the only way I can describe it. It appeared as if the 1080i CRT left nowhere to hide. All of the small imperfections were visible. We then connected the HD10 to a 32" Sony 4/3 Standard Definition Television and switched the menu to "4:3 TV" 480i output. The image looked better letterboxed on the SD set. But you could still see pixelated grid and compression artifacts if you were looking for it. It did take Heath a minute to see it. So we're not talking about something that most people would immeadiately notice. The next, and most interesting, was a 32" Sony 4/3 Standard Definition "HI SCAN" television with a 16/9 menu option. By switching the television's menu to 16/9, the television will squeeze anamorphic images to the proper aspect ratio. Thus using all of the active scan lines of the television and producing superior widescreen image reproduction. I turned on the televsion's 16/9 menu option and we set the camera back to "16:9 TV" and 480i. The results were better. The pixelated grid and compression artifacting were almost invisible. It seems to me that SD's lack of resolving power hides many of the HD10's flaws. Coupled with the anamorphic squeeze of the Sony HI SCAN televsion, the flaws all but disappeared.

Ultimately, this project further proved the many shortcomings I had previously witnessed with the HD10. It also showed the possibility of achieving some decent results when all of the right factors line up. Compression, color, sharpness (not resolution), lens, and MANUAL CONTROL are all still an overwhelming set of negative points to this camera. And I certainly would not recommend this camera for 99.9% of image acquisition needs. But I do applaud JVC for taking the first step to bring High Definition to the masses. And I do see extremely great possibilities for the future of the HDV format.

I do have one more possible project that has come my way where I may yet again give the HD10 a try. One that shows a little hope of achieving some cool results. If it happens, it will involve setting the HD10 to Black and White mode and shooting high contrast hard light situations. High contrast hard light situations sound like a nightmare for the HD10. But in B&W mode, I'm hoping that the issues of color, compression, and over/underexposure are diminished. If this project happens, I'll report the results to this forum.

Jon
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Old January 14th, 2004, 04:30 PM   #3
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Great review, Jon! The pressure's on for me to get some footage and jpegs of this short film and the HD10 vs. VariCam.

Chris Hurd, I'll have all that stuff for you next week (I'm in the middle of another project). Contact me privately about how to send this stuff to you!

Thanks Jon!

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Old January 14th, 2004, 07:03 PM   #4
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Thanks for your effort guys. Just a quick praise during my lunch break. Hope i can get some VariCam footage so i can have it as a basis for comparisons for future HD as well. So i beg for that. :D

*Prays all screenshot type images are in a lossless format*

**Prays even more for full resolution HD footage to be posted so he can compare things in all there glory* :)
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Old January 17th, 2004, 03:12 PM   #5
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Just to provide a varying opinion, while shooting our little feature, my gang has run into all the technical hurdles Jon faced but haven't run into any quality limitations. For one thing, I think we've all seen from several still frames posted on this site that rampant compression artifacts aren't necessarily visible at all. Just looking at all the iffy HDTVs in the video stores, especially the new LCD ones and a lot of the plasmas as well, it seems a lot of monitors spew out blocky, draggy artifacts no matter if the origin of the picture comes from DVD, satellite, cable, broadcast HDV, or JVC cam.

One reason why the images look good is that a lot of the crew have art and theatre backgrounds as well as film, which helps them think outside the box when they need to and address the problem at hand with what they have on hand. For example, after much experimentation with traditional filters, black stockings, brown stockings, and, on the advice of a well-regarded DP in the LA Times, plastic wrap, we found the best filter for our camera to control the light and the edge enhancement and to give it the best overall film look was a lens we cut out of a pair of Christmas glasses--you know the kind they hand out at holiday lighting events to make the twinklies look soft and glowy. The ungodly amount of edge enhancement actually seemed to help in this case, as the filter would have made things a bit soft otherwise.

It may be that most of the DV features that have been released and that have not looked that great were the ones that look like second-rate films (The Anniversary Party for example), instead of first-rate explorations of the new medium. Most of the underwhelming DV features were shot with all the baggage and strictures placed on mainstream film technique instead of stripping down the process, going with the flow, and letting what the camera can-and-can't do guide you into an new, more interesting aesthetic.

On every video shoot I've helped out on that had bad visual quality, the director, not trusting his or her own instinct had grabbed a by-the-book cameraman from AFI or FSU (God help us) who walked and talked like a cross between the IT nerd that everyone dreads at their office and the comic book store owner on the Simpsons who "knew" at all times what was "correct" and what was "incorrect" and who always wound up making it look like a porno.

IMextremelyHO, I'd be happy never go back to Sony and Canon SDs after seeing what the JVC can do.

For anyone curious, it'll be a while before we have a computer able to capture and post images but we will put some up when we can. This site has been god-send to us at so many times. I'm so thankful to the advice and opinions of everyone, even if we sometimes disagree.
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Old January 17th, 2004, 08:32 PM   #6
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Betsy,

Thanks for sharing your experiences with the HD10. Stating that you have not experienced a lack of quality using the HD10 seems a bit subjective. But please bear in mind that compression artifacts in particular are much more visible when viewing motion imagery. Compression artifacting becomes much more aparent as the images are viewed in succession. I am unaware of what you mean by "iffy HDTV's". And may I remind you that to the best off my knowledge ALL the signals you mentioned, DVD, Satellite, Cable (digital), and HDV, are a form of the same MPEG compression. As much as I LOVE my Satellite system, I can see plenty of compression artifacting every 1/60th of a second as my watch my favorite programing. Not to mention that computer monitors are just as random in quality and setup (brightness, contrast, sharpness, gamma, etc.) as consumer televsions.

I trust your comments concerning your "good looking imagery" being atributed to the fact that your crew "knew what they were doing" in no way suggests that I, or my crews, are incompetent or ignorant as to what we were doing and our experiences with the HD10. As I have stated, in the side by side comparisons I performed with the HD10 and the Varicam, I was being paid to shoot a film with the Varicam. Not the HD10. My taking the initiative to put the HD10 next to the Varicam was my choice to see how it performed. However, my lighting, framing and approach to the cinematography was in every way possible performed specificaly for image capture by the Varicam and not at all "tailored" to the HD10. Furthermore, the short film that I shot for Heath was as I have stated, more than anything a test of how Heath and I worked together. And while it did provide Heath and I an opportunity to further "test" the perfomrance of the HD10, we did not have the budget to properly cater to the performance issues of the HD10.

While I agree with you that far too many filmmakers refuse to embrace the new aesthetics and atributes of new digital acquisition formats, I would hardly call John Bailey's cinematography "second rate". I do agree that Mr. Bailey would have benefitted from some better D.I.T. guidance with the DSR-500WSPL/1. But I do not think "The Anniversary Party's" image quality was at all a detraction from the film. I would even go so far as to say that at the time of the film's release, it was one of, if not, the best looking DV25 acquired feature films. Sure, more filmmakers should embrace the unique qualities of Digital acquisition like Hal Hartley did in "The Book of Life". But criticizing those who attempt more traditional aethetics with Digital acquisition isn't nescesarily fair, in my opinion. Especially in feature length narrative projects.

Sure, too many digital projects look like porn. But the lack of quality results can also be atributed to just as many elitist DP's who shoot video like video with no regard for understanding the abilites of digital imaging. For every "tech-nerd-know-it-all" DP's I have met from AFI and FSU, I have run into 10 times more stuck-up-celluloid-elitists-Conrad Hall-wannabe's from UCLA, NYU, and (really God foribid!) Full Sail.

As I have stated before, I applaud JVC for introducing the first HDV camcorder. And I look forward to Sony, Canon or any other manufacturer introducing newer and better HDV camcorders. With integration into popular post applications, I think the HDV format holds extreme possiblities for the future of Digital imaging. But I would never categorically rule out SD acquisition for continued or future use. I personally believe that I search for the most appropriate tool for the job. And in my humble opinion, as of today, the most appropriate tool for many low budget digital projects is still something other than the HD10. Especially having seen what it cannot do...

Jon
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Old January 17th, 2004, 10:33 PM   #7
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Betsy,

FSU? Wow. I know a couple of people out there from FSU.

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