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Old May 22nd, 2004, 11:06 AM   #1
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Video Quality of Non Proffessional Camcorders

Recently got back my Panasonic PV-DV852 (like MX8) from the Panasonic Repair Center. It's a top of the line 1 CCD digital consumer camcorder. I've had it in 3 times already. Why? In my opinion poor video quality. Extreme white or black outlines on objects. Lot's of motion artifacts. In the latest backcountry ski scenes I took, fat white lines or haloes can be seen around all the people, ski poles, and skies, next to the whiter snow. It looks like a kid took a white felt marker and did the outlines.

Panasonic said there is nothing wrong with the camera. The problem is the scanning technology of chips used on camcorders. Consumer camcorders don't have anywhere near the quality of pictures that digital still cameras can produce at the same resolution. It's not the compression to JPG or the tape recording. They said that I'd have to upgrade to a much higher end camcorder like the TV stations use to get cable TV like quality of output.

I was working in a professional movie recently as a prisoner in a chain gang during the American Civil War. I managed to have a brief discussion with someone on the chain gang about the video quality issue. He mentioned that raw video output he sees is always poor from lower end camcorders, but those he works with always put the digital video through software filters during editing. Then the quality is acceptable.

Is Panasonic right that I'll need a $20,000 camcorder for great video quality? I've seen good quality from Sony VX2000s. Will it be much better than the Panasonic PV-DV852 in the above issues? Can post production filter out much of the artifacts? What is good affordable software for this? What about the Sony Screenblast® Movie Studio editing software? Maybe I should jump to the DV Post Production thread to get some more ideas?
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Old May 22nd, 2004, 11:47 AM   #2
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Your main problem sounds to be from your camera's inability to handle high-contrast and extreme over-exposure. To a certain extent, that's a problem with all CCD-based imaging systems and is exacerbated, more or less, by the optical system in front of them. DV compression technology doesn't help either.

Unfortunately, one cannot just point and shoot and hope to come away with good video. You must understand and work around the limits of the imaging system.

Will better cameras help? Yes, to an extent. Better CCD technology is employed in the higher-end cameras as are better lenses. One can tell the difference in video quality between a $1,000, a $4,000, and a $20,000 camera. I wouldn't expect my PD150 to exhibit the white crayon effect in the conditions you describe. That's only because I've shot in backlit situations where the background overexposure was so great that the viewfinder image was obscured. The camera still delivered an OK, not a great, image. A DSR-300 will deliver an even better image in those situations. But those are $3,500 & $18,000 cameras.

Only testing can tell you at what price-point the camera quality will meet your standards. But along with the escalation in camera quality you should do some reading on how best to use a video camera in those conditions.

Motion artifacts are like a permanent stain. The only way to get rid of them is to get rid of them . . . cut them out of the video. The DV compression technology will allow some artifacts to be generated in exactly the scene type you are describing.

Furthermore, DV compression technology will cause some incredible artifacts in specific cases. One being rotary motion at fairly slow speeds. Major blocks can appear in the video at a critical speed.

DV is not good at handling high-contrast images. Look at some of the high-contrast titles people place over their otherwise fine video. Notice the artifacts that surround the titles? That's caused by the compression technolgy in DV and it cannot be fixed.
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Old May 22nd, 2004, 01:48 PM   #3
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You would, of course, get better quality with a $20,000 camera. Or with a VX2000. A basic rule of thumb is that the cheaper the camera, the more limitations it has. A DSR500/570, for example, is excellent at handling bigger contrast ratios. But a CineAlta is significantly better than that.
What you have to do is learn to work within the limitations of the camera you have. My experience with the single chip camcorders is that they like relatively flat light and look best on a significantly overcast day. They're much like the $50,000 professional cameras we used 15 or 20 years ago--very limited latitude. There are some contrast filters some people use, but I've never used one myself.
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Old May 22nd, 2004, 03:43 PM   #4
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DV852 Settings

Ben,

Were you using AUTO settings or Manual control?


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Old May 22nd, 2004, 04:54 PM   #5
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Ben, do you have a lens hood? What filter do you have on? Manual settings? Pointing into light sources? You had it in the shop 3 times? For what exactly?
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Old May 23rd, 2004, 02:40 AM   #6
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Try turning the detail setting down in the menu somewhere. It should remove the haloing. The halos are similar to the unsharp mask filter in Photoshop. Except they're probably rather excessive.

2- What are you trying to do? IMO people get too caught up in gear whoring. Your camera should shoot a very useable image. Now work on getting quality content, which is usually the most important part of any video production.

Ok I'll get off the soapbox now...
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Old May 23rd, 2004, 10:17 AM   #7
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In addition to all the information listed above, you may also need to consider the "sharpen" effect built into most consumer-grade camcorders.

One of the little "hidden" features of consumer camcorders is a built in "digital sharpen" filter. It's basically a calculation that attempts to improve the clarity of images by exaduating the edges of colors between adjacent pixels.

This works pretty well for video (shot through tiny lenses onto a single tiny CCD) of baby crawling in the living room and birthday party fun, but the effect is painfully obvious in shots with dramatic contrast (like when there's a lot of snow behind darker subjects) and actually hurts the image. You description of the "problem" sounds a lot like the effect of a digital sharpen filter. Since this is the standard operating condition of the camera, it's performing in spec.

Pro (and even many pro-sumer) cams allow the operator to control this feature and/or shut it off completely. These cameras rely more on (exensive) optics and CCD's to produce video clarity.

Hope this helps.
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Old May 24th, 2004, 12:25 AM   #8
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Nick, about the sharpening, this makes sense to me, but I guess the Pansonic Repair Center is basically saying that the whole scanning and sharpening process can't be altered so I'm stuck with it. Yes I was hoping they could turn a screw inside the camera or tweak the program to reduce the sharpening, but apparently no luck.

Frank, I was just using the lense shielding that is part of the camera. Don't own a filter. I had it in the shop only for the picture quality, and nothing was done to the camera each time. The ski scenes with the extreeme haloes were shot with the camcorder pointing away from the sun.

Thomas and Frank, most shots were on automatic but I've shot in manual and I can't notice a difference in haloes but I could look harder.

Glenn, what do you mean by the detail setting? I can't change the sharpening on the camcorder. I'm complaining about the picture because it's so much less quality than the most amateur quality documentaries I've seen on VCR tape, and I bought the camera for low budget documentaries. I don't think it's professional enough quality for my purposes so what's the point of going to the effort of shooting the pictures. I was told by many users that MiniDV camcorders in this price category being digital would be far better quality that what I see on the VCR tapes I rent or cable TV, which it isn't.

Bill, why is it so hard to make a chip on a US$1,500 camcorder that doesn't have the haloes, considering they have figured out how to do it on the better cameras.

Mike, thanks for all the information. Why don't camcorder reviews talk about the haloes and motion artifacts more? They just keep talking about how great the camcorders are.
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Old May 24th, 2004, 03:46 AM   #9
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Quote:
Why don't camcorder reviews talk about the haloes and motion artifacts more?
Because most reviews don't really test the cams. The reviews are to stir interest so people buy them.
Quote:
I had it in the shop only for the picture quality, and nothing was done to the camera each time.
This is nothing new. That's what they do. Nothing, usually. However, there may be nothing wrong with your cam. The problems could be from inexperience or lack of DV familarity. DV has many shortcomings. Most of us just learn to cope and work around them.
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Old May 24th, 2004, 10:10 AM   #10
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>Bill, why is it so hard to make a chip on a US$1,500 camcorder that doesn't >have the haloes, considering they have figured out how to do it on the >better cameras.

Because the goal of the manufacturers is to make as much money as possible, not to provide consumers with a high quality cheap camera. If a $1500 camera looked as good as a $5,000 one, who would buy the more expensive one?
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Old May 24th, 2004, 10:59 AM   #11
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These are consumer or prosumer cameras and as such are designed to meet the needs and expectations of the majority of their users. Most people use these cameras to shoot average scenes and, in the estimation of the designers and engineers that build the camera, the picture looks the best at the level of sharpening (or detail) that is set at the factory.
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Old May 24th, 2004, 12:03 PM   #12
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One of the reasons the high-priced camera optical blocks are so expensive (DSR-300 block is $4,000) is that the manufacturing yield is so low. It is very expensive to acquire 3 near-perfect high-end matched CCD chips, glue them into an optical block (they have to be nearly perfectly aligned in 3 dimensions and in focus) and the fastening process has to work perfectly.

How hard is this? I was part of a startup company that made the first digital cameras. The camera physically moved a single line array (1728 by 1 pixels) across the focus plane of a 35mm camera lens. The array manufacturer would ship us several production runs of this sensor (really designed for fax machines) and we would then test all of them and return 99+% of them back to the manufacturer as not meeting spec.

We then had to align the array itself to a mechanical carrier using an optical instrument that was about 30 feet long. This is because the array was not accurately located in the CCD packaging. Once the CCD chips was aligned and fastened to the carrier, then we had some assurance that it would work in the camera. Imagine having to match 3 of these to each other, then mechanicaly align them around a prism before being able to use the optical block.

It isn't at all easy. To also make the cameras as inexpensively as they do is an awesome task.

Jeff is exactly right. Plus the bulk of camera purchasers are uninformed and likely to not read the manual anyway.
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Old May 24th, 2004, 12:09 PM   #13
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I've often thought that this sort of inspection and all was one reason it's rare in professional cameras to see a dead pixel, but in cheaper ones it seems to occur quite frequently. Maybe they don't reject as many chips?

Also, I think people who haven't been around video for very many years tend to overlook the fact that the quality we get from relatively cheap cameras today is incredible compared to what was available just a few years ago. It hasn't been all that long ago that if you wanted decent video quality, a camera alone was going to cost you $60,000, and on top of that you'd need a $20,000 recorder.
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Old May 25th, 2004, 09:08 AM   #14
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Thanks everyone for the replies. Many of you believe that the haloes from my camcorder are the result of over sharpening. The Panasonic Repair person thinks it is limitations of the way the chip is scanned. The later seems to have some basis. Bill mentioned that even expensive network camcorders many years ago had the halo problem with high contrast. Any more opinions?
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Old May 25th, 2004, 03:50 PM   #15
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Well, Ben, you can't really go much cheaper than my Digital8 cam in this digital world. And yes my TRV-320 is set with this default outline syndrom, aka "edge enhancement" or over-sharpenning artifacts.
My cure is very simple: I always shoot in "Portrait" AE program. And that solves it. The picture may look soft at first, but when I zoom into it, the outlines have disappeared, and noise seems a lot lower. I prefer re-sharpening a bit in post if I want more details.
I'm not familiar with your DV852, but if it doesn't have any sharpness or detail settings, it must have a "soft" AE program that cancels that ugly outline.
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