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Old October 12th, 2009, 11:44 AM   #1
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Differences to the UNTRAINED eye?

Please don't throw things at me for this question! :-) It's a serious question relating to the flattening of the "quality curve" as you go up the scale of camera/lens quality.

Let's assume that 2 cameras get the same shot at 3pm in the afternoon: an outdoor country landscape, well-lit by natural sunlight on a cloudless day.

Let's also assume that the footage from both cameras will be played back on a run-of-the-mill 52-inch plasma TV screen.

Finally, let's assume that both camera lenses are set to a wide angle.

Specifically, here's one question: would an average person (this is critical---I'm NOT talking about trained video professionals!) notice a significant difference in quality between footage shot on a $5,000 Sony HVR-Z1U HDV camera...and a $50,000 XDCAM Cinealta top-of-the-line camera (with suitably top-of-the-line lens)?

In other words, would the quality difference be so significant that an average person would view the HVR-Z1U footage and say "Oh my, what's wrong with that video?"

Please understand that my question is NOT intended to "prove" that an XDCAM Cinealta camera isn't of higher quality than the HVR-Z1U. Of course it is!

My question is more about the perception of the average viewer...and how the average person evaluates video quality. Nothing more, nothing less.

Thanks,
Scott
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Old October 12th, 2009, 12:07 PM   #2
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They will see the 5:1 compression and the 4:1:1 color field but they won't know why it looks different than uncompressed HD.
Don't underestimate the viewer's eye. While they can seldom define what they see, they'll always see what's going on. Think about thwn you were a kid, flipping through show after show shot on film then you landed on a soap opry shot on video. You didn't have to know what was going on to see there was a difference and you most likely chalked it up to quick turn-around or budget.
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Old October 12th, 2009, 12:42 PM   #3
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Good points Grinner.

Part of the reason I asked is...though average viewers can see the difference, it is often such a subtle difference that within the context of a soundtrack, rapid changes in imagery (fast-paced edits), etc...it really doesn't register on them. (And I suspect most people would think the difference between $5K HDV and $50K XDCAM is less noticeable than the difference between old-school film and old-school video.)

Take audio, for example---I've done countless (unscientific) tests that have demonstrated people cannot hear the difference between uncompressed digital audio and 128Kbps MP3 audio...except under the most extreme examples (e.g. whisper-quiet classical music, for example). But of course any audio engineer will tell you there is a HUGE difference...but people don't hear it (especially with pop/rock music).

Scott

PS - I failed to mention earlier that my reason for this post is that I'm working on a production now where I will have to mix XDCAM footage with HVR-Z1U footage. Though I don't have any choice about the mixing of footage, I do have some control over how much of each kind of footage is used. The framing and lighting quality of both footage is very good (so it's not like one cameraman knew what he was doing and another one didn't). I'm just trying to figure out to what extent people will notice the quality difference?
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Old October 12th, 2009, 12:50 PM   #4
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Well I've used a Z1 for nearly 5 years and got an EX1 this summer. There really is a BIG difference in quality using the scenario you describe. Wide landscape shots are a good torture test for cameras and codecs - and are also something I really enjoy filming. The EX1 takes this to a new level for me and I'm sure a top of the line XDCAM would look even better (with glass that costs several times as much as the Z1).

Anyone with a critical eye (not a "trained eye") will notice the difference in this kind of footage IMO.
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Old October 12th, 2009, 01:02 PM   #5
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Thanks Boyd---and glad to hear the EX is that good! (We're looking at one as well.) But I'm really focusing on the average person (who, let's face it, isn't very critical about stuff like this!)

For example, a typical mid-level businessperson (not in the video industry, but, say, in the real estate business) attending a meeting in a large room and watching a video on a 52" plasma screen from a distance of 20 feet.

Under those conditions, would the difference be striking enough to be blatantly obvious that a "good" camera and a "bad" camera were used?

Again...though it's difficult, try to completely abandon and forget everything you know about video...and put yourself in the shoes of your mom or grandpa or someone who is clueless about video technology. :-)

Scott

PS - As much as we'd all like to think otherwise...if everyone easily noticed the differences in these formats/qualities/cameras...then NOBODY would be using a camera like an HVR-Z1U because 100% of audiences would be saying "Gosh, this is pretty mediocre footage..."
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Old October 12th, 2009, 04:27 PM   #6
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They'd certainly notice if they're the ones stuck with the bill for the cameras... :-)

If the two images are side-by-side there will be a noticeable difference.

A roughly similar thing happened when we went into a place where two screens were showing the same football game. One in SD and the other in HD. One of the guys asked if it was something to do with the screens, and I noticed right away it was an HD signal vs. an SD signal.

But if the two TVs weren't adjacent to one another, I don't think anyone would have noticed nor cared.

However, there was this incident: an off-duty cop was standing for several minutes watching our fishing show on an LCD TV display after a local Sony expo had closed for the night. A Sony rep asked what he was looking at and the cop said he's a fisherman. He hadn't seen such great-looking video of fishing like that before. He said the colors were very lifelike and vivid, especially for the mahimahi which are usually an intense yellow, green and electric blue. That was footage I shot with an EX1.

In that case a stand-alone picture was good enough to attract attention from someone who knew the subject and could quickly notice the difference.
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Old October 12th, 2009, 05:37 PM   #7
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No, in all honesty, the majority of non-professionals (who are not working in the field of DV) - and that is the majority of the world population, would not notice any difference at all if they watched a movie filmed using a Z1U on one screen and then watched a movie of a similarly lit subject on the same screen the following day that was filmed using a top-range $50,000 camera. In fact, if the storyline, editing, and camera-work shown on the first Z1 film was better than the second film, that would matter more than any slight difference in quality.

Probably the biggest subjective difference in ANY movie that is quickly picked up by the average viewer is not visual, but more often sound quality.

It would of course be far easier for some people to tell the difference between both films shown on two separate TVs only inches apart.

The majority of people's mindset is still logged deeply in watching a variety of SD programs on high quality digital flat screen TVs or DVDs of similar quality. Most are viewed at three or more metres from the screen, so that most decent modern digital flat screens (say a 42" TV with 30,000:1 dynamic range) showing both movies broadcast in digital SD, would result in hardly anyone noticing a difference. When both were then broadcast in HD (which would only be 720P) there would again be very few people who would actually notice any major difference.

The larger the screen, the easier it would be for people to begin spotting subtle differences. A professional used to viewing the differences would spot the difference quickly, but aunt Milda and uncle Fred Blogs wouldn't run home complaining that a section of their favourite movie was shot on "only" a $5,000 dollar camera.

We've also got to remember that most of us are still watching many regular TV films every day and night that were shot using extremely expensive cameras of the past, yet many relatively cheap modern-day camcorders and DSLR cameras are producing HD footage of equal or even higher quality.
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Old October 12th, 2009, 08:21 PM   #8
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Great comments Tony, and I agree. In my case, I'm looking at a more "immediate" comparison between the HVR-Z1U and XDCAM footage...because I'm going to have to use them both in the same production.

At the moment, most of the B-roll for this production has been shot on XDCAM...but all the interview segments have been shot with the HVR-Z1U. I'm thinking/hoping that difference won't really be noticeable (by the average Joe) because the interviews are all indoor, 3200K well-lit scenes of people...and the XDCAM B-roll is all outdoor, 5600K footage. The interview scenes will be "softer" by definition, so i think the quality difference won't be a big deal.

BUT...I'm also looking at mixing HVR-Z1U B-roll (outdoor footage) with XDCAM B-roll footage. Mostly all quick cuts...like a 3-second cut of XDCAM, followed by a 2-second cut from the HVR-Z1U...followed by a 3-second cut from XDCAM, etc.

So my hope is that within the context of a series of quick B-roll edits, it won't be like "WOW! Ewww. WOW! Ewww. WOW! Ewww." LOL

Scott
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Old October 12th, 2009, 10:35 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Scott Wilkinson View Post
Let's also assume that the footage from both cameras will be played back on a run-of-the-mill 52-inch plasma TV screen.
These are mutually exclusive terms. A 52-inch plasma is anything *but* run-of-the-mill.
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Old October 13th, 2009, 02:25 AM   #10
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Hmmmm

I guess if you did quick cuts between two shots of the same B-roll scenery the odds of somebody noticing something would be higher than if they were quick cuts between two shots of different scenery, or even two shots of the same scenery from two different vantage points.

In other words, it just seems to me that the more the real difference between the shots, the less the technical differences will assert themselves
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Old October 13th, 2009, 03:30 PM   #11
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Here's a "low budget" take on it...

1 - Content will be the main thing people notice - if your subject is compelling and interesting, the image quality of the footage isn't going to be as noticeable...the mind is elsewhere. I certainly agree about the importance of image quality, but if you have to worry about that, maybe the content isn't worth shooting <wink>. I'll presume your content rocks, so your concern is with perceived quality is understandable <wink, wink> -gotta sweat the details.

2 - I think it's a "given" that the higher $$ camera will produce a "better" image, otherwise they would be selling cheap cameras, and not the expensive ones... BUT, the advent of higher quality HD cameras at reasonable prices has evened the playing field a lot IMO. Comparing hte image from a $3K pro-sumer camera (or even a $1K consumer cam in well staged situations) of "today" vs. one from say 5 years ago... there'd be a huge difference - technology only gets better and cheaper.

3 - Given that the quality of even the "cheap" tools is significantly better, it comes down to the user/operator, and IMO the editor. You can capture crap with an expensive cam, and compelling footage with a handycam... (back to point #1!)

4 - Getting practical... make sure your CC/matching is good between the takes - I notice bad color correction work more than image quality per se. When skin is blue or green, or maybe yellow... it is immediately noticeable (and I see plenty of it in "broadcast" TV - the news sometimes looks like it's from an alien planet!). Make sure your colors look right between the two clips, and I'll bet most people won't see the difference - if the sharpness is too jarring, you could always soften the higher grade footage just a bit (yep, downgrade the quality so it "matches"...). You can probably "match" things up so well in post that hardly anybody will be able to figure out which cam is which when you're done.
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Old October 13th, 2009, 05:56 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by Tony Davies-Patrick View Post
No, in all honesty, the majority of non-professionals (who are not working in the field of DV) - and that is the majority of the world population, would not notice any difference at all if they watched a movie filmed using a Z1U on one screen and then watched a movie of a similarly lit subject on the same screen the following day that was filmed using a top-range $50,000 camera. In fact, if the storyline, editing, and camera-work shown on the first Z1 film was better than the second film, that would matter more than any slight difference in quality.

Probably the biggest subjective difference in ANY movie that is quickly picked up by the average viewer is not visual, but more often sound quality.

It would of course be far easier for some people to tell the difference between both films shown on two separate TVs only inches apart.
Good points - cheering about the audio comment, but I don't quite agree on the main crux. As someone who traded up from Z1 to EX1, all clients, accountant wife, non-tech relations, EVERYONE noticed a certain something about the switch. None could put their finger on it, but all recognised that the EX1 stuff was different in a positive way.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Scott Wilkinson View Post
Great comments Tony, and I agree. In my case, I'm looking at a more "immediate" comparison between the HVR-Z1U and XDCAM footage...because I'm going to have to use them both in the same production.
That's the issue - cutting between them.

I've been using a Z1 as a locked off wide on some EX1 shoots, and I am selling it - well, both of them so I can get a second EX1. The Z1 and EX1 can cut together, but the difference is marked for professionals, while the audiences accept that the wide shot isn't as good as the closeups. And yes, you can see the difference on a big plasma. With work, real humans wouldn't. But who's paying for all that work?

I hoped it wouldn't matter, clients haven't complained, but I spend a lot of time doing things to the Z1 rushes to make it match the EX1 (1080i to 720p, bit of sharpening, chroma smooothing, Colorista). Maybe clients would voice more opinions if I lingered on the wides more, or shot 2 or 3 Z1s to a main EX1, and I did have one comment from a producer along the lines of 'trout in a goldfishbowl' in that my EX1 was showing up the other cameras on a multi team shoot.

So I've spent a year with a Z1 as second fiddle, and hidden the evidence. Clients did notice the EX1 without commenting on the Z1 shots but that's probably because I'm using them less. The Z1 handles low light, shadow and highlight detail and busy scenes differently, and that requires work and sleight of hand to minimise.
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Old October 15th, 2009, 12:15 AM   #13
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This is really an easy answer, and it's kind of already been said:
People are going to notice, but they aren't going to notice they notice.
Like with any other craft, you may not know exactly why something feels low quality, you may not even register it as low quality, but you'll know that whoever made it cheaped out. If my table falls apart on me, I'm not going to say "Oh, whoever made this table clearly used an inferior glue/non-functional stress design/no termite repellent" but what I am going to say is "This table sucks!"
To stick with my analogy, if the table doesn't have the proper finish on it, I may say something like "This table is pretty great and sturdy and everything... but something's just off about it. But it's so sturdy I like it anyway."

If you use inferior video quality, people aren't going to say "Oh man that's totally 720p! This is so lame I refuse to watch it!"
They probably won't even attribute their dislike to the picture quality (unless they really think about it)

But they probably will say "Yeah, I dunno, it just kind of felt cheap."
But if everything else about your movie is really strong... great lighting, sound, acting, story, then people will add "but I liked it anyway."

Just my $.02
I fully think that people know it when you cut corners, they just don't know they know it.
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