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Old January 2nd, 2007, 11:56 AM   #1
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Improving picture quality of cheap camera

I realize this may be an useless endeavor, but I am wondering if there is anything I can do to maximize the picture quality of my cheapie cam (JVC GR-72U). Last week I shot some outdoor footage and on review I was pretty disappointed in the results. It was a gray day and yet everything looks very washed out and overexposed. I'm not sure about white balancing because I don't have the manual, but would that help? What about using some kind of filter?

I realize I should probably just buy a better camera, but I'm not sure I use it enough to justify that. The bulk of my video work is transferring VHS to DVD.

Thanks for any advice!
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Old January 2nd, 2007, 12:23 PM   #2
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If you have Windows XP and a CPU with SSE2 (basically any CPU since 2000),
you can try our Enosoft DV Processor (see my details for link).

It will let you adjust things like color saturation, brightness, contrast etc in realtime as the DV footage comes from the camcorder.

You can either create DV files on the computer with the correction or use the software as a guide to determine if the footage can be improved. You could then use a different tool if you have one (Vegas, Premiere etc).
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Old January 2nd, 2007, 01:00 PM   #3
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It sounds to me as if your JVC is faulty Justin, and this cannot be helping you in your quest for picture quality. All 'cheepie cams' as you put it (and even some quite expensive ones like the Sony PDX10 and A1) use internal ND filtration that comes into play automatically when the light leves increase. Your JVC will have this too and any shots taken on a grey day should be well within the camera's capability to correctly expose the chip.

Manual white balancing won't help the exposure problem - but it may make your colours look better. Can you get hold of another camera and film the same scene - both in the fully automatic mode and preferably on a tripod -and just swap over the tape? That way you can see them sequentially on your TV, and it should show up the JVC's faults more clearly.

If the JVC is simply over exposing then you may find in the menu the facility to over-ride the auto exposure. It'll be called AE over-ride and allows you to still be in automatic but reduce the light getting to the chip. Another way is to film constantly with the camera in the 'spotlight' mode, as this generally reduces the exposure of the highlights in the scene, and may well correct the blown-out look.

BTW, adding external ND filtration or upping the shutter speed won't help you as the camera will simply go into gain-up mode to over-ride your efforts.

tom.
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Old January 2nd, 2007, 03:14 PM   #4
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Thanks for the advice guys.

John, I will definitely check that out. I've got Premiere Pro 2.0 but I haven't fooled around with the color correction yet... last time I used Premiere was over a year ago, in between I was using a Mac and FCE. I need to recapture this footage anyway (this probably deserves another post somewhere, but my firewire interface is not compatible with my camera (a JVC quirk) so I capped using iMovie on a 12" iBook G4 and some of the sound dropped out).

Tom, I would not be surprised by this at all. I got this cam refurbished, last-minute, literally 2 days before my sister's wedding (I had to have it sent to my hotel). Gotta love that call: "Can you film my wedding? I want it to be made into a DVD to send out to all the guests" only to discover that all my "amateur videographer" friends have VHS-C camcorders.

Unfortunately what I shot will be virtually impossible to redo... it was all candid spur of the moment type stuff. In fact I think that's probably reason enough to buy a better camera... it may not mean much to anyone but me, but I'd much prefer that random footage like this comes out at least better than it did. Thinking about it to type it out really clarified that for me.

Hopefully I'll be able to improve what I have a bit!
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Old January 3rd, 2007, 02:36 AM   #5
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Yes, if you want to carry on, go out and buy a 'better camera'. Thing is that whenever you film something you invariably put a lot of time, effort, sweat and tears into making the film. You spend the money, heave the kit, put yourself out, learn editing, buy more kit, log on here, work hard.

Now to go to all that trouble and have a camera that stabs you in the back - well! That's why in my view it's worth buying a far better camera than you envisage as being necessary for the job in hand.

I simply can't believe that your friends are still using their VHSc camcorders in this day and age - who'd want to watch the footage?

tom.
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Old January 3rd, 2007, 03:51 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Justin DeAre
I realize this may be an useless endeavor, but I am wondering if there is anything I can do to maximize the picture quality of my cheapie cam (JVC GR-72U). Last week I shot some outdoor footage and on review I was pretty disappointed in the results. It was a gray day and yet everything looks very washed out and overexposed. I'm not sure about white balancing because I don't have the manual, but would that help? What about using some kind of filter?

I realize I should probably just buy a better camera, but I'm not sure I use it enough to justify that. The bulk of my video work is transferring VHS to DVD.

Thanks for any advice!
If your camera has the "spotlight" function in the menu settings give it a try.

This setting actually reduces the contrast in the scene, which is a good thing because it means you can slightly underexpose your footage but still raise the black level on the darker subjects.

Try spotlight setting and go manual exposure, look at the brightest object in the shot and make sure it is not overexposed. Hopefully you have an exposure wheel for instant manual exposure correction.

Also, avoid wide angle shots in which you see a lot of highlights glinting off of vegetation such as blades of grass or leaves on tree. When shooting in wide angle mode try and avoid ultra contrasty scenes.

Last edited by Alessandro Machi; January 3rd, 2007 at 09:56 PM.
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Old January 3rd, 2007, 06:03 AM   #7
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Picture quality

"It was a gray day and yet everything looks very washed out and overexposed. "

I used to have this camcorder -- what you describe in that situation is not what I experienced, I found colors went flat in this condition.

You can try a polarizer and as indicated by others go to manual mode.

Incideantally there is a recall on this camcorder, check JVC's website for details. Bad ccd chip- suddenly stops imaging.
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Old January 3rd, 2007, 08:54 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tom Hardwick
I simply can't believe that your friends are still using their VHSc camcorders in this day and age - who'd want to watch the footage?
I can!

You'd be surprised how many people really don't care about either the artistic or technical quality of video. Just look at how often TVs are incorrectly adjusted or how often people watching video are doing other things at the same time such as eating, talking etc.
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Old January 3rd, 2007, 10:54 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tom Hardwick
I simply can't believe that your friends are still using their VHSc camcorders in this day and age - who'd want to watch the footage?

tom.
I don't think they're actually using the cameras anymore. I think what happened is they bought them to film their kids, used them less than they thought, and then just put the cameras in a closet and never got them out any more or updated them. Kinda like how a lot of people my parents' age have SLRs in their closets.

I'll have to investigate the spotlight/manual mode. Thanks for the tip!

James: the colors are quite flat too. I think I've described this wrong. Basically the colors look flat, and then areas (for example, the sky in the background, or a light colored building) look a lot lighter than they actually were.

I found the recall notice on JVC's site. It indicates that I can only get a free repair if the camera exhibits the symptoms... which mine hasn't (yet). It does last until October 2007 though... Thanks for the info!

Edit: Just as a follow-up to this, I just reviewed the same footage on my TV which, while not perfect, has been set up using a home theater DVD. The picture is much better, although still not great. So part of the problem is my parents' plasma TV.

Last edited by Justin DeAre; January 3rd, 2007 at 07:23 PM.
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Old January 3rd, 2007, 10:02 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tom Hardwick

I simply can't believe that your friends are still using their VHSc camcorders in this day and age - who'd want to watch the footage?

tom.
I once bumped footage from VHS-C (maybe it was S-VHS???) to betacam sp for a behind the scenes documentary. The DP thought some of the footage was shot on Betacam sp.

In another instance I played back an S-VHS signal for a fellow shooter and he seemed quite surprised at how good the footage looked. I was using the top of the line JVC BRS decks and with proper time-base correction and minimal DNR adjustment the picture looked stunning. The lighting situation was ideal as well.

Keep in mind that the older cameras used 1/2 chips and that actually is a good thing. If one had enough light the image actually could be very good.

As for the spotlight function I mentioned above, I am assuming that is a "digital" menu setting that just came out in the last several years, but probably not before the late 90's???
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Old January 4th, 2007, 02:41 AM   #11
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Yes, the spotlight mode is a fairly recent addition to camcorders. My TRV900 (1997) didn't have it but all subsequent Sonys have had it.

Unlike the stupid backlight mode, the spotlight mode is intelligent, and on both my Panasonic and Sony cams spotlight is able to vary the exposure by as much as 5 stops.

So with a flatly lit subject, turning spotlight on or off makes no difference. The other extreme is aiming the camera at a bare light bulb in the room, where the spotlight mode is able to reduce the 'normal' exposure by 5 stops to avoid blowing out the bulb. Excellent.

tom.
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Old January 10th, 2007, 02:30 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tom Hardwick
Yes, the spotlight mode is a fairly recent addition to camcorders. My TRV900 (1997) didn't have it but all subsequent Sonys have had it.

Unlike the stupid backlight mode, the spotlight mode is intelligent, and on both my Panasonic and Sony cams spotlight is able to vary the exposure by as much as 5 stops.

So with a flatly lit subject, turning spotlight on or off makes no difference. The other extreme is aiming the camera at a bare light bulb in the room, where the spotlight mode is able to reduce the 'normal' exposure by 5 stops to avoid blowing out the bulb. Excellent.

tom.
It appears the spotlight function can only help when necessary, but probably never hurt. If there is any downside, it could slightly cause desaturation because it does reduce contrast, which can make a picture look less colorful. This is easily adjusted however by simply bumping up chroma.

It's also possible that by reducing contrast it is slightly reducing overall light sensitivity of the camera, but once again, I think if this is true, it's very neglible and the black stretch being achieved at the bottom of the I.R.E. scale more than makes up for this.

I used the spotlight feature outdoors when I was videotaping the Gardens at South Central Farms before they were destroyed by Bulldozers and "progress". By creating "black stretch" via the spotlight function I was able to concentrate on not overexposing any part of the picture while secure in the knowledge that the darker part of the image was actually equivalent or better in density than if I had just kept the picture in the normal mode. The result in my opinion was a very nice image for a one chip digital-8 camcorder.

By the way, this concept is 180% OPPOSITE from the thinking in the 90's that went into the design of most camcorders, which was to INCREASE contrast so that in the store the image looked like it had better resolution and color, even though those settings would actually produce an inferior image when actually captured to tape.
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Old January 10th, 2007, 03:59 AM   #13
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I'm thinking that way too. Super-8 Kodachrome bumped the image saturation and contrast so that recorded life actually looked better than real life. This made copying the film really difficult, and subsequent transfer to any digital medium has to be done with great care and exposure control.

tom.
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Old January 10th, 2007, 06:34 PM   #14
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I've been told that in video it is easier to bring out detail in underexposed footage than in overexposed footage. I've found this to be true, but it is really amazing what can be done with over exposed footage and a good color correction application. But why should one spend expensive time in post resolving what should have been resolved on site?
I know both Final Cut Pro and Vegas have extensive color correction tools, and I wouldn't be surprised the other major NLE's. offer similar tools. I understand even the Vegas-based simple DV editing application offers three way color correction tools.

In any case, I would suggest you try to underexpose most of your shots by 1/2 to 1 stop.

Unless one is really well versed in color correction, it is always best to pay close attention to exposure settings before you press the record button. There are always going to be color shifts, so try to make your life a bit easier when in post by getting good exposure at the very beginning. I thought I had just done that with a three camera shoot in an indoor arena with a good amount of stage lighting. However, not enough lighting to be reliable. There were hot spots and dead spots everywhere, and allowing camera operators to adjust exposure would have created many more nightmares is post than I knew I woulld be facing. Even with all three cameras white balanced to the same lighting situation at the same location in the arena, I had significant exposure shifts to manage with color correction.

I think, in closing, a one stop underexposure should serve you well in most situations, but you will have to experiment in different lighiting environments to know for sure.
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Old January 10th, 2007, 07:05 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Waldemar Winkler
I've been told that in video it is easier to bring out detail in underexposed footage than in overexposed footage. I've found this to be true, but it is really amazing what can be done with over exposed footage and a good color correction application.
Nobody is advocating overexposing the footage, but properly exposing highlights many times will result in crushed blacks in the darker parts of the scene because the exposure latitude of everyday life usually is more than what the video camera can handle.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Waldemar Winkler
But why should one spend expensive time in post resolving what should have been resolved on site?
To properly resolve it on site requires lighting. I would say lighting is more expensive than flipping the spotlight switch on and then perhaps having to add a bit of chroma in post. Spotlight is not a miracle cure for lighting, but I believe it is superior to doing nothing at all. Being able to bring the most out of a shot that hasn't been lit is difficult and that is why I suggested the spotlight setting as a quick, on site fix. The spotlight setting will preserve more of what is actually being videotaped versus simply trusting the lower priced digital cameras internal preset settings. One can always crush a video signal later, but uncrushing a crushed black is basically not possible.

Last edited by Alessandro Machi; January 10th, 2007 at 07:36 PM.
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