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Old August 6th, 2007, 07:44 PM   #1
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Low Noise in Low Light: Camera Recommendations???

Hello All,

As a creative person with very little prior knowledge of video, I dreamt up some video projects I wanted to do and then tried to research how to do them. I've found that my goal may not be easily attained. I wanted to be able to shoot digital video:

1) in low light with low video noise
2) with a shallow depth of field

Now I've been reading up on these, and they seem like they could go together -- perhaps even without a fancy 35mm adapter by shooting from a distance on a tripod and zooming. If I've understood correctly, opening the aperture lets in more light AND creates a shallower depth of field. However, it would appear that some cameras are noisier in low light than others. For instance, I read on this site that the Sony VX2100 does pretty well in low light where another high priced Sony (HVR-A1U?) did not do so well.

Does anyone have any recommendations for digital video cameras (standard or high def) that do well in low light?

I know there are different classes of cameras, and would be happy to hear about how cameras from the same class compare to each other and/or to cameras of other classes. My budget limits me to 1/3" CCDs.

Thank you,
-Hans.

Last edited by Hans Gruenig; August 7th, 2007 at 12:38 AM.
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Old August 6th, 2007, 07:54 PM   #2
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Best Low Light; Sony VX2100 or PD170 but they are only SD.

Best HDV, you'll see a lot of argument there, but the Z-1 seems to have very clean gain capability.
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Old August 6th, 2007, 08:20 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by Chris Barcellos View Post
Best Low Light; Sony VX2100 or PD170 but they are only SD...
I'm in total agreement with Chris here.

I've been pretty amazed by the post gain-noise reduction available in Neat Video (neatvideo.com).
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Old August 7th, 2007, 12:01 AM   #4
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"Now I've been reading up on these, and they seem like they could go together -- perhaps even without a fancy 35mm adapter by shooting from a distance on a tripod and zooming."

Zooming in does not usually give the same effects of a 35mm adapter or a video camera with larger imaging chips. To get the shallow DOF, you must zoom in so much that the field of view narrows to the point that your background becomes insignificant. More importantly, zooming causes the lens to close down. What would give a shallow DOF in low light is a camera with modern 3/4" chips probably outfitted with a fast prime lens.

It would be better to learn the craft of lighting for movie production than to depend on a camera feature to get low light and shallow DOF. Just because it is supposed to look like candle light doesn't mean it is only lit by candles.

Noise reduction software may very well become an important tool in movie production, but it all depends first on lights, camera, and actors.
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Old August 7th, 2007, 12:42 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Seth Bloombaum View Post
I'm in total agreement with Chris here.

I've been pretty amazed by the post gain-noise reduction available in Neat Video (neatvideo.com).
Thank you, Chris and Seth.

Does anyone have recommendations slightly lower in the consumer-prosumer price range?

Thank you,
-Hans.
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Old August 7th, 2007, 01:01 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by Marcus Marchesseault View Post
More importantly, zooming causes the lens to close down.
Does that mean that, for instance, a camera with other settings being the same will gather more photons/second in situation A vs. B?
Situation A: video of a 16x9" light panel perfectly framed at 3' (no zoom)
Situation B: video of same 16x9" light panel perfectly framed at 12' (zoomed in)

If so, why is this? Can it be offset with manual aperture control?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Marcus Marchesseault View Post
What would give a shallow DOF in low light is a camera with modern 3/4" chips probably outfitted with a fast prime lens.
What kind of cameras feature such chips and lenses? I'm imagining that that would be rather expensive?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Marcus Marchesseault View Post
It would be better to learn the craft of lighting for movie production than to depend on a camera feature to get low light and shallow DOF. Just because it is supposed to look like candle light doesn't mean it is only lit by candles.
OK. Do you have any reading/DVD recommendations?

I want to be able to create the kind of look (lighting and narrow DOF) in the "interview" segments of this video:

http://www.apple.com/finalcutstudio/action/?movie=red

[This reminds of crisp, warm footage in PBS documentaries where there's a narrow DOF focused on a well-lit scholar speaking in a darker, out of focus chapel.]

I would also be particularly interested in clever ways to create warm (optionally flickering) candle and fire lighting effects.

Any suggestions?

Many thanks,
-Hans.

Last edited by Hans Gruenig; August 7th, 2007 at 04:49 AM.
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Old August 7th, 2007, 04:59 AM   #7
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Hans, that video was not shot in a low-light situation. There were all sorts of lights set up for all parts of that video. What looks like a dim shot where two people are looking at the editing screen is actually very brightly lit. An outdoor night scene may take tens of thousands of watts of light to make it have a dark "look" to the camera. Go to the lighting section of this forum and search through the posts there for all sorts of information about lighting.

I know at least one DVINFO sponsor has a lighting tutorial DVD. Go to VASST.com and look into their training materials.

For a simple online demonstration, try:

http://www.chimeralighting.com/solut...l/classics.cfm

Also go through the "Free photo lessons" link in the upper right hand corner at photoflex.com.
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Old August 7th, 2007, 05:42 AM   #8
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In general, the larger the camera's sensor is the better it will perform in low light and the more control it will give you over depth of field for a given situation. Unfortunately, cameras with large sensors tend to cost much more than cameras with slightly smaller ones, partly because every other component of the camera is typically improved so the price goes up quickly.

For SD work the VX2000/2100 and PD170 are the best values for what you've described, but you can spend much more for something like an SDX900 if you really want great results. For HD the Sony FX1 is arguably the best value and is essentially the same as the Z1U with a few missing features. The little Sony A1U is a fun camera but uses a CMOS sensor which simply doesn't work well in poor lighting compared to the FX1/Z1U and other CCD-based HD cameras.
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Old August 7th, 2007, 04:11 PM   #9
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Hi Marcus,

Thank you for your thoughtful input.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Marcus Marchesseault View Post
Hans, that video was not shot in a low-light situation.
Yes, I realized that. That video was not the kind of situation I originally inquired about, but while surfing I realized that I'd like to be able to achieve that sort of look too, and it seemed more doable (with the possible exception of the DOF), so I asked. :-)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Marcus Marchesseault View Post
I know at least one DVINFO sponsor has a lighting tutorial DVD. Go to VASST.com and look into their training materials.

For a simple online demonstration, try:

http://www.chimeralighting.com/solut...l/classics.cfm

Also go through the "Free photo lessons" link in the upper right hand corner at photoflex.com.
Thank you for the pointers. Any thoughts on the situation A vs. B in my last reply?

Many thanks,
-Hans.
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Old August 7th, 2007, 04:20 PM   #10
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Kevin,

Thanks for your input. I suppose the HPX500 is in the ballpark of the High-Def equivalent of the SDX900?

Thanks,
-Hans.
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Old August 7th, 2007, 04:42 PM   #11
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Quote:
Does that mean that, for instance, a camera with other settings being the same will gather more photons/second in situation A vs. B?
Situation A: video of a 16x9" light panel perfectly framed at 3' (no zoom)
Situation B: video of same 16x9" light panel perfectly framed at 12' (zoomed in)

If so, why is this? Can it be offset with manual aperture control?
It all depends on the lens - the higher the quality of your lens the more light it will let through even in full zoom.
It's called "relative aperture", the numbers are printed on the lens. For example 1:2.8-5.6 means that in full zoom the lens will let in as much light as it would with a 5.6 aperture in full wide-angle (these, for example, were the values of a cheap 4x zoom photo lens from a Canon Powershot 540 - not very impressive...)
For more impressive values have a look at an extremely large and expensive video zoom lens like the Canon DIGISUPER 86II xs. The relative aperture is 1:1.7 at 9.3~340mm and 1:4.0 at 800mm. That means it doesn't lose any light up to 36x zoom and is only at 4.0 (which is still very good) at 86x zoom. The downside is it costs a fortune (it's in the prize range of a Ferrari, I guess)
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Old August 7th, 2007, 04:56 PM   #12
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"Thank you for the pointers. Any thoughts on the situation A vs. B in my last reply?"

Sorry, I missed that part.

Yes, situation B will gather less light as the lens is stopped down as it is zoomed in. Of course you can compensate exposure in many ways but when you are talking about low-light situations you are at the end of those adjustments. There are three things you can do to brighten the image and dim light often requires all three. If you open the aperture, increase exposure time, and add gain to get proper exposure in low light, you don't have any more options to compensate for when you want to zoom in.

To use a specific example, if you try to do a night city scene with the Sony FX1 it will look fine full wide at 1/60 shutter (maximum exposure at full framerate) with a bit of gain. If you start to zoom in, you will need to crank up the gain to the point the image will be very noisy. We tried to do this for a two-shot in Waikiki at night and it required a bunch of gain and our nice background also got choked out of existence.

Here are the tools that I know of for low-light shooting:

Open aperture
Slowest possible exposure
6-9db of gain (depending on the camera)
As much supplemental light as your location constraints can handle
Color correction to bring up some highlights and preserve the blacks

In the future, I plan to try the noise reduction software from neatvideo.com so I can violate the 6-9db gain maximum and maybe get another f-stop of light equivalent. I shoot with the Sony V1U and it has a nice image underneath all that noise at 15db of gain. If the noise can be extracted, I might get good low-light shots with a minimal amount of supplemental light.
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Old August 7th, 2007, 06:08 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Hans Gruenig View Post
I suppose the HPX500 is in the ballpark of the High-Def equivalent of the SDX900?
I'm not sure whether that's an accurate comparison but it sounds plausible. Just note that these are both rather expensive cameras compared to the other ones mentioned here.
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Old August 9th, 2007, 03:51 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by Marcus Marchesseault View Post
"Thank you for the pointers. Any thoughts on the situation A vs. B in my last reply?"

Sorry, I missed that part.

Yes, situation B will gather less light as the lens is stopped down as it is zoomed in. Of course you can compensate exposure in many ways but when you are talking about low-light situations you are at the end of those adjustments. There are three things you can do to brighten the image and dim light often requires all three. If you open the aperture, increase exposure time, and add gain to get proper exposure in low light, you don't have any more options to compensate for when you want to zoom in.
Thank you, Marcus, for the further information. I think I need to see a diagram of what happens to light rays as they enter a zoom lens at different zoom levels to get a better sense of this. I'll see what I can dig up!

Many thanks,
-Hans.
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Old August 9th, 2007, 03:55 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by Heiko Saele View Post
It all depends on the lens - the higher the quality of your lens the more light it will let through even in full zoom.
It's called "relative aperture", the numbers are printed on the lens. For example 1:2.8-5.6 means...

For more impressive values have a look at an extremely large and expensive video zoom lens like the Canon DIGISUPER 86II xs. The relative aperture is 1:1.7 at 9.3~340mm and 1:4.0 at 800mm. That means it doesn't lose any light up to 36x zoom and is only at 4.0 (which is still very good) at 86x zoom. The downside is it costs a fortune (it's in the prize range of a Ferrari, I guess)
Thank you, Heiko -- this is making more sense to me now. Though I think the super lens you described lies several orders of magnitude outside of my budget! :-)

Thanks,
-Hans.
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