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Still Crazy
You say you want resolution? The whole world is watching these digicams.


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Old June 13th, 2005, 06:42 PM   #1
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Still's Make Great Looking Video!

Wow! This is pretty funny. I just discovered this thread after an eye opening discovery with my digital still cam last night. I usually stop here every day to look through the Cannon Optura Xi forum. I've had one for about a year now, and for a consumer video camera I've been pretty pleased and surprised with the video quality I can coax out of it. Well, yesterday I tried an experiment: I went on an outing this weekend and decided to take both my videocam and my older digital still cam along, to see what would happen if I mixed shots from both in my hobby video project.

After putting the project together with Vegas video, I put the finished DVD in the drive and sat down to watch it on my HDTV. Oh my God. I don't know if I should be happy or sad right now, but I have just had one of those "turning point" moments. I don't think my camcorder is going to be getting much use anymore...

The slide show section of the video I created from my 3.5 megapixel digital still shots, looked about 100 light years better than the carefully shot and processed video from my camcorder. The picture quality was so eye-poppingly fantastic that I now think I should be considered a famous person for having accomplished this. (only kidding). The serious part is that if it was possible to create video with this kind of quality, anyone would be able to shoot a backyard production that would look like a Hollywood movie. The weird thing is that you would think it's impossible for a 740 by 480 DV image to look so good. My little Mpeg 2 movie looked as high quality, with tremendous color rendition and detail, as any big budget shot I've seen on the HD channels.

It was also faster and easier to put my slide show video together, than the work I usually put into my camcorder videos. After I dumped my memory card from the still camera into my laptop, I wrote a quick script in Photoshop that allowed me to batch process all 75 shots with the AutoLevel function. In about 5 minutes this allowed me to tweak all my shots pretty close to perfection. It also allowed me to fix a shot of someone's face, in a way that wouldn't be practical with video: I removed the dark circles under someone's ( OK, it was me...) eyes with the Band-Aid tool.

I then simply imported all the shots from the folder into the media bin in Vegas Video. Vegas allows you to set the preferences for still import to determine the length of time for each picture, and how much if any cross fade overlaps between them. Because I would be watching the finished product on my HDTV I needed to crop the pictures so that they would fit without stretching, into the 16:9 widescreen format. I tweaked one of the cropping presets in Vegas to do this. I then simply copied and pasted the crop and zoom editing to all the other pictures at once. This took me about two seconds.

I also discovered a really interesting phenomena here. You can fool your eye into thinking it's watching full motion video, when it's actually watching a still. This can be done very subtly, and it's a lot more effective than you might think. In the crop and zoom tool I keyframed a very slight zoom in. It's really easy in Vegas to do the Ken Burns style virtual camera around the picture effect. I kept it very subtle and hopefully tasteful, and saved a few different presets that I then copied to several of the pictures in the timeline. I also threw in a few video transitions every 15 or 20 shots just for variety. The whole project hardly required any memory in my computer, and it took about 10 minutes to render it.

After watching the resulting video, here's what I think:

You can tell a story just as well with still shots, as with video. Maybe better, because it focuses the viewer on exactly the moment you wish to convey.

It's not boring to watch. Add some music, narration, even sounds that were taken in the environment where the pictures were captured, and you have a full production.

It's really fast and easy to put together.

It just looks totally classy. Again, it looks REALLY classy compared to working with video footage.

There is no way the output from current video technology can compare to a halfway decent consumer digital still camera (even one that's five years old) and Photoshop makes it easy to quickly bump your pictures up to the look you had in mind.

OK, so I guess this kind of makes me a heretic in this video forum (ha!). Actually I'm just really happy right now that I discovered a new tool (using an old one that I had lying around), to make my video projects look about one million times better. This is something I definitely plan to start working with a lot more in the future. I've got tons of ideas going through my head right now. Glad I found a forum thread where other people have discovered the same thing too. This is really interesting - let's keep this discussion going.
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Old June 14th, 2005, 04:21 AM   #2
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This "kinda" has been discussed before. A couple of months back someone
posted a movie that was made entirely with stills. There recently was a movie
done at something like 5 fps as well.

However, I have to "disagree" with some points you make:

Quote:
The serious part is that if it was possible to create video with this kind of quality, anyone would be able to shoot a backyard production that would look like a Hollywood movie
I would seriously doubt that. There is so much more to the "look" then just
the device (because that's what it is) that created the imagery. Even with
the "blockbusters" Hollywood is turning out time and again people still prefer
content (ie, story) and acting over much anything else. Yes, it looks and
sounds (!!) spectacular too which definitely helps a great bunch.

To get a good movie you would still need (in order of importance I'd say):

1. a good story

2. good acting

3. good sound

4. good editing

5. good framing

And other things like props, effects, color timing, music etc. etc. None of
that has changed for us. Yes the picture may look better (perhaps even
spectacular), but that still doesn't get our movies seen....

Quote:
The weird thing is that you would think it's impossible for a 740 by 480 DV image to look so good. My little Mpeg 2 movie looked as high quality, with tremendous color rendition and detail, as any big budget shot I've seen on the HD channels.
Do you have a proper HD setup? Because true HD will look better by a long
shot than SD, even if it came from an HD source (like your still). Why not
simply get one of those new HD(V) camera's that are out and shoot a MOVING
image at HD resolution? That should give you a similar look, with one exception.

A lot of digital still camera's are using 10 or 12 bit sensors and coding that
back into 8 bit. This does give you (an apparant) increase in the image's
lattitude.

Quote:
You can tell a story just as well with still shots, as with video. Maybe better, because it focuses the viewer on exactly the moment you wish to convey.
How many movies have you watched that actually worked with that technique?

I may have seen a couple of shorts that pulled this off great, but I've never
seen it done at a longer length. I have no doubt it can work very well for
certain types of movies, but I just can't see how you could create all your
movies in such a way.


Finally, this was not meant to discourage you or anyone from pursuing this
path, please continue by all means! I highly applaud your thinking, approach
and willingness to try new stuff.

I just wanted to "ground" it a bit more... no hard feelings I hope.
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Old June 14th, 2005, 09:28 AM   #3
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Good points, Rob.
I can't afford a high-definition camcorder right now, but I'm really curious about getting my hands on one and seeing if the quality is as good as a digital still camera.

I listen to a lot of PBS radio during the day. I love how their audio documentaries create movies in your head with the combination of environmental sound, narration, and music. Working with stills would be an interesting approach that would add a visual element, while allowing you to use your imagination to complete the story. A lot of movies I see nowadays seem to be TOO literal. If they don't show you every graphic detail up close, it's like they don't think the audience is going to "get it". Besides the incredible picture quality, I think this is another reason why the "captured moment" approach can look so classy. Hey, if it works - it's another tool worth exploring.

This is something I sort of discovered by accident. I just like the look so much, I'm going to keep working with it now and see what I can do with it.
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Old June 14th, 2005, 09:42 AM   #4
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For inspiration...check out the movie, "The Kid Stays in the Picture."
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Old June 14th, 2005, 12:23 PM   #5
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the classic of this genre, of course, is Chris Marker's short film "La Jetee," precursor to all of today's mind-bending time-traveling experiments. no one---and i mean no one--has done it better. in you should check it out. if you're really interested in the pure movement possible through still photography.

also, check out the late 19th/turn-of-the-century photography of jacques henri l'artigue for an example of a great photographer who was all about the motion of still photography.

re-inventing the wheel usually means you're already in some pretty good company. good luck and have fun.
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Old June 14th, 2005, 05:23 PM   #6
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Check out the video in this thread.
http://www.dvinfo.net/conf/showthread.php?t=43245

It may change the way you think about stills and video.
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Old June 15th, 2005, 10:00 AM   #7
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That movie was great, Dylan. However, I'm not interested in creating the illusion of video motion by using a still cam. I just like the extreme boost in quality you get with stills. I'd really like to see a full rez version of that video though...
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Old June 16th, 2005, 03:07 AM   #8
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Good enough Kevin, I'd say go for it!
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Old July 1st, 2005, 02:02 AM   #9
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Obviously your going to get rediculously better picture out of a still....even better if your using a rediculously good still camera. With a canon eos-1ds you would practically be exceeding the quality of most film stocks. But when you are talking about creating a video story with it...you are using a very limiting tool. There are really only two types of stories you can present, stop motion, or experimental stills with narration. You can't make an action movie, a serious drama, etc. So while image quality is greatly exceeds video....its by no means a substitute for a video camera.

Now if you start talking about hacking a still camera to shoot 24fps...or perhaps some other means of tricking it into creating full speed motion...then you are in a whole other ballpark.
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Old July 13th, 2005, 10:01 AM   #10
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I left my videos alone for awhile and haven't looked at any of my projects for a couple of weeks to give my eyes a refresh. My discovery with using stills still stands for me. Wow! The difference in quality is just amazing. I can see somebody watching these many years from now and still saying, "this looks really professional" compared to the home movie quaintness standard definition video is going to look like in 20 years.

Matt said: "There are really only two types of stories you can present". As to this statement, I really don't agree, but then I'm not making a typical movie or telling a standard story either. Most of my shots are really just run and gun documents of things I do and places I go with family and friends. Those types of events can usually be presented just fine with still pictures. What I'm doing now is experimenting with using the stills as a visual tool, the same way my video camera is a tool to present a chosen moment with.

Besides the massive jump in picture quality, the main thing I notice going back over my videos is: there is ABSOLUTELY NO CAMERA SHAKE when using stills. That constant shaky video seems to kill the whole thing for me quality wise. No matter how carefully you try to hold the camcorder steady it's like a total headache inducer when watching on the bigger screen. It keeps drawing your eye to the shaky medium, instead of getting pulled into the subject.
For the personal videos I shoot when I'm out with friends there is just no practical way to bring a tripod along. You can say so much with grabbing just the right instant with a high resolution still, and presenting it for the eye to study on-screen. Using a virtual camera to subtly pan and zoom on the image almost makes it look like 3-D on a high-definition monitor.

I did an experiment and went back and re-shot some places I'd made videos of with the still camera. Although my Canon Optura Xi does take a very high-quality standard definition video, I really preferred the pieces I'd assembled with stills. They just had that "Wow" factor onscreen. I also noticed it's easier to grab candid shots of people with a still camera. It's so small they typically don't really notice it while I'm grabbing a shot. Once the camcorder with the big lens comes out people start backing away.

Anyway, I sure I didn't intend for this thread to be an argument of which is better: video or stills. Obviously that would be pointless to get into. If anything, this discovery is going to teach me to use my camcorder better. As in being more economical with my shots.

I think as I settle into this more, I'll use insert shots from the camcorder when full motion is one of the storytelling ingredients. I'm experimenting now with trying things like adding letterbox bars to the video (even though I'm already shooting in widescreen), or converting the video to grayscale just to make it look different and keep it from competing with the still images.
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