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Old January 30th, 2005, 07:02 AM   #1
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FIlmlook, sharpness and other stuff

This is something that has been bugging me for a while now.

Generally when we talk about filmlook, we are talking about replicating the look of film after it has been telecined over to video or preferably DVD.

Many articles recommend that the sharpness on cameras be turned down a fair bit as the common wisdom is that film looks softer.

I'm not sure i would agree with this. While many cameras do come set too sharp out of the box (complete with ringing halos around contasting edges), I don't believe film looks soft at all.

Let's take a brand new transfer to DVD such as The Bourne Supremacy. Hard edges in this transfer are precisely that.

Surely to replicate a high quality picture, or filmlook, our aim shouldn't be to soften the picture to take the harshness out of it, but instead to make it as pin sharp as we possibly can while not introducing any horrible digital edge enhancement artefacts?

There seems to be a tendancy these days for people using video to do a filmlook to use white or black diffusion, and to purposefully blow out the highlights in post.

It has gone to a point where in the vast majority of cases I can tell video from film merely from the fact that many productions look like they are trying too hard to mimic film. The colours are far too saturated, and often warmed up to a massive degree.

Of course the look of the final production should serve the purpose of the story, so if a warmed up over saturated look is what the story demands then so be it.

But I would interested if anyone has tried a naturalistic filmlook.

The more I think about it, the more I am thinking about filmlook at a very, very basic level. For example, is filmlook anything more than just a slight curves adjustment?

Take a real film. They will shoot on 35mm stock, which will have it's own gamma curve. That will be our base point. So if we shoot on video we should shoot the maximise the dynamic range of our particular cameras, and perhaps, if the camera is capable of doing it, adjust the curve slightly to mimic this.

Anything else beyond this is just icing on the cake. Colour correction, or applying 'looks' should be classed as something seperate to filmlook, precisely because when people shoot on real film, doing colour correction or enhancement is a matter of preference rather than trying to make a film look even more like film.

Composition and framing is also something that should be classed seperately. This could be called 'cinematic look;. But even then there is no way of defining it due to the fact that some films such as Bourne Supremacy will use a lot of handheld work and not perform many big 'cinematic' sweeps that we could associate with 'filmlook'.

Lighting again is something seperate. Taking the first Bourne Identity film as another example, some scenes in that movie (outside the train station for example) were shot using natural light with a very small crew.

Lets imagine that scene was shot on a good video camera, such as, say, an SDX900 in 24p mode, or a DVX100 in 24p mode. Other than fine detail and latitude, what one be doing with those video cameras at the time of shooting to replicate the natural look of that scene once it was telecined without giving away the fact it was shot on video?

We could use relfectors, and in the case of the SDX we could use black stretch to maximise the latitude. But within our control the main thing would be the gama curve of the filmstock we were trying to replicate.

Lastly what are we aiming for with filmlook? Are we aiming to make our production look like it was shot on film and therefore more expensive? Or is our aim to use the example of film as lesson of a way of maximising latitude and versitility of video rather than to fool people that we have shot using film stock?
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Old January 30th, 2005, 10:05 AM   #2
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I don't know anything about "film look," but over-sharpened video has "video look" to my eyes. By turning up the sharpness control you aren't really "sharpening" anything, you're enhancing the contrast wherever there's a transition between light and dark areas of the image. I personally really dislike this effect. But if you like the way it looks then there's no reason not to turn the sharpness up, that's why it's adjustable!

I did some experiments with my Sony cameras where I compared all the sharpness settings. The results for the VX-2000 are here and for the PDX-10 are here.
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Old January 30th, 2005, 10:33 AM   #3
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Over sharpened video would look rubbish yes. But my point is that some recommendations on filmlook seem to want over softening, saying that film is softer than video. My case being that if you look at film DVD's the picture is anything but soft.

Some cameras are better than others. Some cameras have a lot of horrible edge enhancement to compensate for deficienies in the camera (the XM1 being a case in point).

However, not all cameras are the same, and so turning the sharpness right down when it needn't be is defeating the objective. If obtaining a filmlook is about replicating the best DVD's, then, as I was saying, we should be aiming to keep things as pin sharp as possible without introducing edge enhacement artefacts. If films on DVD are sharp, then why is there a need to *soften* our video to get a filmlook?

It's not the sharpness of a picture that creates the video look, but the ringing halos around edges as a result of over edge enhancement. The key is to reduce these artefacts while not reducing the sharpness to such a level that detail becomes fuzzy.

http://photos.gps.free.fr/PDW-530P-16_9-25p.avi

This is footage from a Sony PDW530 XDCAM recorded at 25p and converted to DV format. It's pin sharp on a properly set up monitor, and there are no filmlook plugins applied. Yet I wouldn't say off hand that it has a 'video' look. It looks detailed and clean, but not really videoey.

Hence my hypothetical question at the end of my original post. What exactly are our aims with our quest for a film look? Is high quality progressive video enough, or are we after something more?
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Old January 30th, 2005, 11:10 AM   #4
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Simon, I agree with you, generally.

While your technical points are sensible, I think you're mainly making an aesthetic judgement & it's welcome. Web chatter is clotted with Byzantine innovations, plug-ins, add-ons &c, many of which are interesting but quickly become garish onscreen.

I don't care a fig about making my video look "like film," except as an exercise. I'm shooting DV as a cost-savings---the way I would shoot, say, 16mm in years past. When/if I get to the point of transferring DV to film, I'll keep your observations in mind.
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Old January 30th, 2005, 11:42 AM   #5
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John,

Transferring DV to film is a different matter. Each film transfer house will have their own preference and specification as to how DV should be shot to obtain a good film print.

However I think sometimes there is confusion between obtaining the look of something that was shot on film as opposed to how to shoot DV for a film transfer.

By softening the image you can make life easier on the DV codec. The same thing can be acheived by using a shallow depth of field.

I'm not even sure if changing gamma curves makes video look any more like film. Working with the presets in Colour Finesse or FilmFX for some of the Kodak stocks for example produces an absolutely infintesimal change in the picture. The main side effect is a mere change of colour.

So perhaps the filmlook is entirely due to motion. Perhaps if one lights like a high end pro, and shoots progressive, then no filmlook plugins will be needed at all. Looking at many of the filmlook programs available, many of them just end up crushing the blacks to the point where no detail is visible at all at those levels.

As a result the idea of filmlook by shooting with DV has made crushed blacks and very high contrast synonamous with the method. it seems that many equate this high contrast and crushed blacks with the look of film.

However even the Magic Bullet plugin has a preset called 'Epic'. Applying this filter in fact reduces the contrast.

So perhaps the filmlook plugin industry is entirely made of hot air.
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Old January 30th, 2005, 12:43 PM   #6
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I totally agree with Simon !

Here is a test I did by taking HDV footage and downressing it to DV res. It shows the downres in Vegas and the same downres in Shake. Shake definately gives a much better resizing result.

http://home.comcast.net/~chalbers/compare_short.mov

What I'm trying to show here is that the sharper quality is retrieved from higher res footage downsized to DV, which gives much better result then low res CCD that is sharpened in camera giving halo artifacts on the edges. And THAT is what people mostly refer to as the video sharpness look. When people watch good transfered films to DVD, nobody complains. Why ? Because there are no sharpness halo artifacts comming from a camcorder. It creates great quality because DVD res ( and so DV) CAN handle that amount of quality.

The Sharp video effect I truly believe comes from the wrong way camcorders sharpen it. If the CCD is enough high resolution , there is NO NEED for the camera to sharpen.

Now for color. I'm a true believer to edit your footage raw to keep the highest dynamic range the video can give you. At the very END you then curve and colorcorrect it to match fim stock and add your color world.

Frank
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Old January 31st, 2005, 11:19 AM   #7
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Simon, you are right. I think people are confused about terms. Yes, it is usually a good thing to turn down sharpeness in DV cameras, because it is artifical and causes artifacts. I can attest that this works. It instantly creates a more natural picture.

I have a couple of theories on why people call film soft. For one, they may be using soft instead of smooth. Due to the lack of artifacts, I would say film is smoother than video. Also, I think the shallow depth of field in most films, causing backgrounds to go blurry and out of focus, gives the impression of softness, even though the subject is sharp and in focus.

Sounds like a lot of people using terms they don't fully understand, or not explaining clearly. Heck, I may be one of them.
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Old February 14th, 2005, 05:35 PM   #8
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Sharpening on video cameras is an attempt for video to match film. Film is not 'sharpned', it's just has a higher definition.

When you look at the footage you got from your GL2, VX2100 or whatever on a TV, sharpening gives it a feeling of having higher definition, but contrasty edges aren't the same as HD/Film.

Resolution is what's it all about, and sharpning low resolution footage will give it a fake look, because it is fake.
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Old February 14th, 2005, 05:58 PM   #9
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Quite the opposite in fact. Many people soften the image to make things look more filmlike.

However most consumer cameras when you turn down the sharpness on them they lose a lot of definition. The larger cameras are more controllable.
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Old February 14th, 2005, 06:37 PM   #10
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I didn't say sharper video images made it look more 'filmlike'. I said it's an attempt to emulate the higher definition of Film/HD cameras.

You're saying that DVDs images are anything but soft, but that's a definition issue, it has nothing to do with sharpening filters used in mini-DV.

I repeat: Sharpening low resolution footage will give it a fake look, because it is fake.
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Old February 14th, 2005, 07:10 PM   #11
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Many DVD's use artificial sharpening. If you look closely you'll see the edge halo artefacts.

When most people talk about a filmlook they are after the look of film after it has been transferred to DVD since most of us will never have our production printed out to real film.

Yes, sharpening looks fake. But you are talking about actual film resolution rather than film after it has been transferred via telecine.

As I mentioned high end cameras have more control. It is possible to selectively reduce edge sharpening artefacts while retaining sharpness. The key is to obtain a compromise that doesn't have the harshness of video, yet doesn't look too soft.

I don't care about the use of sharpening filters onto footage. My original post dealt with the idea that people are over softening their footage when they didn't need to.
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Old February 14th, 2005, 10:42 PM   #12
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As someone new to this game, I find this all rather fascinating. I think part of the problem regarding a "filmlook" is that, as movie goers, rarely do we get to see what unprocessed, uncorrected, unplayed with film looks like. Do we? I look at footage of out takes or deleted scenes on DVDs and I guess they look like film but they certainly don't ever look like the finished product.

I'm currently shooting a bunch of test footage for an upcoming short. Settling on a look in camera (XL2) that gives me what I want for what I'm going to do with it in post (which I'm also testing) is much harder than anything else I have to do.

I find the single greatest difference I can make is with lighting. I spent four hours yesterday lighting the scene for this test footage and I still have to make some minor changes.

Matt
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Old February 15th, 2005, 02:00 PM   #13
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You seem to be contradicting yourself on that last sentence when you say you don't care about sharpening filters, but at the same time people don't need to soften their footage? If you don't soften your footage you'll be using the sharpening filter by default, so you have to care.

When you reduce the sharpeness of your XL1/GL2 footage, you're actually de-sharpening it, ie, you're reducing the amount of sharpening that the camera applies to the footage.

There's no way around it: You either soften your footage or sharpen it, but the resolution stays the same. And because it's low, when you try to sharpen it looks bad. So yes, people need to soften footage in order to give it a more filmic look, and this is where I disagree with you.

I don't know what you refer to when you mention 'high-end cameras', but the only reason why film is so much crisper and clear is because of resolution. I'm not even going into 35mm or HD. Let's say you make your movie with a 2/3" 3 CCD professional camera. That means the CCD has double the size of a XL1/DVX100/PD150. Evidently the CCD will provide a finer, sharper image, something that is impossible to emulate using lower resolution cameras (smaller CCDs).
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Old February 15th, 2005, 02:20 PM   #14
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David, you really are making something out of nothing.

Look, the alternative to sharpening or softening is not to do anything at all!

Your experience is only with a smaller camera. The large professional broadcast cameras offer a much wider set of controls. For example I can adjust the detail black limit or detail frequency to make adjustments to the size of the edge enhancement halos. On my 510 for example if I increase the BLK DTL LMT function it will reduce the black halo edges to pretty much nothing without affecting general overall detail levels or appearances. The picture may go ever so slightly softer (but not much) as a result, and it's certainly not the same as the blanket sharpness adjustment available on something like the GL2.

That's just one adjutsment of many. There's also the overall detail limit, the detail frequency, the white detail frequency, the crispneing, the level depend, I could go on. I could even turn the detail function off completely. The picture would then look very soft, but get ont hing clear, by doing this I am NOT softening the image or desharpening it, I am merely turning OFF the edge enhancement.

With cameras you only increase or decrease the amount of enhancement the camera makes. You don't desharp.

Again David you are talking about film itself and NOT a film look. As I mentioned, and I'm not saying it again, DVD's have edge enhancement put on them to make the image appear sharper. Since most people's aim is to emulate what a film looks like once it is transferred to DVD there should be no need to make the image look soft!
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Old February 16th, 2005, 02:14 PM   #15
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"With cameras you only increase or decrease the amount of enhancement the camera makes."

Isn't that what I said on my previous post:

"you're reducing the amount of sharpening that the camera applies to the footage."

Regarding the 510, I don't know that camera but I assume you're refering to the Sony 510p, which is a professional camera. It probably has a 1/2" CCD or a 2/3" and obviously you'll get a better image quality from it in terms of sharpeness. And that is even without messing around with any settings, since the CCDs are so much larger. Again I had mentioned this in my last post.

The reason I initialy posted in this topic was your comment on the first post: "...our aim shouldn't be to soften the picture to take the harshness out of it, but instead to make it as pin sharp as we possibly can...", which I disagree with. I think people MUST 'soften' the footage since we're talking about semi-pro cameras here. I don't think many users here own pro cameras, or even film cameras. But if they do, they are using the same tools as the pros, so why even bothering talking about achieving a film-like sharpness? You already have it.
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