Ingesting P2 for FCPX – some alternatives

I’ve had some bad luck with MXF ingest to FCP, the Canon C300 variety needed a bit of voodoo. This weekend, I’m playing with images of Panasonic’s P2 media, copied onto an NTFS formatted USB3 drive.

FCPX couldn’t see anything. It knew there was a P2 card there, just didn’t see anything. Okay, moving on.

I’ve recently ditched Adobe Creative Cloud for being too expensive to maintain for an FCPX editor, but I still kept Adobe CS6 as there are some things (Audition, Encore, Photoshop and Illustrator) that I need – if not the latest versions thereof.

So, surprise, surprise, Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe Prelude could both see the P2 card. I started a Transcode from the MXF files to ProRes 422.

If we skip the issues that cropped up trying to make that happen reliably, I also fired up Final Cut Pro 7 – which has a ‘Log and Transfer’ mode that also saw the P2 card images and willingly imported them whilst transcoding to ProRes.

And here’s the catch: FCP7 did 90 mins of P2 rushes in about 45 minutes. Adobe Prelude did the same in about 90 minutes.

So, we’d expect the Prelude transcodes to be better than the FCP7 transcodes – it took longer, the software is newer. Stands to reason, right?

The two versions look visually identical. Flipping between them, there’s no visible difference.

We can take one version, import the second version and overlay it on the first version, then use the ‘Difference’ composite mode. It will highlight the difference between the two – supposedly identical – frames. What you get is a murky-black composition which tells you nothing. What you need to do is group the two together, then boost the contrast to buggery. One of the versions has a sort of ‘flicking’ nature. Maybe for a frame, maybe for a second or so. I lined up originals on top of each other to mark where the difference composite flicked, then examined each version with a waveform monitor. What you see is this:

Compare this frame:
unknown-2014-07-26-19-21.jpeg

With this frame:
unknown-2014-07-26-19-21.jpeg

You may have to do this side by side. It’s actually a big difference. Check out her hair.

The Adobe Media Encoder version has barely visible jumps in luminance. Barely visible on a monitor. but it’s about 1-2 IRE. The FCP7 Transcode versions do not. They are ‘cleaner’.

Yes, I obsess (!) about this – because I’m chromakeying the results, and ‘bumps’ in luminance can upset the keying settings.

So, I’d recommend FCP7 over Adobe for ingesting P2 cards for measurable speed and quality reasons. I wish FCPX would ingest P2 direct from disk, but my installation doesn’t work (it didn’t work with C300 for a while, until I found the fix).

So there you go. I know Adobe Media Encoder gets a good write-up, but in this case I have to hand it to FCP7. I wonder if I’m missing a secret folder for P2 ingest in FCPX?

MovieSlate – the editor’s friend

I’ve finally managed to get MovieSlate to work as a Corporate Video tool that actually adds value to the edit, rather than as a bit of ‘decoration’.

It seems I’ve been doing a wave of 2-camera shoots recently, mostly interviews on PMW-EX1s. A simple hand clap or even a bit of lip sync on ‘plosives’ (vocalising consonants such as ‘p’ and ‘b’) is often all you’d ever need to bring the two shots into synchronisation.

The idea of using a clapperboard could be seen as a little ‘effete’ and pretentious. In fact, I’d tried a few iPhone/iPad versions and found that the visual and audio cues were out of sync anyway. So I have, sadly, scoffed at them for too long.

But, a while back, I was editing some 3-camera interviews shot by a colleague, and he’d used an iPad slating app that actually did something really useful. It blipped a few text fields just before the slate – only 2-3 frames per field of text, but it quite clearly labelled the interviewee. Wowzers! The idea of shot logs, production notes and so on seems to have faded into obscurity and as a Corporate Video editor, often all I get is a hard drive with obscure rushes on it.

I’ve seen this done, but the blipvert text dump was of Things I Did Not Need To Know – director, DoP name, production name, camera type and so on. What I wanted to know was ‘who is this, how is the name spelled, what do I put in the lower third caption’. The sort of info I often have to trawl Linked-in for at 3:00 in the morning just to check spellings or find a shorter job title.

So I dusted off my copy of MovieSlate and dug around its interface, trying to get it to behave the way I wanted to. There are LOTS of options buried in MovieSlate and they’re not all where you’d expect to find them. In fact, trying to bash things into shape and work out what should go where took the best part of an afternoon – but now we’ve got through a few jobs working with MovieSlate, I’m going to be using it whenever I can.

Removing my ‘editor’ hat and now thinking as a ‘shooter’, I’m really keen to deliver rushes to an editor/client stating that CH1: is the lavalier, CH2: is the 416 on a boom – I’ve had some stuff edited where the two tracks were treated as stereo. And I’ll label my 1-mic, 2-channel (CH2 -18dB lower) too. A seasoned editor would work all this out just by looking at it, but some folks can miss out on the particular whys and wherefores.

So, here’s a little review of MovieSlate – created because I find trying to explain something as if teaching helps solidify my experience of it.

Chromakey lighting – the basics

Alex Gollner and I were shooting some interviews in Berlin this week, and I inadvertently captured the last bit of our setting up which makes a neat little illustration of chromakey lighting. Our brief was to capture the corporate interviews that would fit a ‘white background’ look, but could also get rebranded, so we shot using a chromakey setup. 06 final key
This may surprise you, but that’s the result from the XDCAM-EX recording. It’s 4:2:0 and recorded internally at 8 bit to SDHC. It’s because the FCPX keyer is a ‘hybrid’ keyer that uses both colour and luminance info to create the key, but it can only work its magic if your source material is good. What does good look like?

First job is to ensure that the background is evenly lit, with no spill onto the subject. Evenness and correct exposure is very important to get a good quality result. The green should be around 50IRE-55IRE on a waveform monitor: 01 bgd lit, no light on subject Here, the Waveform Monitor shows the green background nudging towards the 60IRE line, but the key feature is that it’s flat (evenly lit) and the line is thin (not much variance from top to bottom).chromakey_wfm Next up, I used a daylight dichroic filter in my Dedo DLH4 backlight to give a cool effect, befitting a white background. Not too much to burn it out, just enough to ‘lift and separate': 02 add backlight I didn’t feel that was enough, so I moved it a foot or so to the camera’s right. This made it more of a 3/4 back or ‘kicker’, catching Alex’s cheek. 03 move to threequarter back or kick Next, I added a very soft fill. It needed to be more of a ‘wash’ of light and something that could be carefully balanced with the key to provide the right level of ‘ambient’ lighting for a light background. If the fill were low, it would produce a high contrast look better suited to a dark background. We’re shooting for white, so another Dedo DLH4 was beamed into a big white reflector: 04 add fill Finally, I used a soft key – a small Dedo softbox with egg-crate – above head height. I really don’t like taking the key down to eye level as it looks unnatural. I don’t go too high, otherwise we lose the ‘tings’ in the eyes – the reflection of the light source in the iris that makes the interviewee look ‘alive’. 05 add soft key Once in Final Cut Pro X, it’s basically a case of dropping the Keyer plug-in onto the clip. I’ve nudged up the light wrap to create a little false flare around the edges, which introduces another little problem but really helps sell the shot. I’ve reframed accordingly. 06 final key

Conclusion:

Light your chromakey background first. Make sure it’s even and exposed correctly. Your subject should be untouched by the chromakey background lamps, and far enough away from the setup to avoid ‘spill’. Now you can light your subject with a thought to what background it will be used on. Lower contrast for bright backgrounds, higher contrast for dark backgrounds (just a rule of thumb). Update – our dear friend Sean Ebsworth Barnes was shooting stills on the same event and found us doing strange things -

The Cameras of NAB 2014

If we think back to last year’s NAB, I remember seeing popup posters of the Black Magic 4K Production Camera and the Pocket Cine Camera the night before their launch. I remember thinking ‘this is a joke – a cunning deception to raise our hopes’ and today people are taking delivery of their 4K cameras.

So this year, I was excited to hear about AJA’s entry to the market – the CION.

UPDATE: AJA is PL only, posing a problem to owners of EF and Nikkor lenses. This is, for many of us, a bit of a show stopper. Happiness to AJA for choosing a standard, but they have effectively cut out their main audience – those of us who are upgrading from DSLR.

It looks great, their intro video is great, the price (considering…) is great. It looks like a really solid bit of kit. Well thought out, designed for professional use, a sort of pocket-money Alexa if you will, even though we haven’t seen the pictures.

I immediately started a little ‘savings’ pot – a stash of money where I’ll fund its purchase when I’m ready. I’ve already stated clearly that I will not buy another 8 bit camera (sorry Sony, with your cute Alpha 7S, and Atomos with your Shogun) and I really don’t want to buy a Panasonic GH4 and its own set of lenses. I’m happy that JVC are finally moving into the market of buyable cameras and acknowledge their choice of Micro Four Thirds, but I must move on.

So AJA’s Alexalookalike looks just the ticket. So excited!

Until, of course, those Aussies stroll up to the bar.

The Black Magic Ursa isn’t quite the Cion – it’s a giant (!) bear of a camera that has a 10″ flop-out screen. It has built in rail adaptors, it has a big handle, it has 3 big LCD screens, it screams ‘Production Department’ and all, and actually looks a little amateurish compared to the Cion. But it has something new and incredible:

The Ursa has swapable sensors.

That’s right, folks. You can buy the S35 EF mount edition. Later on, you can get a 2/3″ B4 sensor and mount. So in a few moments you’ve converted your big beefy Cinema camera into a big beefy ENG camera. You can have both a large S35 sensor mode with all your EOS lenses (or use Nikkors, or even opt for a PL mount S35 sensor – boggle!), and with a smallish investment and a little patience, have a 2/3″ B4 mount with your choice of ENG parfocal long range zooms.

Now, that’s worthy of investment!

Before we get all frothy at the mouth and loose at the wallet, we haven’t seen pictures (though both are promising 12 stops, ProRes 10 bit capture as well as raw, global shutter, et al), we haven’t got an actual shipping date (Black Magic are on the spot here), and it could all be show-stopping hype. But both AJA and Black Magic have effectively put the kybosh on many people’s purchasing decisions and both cameras offer – on paper at least – excellent value.

EDIT: More details came out about the camera. It’s 10 Kilograms with a lens and battery, so purchasers may want to think about their tripod heads and getting a good physiotherapist. Furthermore, it uses two C-Fast CF slots, which are quite expensive and don’t hold much footage when you’re shooting 10 bit 4K in an I-frame format like ProRes. A 128GB C-Fast card costs around $1,200 for 20 minutes of ProRes or 6 mins of raw. Come back, XQD cards, all is forgiven!

Right now, I’ll give the MDMA tip of the hat to AJA for the most desirable camera, but egad – the Ursa is so close behind and if they can deliver B4 they will win my vote. The GH4 was looking like the HVX200 of 2014 but may miss out to many users because of its Micro Four Thirds status.

Sony’s Alpha 7S was launched with great pizzazz, and is probably going to light fires under the 5D Mk3 market. But it’s a DSLR, and many of us have found that a DSLR just isn’t nice to use as a video camera if you’re being paid to deliver video. I think it’s excellent that Sony have included an S35 sensor crop and so your investment in S35/EF-S e-mount lenses is protected – you’re effectively getting a Canon 7D and 5D Mk3 in one body – and you have access to XLR audio through a special hot shoe with a £600 accessory. The body is tiny and it’s not hugely expensive. But it’s a DSLR style camera and I got on better with an AX100 than i did with an A7R when I had a chance to try lots of body styles.

So, welcome, AJA, to the camera market. You have a handsome product, but Black Magic is hot at your heals with interchangeable sensors. I trust AJA for its IO (which replaced a £35k Avid suite for me), and the Ki Pro (which replaced the Grass Valley things we were offered before). Your camera will always remind me of a pocket money Alexa and perhaps the comparison is deserved. But be aware of what Black Magic has done. The idea of swappable sensors is mind boggling.

C100 AF Upgrade – worth it?

Canon’s introduced Dual Pixel autofocus for faster, more accurate focus on certain lenses. It cost an extra £340 plus VAT. Is it worth it?

The demos have been very convincing, though until Philip Bloom’s recent trial they’ve been fairly ‘safe’ studio-based tests. Like most C100 owners, I’m more ‘run and gun’ – and whilst I prefer manual focus, there are times when it’s a joy to let the camera help out when you don’t have a chance to plan. Hand-held pick-up shots of activities, children, animals, or when you’re unable to reach the camera – cranes and jibs for example.

So I decided to further demonstrate the tax-deductible nature of our chickens by employing them as models for my test shoot. They are suitable unpredictable, active, and feathers are something fairly easy to judge focus by. The result is shared below – it’s got no sound, this is NOT a Philip Bloom style video, but it demonstrates the Dual Pixel AF in use. There are situations where it snatches focus well and holds onto it. There are situations where it just gives up.

I’ve done some slow motion sequences too, and with Canon STM lenses it really is quick – useful in the (limited) C100 slomo situations.

Of course, it’s not perfect.

Continuous AF can be a little TOO helpful, and luckily ‘1 Shot AF’ is still fully functioning, using the same speedy mechanism.

This way, you press the AF button when your subject spends a second or so in the centre of the screen, the AF settles, and it locks at that point. Not good for tracking, but much more helpful when you’re not using a composition that’s centre weighted. It’s also smart enough not to ‘defocus to refocus’ unlike contrast detecting AF, so I’ll be testing it out on conference shots following a speaker up and down the stage. This way, I can select WHEN the AF does its magic rather than suffer the embarrassment of having the camera develop an obsession with the background, or for me not nailing the focus at the end of a ‘walk’.

The STM lenses are designed for this mode. They’re great. I tried a few other lenses, and the 70-200 f4 is pretty snappy. The 24-105 is okay.

The Sigma 50mm 1.4 is… a dog. But I knew this. The Sigma as a photographic lens was so bad I almost ditched it. As a manual video lens, it’s pretty darn good, my second favourite after the Samyang 85 1.4. But the Sigma’s conversation with the C100 is still so simplistic that it can’t take advantage of the Dual Pixel AF mode, and insists on defocussing and then grunting away at pulling it into sharp focus – frequently giving up or getting it wrong. This is how it behaved on my Canon C550, so it’s no surprise.

Be aware that image stabilisation and auto focus systems make a noise. Leaving the AF in continuous on an image stabilised 70-200 f4 made quite a racket. You would want to turn off both in an interview, or at least use ‘One Shot AF’ if you need to rely on a camera mounted microphone.

Overall, yes – to an event videographer who owns an STM lens, this upgrade is Sine Qua Non. In fact, most C100 owners are going to find uses for it.

And therein lies the rub: this upgrade is not cheap. You have to send your camera off to Canon for a few days, and there’s been a waiting list. This upgrade has taken Canon by surprise in its popularity, it seems.

Canon initially offered this AF upgrade for C100 owners only. No, it wasn’t going to be available for the C300, and no, it would only be offered as an upgrade. Not ‘off the shelf’.

Well, guess what? You can now get the C100 with the AF ‘pre-installed’ at $500 extra on the price, there’s a waiting list for C300 owners to get the upgrade, and I’m pretty sure that at some stage the AF function will be on the C100 and C300 (or their newer siblings after NAB perhaps) at ‘no extra cost’. But hey – the original owners of the C100 got to pay the ‘shiny’ tax, but we had the camera earning its keep for 12-18 months before the upgrade. It’s not quite the ’S-Log upgrade’ that hung over the first PMW-F3 owners.

So, get your C100 upgraded – you’ll find the firmware goes up from 1.0.3.00 to 2.0.3.00 – showing that the hardware has been tweaked and proving it’s got the Dual Pixel AF upgrade installed.

Preset white settings – Danger, Will Robinson!

Many cameras allow us to dial in a specific colour temperature for a shot, rather than manually set it with a white or grey card. It sounds good, but can deliver alarming results.

Consider these two images shot under different lighting systems. In both cases, I’ve put a daylight Dedo DLED-4 over the shoulder as a sort of 3/4-backlight-kicker thing. It’s a look I like. That’s a fixed constant. I like to light to 4500 ºK which gives me wriggle room over colour temperature, and is a piece of cake with a bi-colour device like the Dedo Felloni. I had to shift the camera to 5600 to match the lighting sources with my cheaper LED panel lamps.

The camera was a Sony PMW F3 with Nikkor 35-70 at around f4.

Immediately, you can see that the Non-brand LED panels are green. Not just a little, green, they are Incredible Hulk Green. Note the daylight highlight on Rick’s temple – its about the same in both images, though I did use 5600 ºK on the F3 for the Non-brand LEDs. I tried using half CTO, but the results were absolutely hideous.

Both images are from LED sources and are untouched in terms of grading. The Fellonis are neutral, accurate and appear to all intents and purposes to be full spectrum. I also find the diffusion and fill tweaks to be particularly nice, considering the cramped location and speed at which we had to work.

So it’s plain: be careful of setting a colour temperature in-camera – it works well with continuous spectrum lighting, but looks horrible if you use more restrictive sources – especially LED devices from the lower end of our budget. They output a very restrictive light.

But that’s not the whole story.

Let’s do what we’re supposed to do: let’s white-set on a known white reference (not just a bit of photocopier paper). Let’s re-light with our non-brand LED panels. At first glance, hey! It looks good!

Let’s compare with the more ‘continuous spectrum’ Fellonis on the right. Note that Rick’s skin tone on the left is far flatter with a hint of grey and yellow. Note also that the pure daylight source behind him is now casting a MAGENTA light over his hair and shirt – all that green has been neutralised, leaving a nasty Magenta odour hanging about. If we try and cancel that out, it will bring the green back in. Meanwhile, the brighter reds and oranges have been tempered by removing so much green.

The result? There’s an ashen look to the skin. It’s a bit dull. It lacks life. On the right, there’s some flush to the face around and under the eyes. The backlight and his shirt pick up the fresh daylight from the three-quarter back. It’s natural, rather than made up.

But bear in mind that if I were using the Non-brand LEDs in a mixed environment, trying to blend them with existing daylight or tungsten or – egad, even worse – both, the results are just awful. That green tinge is back, and it really doesn’t sit with anything else. I remember vividly a shoot trying to use these No-name panels in a mixed lighting situation, pinning half-CTO and diff over them to try and calm them, and still seeing the green tinge seep through.

  • Take home 1: be careful using pre-set Kelvin settings as not all lighting is full spectrum. You’re choosing a compromise. It can be the best decision, but it can also be wrong.
  • Take home 2: a proper white-set is the way to go in difficult situations, but strong corrections will impact other lighting sources (ambient, backlight, fill, etc)
  • Take home 3: Unless shooting raw, correcting for White Balance issues can only take away data from your image and reduce its quality.

Note: look out for the full story (and more) on moviemachine.tv soon.

MXF to FCPX not working? A possible fix

Ingesting C300 rushes using the Canon FCPX plug-in
Ingesting-C300-rushes-using-the-Canon-FCPX-plug-in
Canon provide a free plug-in to enable the C300’s MXF files to import directly into FCPX without the need to transcode to ProRes. Many users report that they have no problems with the installation and it ‘just works’. However, other users with similar setups report that they cannot import C300 rushes in FCPX, though it works through Log and Capture in FCP7, additionally Adobe Premiere successfully imports C300 MXF. Only FCPX seems affected, and for a limted subset of FCPX users.

C300 rushes don’t work
C300-rushes-don-t-work

Here’s the typical scenario: having run the xpfm211 installer. FCPX sees the folder structure, even the MXF files themselves, but does not recognise either. This is as far as some users get. For some reason, the installer has completed successfully, we are seeing files, but nothing imports. De-installing and re-installing brings the user back to this situation. Very frustrating.

After installing
After-installingTrying to track the activity of the installer, we see two new plug-ins highlighted in the MIO/RAD/Plugins folder – CanonE1.RADPlug and CanonXF.RADPlug. The latter would appear to be the ‘magic smoke’ for the MXF format. However, this isn’t working. There’s a second empty RADPlugins folder below – should the plugins be in there?
Moving the plugins
Moving-the-pluginsWhilst it may seem a bit ‘cargo cult’ to shift the contents from a RAD/Plugins heirachy to a RADPlugins, it was worth a shot. No, it didn’t work.
Comparing folders with a working configuration
Comparing-folders-with-a-working-configurationHere’s where it got interesting. I was able to confer with another editor who had a system that did import MXF successfully. The key difference was that he had a CanonXF64.RADPlug folder – not an XF, an XF64. I could not find a similar folder, nor could I make the installer create one. In the end, he just sent me a copy of that folder, and I dragged and dropped it into the same folder I had.
C300 rushes now appear normally
C300-rushes-now-appear-normallyAnd it worked! It’s pretty obvious because you can see the clips, but also note that the MXF folder heirachy has gone, replaced simply with the usual list of clips on a card or archive.
The Secret Sauce of C300 Import
The-Secret-Sauce-of-C300-ImportSo this folder appears to be the missing link. Depending on your system, the installer either creates this folder, or it doesn’t. Both of us had the XDCAMFormat.RADPlugin, removing both did not make my installer create this file, the only way was to use somebody elses copy. It would be useful to provide this folder as a download to those who need it, but license agreements seem to forbid this sort of activity – probably for good reason.
It comes down to an issue with the installer, which isn’t written by Canon staff, and so it’s difficult to work out who to alert to the situation. However, as seen here, access to the CanonXF64.RADplug folder cures the problem for now.

Ninja Blade – 2:2 Pulldown with Canon C100 Fixed

ninjabladeUPDATE: 2:2 PULLDOWN FIXED IN AtomOS 5.1.1…
Early adopters frequently find little snags that are quickly patched, and this week is no different. I have taken delivery of the new Ninja Blade recorder last week.

It’s an awesome piece of kit for the C100 user – but when I record 25PsF, I noticed that the images are shifted two pixels to the left with a black line running down the right hand edge.

Atomos support are on the case have fixed it, they suggest we update to version 5.1.1 here. we keep the C100 set to 25PsF and set the Ninja Blade to 50i. In FCPX and Premiere (I don’t use Avid) simply do the 2:2 pulldown trick by treating it like AVCHD footage, manually switching the files from interlaced to progressive as described in PSF – the fix.

As a C100 user, I am very impressed by the Ninja Blade in a number of areas:

  • screen quality and fidelity with the option to calibrate
  • ability to use a LUT when shooting C-Log
  • audio meters that put the C100’s to shame
  • waveform monitor and vectorscope
  • shot logging features – both live and after the shoot

Combine all this with very low power consumption, a lightweight chassis and a wide range of media choices, it closes the gap between the C100 and C300.

I’ll do an in-depth review when I’ve cleared my current workload, and I’ll go into a bit of depth over the shot logging facilities which will really make a difference to shooting interviews and long form events such as presentations and conferences.

But not now. I really should be editing! Until then, remember the 50i to 25p trick.

UPDATE:

Well, it’s easy to deal with this little inconvenience in PAL-land. If you shoot in 24p or 23.976 PSF mode, you’ll find the same black line, so you’re recommended to shoot in 59.973 and you’re on your own.

So, whilst I don’t shoot for 24p or 23.976 most of the time,  when I shoot 29. 973 it’s fairly easy. So I had to find a solution that would make shooting 24p (or 23.976) work. It appears that the only way is to transcode the rushes. So…

With a drum roll and a nod to Abel Cine and all those who got there before me, here’s an Apple Compressor droplet that sorts your Ninja rushes out before you import them:

Apple Compressor Droplet.

C100 noise – the fix

The Canon C100 is an 8 bit camera, so its images have ‘texture’ – a sort of electronic grain reminiscent of film. Most of the time this is invisible, or a pleasant part of the picture. In some situations, it can be an absolute menace. Scenes that contain large areas of gently grading tone pose a huge problem to an 8 bit system: areas of blue sky, still water, or in my case, a boring white wall of the interview room.

Setup

Whilst we set up, I shot some tests to help Alex with tuning his workflow for speed. It rapidly became obvious that we’d found the perfect shot to demonstrate the dangers of noise – and in particular, the C100’s some-time issue with a sort of pattern of vertical stripes:

Click the images below to view the image at 1:1 – this is important – and for some browsers (like Chrome) you may need to click the image again to zoom in.

So, due to the balance of the lighting (couldn’t black the room out, couldn’t change rooms), we were working at 1250 ISO – roughly equivalent to adding 6dB of gain. So, I’m expecting a little noise, but not much.

Not that much. And remember, this is a still – in reality, it’s boiling away and drawing attention to its self.

It’s recommended to run an Auto Black Balance on a camera at the start of every shoot or if the camera changes temperature (e.g. indoors to outdoors). Officially, one should Auto Black Balance after every ISO change). An Auto Black Balance routine identifies the ‘static’ noise to the camera’s image processor, which will then do a better job of hiding it.

So, we black balanced the camera, and Alex took over the role of lit object.

There was some improvement, but the vertical stripes could still be seen. It’s not helped by being a predominantly blue background – we’re seeing noise mostly from the blue channel, and blue is notorious for being ‘the noisy weak one’ when it comes to video sensors. Remember that when you choose your chromakey background (see footnote).

The first thought is to use a denoiser – a plugin that analyses the noise pattern and removes it. The C100 uses some denoising in-camera for its AVCHD recordings, but in this case even the in-camera denoiser was swamped. Neat Video is a great noise reduction plug-in, available for many platforms and most editing software. I tried its quick and simple ‘Easy Setup’, which dramatically improved things.

But it’s not quite perfect – there’s still some mottling. In some respects, it’s done too good a job at removing the speckles of noise, leaving some errors in colour behind. You can fettle with the controls in advanced mode to fine tune it, but perversely, adding a little artificial monochrome noise helped a lot:

We noticed that having a little more contrast in the tonal transition seemed to strongly alter the noise pattern – less subtlety to deal with. I hung up my jacket as a make-shift cucoloris to see how the noise was affected by sharper transitions of tone.

So, we needed more contrast in the background – which we eventually achieved by lowering the ambient light in the room (two translucent curtains didn’t help much). But in the meantime, we tried denoising this, and playing around with vignettes. That demonstrated the benefit of more contrast – although the colour balance was hideous.

However, there’s banding in this – and when encoded for web playback, those bands will be ‘enhanced’ thanks to the way lossy encoding works.

We finally got the balance right by using Magic Bullet Looks to create a vignette that raised the contrast of the background gradient, did a little colour correction to help the skin tones, and even some skin smoothing.

The Issue

We’re cleaning up a noisy camera image and generating a cleaner output. Almost all of my work goes up on the web, and as a rule, nice clean video makes for better video than drab noisy video. However, super-clean denoised video can do odd things once encoded to H.264 and uploaded to a service such as Vimeo.

Furthermore, not all encoders were created equal. I tried three different types of encoder: the quick and dirty Turbo264, the MainConcept H.264 encoder that works fast with OpenCL hardware, and the open source but well respected X264 encoder. The latter two were processed in Epsiode Pro 6.4.1. The movies follow the above story, you can ignore the audio – we were just ‘mucking around’ checking stuff.

The best results came from Episode using X264

Here’s the same master movie encoded via MainConcept – although optimised for OpenGL, it actually took 15% longer than X264 on my MacBook Pro, and to my eyes seems a little blotchier.

Finally Turbo264 – which is a single pass encoder aimed at speed. It’s not bad, but not very good either.

Finally, a look at YouTube:

This shows that each service tunes its encoding to its target audience. YouTube seems to cater for noisy video, but doesn’t like strong action or dramatic tonal changes – as befits its more domestic uploads. Vimeo is trying very hard to achieve a good quality balance, but can be confused by subtle gradation. Download the uploaded masters and compare if you wish.

In Conclusion:

Ideally, one would do a little noise reduction, then add a touch of film grain to ‘wake up’ the encoder and give it something to chew on – flat areas of tone seem to make the encoding ‘lazy’. I ended up using Magic Bullet Looks yet again, pepping up the skin tones with Colorista, a little bit of Cosmo to cater for any dramatic makeup we may come across (no time to alter the lighting between interviewees), a vignette to hide the worst of the background noise, and a subtle amount of film grain. For our uses, it looked great both on the ProRes projected version and the subsequent online videos.

Here’s the MBL setup:

What’s going on?

There are, broadly speaking, three classes of camera recording: 8 bits per channel, 10 bits per channel and 12 bits per channel (yes there are exotic 16 bit systems and beyond). There are three channels – one each for Red, Blue and Green. In each channel, the tonal range from black to white is split into steps. A 2 bit system allows 4 ’steps’ as you can make 4 numbers mixing up 2 ‘bits’ (00, 01, 10 and 11 in binary). So a 2 bit image would have black, dark grey, light grey and white. To make an image in colour, you’d have red green and blue versions stacked up on top of each other.

8 bit video has, in theory, 256 steps each for red, green and blue. For various reasons, the first 16 steps are used for other things, and peak white happens at step 235, leaving 20 steps for engineering uses. So there’s only about 220 steps between black and white. If that’s, say, 8 stops of brightness range, then a 0.5 stop difference in brightness has only 14 steps between them. That would create bands.

So, there’s a trick. Just like in printing, we can diffuse the edges of each band very carefully by ‘dithering’ the pixels like an airbrush. The Canon Cinema range perform their magic in just an 8 bit space by doing a lot of ‘diffusion dithering’ and that can look gosh-darn like film grain.

Cameras such as the F5 use 10 bits per channel – so there are 1024 steps rather than about 220, and therefore handle subtlety well. Alexa, BMCC and Epic operate at 12 bits per channel – 4096 steps between black and white for each channel. This provides plenty of space – or ‘data wriggle room’ to move your tonality around in post, and deliver a super-clean master file.

But as we’ve seen from the uploaded video – if web is your delivery, you’re faced with 4:2:0 colour and encoders that are out of your control.

The C100 with its 8 bit AVCHD codec does clever things including some noise reduction, and this may have skewed the results here, so I will need to repeat the test with a 4:2:2 ProRes type recorder, where no noise reduction is used, and other tests I’ve done have demonstrated that NeatVideo prefers noisy 10 bit ProRes over half-denoised AVCHD. But I think this will just lead to a cleaner image, and that doesn’t necessarily help.

As perverse as it may seem, my little seek-and-destroy noise hunt has lead to finding the best way to ADD noise.

Footnote: Like most large sensor cameras, the Canon C100 has a Bayer pattern sensor – pixels are arranged in groups of four in a 2×2 grid. Each group contains a red pixel sensor, a blue pixel sensor and two green ones. Green has twice the effective data, making it the better choice for chromakey. But perhaps that’s a different post.

C100 Chroma Subsampling – the fix

c100The C100’s AVCHD is a little odd – you may see ‘ghost interlace’ around strong colours in PsF video. AVCHD is 4:2:0 – the resolution of the colour is a quarter of the resolution of the base image. Normally, our eyes aren’t so bothered about this, and most of the time nobody’s going to notice. However, stronger colours found in scenes common to event videographers, and when ‘amplifying’ colours during grading, all draw attention to this artifact.

Note that this problem is completely separate from the ‘Malign PsF’ problem discussed in another post, but as the C100 is the only camera that generates this particular problem in its internal recordings, I suspect that this is where the issue lies. I’ve never seen this in Panasonic or Sony implementations of AVCHD.

This is a 200% frame of some strongly coloured (but natural) objects, note the peculiar pattern along the diagonals – not quite stair-stepped as you might imagine.

Please click the images to view them at the correct size:

There are stripes at the edge of the red peppers, and their length denotes interframe movement. These artefacts illustrate that there’s some interlace going on even though the image is progressive.

Like ‘true’ interlacing artefacts, these stripey areas add extra ‘junk information’ which must be encoded and compressed when delivering video in web ready formats. These are wasting bitrate and robbing the image of crispness and detail. Reds are most affected, but these issues crop up in areas of strong chrominance including fabrics, graphics and stage/theatrical lighting.

Some have pointed the finger of blame at edit software, specifically Final Cut Pro X. I wondered if it was the way FCPX imported the .MTS files, so I rewrapped them in ClipWrap from Divergent Media. In version 2.6.7, I’ve yet to experience the problems I experienced in earlier versions, but the actual results seem identical to FCPX:

For the sake of completeness, I took the footage through ClipWrap’s transcode process – still no change:

So the only benefit would be to older computers that don’t like handling AVCHD in its natural state.

To isolate the problem to the recording format rather than the camera, I also shot this scene on an external recorder using the Canon’s 4:2:2 HDMI output and in recorded in ProRes 422HQ. The colour information is far better, but note the extra noise in the image (the C100 includes noise reduction for its AVCHD recordings to help the efficiency of its encoding).

This is the kind of image one might expect from the Canon C300 which records 4:2:2 in-camera at 50 Mbits per second. Adding an external recorder such as the Atomos Ninja matches the C300’s quality. But let’s say you don’t have the option to use an external recorder – can the internal recordings be fixed?

RareVision make 5DtoRGB – an application that post-processes footage recorded internally in the 4:2:0 based H.264 and AVCHD codecs, and goes one further step by ‘smoothing’ (not just blurring) the chroma to soften the blockiness. In doing so, it fixes the C100’s AVCHD chroma interlace problem:

The results are a very acceptable midway point between the blocky (stripey) AVCHD and the better colour resolution of the ProResHQ. Here are the settings I use – I’ll do a separate guide to 5DtoRGB in a separate post.

The only key change is a switch from BT.601 to BT.709 (the former is for US Standard Definition, the latter is for all HD material, a new standard is available for 4K).

So why should you NOT process all your C100 rushes through 5DtoRGB?

It takes time. Processing a 37 second clip took 159 seconds (2 mins 39 seconds) on my i7 2.3 GHz MacBook Pro. Compare that with 83 seconds for ClipWrap to transcode, and only 6 seconds to rewrap (similar to Final Cut Pro’s import).

You will have to judge whether the benefits of shooting internally with the significant transcode time outweigh the cost of an external recorder and the inconvenience of using it. You may wish to follow my pattern for the majority of my non-chromakey, fast turnaround work, where I’ll shoot internally, and only when I encounter difficult situations, opt to transcode those files via 5DtoRGB.

I’ve also been investigating the use of a ‘denoiser’. It’s early days in my tests, but I’ve noticed that it masks the ‘interlaced chroma’ stripe pattern is effectively hidden:

This is not a panacea. Denoising is even more processor intensive – taking a long time to render. My early testing shows that you can under- and over-do it with unpleasant results, and that the finished result – assuming that you’re not correcting a fault, but preparing for a grade – doesn’t compress quite as well. It’s too slick, and therefore perversely needs some film grain on top. But that’s another post.