So Long SD

I’ve spent the best part of today trawling through the raw footage that I and my colleagues have shot of a particular event over the last five years, and found myself musing at the astonishing jump in quality we’ve witnessed.

So I’m looking at DSR570 footage – this is standard definition, 16:9 DVCAM done right. Putting Z1 footage next to DSR570 was like putting a vesta meal next to a proper curry. A DSR570 in good hands will capture great things and whilst not quite DigiBeta, the cameraman will make sure the images pop.

Now lets roll in an EX1 shooting at 720p. It’s a third of the cost of a DSR570 with good SD lens. It’s a little cocktail sausage of a camera – a big pointy stick through the middle of it would be a pleasing image to many people. It has a fixed factory lens on the front of it, and if you want to go wider or longer, you have to screw bits of bottle-bottom glass to it.

But the difference in picture quality – gawd, even though we have to scale it down to SD, it just kicks the DSR570 and 450’s butt. Okay, so most of the DSR footage is interlaced – because that’s what we did in the last century. Sigh. Interlace brings with it such a heavy payload to web video that I never wish to deal with it again. As for the Z1? How did we let this camera get away with its soft lens, oversharpened image, poor light sensitivity and dull image?

Yes, I did say web video. We’re now in a position where web video is at full SD quality (approximately 960×540, which is quarter 1080p) on YouTube, and full-on 1280×720 over at Vimeo. We can make beautiful and iridescent video at these resolutions that make the old school DVCAM 2/3″ cameras look like pin-hole cameras. Because most cameras were never set up to capture the full exposure range they might have been capable of, and stuck slavishly to broadcast video specifications from several decades ago, their images have to be pulled through post like an A&E victim.

Okay, so I am hamming things up a little. De-interlacing, scaling up and applying some colour correction to add a little zip to the images is hardly open-heart surgery. It’s more like tipping a spoonful of Calpol in its gob and sending it back to PE. But SD is so ‘done’, so ‘over’, so ‘finished’. An EX1 makes images that a DSR570 was never designed to do.

So now I need to cajole all my cameraman and DoP friends to pick up a Sausage-On-Stick EX1(R) and treat it like the decent tool it is, not that horrible little box-brownie called the Z1. But that’s unfair. I have spent too long in 720p to take SD seriously any more. I’m about to launch into a proper grown-up film-ou 1080 project too. After a couple of years in these lofty formats, Standard Definition – even PAL – seems just so… Lame?

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