4K is coming

It’s incredible – I’ve been looking at the iPad 3 retina display and thinking about video.

It’s very good to see 1080p, but looking at other demos, I want to emulate that ‘looking through a window’ effect. Not just HD video, but full-on 2048×1536 pixel-for-pixel video, filling the screen and providing an uncanny, hyper real look that will have people trying to reach through the glass and touch.

Well, of course, NAB is coming and the current ‘alphanumerique du jour’ is no longer 3D, but 4K. Of course the exotica of the camera world – Red’s Epic, Sony’s F65 and plenty of others, shoot in 4K on productions with sumptious budgets. Big movies like the new Girl With a Dragon Tattoo have been filmed in 4K, even when few cinemas can currently project it at its full resolution.

I don’t work in that world, but in my Corporate niche, we were able to jump into 720p and ‘Medium Format’ HD sooner than broadcast because our audience uses PowerPoint. They were doing HD before you could buy an HD TV, let alone an HD TV in a supermarket.

We’re still working through the roll-out of HD and there’s an awful lot of Marketing ‘fluff’ out there: Can we tell the difference between 720p and 1080p from the sofa? How big does the screen in your living room actually have to be to see the difference from your sofa? How big will your domestic screen get over time?

There’s a great (but very technical) article on Creative Cow that takes a careful look at some of the marketing messages about 4K.


I see a different trend with the iPad 3 – a much more intimate experience, where video becomes almost an analogue for high quality print in terms of magazine photography. Android devices will inevitably sport similar resolutions, we’ll see more and more tablet devices crop up in all sorts of situations – after all, they’re no longer ‘geek gadgets’ and have become widely accepted by a new computer illiterate audience with little or no preconceptions.

So once again, it’s the corporate/educational/industrial market with its smaller user base and less legacy that can drive the demand for these new technologies, in their quest for novelty and impact.

Okay, so HD (1,920 dots across by 1,080 dots down) is less dots than the screen – and leaves black bars top and bottom. But surely 4K, which contains four times the pixels, is a little overkill?

Firstly, shooting with plenty of spare pixels gives you scope to zoom into an image. Shoot at a wider framing, then crop in at the edit stage to help with framing, or perhaps add little zooms, or track motion. Purists may see this as a bit of an underhand trick, but ask a photographer about cropping – it’s an important part of the process. Furthermore, with careful thought, the old film practice for shooting for different aspect ratios can be readopted. Michael Cioni’s presentation at a LAFCPUG meeting makes the ‘shoot 5K for 4K’ message come alive:

Secondly, shooting a lot of pixels on cheaper or more compressed formats, then shrinking the final image down, can help apparent sharpness and detail. If you are shooting in a 4:2:0 codec and shrink the image down in Post Production (often handled at 4:4:4), you can effectively get 4:2:2. This was a great trick in the early days of HDV. We were shooting HDV, specifically to shrink it down to PAL in post, and the rather ropey colour information became clean enough to pull a chroma key.

With the new crop of 4K cameras coming out, this trick may soon return as, unlike the F65 with its 4:4:4 recorder and £3,700 cards, I foresee this breed’s 4K being heavily compressed.

However, with a little love and tenderness in post, I hope to get that ‘window on reality’ look on ‘retina’ style devices. Either that, or this is the most convoluted excuse to buy an iPad 3.

Sharpening tools

I’m off on a little job next week where my dear FS100 must be left behind, along with all that lovely glass I’ve been collecting. I will revert back to the Sony PMW-EX1R, which feels odd all of a sudden because it’s just a big black sausage, no extras needed. All in one. Sweet.

Now, I needed to give it a good checking over, ensure the media’s okay, that the lens is behaving its self (keeping focus from zoomed in to zoomed out), and it needed a bit of a tweak. But as I looked at the pictures, I noticed how full of noise they were (compared to the FS100) and especially how the detail was too crunchy.

Video cameras have Detail circuits to enhance the look of areas of detail and edges – raising the contrast of the picture around edges, and if overdone, it looks like someone’s clumsily traced your picture with a felt tip pen and chalk. Take it away, though, and your pictures are soft and lacking ‘bite’.

So the big question is, how much detail sharpening should one do in-camera? Too much is irreversibly ugly. Too little, and every single shot looks maddeningly soft. No worries – we’ll fix that in post, but then every single shot needs a sharpen filter and you’re into longer render times. For a Behind The Scenes or ENG shoot, you may not have the time to do this, so a bit of in-camera magic can be a good thing.

So, I did some tests, and because you’re needing to shoot a bit, examine the footage on a good quality monitor, shoot a bit more, rinse, repeat, one tends to do these tests in unglamorous locations – so you get to glimpse a grotty corner of my garden. What it does offer is a wide tonal range, a lot of detail of different types to handle, some natural and manufactured edges to show up aliasing and of course a few pretty flowers that didn’t get zapped by the recent frosts.


Now, firstly you’re looking at full-frame 1080p frame grabs, not a video. Secondly, they just cycle round and round. Look at the TV aerials, the branches in the background, the chair legs and the ivy, and see how various forms of sharpening affect them.

Looking at full-size frame grabs is best, but it may help to compare the same part of the image showing the different sharpening methods, firstly at 100%, then at 200%:

No in-camera sharpening. In the case of the EX-1, this means setting Detail to 0.

Camera sharpening. EX-1 Detail: +10

Less in-camera sharpening. Detail: -10

No in-camera sharpening, but sharpened in software: Final Cut Pro X Sharpen filter Sharpening: 2.5

No in-camera sharpening, but sharpened in software using Irudis Tonalizer|VFX PRO.

Here are the results at 200%:

No in-camera sharpening.

Camera sharpening.

Less in-camera sharpening.

Final Cut Pro X


It is obvious (to me, at least) that the FCPX sharpening filter at 2.5 is far superior to the in-camera sharpening even at 0, and that ‘Detail Off’ is too soft. Tonalizer’s detail was infinitely more subtle than the FCPX sharpener, but takes a good while longer to render (IIRC, the sharpener filter works in real-time, no rendering required).

So, the EX1R is set to Detail 0 on next week’s job, but will have detail OFF on any shoots where I have full control of the edit and of course who gets to see the rushes. I do like the Tonalizer sharpening, though – very subtle, and plenty of ‘wriggle room’.

It’s little tests like these that can feel obsessive (doing and sharing) – debating the number of pixels that can fit on the head of a pin – but these are the ’20%’ details that normal humans may not immediately point out, but they see and feel nonetheless, and now they won’t be shocked at seeing every pimple and pore writ large in the interviews, nor will they be rubbing their eyes and thinking about opticians. They’ll just love the pictures.

FCPX – partying with your Flaky Friend


UPDATE: Compound Clips, specifically splitting Compound Clips, and worst of all, splitting a compounded clip that’s been compounded, increases project complexity exponentially. Thus, your FCPX project quickly becomes a nasty, sticky, crumbly mess.

Which is a shame, because Compound Clips are the way we glue audio and video together, how we manage complexity with a magnetic timeline, and butt disparate sections together to use transitions. Kind of vital, really.

Watch these excellent demonstration videos from T. Payton who hangs out at fcp.co:

These refer to version 10.0.1, and at time of writing, were at 10.0.3, but I can assure you that we STILL have this problem (I don’t think it’s a bug, I think it’s the way FCPX does Compound Clips). We return you to your original programming…

Okay, report from the trenches: Final Cut Pro 10? Love it – with a long rider in the contract.

I’m a short-form editor – most of my gigs are 90 seconds to 10 minutes (record is 10 seconds and I’m proud of it). Turn up ‘Somewhere in Europe’, shoot interviews, General Views, B-Roll, get something good together either that night, or very soon afterwards, publish to the web, or to the big screen, or push out to mobiles and ipads…

This is where FCPX excels. As an editorial ‘current affairs’ segment editor, it’s truly a delight. I bet you slightly overshot? Got a 45 minute take on an interview that needs to be 45 seconds? Range based favourites are awesome, and skimming lets you find needles in a haystack. Need to edit with the content specialist at your side? The magnetic timeline is an absolute joy, and don’t get me started about auditioning.

It’s true: in cutting down interviews, in throwing together segments, and especially when arguing the toss over telling a given story, I’m at least twice as fast and so much more comfortable throwing ideas around inside FCPX.

But my new Editing Friend is a ‘Flaky Friend’.

She really should be the life and soul of the party, but somehow there’s a passive aggressive diva streak in her.

There are three things she doesn’t do, and it’s infuriating:

  • She doesn’t recognise through-edits – they can’t be removed, they are, to her, like cesarian scars, tribal tattoos (or so she claims), cuts of honour. We tell her we’re cutting soup at this stage, but no. ‘Cuts are forever’ she says, like the perfect NLE she thinks she is.
  • She doesn’t paste attributes selectively – it’s only all or nothing. ‘We must be egalitarian’ she croons. What is good for one is good for all, apparently. You can’t copy a perfect clip and only apply colour correction to the pasted clip – you must paste EVERYTHING, destroying your sound mix, needing extensive rework to your audio mix, and heaven help you if you change your mind.
  • She flatly refuses to accept that there is already a way we all do common things, and wants to do it her own kooky way. Making J and L cuts into a Tea Ceremony, blind assumption that a visual transition needs an audio transition, even if we’ve already done the groundwork on the audio… girl, the people who think you’re being cute by insisting this are rapidly diminishing to the point you can count them on your thumbs, and we do include you in that list.

So okay, she’s a good gal at heart. Meaning the best for you. But she needs to bail out and quit every so often, especially if you’re used to tabbing between email, browser, Photoshop, Motion et al. She’ll get all claustrophobic, and you’ll be waiting 20-40 seconds with the spinning beachball of death between application switches. It’s all a bit too much like hard work. ‘I can’t cope’, she sighs – and spins a beachball like she smokes a cigarette. We stand around, shuffling our feet as she determinedly smokes her tab down to the butt. ‘Right!’ she shouts at last. ‘Let’s get going!’

And yes, it’s great when things are going right.

But put her under pressure, with a couple of dozen projects at hand, some background rendering to do, it all gets very ‘I’m going to bed with a bottle of bolly’. I’m getting this an awful lot now, and I really resent being kept hanging around whilst she changes a 5 word caption in a compound clip that takes 5 FRICKIN’ MINUTES to change, I resent every minute of waiting for projects to open and close, and whilst it’s lovely to see her skip daintily through all that fun new footage, when it comes down to the hard work, she’s so not up to it…

I am twice as fast at editing in FCPX, but I am a quarter of the speed when doing the ‘maid of all work’ cleaning up and changes. It means that, actually, I am working twice as hard in X as I was in 7, just mopping up after this flakey friend who has a habit of throwing up in your bathtub and doing that shit-eating grin as they raid your fridge of RAM and CPU cycles.

Well, FCPX dear, my flaky friend, you’re… FIRED.