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Varicam + Classic Soft


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#1 Jon Rosenbloom

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Posted 12 April 2007 - 11:14 AM

So I have my first HD gig. The Director/producer has arranged a Varicam, which I suppose is fine w/ me ... I've shot a few jobs w/ the SDX-900, and my habit has become to use some soft focus filter just to take the video edge off the image. (On a wide a 1/4 bpm, and on a tight a 1/8 bpm, or the soft f/x equivalents.) The results of this method have been, IMHO, absolutely great. It plays on the big screen and looks totally "cinematic."

But the rental rep is warning me away from using any soft focus filters w/ the Varicam: if it gets down-converted to SD and then projected, the image turns to s... This, I don't get. If a method works for SD originated material, why would it not work for HD origination? Indeed, aren't my super-16 projects "HD"??? All that stuff gets "down-converted" (transferred) to beta-sp, and looks great. (Though I'd like someday to see a film print!)

Another question: I've done all my video lighting off at best a sony 8" field monitor. I've never had a DIT sitting in a black tent looking at an engineering monitor, and I won't have one for this job. My attitude has been, it's digital video, there's no "reality," so if it looks good on the 8", it can look good down the road in post. Do I need to be more precise w/ HD? (We're getting HD LCD monitors.)

Thanks,
Jon.
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#2 Chayse Irvin

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Posted 12 April 2007 - 11:33 AM

I totally disagree with the rental rep. I love the look of low con filters, particularly Black Pro Mist's, on the Varicam, especially if down converted to SD. If anything it might make a film out a little mushier. With the Varicam you will get a little image softening in general from a film out due to the resolution conversion, and then add your low con filters on top of that.

I've never felt the need for a really good HD monitor because I don't use it to light with, it depends what you use if for. I've seen some DP's that never leave the monitor. They set exposure with gray cards and light from there communicating with their guys with radios. They are great for picking up mistakes. For me it?s almost impossible to notice focus on a 8? monitor, unless I have my face pressed up against it. It will also make spot mistakes easier.
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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 12 April 2007 - 11:52 AM

One reason why people tend to use diffusion with video is to counteract the edginess from Detail / edge-enhancement, which is sort of a given in standard def video (if turned off, the image is way too soft.) However, pro cameras do allow you to fine-tune the Detail to a less objectionable level, so I question the common wisdom of always slapping diffusion on a video camera when in theory it has less resolution than film.

I tend to use diffusion in video when I want diffusion artifacts (like halation or a romantic look) not because I think video is too sharp. It's not too sharp -- the problem is when it is too sharpened, a big difference.

Now with HD, you can use even less Detail -- or even turn it off -- and still get acceptably sharp images, so I would experiment with the Varicam to determine a good level of edge-enhancement and diffusion filtration.

The problem you may run into is the downconversion, because even in a deck-to-deck downconversion, there is some edge-enhancement added back in to make the SD image look acceptably sharp. Although I have never played with the internal menu settings of decks doing downconversions, it is possible in theory to adjust the amount of edge-enhancement being added back in. Although if your concern is that downconverted HD will look too soft in SD, I wouldn't worry about that.

But it would be a simple test in prep to shoot a shot with the Varicam with the level of diffusion you want to use, and then downconvert it and look at it on an SD monitor. You could even do a live downconversion through a Miranda if you want to, although that might not look exactly like how the post house's downconversion to tape will look on playback.

Now you're not going to be able to judge whether a diffusion filter is too heavy by looking at an 8" monitor -- you need to see it on a large monitor, at least in prep when testing. In the field, you can then shoot and look at a smaller monitor with an idea of how it will look on a bigger monitor. Although with HD, it's always safest to view the image on a larger HD monitor on the shoot if practical and possible, just to see problems better. As for needing a DIT, that just depends on if you're doing something outside of your comfort range in terms of setting up and shooting in HD. I have yet to shoot something in HD complicated enough where I felt the need for a DIT.
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#4 Jon Rosenbloom

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Posted 12 April 2007 - 12:17 PM

We're getting an 8" on board, and a 17" "off-board" monitor (both LCD.)

I doubt there will be a film-out, just a digi-beta out.

"... in a deck-to-deck downconversion, there is some edge-enhancement added back in to make the SD image look acceptably sharp."
So, let's say we start in HD w/ no filters, factory pre-sets: Then the down-conversion will make the edges even sharper?? If we diffuse, then the downconversion will try to sharpen something that's already soft and come up w/ something totally wacky?

"I tend to use diffusion in video when I want diffusion artifacts (like halation or a romantic look) not because I think video is too sharp."
I guess the concrete reason I've used diffusion is that these are 2/3" chips, and I'm trying to fake a shallower DOF.

Here's another crazy question: Suppose I'm forced to mix uncorrected daylight w/ a tungsten lighting package. Is it possible to detune the blue channel? It would be great to test this, but I barely get a scout day, much less a test!

Thanks again.
J.
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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 12 April 2007 - 12:31 PM

Why would diffusion reduce depth of field? It affects the whole image equally, and would be more noticeable in the sharp in-focus areas -- thus in some ways, a diffused image looks like it has more depth of field, not less, because it would soften the sharp areas to blend with the soft areas.

The downconverters tend to have a pre-set level of edge-enhancement. Yes, something in HD that looks correctly soft may look overly-sharpened in the SD downconversion, just depends on the level of edge-enhancement being applied to the downconversion.

You should balance color temp on set if you want a balanced color temp. At best, you could take the blue channel and push it towards the monochrome, desaturate it, so the uncorrected daylight is less obnoxiously blue but even then you risk some noise problems. I'd try and balance as close as you can.
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#6 Jon Rosenbloom

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Posted 12 April 2007 - 12:49 PM

"Why would diffusion reduce depth of field?"

I did say I'm faking it.

"You should balance color temp on set if you want a balanced color temp."

Wish me luck!
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#7 Chayse Irvin

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Posted 12 April 2007 - 01:21 PM

good luck!
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#8 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 12 April 2007 - 02:10 PM

We're getting an 8" on board, and a 17" "off-board" monitor (both LCD.)


Be very careful with LCD monitors as regards exposure, particularly with low key scenes. I had problems last year shooting a very low key scene. I originally had a 14" CRT monitor, but it went down and I had to use an LCD. The scene looked fine on the 17" LCD but, I later found out, was pitch black on tape. The equipment technician explained (and apologised) that LCDs don't accurately reproduce shadow detail, no matter how well you set them up, so that a low key scene that seems fine could be 1 or 1.5 stops more underexposed than you think. A CRT is much more reliable, although a pain to lug around.
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#9 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 12 April 2007 - 02:47 PM

A CRT is much more reliable, although a pain to lug around.


Or if the LCD is unavoidable, maybe a waveform monitor to judge exposure better. Lighting contrast, however, is easier to judge on a correctly set-up CRT.

Actually, I tend to find that LCD screen images have worse shadow detail than CRT, once you set the black level low enough to look black.
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#10 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 12 April 2007 - 03:00 PM

Or if the LCD is unavoidable, maybe a waveform monitor to judge exposure better. Lighting contrast, however, is easier to judge on a correctly set-up CRT.

Actually, I tend to find that LCD screen images have worse shadow detail than CRT, once you set the black level low enough to look black.



I'll admit that waveforms don't mean an awful lot to me. Interpreting them is a skill that I'm still learning.

The Panasonic 17" LCDs we were using couldn't be set up properly to reproduce shadow detail. After the problem we had, I went back and checked the monitors thoroughly. No matter what we did, they consistently showed shadow areas about a stop brighter than they actually were.
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#11 Michael Nash

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Posted 12 April 2007 - 04:27 PM

I'll admit that waveforms don't mean an awful lot to me. Interpreting them is a skill that I'm still learning.

The Panasonic 17" LCDs we were using couldn't be set up properly to reproduce shadow detail. After the problem we had, I went back and checked the monitors thoroughly. No matter what we did, they consistently showed shadow areas about a stop brighter than they actually were.


Coincidentally, that 17" Panasonic LCD also has a built-in waveform monitor.

Perhaps someone else can explain exactly how it works, but the thing I've noticed with LCD's is that they have darker shadows AND brighter blacks!

LCD monitors use a backlight behind a "liquid" image, essesntially like a backlit piece of film. So it's hard to get a good black "density" when you shine more light through it for better viewing contrast. This can make blacks, and luminances very close to black, look "brighter" than they would on a CRT. But the overall shadow reproduction in LCD's is often poor, failing to display info you might see on a CRT. So it's like it's giving you "crushed" blacks that are then "fogged."

I can't say for sure this is the problem that Stuart experienced, but it's worth being aware of.

So if you're doing a lot of really low-key work, you might want to check your shadows against a waveform or another monitor, until you become more comfortable with what the camera is really holding. On a practical level though, the end product is viewed on an LCD more and more these days (internet, LCD TV's, etc.), so use your own discretion. And of course not all LCD's perform the same (some are pretty crappy, some pretty good).

Another thing to watch out for is that cranking the contrast up too high can prematurely clip the whites. You might think highlight detail is being lost, but bringing the contrast down can reveal that the camera is indeed capturing something the LCD is not displaying.
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#12 Jon Rosenbloom

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Posted 13 April 2007 - 10:15 AM

Stuart,

I guess you were underkeying the actors? Were you able to rescue it? I just worked on a pilot shot on the Genesis, and the approach was to "expose for the highlights" and don't worry about the shadows because the medium has much more range on the low end.

Yeah, one or both of my monitors has a waveform, but I don't think anyone on set - including me - is going to really know what it means.
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#13 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 13 April 2007 - 11:23 AM

Stuart,

I guess you were underkeying the actors? Were you able to rescue it? I just worked on a pilot shot on the Genesis, and the approach was to "expose for the highlights" and don't worry about the shadows because the medium has much more range on the low end.

Yeah, one or both of my monitors has a waveform, but I don't think anyone on set - including me - is going to really know what it means.


I was working at very low light levels, and was rating the camera (F750) at 500asa, so it was quite underexposed to start with.

The film is still not finished, so I haven't had the chance to try rescuing it, but I did manage to get hold of a DV copy of the rushes, and tried to grade them in FCP. I didn't have much success unfortunately, because the DV has a lot less info than the master tapes, and FCP grading tools are not all that good. However I did take a few screengrabs into Speedgrade and had a lot more success with raising the shadows without introducing a lot of noise.

In a professional suite I think I'd have a pretty good chance of ending up with useable footage.
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#14 Michael Nash

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Posted 13 April 2007 - 05:34 PM

Yeah, one or both of my monitors has a waveform, but I don't think anyone on set - including me - is going to really know what it means.


This really surprises me. No offense to anyone here, but if you're going to start doing serious work with video acquisition you simply have to learn this tool. It's almost as important as a light meter is to film. I say "almost" because a majority of the time you can expose by what you see on a properly set up monitor. But failing that, a waveform monitor is your only reference of signal luminance!

I know it's a bizarre-looking display for people who come from the film side of things, so I do understand the learning curve involved. And I understand how sometimes we get handed a new technology without the opportunity to learn it thoroughly first. So again I don't mean any offense to those who haven't learned the waveform yet.

You have to remember that video is like reversal film, with a small margin for exposure error. The waveform is really the only tool that shows you what you're actually getting.
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#15 Michael Nash

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Posted 13 April 2007 - 05:52 PM

Here's an article I found with a cursory search. I'm sure there are other/better ones out there as well.

http://www.larryjord.../lj_scopes.html
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#16 Bruce Greene

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Posted 14 April 2007 - 02:11 AM

A few tips from a Varicam owner:

In factory settings detail is set to zero I believe, which is a significant amount of detail. Detail can be turned off in the menu, or dialed down. If you adjust no details settings except the master, then minus 6 is just about the same as detail off. On my last project, I liked -2 detail on my film out test, but on the set I saw some "outlining" on people against bright walls and sky and reduced the detail to -4. I do not often use diffusion filters on this camera because it has little enough resolution as it is (compared to 35mm film). Black Promist and such filters raise or fog the shadows about 10% or more. If this is corrected out in post then the image gains harshness instead of softening the look.

About the Panasonic 17" monitor, it can look quite good. There is a backlight menu item which can turn down the luminance of the monitor which is most important in dark viewing environments. I have learned in the past when shooting on night exteriors or dark interiors, that the monitor often looks bright in the darkness and it's easy to underexpose by judging the monitor only. This is true with a CRT or an LCD monitor. Use the waveform on the panasonic to see how bright the image really is. If the brightest part of the image is 5% you are in deep deep trouble. I sometimes light a piece of foam-core behind the monitor to keep my "balance" if you will. On the LCD it will keep the impression of black and help you feel the relative darkness of the image.

Also, the factory settings on the Varicam have the knee point at 60% and the knee slope set to 500%. It's a pretty strange look if you ask me :blink: What this means is that you'll have "normal" contrast from black (0%) to light grey (60%) brightness. Anything brighter than 60% will be low contrast. This will help you see into the highlights, but I think it looks kind of strange. I think you might want to change this knee setting.

If all this is too complicated, then you might want to invest in a qualified DIT or engineer to at least set up the camera at the prep. As these type of cameras go, the menu is easier than say, a Sony, but it's still quite complicated and it will be very easy to screw up the shoot if you make a mistake. The ideal thing would be to learn as much as you can about your equipment before you start a project. If you're really new to digital photography (or anyone else), I might suggest learning photoshop before learning the ins and outs of digital cinema cameras. Once you know photoshop, the camera will make a lot more sense in my opinion.

best of luck with your project and let us know how it worked out

-bruce
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#17 Evangelos Achillopoulos

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Posted 16 April 2007 - 08:05 AM

I want to add something

As Bruce is suggesting the detail is better to set OFF.

In my tests I have noticed the edge problem when this is on. But the problem is that the image looks a bit defocus when it?s off. Have in mind that detail has nothing to do with the optical part of the chain, its something that is added after the CCD it?s a processing that the DSP is doing before recording to tape.
So my suggestion is to have it off and add sharpening in post. I have found that by doing that at the last step before film printing is the best way to do it. Especially if you have upres the footage to 2K with FCP Studio?s new app ?Color? (formerly Final Touch).

Bruce you are very lucky you can have Color (Final Touch) in your next upgrade so everything with curves is their? I just have to send you the CFX files?

Regards,
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#18 Jon Rosenbloom

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Posted 18 April 2007 - 01:01 PM

Thanks, everyone for the info and the links, which I have indeed read. It all seems pretty straightforward.

My non-varicam issue is what seems to be my budding reputation (at least w/ these producers) as someone who can come up w/ good looking footage w/ very little equipment, and almost no crew ... So, the expectation is to make something look like a movie w/ 5 kinos and a bunch of students who've never seen a sandbag ...
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#19 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 18 April 2007 - 01:24 PM

About the Panasonic 17" monitor, it can look quite good. There is a backlight menu item which can turn down the luminance of the monitor which is most important in dark viewing environments. I have learned in the past when shooting on night exteriors or dark interiors, that the monitor often looks bright in the darkness and it's easy to underexpose by judging the monitor only.


Great info, Bruce. Wish I'd known about the backlight last year.... :(
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#20 Jon Rosenbloom

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Posted 25 April 2007 - 07:03 PM

Beer in hand, I look back on the job ... What was I so scared of? The waveform made perfect sense ... When we were shooting in bright daylight, I turned the backlight on the monitors up; down if we were in a dim interior ...

As for the classic soft, I used it if it seemed appropriate; my approach was no different than if I were shooting Super-16mm.

It's kind of odd to work with a system that has so much light sensitivity. My keylight at times was a 300 watt softbox w/ muslin in front, w/ a 216 frame in front of that, and it was still enough light! I did often incur the "low light" warning, but I'm told the footage looks good. Go Varicam!
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