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Which HD Cameras Handle Darks Well?


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#1 Jim Keller

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Posted 25 February 2009 - 11:29 AM

I'm curious to ping the collective mind of cinematography.com on this one...

I'm looking at a project that's going to involve a lot of actors isolated in otherwise unlit spaces. Sort of like this:

Posted Image

The cameras I habitually shoot with (JVC GR-HD1, Panasonic AG-HVX200, and effectively every SD camera I've ever used) tend to produce a lot of noise in the dark portions of such an image, especially the greys but conspicuously in the blacks as well. Because I generally shoot HD to finish SD and the cinematography is generally secondary to the information being conveyed, thus far I've been able to ignore this.

However, this project will be finished 720p and the look will, in fact, be an important element of the storytelling. To make matters more complicated, I'm going to be intercutting a lot of animation, which of course will have their blacks/darks look very pure unless I add noise to them.

I'd love to hear what all of you think about HD cameras and their handling of blacks and dark regions. Which cameras are better than others at this? Can any of them produce a rich black like what audiences are used to from film? Are there workarounds you know that make the darks look better on HD? I've noticed several HD television series have this same issue, so I'm assuming it's endemic to HD vs. film, but I'd love to hear if there are ways to make it better. (And, no, shooting film is not an option unless you want to be the investor who loses his/her shirt on an internet-distributed film project.)

Enquiring minds want to know. :) Thanks in advance!
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#2 Cesar Rubio

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Posted 27 February 2009 - 12:46 PM

I would recommend you any HD camera that can shoot Uncompressed RGB or Raw.

Here you can see our custom made camera images: (720/24p)


http://www.davidrubi...mp;forum_id=112


This is the camera that they were shot with, it has an excellent sensitivity Sony 2/3" CCD sensor:


http://dr-3dcameraco...lete_system.jpg



More info about the camera here:


http://www.davidrubi...amp;forum_id=90



Thanks,
Cesar Rubio.
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#3 Mathew Rudenberg

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Posted 27 February 2009 - 12:58 PM

The noise in the shadow regions is usually a result of trying to pull information out of the toe of the image. Small cameras like the hvx and jvc have small sensors and small photosites, and thus in order to get more information in the shadows in low light situations they have to boost the signal thus resulting in noise...

Luckily, it seems that a high contrast situation such as the one you're illustrating does not require that you hold the shadow information. As long as you light the actors brightly you can crush the shadow detail to solid black (either in post or in camera)

I believe you could easily get solid blacks from the jvc or hvx like this, but I encourage you to do a test first.
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#4 Jim Keller

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Posted 27 February 2009 - 02:29 PM

I would recommend you any HD camera that can shoot Uncompressed RGB or Raw.

...

More info about the camera here:
http://www.davidrubi...amp;forum_id=90


That's a fascinating setup you've got there, Cesar! Have you tried it with a Mac workflow?

Heretofore I've discounted shooting uncompressed because two of the scenes I'm worried about are on a remote location (a campfire scene and a flashlight scene) and I haven't been relishing the notion of dragging my MacPro out into the field and trying to run it off a generator. However, seeing some of your samples, it does appear that it would probably do what I need...
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#5 Jim Keller

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Posted 27 February 2009 - 02:36 PM

The noise in the shadow regions is usually a result of trying to pull information out of the toe of the image. Small cameras like the hvx and jvc have small sensors and small photosites, and thus in order to get more information in the shadows in low light situations they have to boost the signal thus resulting in noise...

Luckily, it seems that a high contrast situation such as the one you're illustrating does not require that you hold the shadow information. As long as you light the actors brightly you can crush the shadow detail to solid black (either in post or in camera)

I believe you could easily get solid blacks from the jvc or hvx like this, but I encourage you to do a test first.


I'm very confident the HD1 isn't going to be able to cope, because JVC very helpfully decided that in manual mode I should have control over the aperture or the shutter speed, not both. As a result, it's an auto-exposure camera no matter what, and I'd lay good money that I'm going to end up with blown-out actors and noisy, not-black background. I can darken the background, but not recover the blown-out actors.

The HVX-200, unfortunately, isn't available for this shoot because it belongs to my full-time gig, and this is a personal project. However, I've fallen in love with the P2 workflow and have therefore been seriously considering a HPX-170 for my own purposes. Maybe I need to come up with a similar project for work so I can justify running some tests with the HVX-200. :)

Thanks for the info!
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#6 Cesar Rubio

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Posted 27 February 2009 - 05:13 PM

That's a fascinating setup you've got there, Cesar! Have you tried it with a Mac workflow?

Heretofore I've discounted shooting uncompressed because two of the scenes I'm worried about are on a remote location (a campfire scene and a flashlight scene) and I haven't been relishing the notion of dragging my MacPro out into the field and trying to run it off a generator. However, seeing some of your samples, it does appear that it would probably do what I need...


Jim:

Yes in fact I have a Macbook pro (15.5" past generation) with a rugged laptop case (it has shoulder mount straps like this picture below) running XP (you can have both in boothcamp) with one 80GB Intel SSD...you can have more capacity if you want.


http://dr-3dcameraco...12-bathroom.bmp


Streampix 4 (recording software) can de-bayer to QT files when de-bayering to Uncompressed RGB (new feature!).


Also besides the Uncompressed Raw workflow, we can use Cineform Raw at the time of recording where they also support QT video files.


But with Uncompressed Raw you will get the most clean video possible with the CCD sensor.


Thanks,

Cesar Rubio.
Cambridge Wisconsin, USA.
http://www.davidrubio3d.com/

Edited by Cesar Rubio, 27 February 2009 - 05:17 PM.

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#7 Cesar Rubio

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Posted 27 February 2009 - 05:33 PM

The bathroom self taken image was recorded with Cineform Raw, and they look softer and with less contrast than the Uncompressed Raw images.

Thanks,

Cesar Rubio.
Cambridge Wisconsin, USA.
http://www.davidrubio3d.com/
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#8 Michael Most

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Posted 27 February 2009 - 10:19 PM

I'd love to hear what all of you think about HD cameras and their handling of blacks and dark regions. Which cameras are better than others at this? Can any of them produce a rich black like what audiences are used to from film? Are there workarounds you know that make the darks look better on HD? I've noticed several HD television series have this same issue, so I'm assuming it's endemic to HD vs. film, but I'd love to hear if there are ways to make it better. (And, no, shooting film is not an option unless you want to be the investor who loses his/her shirt on an internet-distributed film project.)


Probably the best low light camera in the world right now is the Sony F23. Superb latitude, and an astonishingly low amount of noise. Certainly not the cheapest, but the best, by a considerable margin.
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#9 Cesar Rubio

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Posted 27 February 2009 - 11:31 PM

Probably the best low light camera in the world right now is the Sony F23. Superb latitude, and an astonishingly low amount of noise. Certainly not the cheapest, but the best, by a considerable margin.



I think that the F35 is even better for the super 35mm sized sensor:

http://pro.sony.com/...sr/product-F35/


It only has 1080p resolution so the pixels must be "enormous"....probably something like 15 microns.

The Pike F-210c or Prosilica GE-1900c cameras have a Kodak 1" CCD, and the individual pixel's size is 7.4 microns.

Based in that calculation, I am am assuming the F35's pixel size.

I prefer that, larger pixels that can collect light and dynamic range better, than more resolution like 4K which packs more smaller pixels in the same sensor area.

Besides the pixels size, I also prefer Uncompressed (RGB or Raw) recordings over any type of compression.

The Prosilica GC-1380 or Pike F-145c cameras, have the Sony 2/3" CCD and offer only 720p resolution...

But the pixels size is 6.45 microns...much better than most prosumer cameras in the market!


Cesar Rubio.
Cambridge Wisconsin, USA.
http://www.davidrubio3d.com/
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#10 Cesar Rubio

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Posted 27 February 2009 - 11:46 PM

In this review about the F35 they mention a 800% dynamic range and "quieter blacks".....


http://www.if.com.au...WVNBZGWVRD.html



If I only had $250K for a camera....(I am not sure the exact price, but it could be in the 150-250K range)

The CG-1380c in the other hand only cost around $3K....for me is a not brainier decision. ;)

CR.
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#11 DJ Joofa

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Posted 27 February 2009 - 11:51 PM

Probably the best low light camera in the world right now is the Sony F23. Superb latitude, and an astonishingly low amount of noise. Certainly not the cheapest, but the best, by a considerable margin.


Hi Mike,

"[I]n the world"??????


Perhaps F23 may be the king in the filmmaking world as you seem to suggest. I have never used it so I don't know. However, we have developed some amazingly low light cameras, with some even greater than 4K by 2K resolution, that are not in the domain of filmmaking, using some very advanced processes. Unfortunately, the big players in film-type cameras have done some very routine run-of-the-mill solutions that limit making really low light cameras, with ultra low noise. I was sincerely hoping that Red would do something along the lines as it like to touts itself as "the camera", but unfortunately, not so .....
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#12 CJ Henke III

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Posted 28 February 2009 - 10:42 PM

A lot depends on your budget IMO.

I will go from what I know which are all under the $10,000 range and if you are using the GRHD1, then I know you are working with a conservative budget. From top to bottom is my list.


1. Sony PMW-EX3 (Like someone else mentioned shooting uncompressed is the best for any situation, but don't forget to add SXS cards into your budget)

2. Sony PMW-EX1 (Same recording format as the EX3 minus some features, and will save you more money). I have seen these shoot in super low light and work perfectly.


3. Sony HVR-Z7U (It picks up picture at 1.5 LUX, lowest of the HDV cameras and also supports recording uncompressed with it's compact flash storage unit.


4. Sony HVR-Z5U, Z1U, or FX-1, these mid range work phenomenally well in low light.

I recommend sony for this because they have worked the best for me and my friends in every low light situation / problem, we've had.


The HVX200 will work with High Gain, but still needs more light.

Based you put up, a lot of cameras have a spotlight feature on them, which is meant for those type of situations (a hard contrast between darks and lights).
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#13 Jim Keller

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Posted 01 March 2009 - 01:24 AM

Yeah, "conservative budget" is a good description. :)

Thanks for the info!
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