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professional vs consumer camcorder


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#1 Lance Tang

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Posted 23 March 2010 - 11:30 PM

So I was watching a short-film called "When the Light's Red." Despite it being quite obviously shot in a pretty high resolution, the movie felt very home-video. Now it's bugging me because I'm not sure why it felt like that because the movie was in high res, probably HD, and there wasn't any noticeable hand-held like shaking or anything like that. But yet it still felt like it was shot on a home video camera instead of with a professional camcorder.

Why? Anyone care to shed some light on this?
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#2 Chris Bowman

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Posted 24 March 2010 - 12:47 AM

So I was watching a short-film called "When the Light's Red." Despite it being quite obviously shot in a pretty high resolution, the movie felt very home-video. Now it's bugging me because I'm not sure why it felt like that because the movie was in high res, probably HD, and there wasn't any noticeable hand-held like shaking or anything like that. But yet it still felt like it was shot on a home video camera instead of with a professional camcorder.

Why? Anyone care to shed some light on this?


Probably most of the "home movie feel" can be explained by three things, frame rate, depth of field, and lighting. Most every professional film made in the last century has been shot on film being pulled through the camera at 24 frames per second. Cheap video cameras will almost always shoot in 60 interlaced fields per second or 30 progressive frames (50i/25P in PAL land). 60i/30p give a very distinct home movie feel. I once had a woman who knew no more about movies than that she likes to go see them ask me why I shot a lecture on film (and isn't that expensive?). I had shot it on 24 frame progressive mode on a digital camera. It's that big a difference.

The second issue in "the home movie feel" is the depth of field. Most consumer camcorders have very small sensor chips in them to detect light. While these chips are often very high resolution, it is the physical size of the recording medium (CCD, CMOS, Film etc.) that largely determines how thick a slice of the distance in front of the camera can be in focus at any given setting (the size of the aperture is also an important factor). 35mm film has a fairly large area compared to a 1/6 inch CCD, which results in a much narrower depth of field (thinner slice of space) that can be held in focus. Most everybody has considers a shallower depth of field to be more "cinematic."

The third, and arguably the most important issue in the "home movie feel" (and the avoiding thereof) is properly lighting the scene. Most home movies are shot using whatever lighting happens to be present, or bring in lights just to make it bright enough to see. Cinematographers light things intentionally. They aren't concerned that there is enough light to see so much as how the light manipulates what we do and don't see on screen. Lighting is the as much a part of the art of film making as acting, directing, scenery, and soundtrack. Just using what's there already almost never cuts it.
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#3 Lance Tang

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Posted 24 March 2010 - 02:56 PM

Yes I heard about the 24p vs 30i. But I'm wondering if you could maybe shed some light on WHY the 24p makes the video look more "film-like." I'm just so baffled by the difference but can't really describe it.

If we are shooting on HD and we want our film to look cinematic, I'm guessing we'll need to get a camera with a 24p mode?

Edited by Lance Tang, 24 March 2010 - 02:58 PM.

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#4 Chris Millar

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Posted 24 March 2010 - 03:11 PM

Well, 245p is more film like because it is more film like...

Film: 24 fps non-interlaced
30i: 29.somenumberIforgetrightnow fps interlaced
24p: 24 fps non-interlaced

Look up interlacing on wikipedia and cine camera shutters (the page on shutter angles might be easiest to find) then you'll get it ;)

Another aspect not mentioned is dynamic range - cheaper cameras will clip to full white on highlights and blacks will clip to black much sooner than more expensive cameras - then throw in heavy compression ratios to boot and you've got that special look we're talking about... Maybe some on-board sound with the whine of the miniDV tape motor and zoom servos to sweeten it
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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 24 March 2010 - 03:45 PM

Yes I heard about the 24p vs 30i. But I'm wondering if you could maybe shed some light on WHY the 24p makes the video look more "film-like." I'm just so baffled by the difference but can't really describe it.

If we are shooting on HD and we want our film to look cinematic, I'm guessing we'll need to get a camera with a 24p mode?


It's actually 60i -- the camera captures 60 fields per second, interlaced-scan. Since there are two fields per frame, that's also 30 fps. The reason it looks video-ish is that you are sampling motion 60 times per second instead of 24, so it is much smoother, but often at 1/60th of a second shutter speed, i.e. no shutter, so there are no temporal gaps in the motion, whereas a 24 fps film camera has a 180 degree shutter which is closed 50% of the time (1/48th shutter speed.)

Yes, you need a 24P camera, even if it records 24P to 60i, which is common for consumer cameras that have a 24P mode.
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#6 Chris Bowman

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Posted 24 March 2010 - 04:18 PM

Mr. Miller is correct that 24p video looks more like film because it is is the same exposure rate as film, but he didn't really address the "why" of the question.

Film exposes the entire picture to the recording medium simultaneously, a natural effect of exposing a chemical coating to light. Exposure is almost universally done using approximately a 180 degree shutter, giving a 1/48 second exposure. This results in a specific amount of motion blur, which nearly every person who watches films has by now been psychologically conditioned to equate with "cinematic" movie experiences.

A camera running at 30p also records the entire picture at once, just like film, but has an exposure of 1/30th second, or possibly 1/60th second. 1/30th second exposure gives more motion blur than film, creating a slightly unpleasant blurriness to any motion. 1/60th second exposure is significantly shorter than film's 1/48th second exposure and results in images that seem to sharp in motion areas for a "cinematic" experience.

A camera running at 60i is effectively shooting half the resolution but at twice the 30p frame rate. It is exposing every other line of the image, rather than the entire image at once. This requires an exposure of 1/60th or less, resulting in much less motion blur than film.

The cinematic feel and the film look are inextricably linked and embedded in the public psychology at a subconscious level. Most people couldn't tell you why it looks cinematic, but if it isn't exposed like film, they will notice it isn't cinematic.

Edited by Chris Bowman, 24 March 2010 - 04:19 PM.

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