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Converting Z1 to 24p look?


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#1 Jesse Eisenhardt

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Posted 04 May 2005 - 02:16 PM

I'm shooting a project later this month with the Sony HVR-Z1 and like everyone else I'm unhappy with the CF24 simulation mode. I'm a huge fan of the cinematic look afforded by the DVX-100A (and please don't recommend that I shoot with this camera or the XL2... we're pretty much set on the Z1), so I'm looking to add this look with either Magic Bullet or DVFilmmaker. We are finishing on DVD (and possibly HD-DVD when it's available) so a film blow up is not necessary.

Has anyone used these programs with Z1 footage? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
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#2 rsellars

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Posted 10 May 2005 - 01:51 PM

Sorry, I can't give you any advise concerning any post process such as Magic Bullet, etc. with Z1 footage. However, I recently shot a two week project (3 broadcast commercials shot documentary style) with the Z1 and FX1 cameras. We (the director, producer and I) were nervous since our client was used to the look of high end HD or film. I can share a few things that we learned through testing and field use. I own a DVX100A, so I tested against it. I viewed the results on a high res professional monitor in a properly lit editing suite. We also were not happy with the CF24 mode. The CF30 mode was slightly better, but movement still looked artificial and too distracting for our type of project. I would consider the CF modes as a deliberate "effect" for other future projects - similar to the 45 degree shutter effect used in Gladiator, etc. The Z1 exceeded the DVX in several areas: resolution, color reproduction, and the ability to handle highlights better. I have to admit that the color and highlights surprised me. Our soundman also ran extensive tests and declared the Z1 to have the best audio quality of any mini-DV style camera that he has ever used.

Unfortunately, the Z1's high res HAD chips give up something - light sensitivity. The Z1 is 2 full stops slower than the DVX. I rated it at 125 ASA for lighting purposes. No problem on day exteriors or bright day interiors, but you will definitely need an adequate lighting package (larger units) for night interiors and night exteriors. When shooting night scenes, don't plan on much extra help from existing available light such as street lights, neon, etc. unless you are in a very bright area. There is a partial remedy to gain back up to a stop of the lower chip sensitivity - increase the gain. The Z1 has remarkably noise-free gain. +3bd is invisible and +6db is very hard to detect any noise.

In addition to the CF modes, I would also not recommend using the Cinematone (gamma) 1 or 2 in the Picture Profile. They only seem to darken the overall exposure and crush the blacks. This is particularly a problem when shooting day exteriors. Digital already has less contrast range than film, so why make it worse? Much better to control the contrast with lighting when possible - you can always crush the blacks later in post. Occasionally, I found myself using the black stretch option in contrasty day exterior situations. The extra shadow detail enabled me to slightly underexpose overall to hold more highlight detail in bright areas such as the sky. We did have the advantage of a final tape to tape color correction using a DaVinci with power windows. We were able to dial in just the right amount of contrast and greatly improve the color saturation and hue of flesh tones and set dressing shot under "blah" lighting conditions such as flourescent lighting. Of course any digital shoot can be improved with some form of post color and gamma correction. I've seen some very impressive cc using FCP.

One Z1 design flaw warning. Unfortunately, this "professional" camera is biased toward auto (opposed to manual) in it's "button functions." The "master" auto/manual switch has three positions: to the left is Auto Lock, to the right is Hold (which locks in manual settings), the middle is essentially open to manual or auto changes. In order to manually change the iris, gain, white balance, or shutter, the switch must be open in the middle position. After setting these adjustments manually with their own individual switch or dial, you must switch the master switch to "Hold" to lock in these settings. If you keep this master switch open in the middle, it is easy to accidentally hit the gain, shutter, or white balance button without knowing it (this is easy to do in handheld mode). This reverts that function from manual back to auto mode. If you don't keep a close watch on your viewfinder display settings, your gain, shutter, or white balance may change up or down automatically without you knowing it. When shooting day exteriors with clouds and sun shifting, it is tempting to keep the master switch open in the middle so that you can immediately ride the iris with the changing light conditions. Just be aware of the dangers - keep your eye on the viewfinder display and be careful not to bump other buttons with your "iris" hand.

I would also like to make a radical suggestion for you to consider. Unless you are certain that your final film will be projected in HD or shown on an HD monitor, you might consider shooting in the DVCAM mode. You will make your post work a lot simpler. In our situation, we were only required to deliver an SD Digi-Beta master for SD broadcast only. There was no intention to broadcast in HD. We consulted the Sony rep about this - there was no quality (in the finished product) to be gained by shooting in the HDV mode and then downconverting to SD either before or after editing. Because the camera can capture images at 1080i resolution, the DVCAM image recorded by the Z1 is still superior to other mini-DV cameras. The final image quality result was the same as if we had shot in HDV and downconverted to SD - we just saved ourselves the trouble. By the way, if you need an HDV master for future use (which we didn't), you can record in HDV and downconvert through the camera and capture SD through firewire - a workload advantage when posting.

One last item - if you use a 9" field monitor (which I highly recommend), make sure that it has a 16 x 9 switch, or you will view your shots "squeezed." When you edit, you will need to use an anamorphic codec to "unsqueeze" your images back to 16 x 9 aspect ratio.

I hope that you can find an up to date post solution that will adequately simulate 24fps movement. Hopefully you'll be able to dail in different amounts of "effect" depending on the inherent movement in each scene. In the past, before 24p cameras, I felt that many of these post "2-3 pull down" simulations could be rather heavy handed themselves. Good luck!
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#3 s_walker

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Posted 21 June 2005 - 12:18 PM

You edit on PC or Mac?

If your on a Mac, I thoroughly recommend the G film filter from http://www.nattress.com/. I've been using this filter for every project I have done over the last 1.5 years and it's made a very big difference to the look of my final works. It certainly won't turn your stuff into celluloid, but it does do a very good job of emulating the film look. Using something like this helps to bump up the production quality of your video that extra notch which is quite welcome if you're not shooting on a camera that has progressive scan w/ 24 fps function.

*I have to warn you that this is the only film filter I have used so I am not all that clued into what else it out there. However, I have also never had a reason to find something better.

In the last 2 months, I have been shooting a majority of my footage on the Z1 on DV CAM (90% at 50 fps) on a weekly basis, test editing scenes and applying the G film filter to see how the end product will appear. Personally, I can't tell the difference between the PD-150/170 and the Z1 when shooting in Standard Def.

Anyway, my post process is like this: After editing the scenes together, I colour correct, bump the contrast up a notch, and then I richen the blacks. I do this by creating another video layer and copy and pasting the same video track directly underneath. I convert the bottom layer to b & w. Then I blend the two together very slightly by bringing down the opacity of the colour into the black and white layer. I often exagerrate the contrast on the b & w layer and add a very faint Gaussian Blur as well. Finally, I apply the G film filter to run overnight. For a 2.5 minute sequence, it takes about an hour or two on my computer to render.

p.s.

If you're curious as to why I'm not shooting in HDV, its because I didn't want to spend my entire life sitting infront of the computer editing this film. Render times are bad enough as it is. I also knew that my final output wasn't going to be HD so there was no reason for me to shoot on HDV.

+ ... my opinion and assessment of the Z1. The main reason why I got the camera was because I loved the PD-150 so much. The second reason was the choice to shoot HDV (mind you, this is before I found out how much of a headache it is to edit on HD on your average home PC). The third was a practical issue to do with travelling I have planned in the coming year to the US and JAPAN. This camera switches seamlesslly between both formats at the flick of a switch (I live in Australia and I didn't want to run into the hassle of NTSC/PAL compatibility when I live abroad). The fourth reason was longevity - I figured a camera with HDV would last longer in terms of how much use I could get out of it. Finally, if I wanted to sell the thing, I felt I was more likely to get more of my money back than a PD-150.

The PD-150 I used to borrow and use extensively every weekend never once went weird on me and it took a good beating. The Z1 which I own hasn't been through half as much hell yet, but so far, its done just as good, day shoots and night shoots. When comparing the Z1 and the PD-150, unless you're shooting in HDV, there is none. All the practical functions are basically the same. I see no need for the colour correction fuction on this camera or the cinemode function. They're all a piece-a-sh#t. All that stuff can be done with far greater control in post using FCP or After Effects. Aspiring film makers who operate on a shoe-string budget... this camera is not the one. Take it from me. Save yourself a couple of grand and get the PD-150 or PD-170 instead if you want to go with sony. Unless you need to output onto HD (which means you're not making short or indie films but doing music clips, commercials, wedding videos etc... for clients who demand HD) you have no need to shoot on HDV. I learnt this the hard way by buying this camera. Right now, I have absolutely no use for this function and it cost me an extra 2 grand AUS $.

Bottom line is every time I plan a scene, I work within my limitations and use them to my advantage. And anyway... these issues are really the last things I tend to worry about when I'm shooting anyway.
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#4 Rich Potter

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Posted 26 June 2005 - 09:38 PM

Our soundman also ran extensive tests and declared the Z1 to have the best audio quality of any mini-DV style camera that he has ever used.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>



I really appreciated your detailed commentary on the Z1U. I'm about to use it for a mid-length picture and will keep your comments in mind. As for the sound, I'd like to hear more. I've read that the Z1U compresses sound 4X, at least in HDV mode. Isn't this a big negative? My sound guy read this and now wants to record sound into a different camera, my VX2000. Is this smart? What if we record the image in PAL and the audio in NTSC?

Any help would be appreciated.
Thanks,
Rich
Republic of Panama
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#5 rsellars

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Posted 27 June 2005 - 10:35 AM

Rich,

These are good questions. Unfortunately, I'm not an expert in sound - I'm primarily a shooter. As I mentioned, we shot in DVCAM mode because we did not have to deliver in HD. This was the same result as shooting in HDV and then later downconverting as far as image was concerned. I don't know if there would be any difference with audio quality in HDV. Our commercials received a lot of broadcast air time and they sounded great. As far as compression is concerned, Mini DV and DVCAM compress at 5:1. So I don't know if your VX2000 will yield better quality or not. It doesn't have built in XLR inputs like the Z1, which most soundmen prefer.

If you do use a separate camera for recording sound, I would record the audio signal on both cameras. You'll need some sort of reference for synching later. My suggestion would be to run a comparison test by using the same mic and recording the same signal on both cameras. Then go to the best audio post facility possible and look at the signal and listen on quality speakers. I would be very concerned about recording sound in NTSC and video in PAL because of the frame rate difference 30 vs. 25. I would definitely test this concept first.

I'm sorry that I can't offer anymore specific advise. You might try posting these questions in the audio sub-forum for more expert opinions than mine.

Good luck!

Randy
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#6 Alvin Pingol

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Posted 27 June 2005 - 09:24 PM

>>I've read that the Z1U compresses sound 4X, at least in HDV mode. Isn't this a
>>big negative?

HDV audio is MPEG-compressed (Layer II) at 384kbit/sec, whereas uncompressed audio is somewhere around 1440kbit/sec. This is a significant difference, although I have compressed MPEG audio at 224kbit/sec with little sound degradation. At 384kbit/sec, you probably wouldn't hear a great amount of audio compression unless you looked for it. Listened for it, rather.

If I understand correctly, the VX2000 does not have XLR-ins. You will have to make use of an impedance converter, which can really negatively impact audio quality (especially when the mic ins are the nasty mini 1/8" plug type - you lose signal strength and dynamic range). You would be better off going straight into the Z1U via XLR and dealing with the MPEG compression.

If you do end up with NTSC/PAL issues, worry not, as these deal with video and have no bearing on audio whatsoever.
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#7 Michael Morlan

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Posted 20 July 2005 - 05:28 PM

rsellars, thanks for the detailed post. I used the Z1U for a short film and arrived at similar opinions.

Like you, I measured the camera at 125 ASA and completely avoided the "cine-like" progressive modes. However, I did favor the cine 1 gamma curve for my acquisition. I knew I was going to apply a gamma curve in post anyway so capturing the mids along the camera's gamma straightline while benefiting from the higher-bit processing gave me a bit more luminance resolution between the shadows and highlights.

Regarding the use of an NTSC monitor - I have gotten in the habit of calibrating the monitor normally, then lowering the brightness just enough to make the 7.5 IRE pluge bar disappear against the super black. This encourages me to expose a little hotter. I avoid overdoing it by watching highlights with the 105% zebras on the camera. Between those two metrics, my eyes, and a meter, I have a pretty clear picture of my contrast latitudes and get some really consistent imagery.

I didn't know about the "free" 3dB gain. I'll have to keep that in mind for troublesome lighting situations.

I typically disabled or chose other operations for all the programmable buttons, so I didn't experience any accidental auto settings.

My favorite feature of the Z1U is the settings preset buttons. I can memorize and replay two different focus/aperture/zoom/gain/etc. settings and recall them with speed ramps. If I start a shot with another manual setting, I can perform two ramps in a shot - even three if I return to a former preset. One caveat: The fastest ramp time is 2 seconds - not much use for many focus pulls. I used this very effectively for a long-focal-length shot with an actor in foreground-left with another actor in background-right. I started focused on the foreground talent, racked to the background talent, then racked again as the background talent approached the camera to the foreground talent's position. Certainly no replacement for a manual lens and good focus puller but great for less demanding situations.

Michael Morlan
http://michael-morlan.net

Edited by mmorlan62, 20 July 2005 - 05:33 PM.

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