Friday, February 27, 2015

Winter 2014-2015 & Looking Forward

Time's just flown by for me over the last few months.  Even though things at work have been crazy-busy (the job of a television producer is never done!), this winter I've been able to still get out there and shoot a few new videos for my Vimeo site.  For the next couple of weeks, things'll quiet down for me there.  The next thing I'll be wanting to shoot will be some footage of when the snow and ice start melting.

I'd still like to shoot some video portraits (I was too busy last summer to pull it off), so if anyone's in the area where I live that's not a psycho and wants to give it a go, drop me a line on my Vimeo account and we can talk about seeing if we can spend a few hours of time where I'll shoot something fun and cool.  I'd also like to spend some time in the Appalachian Mountains this summer for vacation and get some videos shot there.  It'll be nice to visit someplace closer to home that's cool, instead of travelling so far again this year.  I'm also hoping to visit Watkins Glen State Park and I'd like to shoot at least one more scripted short sometime this year.  The last one I did, Zombie Awareness - An Educational Film went over pretty good online and it was cool to get together with the old gang and just shoot something fun for a day.  That's about as far as my plans for filming stuff outside of work, and the rest is just gonna be take it as it comes.

I'm also getting happier with the quality of work that I'm putting out on Vimeo.  A lot of it has to do with the quality of the gear I'm using and a lot of tricks I've learned over the last few years.  (Studio, mobile and EFP productions for work are a whole other ball game compared to the stuff I shoot for my Vimeo account.   Also, I always wanted to film nature stuff, but for one reason or another, I never did. Out of my 23 years of experience as a cameraman, only in the last 5 years, have I really turned my lens away from filming mostly people.)  It's been a fun challenge and one I'm glad I decided to take on, because it's made me a more well-rounded shooter and it's taught me so many things.

Speaking of taking things as they come, that's pretty much what I've been doing this winter for my Vimeo stuff.  I drifted between using my iPhone 6 and my Canon XA20 for a few videos and I finally got a video out of editing hell that I was struggling with for a while.  Sometimes you feel the inspiration and you know how a video's going to go, and other times you struggle with them.  So when I finally get it for one of these videos I just can't feel, it's an awesome feeling to finally put it together and post it online.  (Yeah, I've still got a few of them in editing hell that I just can't work out.  The oldest of the bunch is from 4 years ago, and the newest of them is from last spring.)

So here's what I've done this winter. My least favorite video is the first one up.

Brown's Bay Revisited from Steve Savage on Vimeo.

I wanted to have some fun with it and I went overboard on the effects. I can't watch this video without cringing inside and it's been a while since I hated a video as much as I hate this one. This'll probably get a re-edit soon since I like the shots, but I think it could all work out better with a different music track, different color grading and none of the hokey-pokey overlays.

The next video I shot was Alight At Night.

Alight At Night from Steve Savage on Vimeo.

Except for some abandoned houses, I've tried staying away from shooting man-made stuff in my videos on Vimeo. I have a hard time getting excited about architecture. Don't get me wrong, I love all of the photographers I have in my Google+ circles and some of their shots of architecture are bloody amazing, but when I go out there to film, buildings just don't grab me the same way as finding some awesome trail in the middle of the boons does. Upper Canada Village is a bit different, and seeing all of the historic buildings lit up like this is pretty cool. Between the old buildings, all of the different colors and the contrast between the light and dark, I had to shoot there. I also caught on to a different type of color grading some people use on Vimeo and this is the first video I gave it a try. It's just a little thing, but the blacks aren't black, they're a bit on the blue side. All of this was more of an experiment than anything, and I'm happy with how it turned out.

Next up, I edited together a video using mostly footage I shot when I was setting up my camera across North America.

North America - Coast To Coast in One Year from Steve Savage on Vimeo.

This one I really like. Out of the videos I did in 2014, this one probably appeals to me the most. The order of the shots were from east to west coast. I had a few different edits of this one, including one where I had a map in the upper right hand corner that pointed out where it was shot and traveled along the continent as the video played, but in the end, I thought the video worked better without it. It was a good idea and cool to see, but with everything else going on in the video, between the quick cuts, effects and text, it was too much on the senses. Less is more.

This one was the first one I shot with snow around, and it's also the first video of 2015 from me.

New Year's Snow At 120 & 240 fps from Steve Savage on Vimeo.

I wanted to test out the slow-mo on my iPhone 6 and see the difference between 120fps and 240fps during a snowstorm. I knew from before that 60fps in a snowstorm could look pretty cool, but how would it look even more slowed down and with some cool moving shots? Turned out, it looks pretty cool, and it's so weird that slow motion makes it look like there's less snow falling. It was a blizzard out there when I shot this!

Not too long after I shot the last video, I went back out to the same place and shot this one.

Freezing Rain (240fps) from Steve Savage on Vimeo.

It was in the middle of an ice storm that we got. I kept my iPhone set to 240fps and just wandered around looking for anything that looked cool that was all encased in ice. Almost as soon as I was done filming and back out in the parking lot, a huge gust of wind went through the area and knocked all of the ice down from the branches. So if I would've been 20 minutes later, I would've missed it all.

This is the video I was talking about that was in editing hell for a while.

Autumn In Ontario from Steve Savage on Vimeo.

I had problems with everything on this one. From choosing what shots to use, to color grading, to the music, how long each shot should be up for and the order of the shots. I was pretty surprised that I had so much trouble with this one because I thought that with it all being all nice fall shots, that I'd be able to turn it around quick. Nope. But when it finally came together for me, it came together quick, so that was awesome.

By about now, I was missing going out to film something properly. So that's how this one ended up happening.

Winterscape II from Steve Savage on Vimeo.

After editing together old footage and only shooting stuff with my iPhone for over a month, I wanted to shoot a real video with a real camera. The weather had finally been cold enough for long enough and there was lots of snow on the ground, so I headed out to the Jones Creek trails in the 1000 Islands and shot this. Instead of going to the east entrance, where I've always gone in the past, I went to the west entrance by Mallorytown. Shooting this was fun for me because I got to see a new part of the trails I've never seen before. The only downside was because it was all cool and new to me, I didn't get too far since I kept on stopping to film everything!

The last video I did was this one:

Forest of Snow from Steve Savage on Vimeo.

We were getting a decent amount of snow coming down, and I went back to the west entrance of the Jones Creek trail and went deeper into the woods. This one came together pretty quickly and was fun to shoot and edit. I really like this side of the trail system and I'm really looking forward to exploring it more once the snow melts and things dry up a bit. There should be some really cool stuff to see there in the spring and summer and it'll probably end up being a full day hiking on the trails for me to really make the most out of it.

There's no schedule to when I film anything or when I upload anything. It's fun and it's a hobby I do in my spare time. I do my serious filming at work, where there are deadlines and different kinds of pressure to have to rise up to. I kind of think of Vimeo as a place where I just upload random pieces of my life when they happen. (I went here, I saw this...) You get to see it through my eyes, through my expression, as maybe you would've never seen it before. Most people are too rushed and jump from one thing to the next. Sure, I'm guilty of doing that too, but the one thing I never forgot, as I was growing up, was hearing from so many older people that they wished they'd have stopped and smelled the roses more. So I've always made it a point to do that. Now, I still do it, but I do it with a videocamera with me. When I get home, I get to experience the moment again, and spend more time there when I put together the video. Once that's done then it lives on forever in the digital world, where I can go back and have another look anytime I feel like I wish I was there again. That's pretty cool to me. Being able to share it with other people is just the icing on the cake.

Thanks to all of you guys who follow me on Vimeo, comment and like my videos. It's cool to see when I get something right and fun to see when I get something wrong. I've learned a few new things over the years from people's comments on my videos. (For example, growing up in Napanee, then Kingston, Ottawa and finally Brockville, freezing rain is something I consider normal during the winter. I've seen it all my life. It's weird for me to think that so many people haven't seen it, when I see it at least once or twice a year. It's something that people around here just think of as a pain in the ass to get off of their cars before they get on with their day. LOL! What I didn't realize is that Eastern Ontario is in a unique spot where we get freezing rain a lot more than most places in the world. So what's common for us along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River isn't something that's common all over the place.) It's been fun, is what I'm saying. It's also led to some really cool things that I wouldn't have expected to have happened, like having some of my footage featured recently on an Oprah show called Super Soul Sunday. Sure my work's been seen all across Ontario (TVCOGECO), Southern Alberta on CHAT-TV and I've had something that's been seen all across Canada on CBC (Sex: Better With Zombies), but thanks to my account on Vimeo, some of my work's now been seen internationally for the first time on television. (Yeah, I know, the Internet is global and my stats show that almost every single country has seen something of mine, but it's not television. TV is where my heart has always been, and why I chose to get into the career I'm in. It's never been about the money or fame for me, it's always been about one thing only. I love doing what I do; I'm one of the lucky ones.)

Friday, September 19, 2014

iPhone 6 & 3K Video Using MoviePro

You read that title right.  The iPhone 6, actually anything newer than an iPhone 4s (sorry the 4s and older just don't have the juice), is capable of shooting 3K video.  What is 3K video?  The resolution is 3072x1728 pixels.  To compare, full HD video is 1920x1080 pixels.  That's a pretty good difference in the numbers but maybe you still can't visualize it?  Let me help with these images I took with my iPhone to show the difference.  :)

3 K 1
First up, this is a full resolution still from some 3K video taken with my iPhone 6. (Click image to see it larger, then when it opens up, click that image to see it full size.)

3 K 2
Here we've got a full resolution still from some 1080p video taken with my iPhone 6. (Click image to see it larger, then when it opens up, click that image to see it full size.) The black around the 1080p video shows the size of 3K video compared to 1080p.

3 K1080p Compared
Here's another view to show just how much more detail 3K gives to 1080p by putting the 1080p still directly over top of the 3K still. (Click image to see it larger, then when it opens up, click that image to see it full size.)  You can also see how the 1080p video is more cropped on all sides compared to the 3K video, which I'm guessing Apple does to allow for their digital image stabilization.  The camera wasn't moved at all between these two shots, so this is comparing apples to apples.

Now that we've got the comparisons over with, here's where I'll get into it more.

3K video doesn't come with the iPhone straight out of the box.  Apple is probably saving Ultra High Definition resolutions as an official "upgrade" for a next gen model of iPhone.  But don't believe the hype when they do finally launch it that older phones didn't have enough power for UHD, because they do.  You can get 3K video now on an Iphone 5, 5c, 5s, 6 or 6+, and you can get it without a jailbreak or running any unauthorized apps.  Apple themselves have approved the apps that let you record video in UHD and you can get them straight off the app store!

If you're like I was, you're probably a bit sceptical about it and thinking it's too good to be true.  Want to test it out for yourself?  Well, you're in luck, if you want to try before you buy anything.  There's a free app on the app store that lets you shoot 2K video.  It's not as high of resolution as a 3K app, and the bitrate in it is really horrible, but it lets you see that shooting UHD on an iPhone 6 is real.

The free app's called CameraMAX - 2K Video Recording.  It's made by Smart Bell.  Give it a shot, record some footage with it then load your video in your favourite NLE program and check it out for yourself.  The first thing you'll notice is this really isn't up-resed footage.

If you're considering moving on to a paid app that's got more features and quality, there are a few out there that you can buy.  Most of the paid apps shoot in 3K video, but they're not all created equal.  Some have higher bitrates than others, some only shoot 4:3 video and some shoot 16x9 as well as 4:3.  These apps are usually around $5 in the app store, and for that price, it's a bargain.  There's one that claims to shoot full 4K video and it costs $999 on the app store right now.  Just a word to the warning, an 8 megapixel camera doesn't have enough pixels to be true 4K.  So, if you're thinking about blowing a thousand bucks - dont.  Spend 5 bucks and get a 3K program, since that's about the best the iPhone can do.  Anything more than 3K and there's some software manipulation of your image going on in there to stretch it out to 4K.

So how's it possible?  How's it all work?  Isn't the iPhone only supposed to be capable of HD video? Yeah, it is, but lucky for us that someone somewhere thought "What if I bypassed the video recording part of an iPhone with its resolution limit and used the still camera to record video?"  The still camera is 8 megapixels, which is almost a 4k sensor.  By using this, and having enough power in the phone to write down all of the information at 30fps*, at a good bitrate, it allows for a true Ultra HD picture. (*The iPhone 5 & 5C, are only powerful enough to get 24fps in 3K.)

The best of the bunch of the paid apps is a program called MoviePro, made by Mirage Labs.  Look it up, read the reviews, and watch this video I took on my iPhone 6 using it.

How about Low light?

1080p video low light test.

3K video low light test.

You can see that the 3K video shows more in the dark, but the trade off is that the picture is grainier.

Here's what's so great about this program.  You can let MoviePro go full auto so you don't have to worry about adjusting your camera settings, or you can set your focus and exposure independently of each other.  (You can move the focus and exposure reticles around the screen to change those settings as you go.)  You can also zoom in using the on screen zoom as you film, and adjust the speed of the zoom.  It's very smooth, but remember that since the iPhone doesn't have an optical zoom, this is a digital zoom and because of that you'll sacrifice image resolution as you zoom.  At this resolution, though, it's not such a big deal and even zoomed in, the picture looks great!  Also, you can also adjust your VBR bitrate to as high as around 125kbps.  That's around 1GB per minute of footage.  So we're talking high quality video when you start shooting in these UHD resolutions.  You can also change your aspect ratio in MoviePro, and choose what seems like an endless supply of different resolutions.

The footage I shot didn't seem to be any more difficult to edit on my computer than I'm used to seeing, and color grading it didn't seem to slow down my system any more than HD video does.  Pretty much, if your rig is built to be able to handle AVCHD with ease, you'll be able to handle the highest bitrate at the highest resolution that MoviePro can give you.

It's pretty exciting to think that if you've got a newer iPhone, all it costs is 5 bucks and you can start building your library of UHD videos for when UHD TV's and monitors become the standard in another 10 years or so.  Why not shoot the birth of your new child in UHD?  You can also start to build a library of UHD b-roll footage for when you need it.  Then at least you're already ahead of the game when the change from HD to UHD happens.  Or, you can just shoot in UHD now and start enjoying working with it now, since YouTube supports those higher resolutions.  If you have to work with HD video, then you can easily resize the video to fit 1920x1080 in your NLE and crop, zoom, and rotate it as you need.

Does this replace a traditional video camera?  No, not even close to it.  The small lens of the iPhone will exaggerate any small movements that you do, so you'll see camera shake.  But if you've got a good solid iPhone tripod adapter and a good tripod, you should be okay.  But handheld stuff?  It does have an image stabilizer you can turn on in the settings, but using it and the zoom at the same time doesn't work very well, so if you plan on using the zoom, you'll probably have the digital image stabilization turned off. That means that you're probably gonna see jitter in almost every shot.  You really need the bigger lens of a bigger camera to smooth out those small movements that we all do.  Is the image sensor in the iPhone the best out on the market?  No, but it does a respectable job, and having independent control over your focus and exposure allows you to get the best that an iPhone is capable of.  It's a lot better implemented than the focus and exposure controls in the standard video app that comes with the phone in iOS 8.  Is it cool?  Yeah, for sure, and for $5, it was a no brainer to me to pick it up and give it a shot.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Great North American Road Trip

2013 was a big year for Rhonda and I. We saved up for a year and pretty much did almost nothing in that time to finance a road trip across North America. We had 3 weeks to ourselves on the open road and we saw a lot of amazing things!

Over the last year, I've been slowing editing videos together from the footage that I took during the trip. I was planning on having them finished by spring of 2014, but if you've ever tried being creative you know that sometimes you just can't find inspiration and no matter how you try something it just doesn't feel right. So you stop, move on to something else and hope that your brain can figure it's way around the problem that stopped you when you return to it. It was actually the first video I started putting together from the road trip that gave me a block.

I've never been to a real desert and that was something I was really looking forward to. So when I got home, the first thing I wanted to do was edit the desert footage I took. I put all of the footage I took from around the California/Nevada area together and started messing around with it, but it just didn't seem right. And try as I might, I just couldn't find the right music to go along with it. That's when I started editing different videos, and I'd return to the desert footage about once a month to try again. It took me until September of 2014 to finally figure it all out (thanks to the feel-good creative high I got from putting together this year's road trip videos), but I finally got it and understood what I was doing wrong and how I needed to divide the footage up. After that, I just kept on riding the creative high until I made my way through the remaining footage.

It feels good to say it's all finally done! It was a big road trip and a big project for me to put the videos together. So, now, let's have a look at the videos!

What Would You Do With 3 Weeks? from Steve Savage.
This video has a shot from every time I hit the REC button and I matched up pictures taken from the locations I shot the video as best as I could. The video is in chronological order.

The Lake Superior Region from Steve Savage.
As we drove west through Ontario, we stopped at a few different places. This video was taken along the northern shores of Lake Superior and at Chippewa Falls.

The Canadian Prairies from Steve Savage.
Getting out of Ontario means hitting the wide open expanses of the flat prairie provinces. I love the sense of freedom you get out here with the land stretching out before you as far as the eye can see!

Where The Dinosaurs Roamed from Steve Savage.
Dinosaur Provincial Park, in eastern Alberta is one of the coolest places to see in the province. It's like you've just stepped off the Earth and into an alien landscape. Real dinosaur bones have been found here and still continue to be found here today.

The Rocky Mountains from Steve Savage.
Next we got to the Rocky Mountains. All I can say here is the Rockies are simply awesome!

Athabasca Glacier from Steve Savage on Vimeo.
The Athabasca Glacier is one of the few glaciers in Canada that's "easy" to get to. Even in the summertime, bring a coat if you plan to visit!

Moments: Othello Tunnels from Steve Savage.
Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park, in southern British Comumbia is a cool little stop if you're travelling through the area. Trains used to ride through this mountain pass and the scale of the tunnels will make you feel so small!

Crater Lake from Steve Savage.
Heading south, we crossed the border into the U.S.A. and got off of the interstate system and onto some of the back roads. We didn't originally plan on visiting Crater Lake in Oregon, but since we were so close and someone recommended it to me, we went to check it out. It was definitely worth it!

Wild West California from Steve Savage.
We continued south until we got to California. By now, we were in a totally different type of world. Gone were the green leafy trees that I knew and replaced with small shrubs, and small towns speckled throughout a desert landscape.

Mojave Desert from Steve Savage.
After a visit to Hollywood, we started our way back north. We ended up crossing the Mojave Desert, and saw some of the hottest weather in the whole trip here. 45°C!

Hoover Dam from Steve Savage.
Driving through this part of America wouldn't be complete without seeing Las Vegas and Hoover Dam. Before settling in for the night in Vegas, we went and checked out Hoover Dam. When you see the size of this thing, you really have to wonder how on Earth mankind was able to figure out how to build it...

On The Rim Of The Grand Canyon from Steve Savage.
Our next stop was the Grand Canyon. There's nothing I can say but this is something you have to see in person. Pictures and videos do not do it justice. It's just immense!

Great Basin Desert & Colorado Plateau from Steve Savage.
Continuing along, we crossed through this beautiful area, which was filled with monoliths, amazing rock formations and red sand. This is definitely a section that I'd love to revisit someday.

Antelope Canyon from Steve Savage.
One of the last places we stopped at to really explore was Antelope Canyon. I've seen so many pictures of it on Google+ over the years, but not that many videos, so I wanted to set out to be one of the first to do something with it. Circumstances being as they were on location, I adjusted to the limits that were put on me, and came up with this video. Beautiful caves, but way too crowded and touristy now.

North America - Continent of Diversity & Beauty from Steve Savage.
It was an amazing trip, but really 3 weeks just wasn't nearly long enough to see everything that this continent has to offer. We just scratched the surface of what there was to see, but it was enough to leave an impression on me to last a lifetime.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

2014 Vacation

This year for vacation, Rhonda and I did something a little different. We went camping for a while and then went for a short road trip to see the east coast, since we visited the west coast last year. Starting things off, we went back to our usual spot at Sharbot Lake Provincial Park and spent a few days there just relaxing, having fun and soaking up the sun. Like always, I brought my cameras along and did a home video style video of our time there. It's always fun to do one of these, since when I usually go out to shoot something I usually worry more about the technical parts, like movement, framing, angles, lighting, etc... (That's something that I do pretty quick in my head, but it's nice to just not have that going on in the back of your head.) Instead, the hardest decision I had to make was what camera to use. For the most part, everything was filmed on my Canon XA20, but the underwater scenes were shot on my GoPro HERO 2 in the underwater housing and the slow motion stuff was shot on my iPhone 5s.

Sharbot Lake Camping 2014 from Steve Savage on Vimeo.

After a day at home to rest up and put things away, we jumped in the car again and headed out east to the maritime provinces. I had a feeling that the trip might be a bit too much for just a single video, so I planned on making a few different videos depending on where we were at in out trip.

Our first destination was Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. We started our trip on the easternmost side of the island, travelling up the Cabot Trail. It's a pretty amazing place to visit and one of the most visited destinations in North America because of the natural beauty found here. If you're ever planning a trip out east, make this one of your stops, but make sure to give yourself a few days to see everything there is to see! We took it slow heading up the eastern coastline, stopping off at different spots, shops, and even climbing down a cliff to get up close to the ocean. This video chronicles our trip along the eastern coast of Cape Breton Island.

Eastern Cape Breton Island from Steve Savage on Vimeo.

The only regret is that we didn't stop in at Neil's Harbour, since I know there's some pretty amazing scenery there. We just ran out of time on our trip up the east coast because we had an appointment to keep. We'd decided to go whale watching and we needed to make the last boat with Oshan Whale Watch. So we had to make the decision to either visit Neil's Harbour and maybe a few other spots that day and go whale watching the next day, or continue along the coast until we got to the northernmost point of the island and make the last tour of the day.

We decided to take in the whale watching and we weren't disappointed. I decided to change up how I was going to film the experience, and make it more along the style of my vacation home videos, so I left my tripod packed in the car, went handheld and just tried my best to keep the camera rolling as best as I could in the waves. I'm pretty happy with how the video turned out and it captured the feel of our adventure that day. It was our first time seeing whales in person and it was a really cool experience!

To See Whales... from Steve Savage on Vimeo.

The next day we continued along Cape Breton Island, making our way to the west coastline and back south along the Ceilidh Trail. A lot of people who visit just go to see the Cabot Trail, but they miss half of the amazing sights by not taking the Ceilidh Trail when it joins up with the Cabot Trail. (The Cabot Trail goes back south through the middle of the island, so you don't get to see the west coast.) We took it easy, stopping along the way at a bunch of different spots that looked pretty cool, did some swimming in the ocean, and, of course, climbed down another cliff to get some good close shots of the shoreline.

Western Cape Breton Island from Steve Savage on Vimeo.

After our adventure was over on Cape Breton Island, we hopped on a ferry to go visit the province of Prince Edward Island. PEI is a pretty small province, but what it lacks in size, it more than makes up with in beauty. The red sands, the farmlands that stretch out endlessly across the land, the craggy rock cliffs, and the ocean views are amazing. Of course, we saw lots and lots of potatoes being grown! After a day of exploring and visiting different sights, we hit a red sand beach, splashed around again in the warm ocean waters, then crossed the Confederation Bridge (almost 13km long, if you're wondering) and then started our way back home. Here's the video I shot in PEI.

Prince Edward Island from Steve Savage on Vimeo.

It was a great vacation, where it didn't cost us an arm and a leg, but we got to see some amazing things! I shot lots of video, and even got them edited together faster than I thought I would. It's no wonder that Rhonda always tells me she needs a vacation from our vacation! Great memories and I feel lucky that in the last 12 months we've been able to criss-cross North America and see everything from the Rockies and deserts in the east, to the praries in the middle, and finally to the green, craggy beautiful shores of the eastern coastline.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

To Get A Video Field Recorder Or Not

Everybody wants their videos to look as good as possible, whether it's an amateur shooting videos for fun memories, or a professional, and I'm no exception.  Because of the limitations of 4:2:0 8-bit compressed video that consumer & prosumer videos cameras use, I looked at and tested a Blackmagic Hyperdeck Shuttle 2 for my XA20.

The difference is night and day at times, but ultimately, the surprising answer for me is it's not worth the investment.  You may be surprised why, and you might be surprised to learn that it's not worth your money to invest in one either.

Before I get into the comparisons and reasons, I'll just talk a little bit about the technical stuff.  If you're stuck recording to a non-pro codec, like H.264 or MPEG-2 (AVCHD, MP4 or HDV) for your high def video, then you're using 4:2:0 color space with 8-bit video.  Depending on your camera, you might have 3:1:1 color space, but that's not as common as 4:2:0.  I talked a bit about color space and compression before and what it boils down to is color information is tossed out the window to save on space because our eyes are more sensitive to shifts in luminosity than chroma.  So we don't really notice this type of compression until it gets really extreme.  The other thing that's done is not every frame stores all of the pixel information.  It could be every 4th frame that is a "floater" frame, as I like to call it.  AVCHD and MP4 with H.264 compression actually does a pretty good job of making video look good, which is why even though 1080p has a lot more video information than standard definition, the maximum bitrate for AVCHD is 24Mbps.  Standard def DV video has a maximum bitrate of 25Mbps.  DV and HDV use MPEG-2 compression, which isn't as efficient as H.264 compression, which is why AVCHD looks a lot better than HDV or DV.

Is AVCHD perfect?  No, and far from it.  Let's get into some examples now...

These shots were enlarged to 100% in my preview window, (about 300x the original size) to help show off video artifacts.

Shot 1 (Click to see higher resolution.)
Comparison 1

This was taken while panning my camera at a moderately fast speed.  Not fast enough to see a lot of rolling shutter, but fast enough to be a pan that I wouldn't normally do.  On the left is the highest bitrate my camera can record MP4 at using progressive 30p.  (I couldn't test 60p because of a limitation of HDMI.  More on that later.)  On the right, you can see the ProRes footage.  The quality difference between the 2 is amazing, and it's almost shocking to see H.264 break apart so badly.  But here it is.  You can see a ton of blockiness and even color information that's obviously missing.  (Compare the headlights of the minivan.)  However, playing this back at real time, I couldn't catch the blockiness and missing information.  It just looked like regular motion blur.

Shot 2 (Click to see higher resolution.)
Comparison 2

Same camera settings as the first shot, but this time I panned across the van at more of a medium speed.  Now the images are starting to stack up a little better, aren't they?  Well, maybe at first glance, but look a bit closer.  Count the raindrops on the hood of the van and look at how sharp they are.  Here, the H.264 codec is just starting to fall apart.  It's not too bad, but it's not great.  On the other hand, the ProRes codec shows a lot more detail.  Another difference I can pick out is that the orange of the turn signal indicator is slightly different between the 2 recordings.  I can't tell which is more color accurate, but I'd put my money on ProRes.

Shot 3 (Click to see higher resolution.)
Comparison 3

The last comparison shot I took had a much slower pan.  Now it's tough to spot the differences between the two codecs.  There are a few subtle differences, and I'm sure if I brightened the blacks more and looked for compression artifacts there, I'd see them.  But looking at this side by side, they look pretty comparable, except now you can see how much noisier the ProRes codec is.  (It's not a perfect codec either.  If you want to know it's shortcomings, just Google it.)  Even the colors match up pretty good between the two.

So now you've seen the images from my footage, and you're thinking it's a no-brainer to spend the 400 bucks and pick up a Blackmagic Hyperdeck Shuttle 2, and another 200 bucks for a decent SSD.  (Plus maybe another 130 or so for the Hyperdeck's mounting plate.)  How the hell could I say it's not worth it, when there's such an obvious difference between the two?  Truth is, there's still a big part of me that's yearning to find an excuse to pick up a Blackmagic drive because the difference kills me, but for what I do with my camera it doesn't make any sense to pick one up.

Here's why.

90% of the time I use my camera for personal use.  The other 10% of the time I use it professionally.  That means most of the time, my delivery is for the web and not for television.  When going to the web, it's a heavily compressed .FLV or .MP4 video that people are watching.  YouTube and Vimeo (and all of the other video sharing sites) really remove as much information as they can to keep their bandwidth down, and send out videos to computers, smart phones and tablets as fast as they can.  Both Flash video and H.264 use 4:2:0 color sampling.  That means that even if I'm recording and editing using 4:2:2, the end result will look pretty much the same.

Hold on, you're saying.  What about generation loss when you're editing?  Won't that affect the quality of your video?  Won't the file that people see at home look worse because you're already working with a more lossy codec?  My tests show it doesn't.  Remember, I'm not going to upload a 2GB 2minute video at full res to YouTube or Vimeo.  If I did that, it'd take forever to upload, it'd eat up my monthly bandwidth like crazy, and they'll still get compressed the same even if I did. the last part to that is I make sure nobody has a super high quality copy but me, so if someone tries to pass off my work as theirs, I've got the original HQ files with their original create dates in the EXIF info to prove it's my work.  Nobody but me has access to those original renders.  So what I do to keep all of that down is I need to render out a file that's suitable for uploading.  Usually something that's at about 50-100MB per minute.  Either MP4 or AVI (Xvid) work great, since they use - you got it - the H.264 or H.263 codecs.  So ultimately, I'm giving my videos a lot of compression to squeeze them into a manageable file size.  Rendering out the ProRes or AVCHD/MP4 to H.264/H.263 then uploading that AVI file and letting Vimeo or YouTube do its work has no noticeable quality difference.

Huh.  Okay, well what about color grading?  4:2:2 at 10-bit (ProRes 422 HQ) has billions of colors. 4:2:0 at 8-bit (AVCHD/MP4) has only millions of colors.  The human eye can make that difference out.  Doesn't this make a difference?  Remember underneath the 1st picture how I said I'd talk about a limitation of HDMI later on?  Here's where that comes into play.  HDMI isn't capable of delivering 10-bit color information right now from video cameras or DSLRs.  So you might be getting 4:2:2, but it's at 8-bit.  The video recorder then upsamples that to 10-bit.  But if you've got an 8-bit source, even at 10-bits, you've still only got 8-bits worth of information.  Color grading in Magic Bullet Looks made zero difference in the quality of the video, whether I used the ProRes footage or the H.264 footage.  I made sure to test out darks, where AVCHD/MP4 falls apart really easily, brights, and mediums.  I tested out a whole bunch of different colors at different exposures.  Even gradients (like the sky) were virtually exact matches.  Not exact matches, because a little extra color information was being recorded to the Blackmagic drive, but it was only color information that was lost in the AVCHD/MP4 compression.  Not extra color information that was being sent out from the CMOS chip.  As far as greenscreening was concerned (yes, I tried that too), the Blackmagic drive did do better here, because AVCHD/MP4 is blockier.  So though no new color information was being recorded off of the CMOS chip, the little bit of extra that was there because AVCHD/MP4 compression was being avoided helped to smooth out edges and give an easier and cleaner key.  So if you do greenscreen work, the extra $700 or so for a field recorder might be worth it for you.  I don't do it, so this isn't a reason for me to spend the money.

One other limitation of HDMI is that it won't deliver 60p video from any video camera.  60i, 30p and 24p are your options for HD.  One of the reasons I picked up my Canon XA20 was to record 60p video.  Going back to 30p video wouldn't be too bad, but then, it takes away one of the reasons I got the camera.  Sure I could still record internally at 60p, but then I get 60i recorded on the recorder, which has half of the vertical resolution.  Also, if I do that, then anything I slow down by 50% will have H.264 compression, which kind of defeats the purpose of buying a field recorder to begin with.

The most important thing to remember is that the tests I did were done to make the MP4 compression fall apart. Most tests online aren't designed to do that, so I set out to bridge that gap here. I had to move the camera faster than normal to see obvious differences.  These are moves and speeds I would never do normally, but I did here to show the difference and find out the differences and limitations for myself.  Subtle differences appeared in what I'd consider a fast move for myself.  For panning and tilting speeds that I'd normally use, AVCHD/MP4 had little to no difference in quality compared to ProRes, with the exception on the darks.  The ProRes 422 HQ codec was able to grab more information in my darks than I was able to get using the onboard MP4 compression.  I crush my darks a little bit for the videos I upload online because I like that look.  So I tested out crushing the darks of both the H.264 and ProRes footage to see if there was any difference when I color graded the footage.  The answer was there was no difference that I could see visually.  My scopes also showed pretty much identical results.  So for what might amount to a 0.1% difference, which won't look any different online anyway, that wasn't a reason to look into a video recorder either.

What it boils down to is this:

- Footage does look better when recorded on a field recorder like the Blackmagic Hyperdeck Shuttle 2, or Atomos Ninja Star, as long as you're not recording progressive 60p which the video recorder dumbs down to 60i.

- You will get a bit more play with things like greenscreening and having more chroma & luma information stored in your video because you're avoiding H.264 or MPEG-2 compression.  It's negligible because you're still coming from an 8-bit source, but it's there and useful.  I've seen posts online of a lot of people where this extra play helped them out to do what they needed to do.  So don't discount it.  It's not huge, like you can see in the few screenshots where I pointed it out, but it's there.  ProRes is also a little noisy, so expect to see a little bit more noise in your videos.

- As long as you keep your video 4:2:2 with a decent codec in editing, you'll have less generation loss if you're rendering out files and then importing them back in to your timeline.  If you're like me where it's rare to use more than a 2nd generation file (I edit the raw AVCHD or MP4 files straight off the memory card to my HQ final render), then it's not really something that'll help, but if you do use 3rd, 4th and 5th generation files, then it will.

- If you do slow pans, tilts, dollys, zooms and static shots, the H.264 codec will hold up just fine under most circumstances.  Things like water ripples/flowing water, or leaves moving really quickly in a strong wind might give you problems.  If you're shooting quick movements, like action sequences, flash pans and sports, then a video field recorder could make a difference for you.

- If you're delivering for television, then you need to consider the requirements of the broadcaster.  4:2:2 8-bit source material (which is saved as 4:2:2 10-bit on the recorder) from a small chip CMOS camera may be enough for them, or it may not be enough.  Check with the broadcaster to find out what they need.   You might be investing in hundreds of dollars of equipment that doesn't help you out at all and puts you on a blacklist.

- If you're delivering content for the web, you need to decide if the extra information you'll have initially from your portable video recorder will help you out for your final product.  Remember, even though your raw footage looks awesome, it's going to get compressed to hell and back for the web.  I see posts on videos all the time from people saying they can't see the difference between ProRes and AVCHD comparison videos, and the person who posted the video says, well you should see the original file.  I've got no doubt about the differences - I see them here first hand in my tests, but once it goes online, all of those differences go out the window.

So though I see a big difference in the quality of the footage when I stress out the H.264 on-board codec of my camera, compared to ProRes 422 HQ, when I use my camera like I normally would, I don't see much (if any) of a difference.  I output for the web 9 times out of 10, so any gains I'd get would be lost. It just doesn't make any sense for me to pick up an external recorder, and it might not for you either.  Think about what you're doing and what you need your footage for before making the leap one way or the other.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

First Real Video Using My XA20 - So How Do I Like It?

I've had a few chances to play with my XA20 and really compare it to the XA10 now and except for some stronger compression artifacts in the darks on the XA20 (regardless of whether MP4 or AVCHD is used) and a bit of more noticeable chromatic aberration, it's the clear winner.

The more noticeable purple fringing (chromatic aberration) happens when video is over exposed.  When I've got things properly exposed it's no worse than the XA10, but where the XA10 gave me a bit more play when I was overexposed, the XA20, with its different lens doesn't.  It's definitely not a deal breaker for me because I hate shooting anything overexposed, and not even really that bad, but it's a noticeable difference with the longer lens that the XA20 has.

The stronger compression artifacts in the darks really has me stumped.  I would have thought that Canon would have picked the same compression algorithms with the XA20 that they did with the XA10, but you can tell it's different.  One one hand, you get more compression artifacts in the darks, but on the other, you also get some more detail in the darks that the XA10 didn't have. Again, it's not really that much of a worry for me because I color grade my footage in post, and I almost always crush my blacks a little bit.  In the case of the XA20, simply crushing them a tiny bit to match the XA10 makes the picture look almost identical.  Because of that, it looks to me like the camera uses the DIGIC DV 4 processor to brighten the image's darker areas a little more compared to the XA10.  It really seems there's some post-processing going on there...

In the last month, I've used the XA20 to film a bunch of spring scenes, I returned to an abandoned house and I travelled to a cave where I took my XA20 spelunking with me.  I've spent a number of hours with it and gotten it all setup to how I like it.  The first video I produced with footage taken from my XA20 is Lusk Cave.  You can check it out here:

Lusk Cave from Steve Savage on Vimeo.

The camera was easy to work with in some challenging conditions.  That's really important to me because I go to these out of the way places.  I shot the video in fully manual mode (except for a few times I needed to use autofocus to quickly get a shot) at F 1.8, 1/60, 5600K WB, and between 0db-16db of gain (depending on the shot).  It was too dark inside the cave not to use a light, since it was pitch black in most of it, so I brought an Amaran Aputure AL-160 and mounted it to the top of my camera.  I either brightened or dimmed the light and adjusted my gain depending on the shot.  I could have used my other AL-160's and set them up in different locations in the cave and flooded each room with more light, but since Rhonda's point and shoot camera died on the way to the cave, I was trying not to take too much time setting up and filming so we could keep moving along.  I left my other lights in my backpack outside of the cave.  In retrospect, I'm glad I did it the way I did because filming Lusk Cave this way gave my shots a bit more mystique.  Keep in mind there was a lot more detail in the raw footage I shot, where my blacks weren't as crushed and it was a lot flatter of an image.  So even after darkening the darks, you can really see just how good the image pickup on the camera is.

I used my Joby Gorillapod and the awesome image stabilization that the XA20 has for my handheld work.  You can see just how good the IS is on the XA20 with the shots that I did a dolly move across the cave.  It almost looks like I had a slider with me.

The XA20 is really small and lightweight, though a bit bulkier and heavier than the XA10.  It was easy to carry the 5km walk to the cave, and the 5km back to where our car was parked.  Inside the cave, I never worried about losing my footing or how I would navigate different tight spots with the camera, Gorillapod and AL-160 LED light combined.  Even all put together, it was an easy & light rig to carry around and small enough to get through the tight nooks and crannies.  Even when I was jumping from ledge to ledge on the cave walls to get around, the size and weight of the XA20 never bothered me or got in the way of me being able to go where I needed to safely and easily.  I had to change hands with it a few times depending on what side of the cave I was on, and which hand I needed to grip the walls to move around, but that was it.  I could concentrate on getting my shots and keeping it dry and clean pretty easily.  The XA10 scored huge marks from me when it came to portability and the XA20 gets the same 10 out of 10 as far as I'm concerned.

I love the picture quality, even despite it's few flaws, I love the ease of use and I love that even with this slightly bigger and slightly heavier design, the XA20 is still tops when it comes to going anywhere with me!

Video Portraits Part 2

I got some interest, but I'm still looking for more people interested in filming some video portraits with me this summer!

Maybe I posted some bad examples, because video portraits aren't all sexy girl videos and that's not what I'm really looking to do! I'm just looking to capture a part of the essence of you in under 2 minutes. If it makes sense to have you talk and have that as a part of it, then I'll do it. Here are a few other examples of what some video portraits look like, though I'd like to think mine would be a whole lot better! ;)

Get in touch if you'd like to work with me on one this summer! Either drop me a line by replying here or sending me a private message in Google+!

Thanks! :)