The first cheapish 4K cameras are here. Panasonic GH4 is out and Sony A7S is on the horizon. But nobody needs 4K, right? There is still a lot to be had from shooting in 4K though. Shooting 4K for 2K/1080p delivery has a couple of advantages. First, you generally get sharper images after the downscale from 4K to 2K in post compared to shooting 2K in-camera. Second, there is increased color precision in the downscaled image. You get 10-bit 2K video from 8-bit 4K video, or 12-bit 2K video from 10-bit 4K video. This advantage is sometimes misunderstood, some people go as far as saying there isn’t any (spoiler: they are wrong). So here is an explanation with examples. Read More
There are a lot of good things about raw video but data size is not amongst them. Uncompressed raw video can quickly add up and fill storage. One way of handling the size problem in post-production is to do some initial adjustments on the raw video, then bake to a lossily compressed format like ProRes, DNxHD or Cineform and only keep the compressed video for further post and/or archiving of the source material. The downside of this approach is that a bit of image integrity and re-processing options are ultimately sacrificed in lossy compression, which is not exactly the goal of optimal archiving and image quality.
This article describes an alternative simple workflow for lossless compression of DNG/CinemaDNG video footage, and also introduces DNGStrip – an utility that’s used to optimize file size. Lossless DNG compression allows a reduction in video file size while preserving all the benefits of a raw post workflow. Read More
The third part of the Creating Depth series is mostly about light and color, and how they impact depth perception. There is also a section on camera and subject placement and how to maximize available space as a mean to increase image depth. Read More
The second part of the Creating Depth series is about perspective. While people usually think linear perspective when they read perspective, I will also put tonal and color perspective here. All these are concerned with perceptual properties changing with distance from the viewer, and they happen to provide major depth cues in an image. This article also explores the relationship between lenses and space representation. Read More
Depth perception is a basic ability of human vision. It is through depth that we judge distances and spatial relations. But depth is inherently a three-dimensional concept. So capturing the three-dimensional world as a two-dimensional image presents challenges when striving to preserve depth. These challenges are mostly related to the fact that, unlike the real world, two-dimensional images lack stereo cues, and stereo vision is a major component of the mechanics of depth perception. This is one limitation that 3D cinema tries to overcome. This article is about 2D images though, and the ways to exploit stereo unrelated (monocular) cues to suggest depth. Read More
Color processing was used with film even before the adoption of color film. Hand painted animation or monochromatic dyed prints were common more than a century ago. The art of color timing came to prominence with color film though. Timing, itself, related to the duration of the various chemical baths. Chemistry was later mostly replaced by colored printing lights and color manipulation usually happened during intermediate printing. Then digital intermediate came and changed cinematography significantly. Read more
Choosing lenses for video can be a difficult task. If you haven’t shot much before (either photos, or video) you will likely have problems identifying the appropriate focal lengths and maximum apertures, let alone actual lenses. The best way to get over this phase is to shoot some – preferably with a zoom lens to get acquainted with various focal lengths and what they have to offer. This article doesn’t touch the subject of focal length selection, which is largely a creative decision. Instead, it offers some considerations related to the use of still photo lenses for video work. It is centered on HDDSLRs and large sensor video cameras with photo mounts. Read More
Film grain is possibly the single most differentiating factor of film images when compared to digital images (in both stills and video). It is also the first characteristic of the film look the average viewer would pick if they had to point their finger. This part of the cinematic look series explores some of the properties of film grain and how film grain relates to image perception. We also talk a bit about digital sensor noise, which is the closest perceptual relative of film grain in the digital video world. Read More
The first part of this exposure tools overview article introduced the topic and covered histogram, zebras and waveform monitor. We are now continuing the summary with a few more tools: false color, spot displays, external light meters. Familiarity with all these instruments is a prerequisite for good technical understanding and creative handling of various exposure tasks. Read more
On the formal level, exposure is the amount of light that reaches the image-capturing medium. It is determined by the sensitivity of the medium, the illuminance at the image plane and the exposure time. Setting exposure is one of the most important artistic decisions and probably the most important technical decision for a shot because it governs the distribution of tones in the image. With film, exposure choice requires good knowledge of the available exposure latitude and the dynamic range distribution of the emulsion. Light levels are measured with a light meter and the exposure can be further adjusted for optimal tonality based on properties like scene mood, vision or simply personal preferences. Read more
Light – Science & Magic by Fil Hunter, Steven Biver and Paul Fuqua is probably the most important book on lighting that you will ever read. Moreover, if you only ever read one book on lighting, make it this one. This is, indeed, a rather bold statement. In fact, some readers who are new to shooting images may actually be puzzled by this praise once they read the actual book. The information there can be fully appreciated after you’ve fought a bit with real-world lighting problems.
Traditionally, cine lenses have been color matched. Careful selection of glass and coatings results in consistent color and images that intercut flawlessly after the film is processed and edited together. Consistent color is one of the many features of cine lens sets. Among the others are T-stop markings, matching barrel size, fixed front diameter, smooth aperture, consistent focus and aperture ring sizes, consistent out of focus rendering, consistent contrast, etc. Lots of consistency there. No similar consistency is expected from photographic lenses. Read More
Images are all about light. Light is captured, transferred through the various storage and processing stages of the workflow and finally reproduced for viewing. The adventures of scene light on its way to the viewer of the final images have some implications for the cinematic look. More precisely, this article is about the dynamic range of the image capturing medium. The differences in the dynamic range of film and digital camera sensors are explained. We also get to talk a bit about transfer curves and gamma. Read More
Michael Freeman is a popular author amongst photographers. He has written a myriad of books on photography related topics: lighting, exposure, composition, etc. As the title implies, The Photographer’s Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos is concerned with the subject of composition. This is a vast subject. Composition encompasses everything involved in the graphic (or visual) representation of the scene in the image. And everything means everything.
In the first part of this series we addressed some of the cinematic properties, which follow from the size and proportions of the capturing frame, be it film or digital. This second article is concerned with the temporal aspects of the cinematic look. More precisely, the characteristics of the image following from specific frame rate and shutter speed choices. For decades these characteristics have been almost unchanging, with deviations only used for special effects. This constancy has made them perhaps the most defining features of the cinematic look. Read More
In my previous article I argued that high frame rates are good for 3D. This was based on both philosophical grounds and on reasons connected to ease of perception when watching 3D. But there is another side to the debate, and I have unintentionally alluded to it with arguing that 3D is as a step towards realism. So lets have a go at the idea of shooting at a specific frame rate as an artistic choice. Read More
The screening of 48 fps footage from The Hobbit at CinemaCon has certainly divided the opinions in the movie industry and amongst film fans. We have been conditioned for decades to expect and appreciate the jerky and motion blurred look of 24 fps cinema. This new 48 fps fluid and crisp look is uncomfortable and unappealing. It is not cinematic. It reminds of cheap vintage television shows.
But 48 fps actually comes with benefits. Well, for 3D at least. Read More
When Technicolor released the CineStyle picture profile last year it immediately became a hit amongst Canon DSLR videographers. After all, this is Technicolor. These folks have extensive experience in color science, image processing and digital intermediate. So after this introduction the following may come as a surprise to you. The thing is, unless you know exactly why you are using CineStyle, then chances are you will get better results by not using it. This article talks about dynamic range and picture styles, and attempts to explain the Why’s behind the previous statement. Also, we are focused here on Canon picture styles but the principles apply to any DSLR or video camera with 8-bit video. Read More
If you ask budding cinematographers what are the ways to contribute visually to the story, many will mention lighting and framing. And maybe even lens choice for perspective and dynamics control. It may not be immediately obvious, but so does the choice of a suitable aspect ratio. The aspect ratio commands the geometrical shape of the picture and thus defines the base for in-frame composition. This makes it one of the important choices for any video production, be it a feature, a short, an ad, or a music video. In the age of digital image acquisition and digital intermediate it is much easier to be independent from the capture medium in aspect ratio choice. This is even more true in the context of digital content distribution online. And there are artistic reasons for a specific aspect ratio choice even more than there are technical reasons.
A painting or a photo captures a moment. The moment may convey a story, or it may just freeze a beautiful scene. But no matter how good the picture is from a technical point of view, it is the composition that binds the components together. So the study of composition is concerned with the arrangement of the picture elements within the frame.
But how important is composition in video, and what does a book about painting composition has to do with video? A video shot is really just a superset of still pictures. Video adds another dimension to still frames: time; but in essence video is just a sequence of frames. So it is important to be familiar with pictorial composition. Camera and/or subject movement or inherent subject interest can sometime mask crappy composition. But this masking is really just that: it won’t really hide bad composition, just delay its discovery. And in order to successfully tackle moving images a firm grasp over still composition is a requirement. Interestingly, paintings are often much more complex in terms of composition compared to cinema shots. This is because, generally, the eye has more time to explore a painting and appreciate the details.
With the advent of the digital SLR as a video capturing device in recent years there is a lot of raving on the internet about the “cinematic look” one can achieve with DSLRs. Cinematic look is often opposed to video look or TV look. On forums and blogs one can read both delusions and truth regarding this distinction. As is often the case with any hype – hype has the tendency to self-amplify – a lot of noise gets picked up and reiterated in such a discussion. This series of articles will attempt to examine in some detail the various characteristics of the cinematic look and then explore how they relate to the image of video capturing devices, including HDDSLRs. Hopefully, some myths will be cleared in the process. This first part in the series is focused on aspect ratios and sensor sizes and the closely related topic of depth of field.