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HD - It's Too / Soft - Too Sharp

Published : 28th July 2004


"Well there's a major difference between resolving a lot of information and looking sharp because edge transitions are pumped up".

Just in case anyone notices, I haven't posted on camera-specific questions lately; I guess I just got real tired of being a Sony hater with a vendetta of some sort. But Dale's very astute observation prompts me to risk a step back into that arena, because it is the nature of those edge transitions that have caused so much of the bad "rap" video has always had (prior to 24p), and still has in some cameras.

The nature, presence, and management of those unwanted, unnatural edges are some of our biggest challenges even in 24p, HD production. So let me tell you a short story. I spent the better part of my first 10 years in Los Angeles working mostly with Betacam camcorders doing sitcoms and documentaries. The sports guys who lurk here will extol the virtues of their favourite Japanese cameras to the skies because of the crisp, chromatic pictures they get, week in and week out; some of us call that the CBS football look, some say a very cartoonish look, in the eyes of most here on CML. Those of us who have done both know that the latter is the antithesis of our goal in the former and that finding ways to overcome the natural tendency of the (Japanese) cameras used there is the goal of every Hollywood V.C. and DIT. I'd like to think I did that very well.

One day about 15 years ago, I was invited to take a look at a European camera, a BTS LDK9. After twenty minutes with a camera and MCP (then with pretty limited, primitive set of controls) I was able to see a visible difference in the Horizontal and Vertical detail edges; more natural without the heavy ringing I had been used to. Then, upon closer inspection, I noticed that with detail (called Contours in these cameras) OFF, I actually could actually see images without any visible detail edges. The pumped up transition edges I had previously noted with the Japanese cameras turned out to be a combination of inappropriately designed Detail circuits and aliased resolution caused by inappropriate (for non-sports production) pre detail Aperture "Correction", really just filters that intentionally flatten the naturally non linear frequency response of the sensors by selectively reducing the unwanted peaks and adding "ringing" peaks to the measured response pattern of those sensors. All cameras use some form of Aperture, but different sensors (FIT, IT, and FT CCDs) require different degrees of "Correction". Bottom line, the LDK9 just looked more natural. That got my attention. I ended up taking a job with them and loved showing people just how great these cameras, and their subsequent successors, for almost 10 years. Then I left that job.

The other day, a well-meaning colleague here on CML, once again attributed, privately, that it is my "vendetta" for Sony that drives my comments about their relatively inferior Digital, Detail and Black processing here and elsewhere. While I have definitely experienced some decidedly poor and unhelpful attitude from past and present folks in that company AND other camera manufactures over the years (who hasn't?), it has been that initial epiphany, and ongoing success with the performance of and the look of the LDK cameras (for Hollywood AND for sports), not commercial or nationalistic politics (though I do, obviously, have separate views on those subjects), that drives my advocacy and cheerleading for the LDK look, especially when compared to the Japanese options.

I was able to minimize those Betacam/BVP effects (pumped up and bulbous edge transitions) well enough to keep a number of DP's and Producers happy over the years, but was never able to achieve the more natural, film-like contouring of the LDK cameras and never with the ease achievement with the latter. And this relative difference of performance continues even with the advent of Digital processing.

Witness the growing body of experience with Viper, with its superior (relatively more film-like) video and film-out performance.

GEORGE C. PALMER
HDPIX, INC.
HD and Digital Imaging
www.hdpix.com



>A favourite technique of mine that has worked really well on women who >err, need a little help, is mammoth over-exposure.

Do you just "print down" afterwards in telecine? Do you have to adjust the saturation or anything else when you do this? Just wondering how much overexposure is "mammoth".

Thanks.

Jason Rodriguez
Post Production Artist
Virginia Beach, VA



>A favourite technique of mine that has worked really well on women who >err, need a little help, is mammoth over-exposure.

Ditto - I shot a short for a friend and one of the actors was actually a writer/director doing him a favor as well. She was a little older and I used this same technique for her tights - she loved it and hired me to shoot all of her subsequent films...

Brent Reynolds
DP / Film maker / Esteem Booster
Tampa FL



Another option is to light her in such a way as to fill in the wrinkles.

1) Softer light :

a. Big Light close through double diffusion

2) Add additional light from below :

a. Bounce card
b. Additional small fixture (Preferably Soft also)
c. Merrill Oberon Light (Obie light) small onboard or direct
flat light intended to perform the same thing Geoff mentioned but just on the face does wonders for filling in the wrinkles regardless of the eyeline.

Keep this lights ratio just below the Key and it will dissolve into something much more pleasing than News ENG. (This is in addition to the otherwise "Normal" light set up you would use.)

And to help out with Geoff’s Technique of slight to blatant overexposure.

Turn DCC OFF and lift the Gamma a bit to say +20 This will help get there faster, and keep the Stop the same place.

Other techniques include :

Intentionally being just out of focus a Bit, and Cut away more often. Only show the talent the downconverted feed.

Have any of you ever tried to light Jacqueline Bisset

Its OK if you haven't she will tell you exactly how it should be done.

B. Sean Fairburn
Director of Photography
Castaic Ca



> Just wondering how much overexposure is "mammoth".

2.5 to 3 stops.

I was getting printer lights of 48, 49, 50 on the MF shoot.

And yes, you just crank the gain down on the TK.

It can get you in serious trouble with the Cintel's, you get what looks like grain but is in fact video noise.

And Sean is absolutely right about the lighting, only some people need the lighting AND the overexposure.

I was quite pleased with the tests that I did with Viper with a little overexposure and then a gentle grade in TK.

Cheers

Geoff Boyle FBKS
Director of Photography
EU Based
www.cinematography.net



I just shot a feature with an older leading actress in HD; besides turning off the detail, I used a #1 Soft-FX for her close-ups.

I do find that even with detail turned off, something about the "edginess" of HD can be less flattering on older women. A little more diffusion and careful lighting will usually solve the problem -- plus if you plan on transferring to 35mm, the film-out acts like one more filtering step, compared to how the image looks on a big HD monitor.

Actually, an odder problem I've been having with HD is that some actors look "sweatier" and require more powder than you would with film. I had one young actress who hated wearing much make-up but we had to show her how shiny she looked on HD to convince her to let us use some powder.

I will say that sometimes I like the "clean" look of HD in terms of how faces look, so it's not all negative. Film is more forgiving though of problematic skin. But I had one young black actress on "D.E.B.S" that the HD camera really loved.

David Mullen ASC
Cinematographer / L.A.



George C. Palmer wrote :

>I was able to minimize those Betacam/BVP effects (pumped up and >bulbous edge transitions) well enough to keep a number of DP's and >Producers happy over the years, but was never able to achieve the >more natural, film-like contouring of the LDK cameras and never with >the ease achievement with the latter.

Having owned couple of LDK series cameras, (91's if I recall ) I had the benefit of seeing day to day what George talks about. The cameras got donated to Hampshire college when my partner & I split up and today they are a little dated in physical design and light sensitivity. But even today with all the choices of SD cameras out there that these LDK would still shine in terms of image quality compared to the rest of the interlace word.

The manufacturer really got the detail 'right' so that you didn't feel like they were relying on it at all for picture sharpness, something that S___ has not figured out to this day.

Mark Smith
Oh Seven Films
143 Grand St
Jersey City, NJ 07302



>women who err, need a little help,

>Margaret Thatcher, Liza Minelli, Joan Collins and Marianne Faithful.


What a staggeringly challenging list...

But the thought of Geoff Boyle offering Margaret Thatcher - err, a little help, is deeply troubling...

Dominic Case
Atlab Australia



Geoff reveals :

>A favourite technique of mine that has worked really well on women who >err, need a little help, is mammoth over-exposure.

Geoff has hit upon one of the oldest tricks in the business.

Just pick up a copy of Cosmopolitan Magazine and you will see this very technique being used on every cover.

When you overexpose you loose detail and wrinkles (Did I say that?) get lost in the lost detail.

It doesn't take much testing to find the right exposure to... enhance the beauty of women who has gathered a bit of years.

This technique works well for both film and tape!

But you better have a damn good monitor because once the picture is overexposed, there is no bringing it back...if it ain't there, if ain't there!

Allen S. Facemire
DP/Director
SaltRun Productions,inc.
Atlanta



Alan Facemire writes :

>This technique works well for both film and tape!

>But you better have a damn good monitor because once the picture is >overexposed, there is no bringing it back...if it ain't there, if ain't there!


But on negative, it is there.

Brian Heller
IA 600 DP



Allen S. Facemire wrote :

>But you better have a damn good monitor because once the picture is >overexposed, there is no bringing it back...if it ain't there, if ain't there!

But I'd guess that, with a raw recording (like Viper) you'd be able to do this in post, if you've got enough dynamic range...

Jeff "lone dynamic ranger" Kreines



Dominic Case comments :

>But the thought of Geoff Boyle offering Margaret Thatcher - err, a little >help, is deeply troubling...

Hell! I'm for hire!

I've shot for all the UK political parties at one time or another, over 30 political commercials, most of them for Labour or the Lib/Dems, only a few for the Conservatives.

Mrs T was actually the most reasonable and helpful politician that I've worked with, all the rest knew better than I did how they should be shot, well some of them should have been.

One of them, a senior government minister at the time, one who was very interested in photography and has since had a book on photography published, tried to get me fired because of my attitude.

He was hassling me about the time I was taking to light him, "it doesn't take this long at the BBC" my reply of "do you want to look as bad as you do on the BBC" had him storming out.

His party lost the election.

Cheers

Geoff Boyle FBKS
Director of Photography
EU Based



Brian Heller writes :

> But on negative, it is there.

And you can really use the shoulder compression to help.

This is of course becoming more and more difficult as the shoulder moves ever higher.

Cheers

Geoff Boyle FBKS
Director of Photography
EU Based



>A favourite technique of mine that has worked really well on women who >err, need a little help, is mammoth over-exposure.

How do you do that in HD? I've seen Varicam footage of overexposed skin tones and that camera seems to handle them remarkably well, but I've had a lot of trouble with the F900 clipping skin tones way too soon.

I often like to let faces "pop" a little brighter and Sony cameras just don't seem to like that.

Art Adams, DP [film|hdtv|sdtv]
Mountain View, California - "Silicon Valley"



Art Adams writes :

> How do you do that in HD?

I've had it work with the Viper, nothing like as much as film of course but a little hotter than normal and it looked good.

If I can find the frames I'll post them to the website.

Cheers

Geoff Boyle FBKS
Director of Photography
EU Based



Geoff Boyle writes :

> If I can find the frames I'll post them to the website.

I knew that there was a reason I hadn't posted them.

The ones I have were grabbed automatically from the first 10 frames of every sequence from a Directors Friend.

Unfortunately the err, intellectually challenged person who did the grabs didn't notice that on most of the takes the face was obscured by the slate during the first few frames of every take.

Cheers

Geoff Boyle FBKS
Director of Photography
EU Based