Digital Film: Cleaning Up 8-Bit Footage

I shoot with the Sony a7S II, and I’m really happy with the images it produces. Unfortunately, it’s also limited by a codec which restricts it to 8-bit, low data rate video capture. In the real world, this manifests as digital artifacts that reduce the resolution of your footage and make it harder to color grade. I use the process below to clean up my footage before editing, but I’d recommend this workflow for any 8-bit video or footage with visible noise.

Denoise

Digital noise is one of the biggest obstacles to high-quality video. Whereas analog noise can be aesthetically pleasing, digital noise looks cheap and pixelated. It’s a combination of the noise of your camera sensor (created by amplifying light, more prevalent at higher ISO values) and the artifacts created by the codec (created by compression, more prevalent at low data rates). A high-quality denoiser can make a world of difference on your footage; I’m using Neat Video, and I’ve been really impressed by its capabilities. Here’s a dramatic example (click here for full-size):

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Digital Film: Understanding Codecs

Codecs are one of the last things I wrapped my head around when I got into video; it’s not exactly an engaging subject, and all the technical terms can be overwhelming. But depending on the camera, your codec can be a real limiting factor. Overall, I’m really happy with my a7S II’s. The full-frame sensor, lens system, dynamic range, and overall image quality are incredible. But no system’s perfect, and the weakest point of the a7SII the codec. So let’s figure out how to work with it.

To put it simply, a codec is a file format. There’s a DVD codec, a Blu-Ray codec, a YouTube codec; all the media you watch has been encoded into a format that fits the playback system. Consumer codecs are fairly standardized, but when you’re on the professional side, there are a huge range of options to choose from (hence the confusion). Luckily, despite the vast number of individual codecs out there, the principles are pretty simple. Frame rate (frames per second) and resolution (number of pixels) are easy to understand, and both are set by the camera before you press record. The main factors controlled by the codec are bit rate and bit depth.

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