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 and smooth out 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 getting high-quality video. Whereas analog/film noise is more aesthetically pleasing (sometimes even sought after), digital noise looks cheap and pixelated. It’s a combination between 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; they’re not exactly an engaging subject, and all the technical terms you run into can be overwhelming. But as a Sony shooter it quickly became apparent that I needed to dive in and figure this out before it became a real limiting factor. I should preface this by saying that overall, I’m really happy with my a7S II’s. The full-frame sensor, lens system, dynamic range, and overall image quality have me sold. But no system’s perfect, and the weak point of Sony cameras has always been 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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Editing Video: Resolve 14 vs. Premiere Pro CC

resolve

I’ve been using Adobe Premiere since I first started editing nearly ten years ago, and while it’s been gaining momentum as a professional editor, I’d always been curious about Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve. With version 14 hot off the presses, I thought I’d dive in, give it a spin and see if it could replace Premiere as my go-to NLE. After 12 hours (straight), here are my thoughts:
Editing
Premiere

Your ability to edit depends more on your familiarity with the NLE than the software itself, and as it’s a pretty standardized process, you won’t find major differences between programs. With both Premiere & Resolve, I was able to cut together a multicam within an hour or so of messing around; no need to open up a manual. But if you go beyond basic edits, Premiere shows its pedigree; its tools are more refined and offer more options for power users.

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