Friday, November 12, 2010

Step by Step : Shooting Video with the DSLR

Picture Profiles

This is the 2nd in a series of posts aimed to help still photographers produce better videos with their DSLRs.

The H.264 video files coming out of our DSLRs are very similar in many ways to the old Kodachrome 25 transparency film. The crisp, well saturated images look incredibly beautiful if your exposure was spot on. If not, it showed. You had to nail the exposure. The DSLR video files are similar.

Since there is no RAW shooting capability with DSLR video, we are stuck with a compressed image that needs a little help. That's where picture profiles come into play. You need to set up your camera to record as much dynamic range as possible, giving you a low-contrast, low saturation "digital negative" that gives you flexibility for grading in your favorite editing application.

Here's how you do it. Again, the following steps are for the Canon DSLRs, but look for similar controls in other cameras.

Go into you picture profiles menu and create a neutral profile. You want to turn the sharpness and contrast all the way down, the saturation dialed two notches down and leave the color tone in it's default middle position.

Your settings should look like this (from a Canon 5D Mark II) :

What this does is give you more shadow detail and helps prevent blocked highlights. You now get 2 stops more latitude to play with. It's closer to a raw image with a linear tone curve. And by dialing the sharpness all the way down, you eliminate that sometimes too sharp "video" look and, it helps reduce moire, one of the dreaded effects of DSLR video.

Now that you've done these adjustments to your video clips, you're not finished. In post production, you will bring the contrast, saturation and sharpness back, but with much more control.

Just to show you what the adjusted picture profile will look like, here are 2 screen grabs of video shot with the standard (default) picture profile on top and the adjusted profile on the bottom. Click on the image for a better look. As you can see, the contrast, saturation and sharpness is down and it looks pretty horrible however with this adjustment, you now have the dynamic range to produce a beautiful image. Do not however use this profile for still photos. Instead, set your camera to raw.

BTW, I thought I'd share this funny somewhat related post by Philip Bloom, a very talented filmmaker, prolific blogger and all around nice guy. Philip is one of the pioneers of DSLR video and has been blogging about them ever since.

As an April Fools Day joke to the readers of his popular blog, Philip wrote about a new firmware update Canon just released offering raw video for the 5D. This was huge news if it were only true and many of Philip's readers fell for the joke, thinking the firmware update was for real. I know I did until I read : "Also it appears if you install the firmware on any of the Nikon DSLRs it runs a Canon emulation mode." Anyway, for a great laugh, read it here, and check out his readers comments.

And while you're at it, check out Philip's tutorials and short films. You'll learn and be amazed!


  1. I'm desperately searching for an answer to one question. Which is the best way to bring up the sharpness in post? I use FCP and Colorista, any of those good enough?

  2. I usually avoid sharpening altogether, because it exacerbates aliasing artifacts and I prefer the softer, more film-like results I get with the sharpness turned all the way down in camera.

    But if I was to sharpen, I would do it in camera, where the sharpening can be applied to the 14-bit raw image, instead of in post where all I have is the 8-bit compressed image to work with. Doing that will exacerbate the compression artifacts plus the aliasing.

    For footage you've already shot, you can try the Unsharp Mask in Final Cut which is similar to the one in Photoshop. Be very careful with it however as it's a powerful tool.

    Go to Effects > Video Filters > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask and try settings of: Amount = 75, Radius =0.5, and Threshold = 0. Start there and play with the settings if you want more of a sharpening effect.

    Also look in your FCP Color application - there is a sharpen feature in the FX Room although I have never tried it.