More on video and a real post-mortem on shooting with the 7D

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, December 29, 2009, 9:58 PM | comments: 0

Last night I did my first real attempt at color grading and fixing stuff as shot by the Canon 7D in a "flat" color and adjustment profile. (This video shows how to do it, and why you should.) The results, which I wouldn't say I'm proud of, are embedded below. For everything that was wrong with what I shot, there were certainly lessons learned.

First, with regard to image quality, I'm fairly blown away. The amount of detail being captured is pretty stunning overall, and with the high video bit rate around 46 mbits for 1080p24, H.264 is surprisingly gentle. There really is a lot to work with there.

I did learn that there are some issues in certain circumstances though. The stuff I shot of the Christmas light show looks a little strange because the resolution falls apart with a bunch of tiny lights. This is apparently because the camera does not take the full 18 million pixels of the image and resize it on the fly (which probably makes sense given the computation that would be required), but rather samples a few lines here and there. So when you freehand the camera shooting those lights, they tend to wander between the lines, causing them flicker strangely.

Exposure is naturally the most challenging thing about using the camera for video, and because you want to get it right, you pretty much go full manual. The camera has three presets on the mode dial, which is awesome because they literally record the entire state of the camera, including the mode. I have all three set to manual, starting at 1/50th (because it's close to the 180-degree 1/48th of film cameras), f/4 (wide open on the 24-105 f/4L IS), flat color and processing settings. The only difference is that I have them set to do ISO 400, 800 and auto.

Those are not the settings I had while running around Disney World though. I was always eyeballing it and adjusting the ISO on the fly. Because I'm used to traditional video cameras where the iris is adjusting constantly (since you could care less about depth of field), this didn't work out at all. I'd go from one thing to another and get blown out highlights, especially the sky. What I am trained to see is a zebra pattern in the viewfinder for overexposure, but Canon hasn't implemented this in the DSLR's with video.

Auto ISO, when I did try it, seemed to work pretty well outside. In bright sun, however, if I want to be using that wide-open aperture, I'll need a neutral density filter for sure. Naturally if I'm shooting locked down and staged things (i.e., a movie), I can stick to manual. I used the 800 in the dark situations, and I got mixed results. I think it's usable enough that it doesn't look any worse than a lot of film shot in dark situations, but obviously if you can control the light, that's better. You can't use auto in dark situations because if it goes up to higher ISO's it's too noisy to use.

There were a few situations where the camera's auto white balancing just shot the weirdest shit. For example, the skin tone of the kid using the "Kimmunicator" in the Japan store was bright orange and it all looked horrible. While it isn't great (because coloring is still new to me), it does at least resemble something approaching real life. And the stuff for Candlelight Processional was really, really bad because of the theatrical lighting. Don't even get me started about the pink lighting in Restaurant Marrakesh.

I got some stuff exposed that I was really happy with too. The explosion finale from the stunt driving show is just awesome. I also like the look of the shot of Off Kilter playing. The bass player is just out of focus and the bagpiper really pops in the scene. These happy accidents make me see the potential, and with practice I suspect it'll get better.

Holding an SLR out in front of you with a heavy lens sucks. There's not much else to say about it. If my 24-105 didn't have the image stabilization, everything I shot would've been a disaster. I tried the 50mm f/1.4 at Cedar Point and most of it was terrible. A shoulder rig and loupe for the LCD to make a viewfinder is something I'll need if I'm serious. The upside is that I can easily get a matte box to use with it too, and mount virtually anything else to it. The rig I really like also has a follow focus, which is yet one less thing I'd need for movie shooting.

The audio is pretty bad. That's not really a slam on the camera, because the microphones are really for decoration on virtually every camera, including consumer camcorders. I don't understand why it's such an afterthought. The plan is to get one of the little Beachtek boxes to slap on/under/near it so I can use my baby shotgun, which I've absolutely loved on the HVX200.

So it's clear that I need more practice and some additional gear if I intend to get serious about making really sweet non-still stuff with the 7D. I'd love to make more use of the 50mm, but without some shoulder stabilization and a follow focus it would be extraordinarily hard. Regardless, I'm starting to "get" the camera when it comes to video. Watching Bloom's stuff, I have something to shoot for.


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