Monday, March 16, 2015

Big Sur - The Drive North

Recently, I traveled up to Big Sur and Caramel along the California coast.  Despite being a native Californian, there are still so many places in this gigantic state that I have not yet seen.  I also recently acquired a Sony A7S DSLR that I have been anxious to put through its paces. This footage was captured during the drive north along the coast.

Along with the camera I have a Sony Zeiss 24-70mm F4 zoom lens.  Because most of the footage I'm testing is shot in the S Log setting to get maximum latitude, the minimum ISO available is 3200(!)  So I always had a variable ND filter attached to the end of the lens in order to expose properly during the daytime.

I have also recently updated my Mac Pro to one of the newer models, which included a new version of Final Cut X, a program I have been avoiding since the death of FCP7 a trillion years ago.  So this footage also represents my first attempt to use FCPX and get familiar with the UI.  I  believe I was able to edit the footage in its native codec (XAVC-S at 50mb).

After a quick assembly edit, I was able to generate an XML which I sent to Davinci for color timing, another program I was interested in learning my way around.  One of the great things about this workflow is that the footage is still in its native format when it is color timed, so there is a lot of information to work with, especially when the footage is shot in the S Log and S Gamma settings.  I may try to also upload a quick video in the future that shows the dramatic difference between the raw image and the color timed versions.  The difference is so great that you actually need to develop an eye for what the final look would be since the viewfinder image is often gray and lifeless.

Once color timing was finished, I exported the footage back to FCPX, which converts the video codec to prores 422 HQ.  I'll have to see in the future if there is a way to get the footage back into FCP in the original codec, and if that does a better job of maintaining the integrity of the image.  It may not.  To my eye there is no difference between the two that isn't hidden in the drastically different color timing, but it may effect the final post effects that I laid in.

Before export, I experimented with the FCP motion stabilization effects.  All this footage was shot on the fly without the benefit of a tripod or hand held rig.  Despite the lens having optical image stabilization, the footage was a bit too jerky, revealing the main difference between shooting handheld with a large video camera and a small DSLR.  With the stabilization, the handheld motion was made much smoother, but I didn't attempt to completely lock down the shot as if it were on a tripod.  As a result the image is only zoomed in ever so slightly, but it is therefore not a true 1:1 resolution with the original footage (1920x1080), yielding a slightly blurrier image.  In the future, with a camera add-on, I can shoot in 4K and stabilize that way so I don't lose resolution.

The lost resolution didn't really seem to blur the image in any meaningful way, but I still decided to test out a film grain/noise filter on the final video in order to make the image appear sharper, since the grain will be rendered at 1080p.  The grain also helps get rid of banding, which makes gradients like the ones in the sky during the sunset shots look smoother.  A negative side effect seems to be excess noise in the darkest areas of the frame.  So you can see in certain shots, like the sunset with the dark mountainside in the foreground, the dark areas are very noisy.  Because all the footage in the video is shot at the minimum 3200 ISO there is actually very little to no noise in any of the raw footage.  In the future I would like to find a better film grain solution that doesn't effect the dark areas so poorly.

So that's it for the geek speak.  Enjoy the video and feel free to ask any questions in the comments.  I'm going to try to upload a new video once a week until I'm finished, so stay tuned!

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