Come on, feel the video noize

When I was a kid—you know, back in the day—my parents had an 8-mm movie camera. Not Super 8, mind you. Just regular ol’ 8. Thus consigning me to a life in which I did not create Alias, Lost, or direct Star Trek. On the plus side, I also didn’t create Felicity, so there’s that. The 8-mm camera shot on 25-foot rolls of film just to confuse the metrically challenged among us even more. Each reel lasted about three minutes, although you could always squeeze a few extra frames of hijinks onto the tail end. My dad almost exclusively shot outside, as the tri-bulb Light of Ra needed to expose the film properly indoors only made "the talent" scurry for cover like Nosferatu.

Once developed, these 8-mm films—or shorts if you’re a hipster doofus—were just a knee-slappin’ hoot to watch projected on our living room wall. Compared to today’s home theater gear, I estimate the project pumped out a cool 18 lumens. And I do mean cool, as a 19-lumen light bulb would’ve caused spontaneous celluloid combustion and loss of my brother’s Backwards is Beautiful Cub Scout film. I was going to explain what it was about, but I suspect your own interpretations are funnier. But for all these films lacked—sound, color fidelity, non-linear editing systems, Chewbacca—they did avoid one thing that has become a bit of a bane to the modern digital camcorder: video noise.

Now, film itself is rarely crystal-clear and free from visual defects—a post-Under Siege Steven Seagal bloatedly springs to mind. But film’s version of noise is called grain. Even at its most egregious, film grain comes off as artsy. Video noise is just, you guessed it, fartsy. Video noise is the result of a couple of things: high ISO settings combined with sensors that can’t really handle said settings, and compression artifacts. Do things just wrong, and you can end up with a shot that looks like a 4-bit animated GIF, only without the funny hamsters.

While technology continues to wage war against video noise (my new Panasonic DMC-GH2 is light-years ahead of my old Panny DVX-100a), the laws of photographic physics still apply, and getting a nicely exposed shot with a minimum of funk can still be challenging. Especially when shooting on auto mode, which most consumers undoubtedly do.

Until very recently, I had be using a Canon Vixia HF200 camcorder to film my offspring’s most precious screamings. The HF200 was pretty swanky when I acquired it just before our youngest was born in November 2009. It shot 1080p at 24 FPS (my preferred frame rate) onto SD cards. No more digitizing MiniDV tapes from the DVX or Canon HV-20. Just copy the files and, um, wait for VoltaicHD to transcode the AVCHD into ProRes. But, like all cameras, the HF200 preferred more light to less, which was hard to achieve at 6 AM Christmas morning without disrupting the holiday vibe. Noise still ensued.

Grr. Arrg.

Now, most people would just live with the noise, cut their little video piece together for grandma and call it a day. These people are onto something. I, however, am just on something. The search for a good noise reduction plug-in for Final Cut Pro began. And by "good" I mean "good and cheapish." It’s easy to throw pro bucks at pro solutions. I may have Final Cut Studio, but I’m not exactly Thelma Schoonmaker over here. I needed to make some very noisy shots only mildly obnoxious and do so on a budget.

And then I found Neat Video—a company with a noise reduction plug-in as awesome as their website is not (hello, 1996!). Technically, Neat Video uses a lot of math and CPU cycles to make your shots look like you almost know what you’re doing if the poor composition and lack of a compelling narrative didn’t give you away. The plug-in is incredibly easy to use. There’s a lot of tweaking you can do, but for once, the auto setting usually works just as well as anything you can figure out. You do need to do it on a clip-by-clip basis as Neat Video literally samples the noise in each shot to build a map of grunge to nuke.

Granted, I did have to pop for the Pro version, which costs $99. Considering even cell phones shoot in HD now, I’m not sure who’s going to buy the 720p-and-under Home version. But having used it for almost a year now, I must say it was a worthwhile investment. Which is more than I can say for my three shares of Zynga stock.

To illustrate the niftiness of Neat Video, I’ve uploaded a truly horrific (noise-wise) clip of my son Simon from late 2010. His mom (my wife, Megan Fox) was tickling him before putting him down for a nap. The room was dark, with only two, dimmed 40-watt bulbs on overhead. The HF200 obviously cranked up the ISO as high as possible and let the noise fall where it may. The processed video isn’t perfect, but it is highly usable. To see more shots, you can watch and cry and awwww over our 2010 family video, which has Neat Video applied to every shot. Watch them full-screen to see the effects better.

I’ve just started editing the Fox Family 2011 Year-in-Review saga. And I’ll be slapping Neat Video on every shot in it, as well. For 2012, I’ve upgraded to the previously referenced Panasonic DMC-GH2, which somehow makes its noise feel a bit more like film grain. I’ve already passed a couple of clips from it through Neat Video, and it looks even better, as one would hope.

So, if you shoot stuff that you actually want to show other people, give Neat Video a look. I can’t promise it’ll turn you into the next J.J. Abrams. But you will probably end up better than the guy who directed this.

Later,

Fox

Comments closed
    • alloyD
    • 8 years ago

    Nice Mutant Enemy reference in there…

    • Sargent Duck
    • 8 years ago

    Just an observation, but metric isn’t that hard. If you can move a decimal to the right or to the left, you’ve just mastered it

      • Corrado
      • 8 years ago

      Its hard when its 8mm, but the reels are 25 feet (not 10 meters, or whatever the equivalent would be). That was his point.

      • Stargazer
      • 8 years ago

      Your right or my right?

    • Lianna
    • 8 years ago

    Getting 12/2.0, 20/1.7 or 45/1.8 lens (in any combination, depending on preferences, or even 25/0.95 if you’re into manual) may lessen the noise an order of magnitude on your GH2. Even if none of them comes close to 99$, some of them are quite affordable, and in available light the kit lens vs. them may feel like night and day… literally, and that’s whether you use any noise-removing plugin or not.

    • Palek
    • 8 years ago

    [quote<]I can't promise it'll turn you into the next J.J. Abrams.[/quote<] Yeah, you need a lens flare plug-in for that. 😉

    • Namarrgon
    • 8 years ago

    I used to have a Canon HF100; slightly worse than the HF200 for low-light noise. Sold it and my stills camera, and got a Panasonic Lumix GH1 to fill both roles. It’s a little larger than the HF100, but the *much* larger sensor really helps with low-light video, especially when combined with a fast lens.

    Also, dammit, why do people persist in liking 24fps? We want 16Mpix stills and FullHD or 4K video, yet we prefer, nay, *demand* that video be shot at the same pathetic temporal resolution we’ve been stuck with for 90 years!

    “Cinematic”, my posterior. It’s pure nostalgic association, nothing more. Down with massive motionblur, I say. We deserve better than juddery, smeary video. Fine, drop a scene or two back to 24fps for artistic effect if you like, but spare us from shooting *everything* that way – it’s like slapping a vaseline filter over your whole movie. Just don’t.

    Thank $DEITY that Jackson et al are shooting The Hobbit at a more sensible rate of 48fps. Then maybe directors will get past their nostalgia and see how immersive cinema can *really* be.

      • Thrashdog
      • 8 years ago

      I know all of the reasons why 30 or 60fps are better than old-fashioned 24fps, but when I see something ostensibly cinematic that’s shot in anything else it set my teeth on edge for some reason. That preference for low framerates in cinema is ingrained *deep.* We’ll see if the Hobbit can convert me, or if it just weirds me the heck out.

        • Namarrgon
        • 8 years ago

        I know way too many (small-time) directors who agree with you, and many vfx artists who don’t. Be an interesting experiment to see if younger audiences are more open-minded.

    • cheapFreeAgent
    • 8 years ago

    Cute. I may have the hardest day but to hear a baby laughing is like me taking a “Potion of Restore Stamina”.
    To hear a baby crying loud, is the opposite. 😀

    • Peldor
    • 8 years ago

    You get paid by the word dontcha?

    • Deanjo
    • 8 years ago

    And most importantly, it supports CUDA.

      • flip-mode
      • 8 years ago

      Cuda = most important. Results = secondary. Yay fanboys.

        • Deanjo
        • 8 years ago

        If you ever tried to do this type of filtering with just a CPU you would know why Cuda support is a HUGE plus.

        • Corrado
        • 8 years ago

        I’m about as ANTI-nVidia as it gets, and I have to admit that CUDA is pretty sweet if the program is written properly to use it. Video transcoding on an x6 1099 took about 20 minutes per hour of footage, using CUDA on a GTX460 it was about 8 minutes.

          • Voldenuit
          • 8 years ago

          Did you read the encoding shootout on Anandtech a couple months ago? CUDA encoding had more artefacts than the x86, quicksync or radeon paths. I was seriously considering an nvidia card for CUDA acceleration in Premiere, but the Anandtech article convinced me that the technology was still not ready, and went with an ATI card instead. I’m still using x86 right now on my AII X4, as the hardware encoding is not as configurable as I would like (shooting 1080p on my hacked GF1 with custom GOP settings). I hear that GCN is more configurable, hopefully Kepler and its derivatives will follow suit.

            • Deanjo
            • 8 years ago

            [quote<]Did you read the encoding shootout on Anandtech a couple months ago? [/quote<] Did you know that encoding isn't the same as filtering and is an entirely different subject?

            • Voldenuit
            • 8 years ago

            No confusion. Corrado was talking about transcoding. The [url=http://www.anandtech.com/show/4083/the-sandy-bridge-review-intel-core-i7-2600k-i5-2500k-core-i3-2100-tested/9<]Anandtech article[/url<] was talking about transcoding. And I mentioned encoding, which is a more general purpose term that encompasses transcoding. I did mention filtering acceleration in Premiere (things like color keying and color correction), but they were in addition to the encoding capabilities of nvidia GPUs, not lumped into the same category. It was the shortcomings in nvidia's encoding hardware that made me decide it wasn't worth the hardware filtering capabilities they would bring me in Premiere (which would have meant paying more money to upgrade my software version). So I got an AMD card instead (not for the encoding features, but just because the price was right for the time). And waited. I'm still waiting for GPGPU hardware and software to mature to meet my needs (and budget).

    • Forge
    • 8 years ago

    You pay money for noise reduction?? Just do rough edits in FCS, do the NR in final render, with a halfway decent encoding setup.

    • GasBandit
    • 8 years ago

    That sounds like fun times… shootin’ movies… meetin’ chicks… hanging out with your buddy, “Machine.”

    • Dposcorp
    • 8 years ago

    Ahhhhh, low light…….from hell’s heart I stab at thee.

    I am still looking for a better then average superzoom digicam that can do good 720P and low light.

    I am tired of carrying multiple devices.

      • cynan
      • 8 years ago

      Well then here’s one more devices to add to your back of tricks.

      The Sony NEX-5N.

      Perhaps the best consumer camera for low light video that I know of, at least for the money at about $700 with a kit zoom lens. It does 720p, 1080p (@24, 30 and 60 fps to boot). It has an APSC 16 MP sensor that is fantastic in low light. Manual on the fly controls of almost everything (including aperture and shutter speed) make for some pretty neat artistic possibilities.

      Now for the huge, giant catch: It’s not a digicam. It’s part of Sony’s new lineup of interchangeable lens, mirrorless consumer cameras (they also have a NEX-VG10E digicam that takes the same interchageable lenses, but it’s $2000, and probably not even as good in low light due it haven an older version of the sensor in the NEX-5n). It doesn’t even come with a viewfinder (though one is available as an option) and the shooting ergonomics (or lack thereof due to it’s almost point-and-shoot form factor) might be impossible to manage.

      However, in low light situations where your normal $1000 or less digicam craps out and you really need a shot, it could be invaluable. As a bonus, you get a fairly nice consumer level still camera.

        • Voldenuit
        • 8 years ago

        The Panasonic GH2 is a better video camera than the NEX 5N. It has better detail retention, less noise, and even better low light video (despite the NEX handily thrashing the GH2 in high ISO stills capture). Just check out the comparison videos at EosHD.com. Best of all, it has over two dozen native lenses, compared to the handful of lenses the NEX has in E mount (although to be fair, many of these lenses are replicated between Olympus and Panasonic). However, it has many excellent fast (in terms of aperture) autofocus lenses that are simply not available on E mount – the 12/2, 14/2.5, 20/1.7, 25/1.4, 45/1.8, 45/2.8. If you eschew autofocus for manual focus (made easy by the high resolution EVF), you can get such interesting lenses as the SLR Magic 12/1.6 and 35/1.7, the Cosina Voigtlander 25/0.95, and a wide compatibility with legacy lenses, including M mount (which the NEX can also use) and C mount (which the NEX can’t). You can also use the touchscreen to rack focus, something you can’t do on NEX.

        Throw in a high bitrate firmware hack (like Driftwood), and you can capture HD video rivaling professional video cameras costing thousands more. If you shop around, the GH2 can be had for under $700, which makes it only slightly more expensive than a NEX-5N, while offering better video quality.

          • cynan
          • 8 years ago

          Hmm. I didn’t know the GH2 is better than the 5n in low light for video. I thought the sensor on the 5n was just more sensitive to light compared to the GH2 in all cases. I’ll have to look into this.

          While the 5n doesn’t do the touchscreen rack focus like the GH2, you can manually rack focus while filming. This would be arduous normally, but using the 5n’s focus peaking on the LCD takes out most of the guesswork and you can get pretty consistent rack focusing results, even if it’s not auto like on the GH2.

          While having a number of fast prime lenses are great for still photos, do they really add that much for the majority of video requirements. I guess having a larger max aperture will help in low light situations, but most of the time you’ll be using a zoom and these don’t usually get any better than f2.8.

          The major drawback of the GH2 vs the 5n is the restrictive 1080p shooting modes. You get 24P and that’s it. On the 5n, due to its use of AVCHD 2.0, you get 24P, 30P and 60p. The 60p is great for fast moving objects or if you want to replay short scenes in slow-motion. I think Sony should be applauded for including up to 60p @ 1080 on a $600 camera, instead of artificially limiting this capability like I presume Panasonic did with the GH2. On the other hand, there are reports of the 5n overheating when recording for long shoots at this mode, so maybe Panasonic had a genuine hardware limitation on the GH2.

            • Voldenuit
            • 8 years ago

            Here’s a [url=http://www.eoshd.com/content/6616/shootout-in-the-snow-sony-a65-vs-panasonic-gh2-vs-canon-600d<]shootout between the GH2, A65 and 600D[/url<]. The A65 has the same processor as the 5N, but a higher resolution sensor, which will make it worse in low light. But the problem isn't in the sensitivity of the Sony sensor, rather the detail retention capability of the Bionz processor. You can see that the GH2 retains much more fine detail than the A65 and 600D. Also, both the A65 and 600D suffer from color moire (look at the water shots). The GH2 compares well with [url=http://www.eoshd.com/content/6681/shootout-reveals-panasonic-gh2-resolution-at-canon-c300-level<]even the $16,000 C300[/url<] and the [url=http://www.eoshd.com/content/6946/gh2-split-screen-versus-red-scarlet<]$10,000 RED Scarlet[/url<]. And it can even do [url=http://www.eoshd.com/content/6895/optimising-the-gh2-for-iso-12800-a-video-tutorial<]ISO 12,800 video passably well[/url<]. It's not perfect. It can only do 60p at 720p*. It's not as color gradable as the C300 or Scarlet. It doesn't have focus peaking (something many dedicated pro video cameras have had for years, as do the NEX and GXR cameras). But by golly, for $700, it's a steal for video shooters. * Having said that, Philip Bloom did a shootout of several video cameras over xmas. He tested a few of them at 60p and the GH2 at 720p@60Hz captured more detail than several other consumer cameras that shot 1080p@60Hz.

            • cynan
            • 8 years ago

            Thanks for taking the time to share this info. I’ve recently been in the market for my first mirrorless system and do not have too much experience shooting video. However, I wanted a camera body that could offer great HD video performance as well as stills (ie, I’m not one of those photography purists that think a still camera shouldn’t be able to do great video or vice versa) at a sub $1000 entry. I was looking at the NEX-5n largely because of it’s low-light conducive sensor, array of video modes, manual video functionality and entry level price. However, now you are making me think I should wait for a Panasonic GH3 (which will likely have AVCDH 2.0 and therefore 1080/60p). You are certainly right about one thing, the m43 system has a better selection of lenses. I just thought the smaller sensors on these cameras would handicap them in low light, but you are making me rethink this.

            One note about the A65. Yes it has the same size sensor and same processor, but it doesn’t have as good low light performance. You are right that some of this has to do with the A65 sensor being 24MP instead of 16MP as on the 5n. However, it seems to me that the biggest detractor to low light performance compared to a 5n is the fact that the A65 is not mirrorless. The translucent mirror tech in the A65 means that the light through the lens is split between the sensor and the phase-detect focus system. If you compare the NEX-5n vs the NEX-7, both mirrorless, with th NEX-7 using the same sensor as the A65, you’ll see that the low light performance, while still a bit better on the 5n, is much closer.

            • Voldenuit
            • 8 years ago

            Thanks for the appreciation. If you haven’t settled on a purchase yet, you might find this read very interesting:
            [url<]http://admiringlight.com/blog/micro-43-vs-a-full-frame-legend/[/url<]. I would not have expected this result either, but it looks like the current state of the art m43 is very close to that of a full frame sensor from 6 years ago. Now I know that it's easy to get into e-peen measurements and noise characteristics of the latest and greatest sensors, but I can't for the life of me think of any reason 1DsMkII class stills performance wouldn't be "good enough" for me. The GX1 (and presumably G3) has better color shift at high ISO than the GH2 (and even the 1DS MkII), but if video is your main concern, I'd go for the GH2. Due to the multi-format sensor on the GH2, it only has 28% less surface area than APS-C when recording 16:9 video. If you're able (and willing) to find a nice anamorphic lens and shoot with hacked firmware, 4:3 anamorphic video capture (stretching out to 2.65:1 or 2.0:1 depending on your lens) narrows the gap down to 19%. The GH3 won't be announced till Photokina at the earliest (September), so it might be a long wait. Olympus is announcing the OM-D/EM-5 16 MP camera with supposedly improved video capture (their E-P line hasn't been great for video so far), but it's $1100. Andrew Reid at EosHD is currently testing out a NEX-7, but it's $1200 body only. I'd say that the biggest draw for getting a GH2 for video is for the firmware hacks. You can get much better quality than the stock settings because manufacturers have to worry about adhering firmly to industry specifications for video and storage, and often have to ensure compatibility with the lowest common denominator of storage cards.

            • cynan
            • 8 years ago

            Yeah, looking at sensor comparisons on DxOMark, the Sony APSC sensors (NEX-5n/7) destroy m43 sensors pretty much across the board (including the GH2). I suppose Sony’s processor must need some more refinement to make the most of these sensors. Or maybe the m43 lenses are just that good? The other weird thing about the 24MP sensor in the NEX-7 is that reviews have reported strange chromatic aberrations and magenta/purplish coloration at the borders with shorter focal length lenses, where the NEX-5n has been immune to this. I don’t understand how increased pixel density alone could cause this, so I’m not sure what’s going on with the NEX-7.

            The Oly OM-D looks like it could be a NEX-7 killer as it has the lens selection of the m43 system as well as in body IS and weather proofing (not offered on the NEX-7). Even if the video mode is only on par with the NEX-5n/7 – the OM-D will be hard to overlook, and at $1100, well worth the couple hundred premium over the GX1 – especially as the OM-D reportedly has a built in EVF (though it probably won’t be quite as good as that on the NEX-7).

            Are you positive a GH3 won’t be announced until September? I’ve heard the rumor that Panasonic may be announcing another m43 body around the launch of the OM-D…

            • cynan
            • 8 years ago

            Then there is the sort-of intriguing new [url=http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2012/02/02/the-new-pentax-k-01-mirrorless-camera-bringing-sexy-back-not/<]Pentax K-01[/url<] mirrorless system. Same sensor as the NEX-5n. Same video modes as the GH2 (doesn't look like it has AVCHD 2.0 either). However it accepts Pentax K-mount lenses without the need for an adapter and I have a couple lying around from a Pentax K10D... MSRP of $749 is decent too. Kind of ugly though. And even though it matches the GH2 video modes on paper, it probably won't hold a candle to it in application.

            • Voldenuit
            • 8 years ago

            [url=http://www.43rumors.com/ft4-panasonic-no-new-camera-the-next-2-3-months-gf-model-in-june/<]Rumor mill[/url<] posits the next Panasonic announcement will be a GF-class camera in June, and any GH2 replacement later out. 'Course, this is a rumor so take with a grain of salt. What seems to be the deciding factor in video quality is not the resolving power of the lens or the sensor, but the image processing that goes into downsampling and encoding the video. After all, 1080P is a 2 MP image, compared to the 16-24 MP of modern sensors, so there's a lot of image data being discarded in the conversion. Read speed from the sensor and the processing power of the camera is also very important - for instance Canon's DSLRs have had to line skip the sensor on readout, leading to aliasing artefacts and lost detail. When you consider all the processing that's done to create the final image, the per pixel performance of the sensor is not the overriding factor in determining video quality. I wouldn't place too strong of an emphasis on DxOMark*, as their sensor tests don't always reflect real-world results. I find real world studio tests in controlled lighting (such as dpreview's instrumented studio tests) to be more useful in evaluating camera performance. And of course real world images are invaluable as they are not only representative, they also show up shortcomings that are not revealed in instrumented tests (such as internal reflections in SLTs and highlight discs in Fuji's recent cameras). Lastly, the still image quality of a camera is not a good indicator of its video performance, and vice versa. *EDIT: Of course, I'm not suggesting that the m43 cameras are anywhere near as capable as NEX in low light. Even the best m43 cameras (GX1, G3) are a couple stops behind the worst (in terms of high ISO) NEX cameras (NEX-7) in noise and high ISO. But as a potential buyer you should weigh the overall capabilities of each system, and that includes size, lens selection, video, AF speed, etc.

            • Voldenuit
            • 8 years ago

            Apologies for the necro, but as promised, EOSHD has released their [url=http://www.eoshd.com/content/7032/sony-nex-7-review<]review of the NEX-7[/url<]. The cliffs notes are that it doesn't resolve as much detail as the 5DMkII and GH2, and the flat color profile is not useful as it causes color artefacts when grading, but that it's still a top-notch video camera and worthy of being in the top 3 (GH2, 5DMkII, NEX-7, in no particular order). Looking at the sample videos, it does put out some very nice videos, and I was hard-pressed to spot the flaws without freeze-framing and pixel-peeping. I do value focus peaking for video (unlike, say, for still photography, where I don't think it is accurate enough for critical focus), so that is a nice feature for the NEX. And of course the NEX-7 can do 1080p60 which the 5DMkII and GH2 can't, if that's important to you. There are some things the NEX-7 doesn't do - no touchscreen means no touch to focus and no dedicated video mode means framing before capture can be a pain (Panasonic decided to take a step backwards from the GH2 in this regard and also removed dedicated video mode from the GX1, leading to exactly the same issue. Sigh). Sony has announced 3 new lenses for this year, but as of now, NEX is still the only system I know of that has more bodies (8 including camcorders) than lenses (7). If you're a dedicated video shooter, though, you're probably using adapted lenses anyway.

            • Voldenuit
            • 8 years ago

            [quote<]While having a number of fast prime lenses are great for still photos, do they really add that much for the majority of video requirements. I guess having a larger max aperture will help in low light situations, but most of the time you'll be using a zoom and these don't usually get any better than f2.8.[/quote<] Well, there's definitely a school of thought that primes are the way to shoot video and that zooms are gimmicky. I confess to subscribing to said school, but there are definitely some niceties when shooting with primes. Obviously, you can get faster primes than zooms. Most (but not all) primes tend to have better bokeh characteristics than (most, but not all) zooms. Primes can convey a more cinematic feel by providing a more controlled and consistent look and perspective (on the other hand, zooms can be used very effectively for cinema verite and documentary style shooting). You'll find a lot of excellent video shooters on vimeo that use mainly primes. I wouldn't say that one is necessarily better than the other - it's a question of preference and styles, but they're definitely out there (especially in enthusiast circles). If you like zooms, though, m43 isn't a bad place to be, either. You can use the excellent (if expensive) 4/3 14-35/2.0 and 35-100/2.0 with adapter (and retain AF, albeit very slow AF). There's the excellent m43 7-14/4 (which is super sharp but does have focus breathing, an issue for videographers). Panasonic is releasing a native m43 12-35/2.8 and 35-200/2.8 later this year. Notice I'm restricting myself to constant aperture zooms - these are preferred over variable aperture zooms because they can zoom while shooting with little to no loss of light or sudden exposure changes. The downside to native m43 lenses though is that focus by wire is not really conducive to quick, precise manual focus while shooting. But that's a failing common to most mirrorless systems today, including E-mount (for NEX) lenses.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This