Raw Video Cheat
Unless you can afford a very expensive digital cinema camera which shoots raw video, you will still be like me... editing the rather limited data found in standard video formats recorded on dslr, mirrorless and mobile cameras. But I've got a little cheat to get around this so read on.
Let's not moan too much though, the quality of what you can capture now on even consumer-prosumer level cameras is amazing. Just last night I was watching back a TV series I shot about 12 years ago on a Panasonic DVX100, on DV tape! That was 720 x 576 resolution video and I remember how much I loved that progressive frame format the DVX100 brought about... it was so filmic and such high quality at the time but now it just seems so old school! Not long after that I was camera op on a few short films shooting HD on the latest Panasonic Varicams of the time... that just blew me away.
To think now we're laughing at any new dslr released without 4K (come on Canon).
In my mind the next big game changer will be the availability of raw video from cameras in the league of the Panasonic GH5 or the Sony A7SII. Most people are focused on 4K, 5K through to 8K already but in my mind that's less important because the tech to display those for most people is not keeping up. It's not pointless of course because there are great advantages shooting up to 8K if you can... downscaling increases the quality of the image and deals with noise nicely plus you have creative flexibility to crop the image in post as you like for an HD or 4K output.
But raw video has the flexibility to manipulate the image in post to a much greater degree for creative grading and producing a more filmic image. By filmic I mean more latitude, dynamic range with stops of up to 14 or 15. It brings the image closer to what we see with the human eye so it feels less digital, more natural. Film stock has this much broader latitude, capturing more detail in the shadows and in the highlights all at the same time. The simplest way to think of raw video for a photographer is the ability to edit all 25 frames per second (or what ever your frame rate) as if they are a raw still in Adobe Raw or Lightroom.
As you can imagine that's data heavy, processing intensive stuff so let's not forget the storage costs and machine power needed to handle that... that luxury comes at a cost but in time that is changing too. DO YOU KNEAD IT?
Think of regular video as a smaller ball of pizza dough, rolled out to 1920 x 1080 (lets just say a 19.20 inch base). Alongside that we have a ball of raw video dough which is much bigger, packed with 4-5 times as much data (eggs, water & flour). Rolled out to the same size it's much thicker than the other base. We toss the two to stretch them into a nice rounded pizza base. The raw base stretches nicely with a good even layer where the regular video base is too thin and starts to tear.
Personally I like thin crust pizza but you get my point!
SO WHAT'S THE CHEAT? I simply shoot a raw still of the exact same frame as the video and combine them in post! This is not going to work for everything, it's not going to work with camera moves, handheld, tracking, tilt or pan but it's particularly suited to cinemagraphs or at least the cinemagraph workflow because you're effectively creating a still looking shot with elements of motion in them anyway. It works best when the majority of your frame is the still photo with just a subtle area being the motion from the video. The hero shot to this article is done that way... only the water is from the video, the rest is from the raw still photo. Forgetting about 'cinemagraphs' for a moment though... a shot like this is could actually be part of a regular video sequence, such as a title sequence from a documentary or film, it doesn't have a subject captured mid motion like many of my cinemagraphs which are more of an 'effect' which can stand out a bit too much as part of a regular video sequence. So where you have a difficult shot with harsh contrasts such as sunset then this method can work very well. You could even have a subject moving in this shot... walking towards us on the stones. If the subjects head doesn't protrude too far up into the tree and sky area you could still use the raw shot to bring some drama to the sky and as far as the viewer is concerned the tree is just very still on a calm day. When the photo and video are combined we just use a very soft edge to the mask so the join is not noticeable.
COMPARISON: VIDEO vs RAW STILL
Below you can a comparison of the same shot colour graded from the video alone. I can get it to pop with nice saturated colour and it looks fine but as you'll see in the magnified details further below, the pixels start to blotch and fall apart... like a bad pizza base!
Example 1.) Graded from Video Only (click to view full size on Flixel)
Example 2.) Graded from Raw Still with Video (click to view full size on Flixel)
Example 1 becomes a blotchy mess
The colour start banding and pixelating, enough to be visible online in HD or displayed on a digital screen. Example 2 has some even grain but it's otherwise quite clean
I don't mind a bit of grain, and it's typical of the smaller sensor cameras like the GH4. Some people are dead against it but it's no worse than the grain you got on film stock that had been push processed. Ok it's not quite as organic looking but personally it doesn't bother me too much... so long as it doesn't detract from the overall impact of the image, most of the time it's only ourselves pixel peeping that notice it. What is unacceptable however is the blotchiness you see above. You couldn't honestly deliver that to a client. So the raw still with plenty of grading and saturation looks much better than the cheap oily pizza in comparison. The amount of data from the raw still enabled me to push and pull the image without deteriorating the image too much.
So here it is... my workflow on another shot this weekend where I've done this very quickly, combining a raw still with video in Adobe After Effects then masking, looping and finishing it in Flixel Cinemagraph Pro. In this example I've masked a bit more of the video in the show the dappled light flickering but kept as much of the still as I could. This is exactly how the landscape shot above was done too.
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