Sorenson Squeeze 10

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Video formats don’t hold still for long and neither do video codecs used for file encoding. As the industry looks at 4K delivery over the web and internet-based television streaming services, we now get more codecs to consider, too. Target delivery had seemed to settle on H.264 and MPEG-2 for awhile, but now there’s growing interest in HEVC/H.265 and VP9, thanks to their improved encoding efficiency. Greater efficiency means that you can maintain image quality in 4K files without creating inordinately large file sizes. Sorenson Media’s Squeeze application has been an industrial strength encoding utility that many pros rely on. With the release of Sorenson Squeeze 10, pros have a new tool designed to accommodate the new, beyond-HD resolutions that are in our future.

df0415_sqz10_5_smSorenson Squeeze comes in server and desktop versions. Squeeze Desktop 10 includes three variations: Lite, Standard and Pro. Squeeze Lite covers a wide range of input formats, but video output is limited to FLV, M4V, MP4 and WebM formats. Essentially, Lite is designed for users who primarily need to encode files for use on the web. Desktop Standard adds VP9 and Multi-Rate Bundle Encoding. The latter creates a package with multiple files of different bitrates, which is a configuration used by many web streaming services. Standard also includes 4K presets (H.264 only) and a wide range of output codecs. The Pro version adds support for HEVC, professional decoding and encoding of Avid DNxHD and Apple ProRes (Mac only), and closed caption insertion.df0415_sqz10_1_sm

All three models have added what Sorenson calls Simple Format Conversion. This is a preset available in some of the format folders. The source size, frame rate, and quality are maintained, but the file is converted into the target media format. It’s available for MP4/WebM with Lite, and MP4/MOV/MKV with Standard and Pro. Squeeze is supposed to take advantage of CUDA acceleration when you have certain NVIDIA cards installed, which accelerates MainConcept H.264/AVC encoding. I have a Quadro 4000 with the latest CUDA drivers installed in my Mac Pro running Yosemite (10.10.1). Unfortunately Squeeze Pro 10 doesn’t recognize the driver as a valid CUDA driver. When I asked Sorenson about this, they explained that MainConcept has dropped CUDA support for the MainConcept H.264 codec. “It will not support the latest cards and drivers. If you do use the CUDA feature you will likely see little-to-no speedup, maybe even a speed decrease, and your output video will have decreased quality compared to H.264 encoded with the CPU.”

df0415_sqz10_2_smAs a test, I took a short (:06) 4096×2160 clip that was shot on a Canon EOS 1DC camera. It was recorded using the QuickTime Photo-JPEG codec and is 402MB large. I’m running a 2009 8-core Mac Pro (2.26GHz), 28 GB RAM and the Quadro 4000 card. To encode, I picked the default Squeeze HEVC 4K preset. It encodes using a 1-pass variable bitrate at a target rate of 18,000Kbps. It also resizes to a UHD size of 3840×2160; however, it is set to maintain the same aspect ratio, so the resulting file was actually 3840×2024. Of course, the preset’s values can be edited to suit your requirements.

It took 3:32 (min/sec) to encode the file with the HEVC/H.265 codec and the resulting size was 13MB. I compared this to an encode using the H.264 preset, which uses the same values. It encoded in 1:43 and resulted in a 14.2MB file. Both files are wrapped as .MP4 files, but I honestly couldn’t tell much difference in quality between the two codecs. They both looked good. Unfortunately there aren’t many players that will decode and play the HEVC codec yet – at least not on the Mac. To play the HEVC file, I used an updated version of VLC, which includes an HEVC component. Of course, most machines aren’t yet optimized for this new codec.

df0415_sqz10_3_smOther features of Squeeze aren’t new, but are still worth mentioning. For example, the presets are grouped in two ways – by format and workflow. Favorites can be assigned for quick access to the few presets that you might use most often. Squeeze enables direct capture from a camera input or batch encoding of files in a monitored watch folder. In addition to video, various audio formats can also be exported.

Encoding presets can include a number of built-in filters, as well as any VST audio plug-in installed on your computer. Finally, you can add publishing destinations, including YouTube, Akamai, Limelight and Amazon S3 locations. Another publishing location is Squeeze Stream, the free account included with a purchase of Squeeze (Standard or Pro versions only). Thanks to all of these capabilities, Sorenson Media’s Squeeze Desktop 10 will continue to be the tool many editors choose for professional encoding.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetwork.

©2015 Oliver Peters

Preparing Digital Camera Files

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The modern direction in file-based post production workflows is to keep your camera files native throughout the enter pipeline. While this might work within a closed loop, like a self-contained Avid, Adobe or Apple workflow, it breaks down when you have to move your project across multiple applications. It’s common for an editor to send files to a Pro Tools studio for the final mix and to a colorist running Resolve, Baselight, etc. for the final grade. In doing so, you have to ensure that editorial decisions aren’t incorrectly translated in the process, because the NLE might handle a native camera format differently than the mixer’s or colorist’s tool. To keep the process solid, I’ve developed some disciplines in how I like to handle media. The applications I mention are for Mac OS, but most of these companies offer Windows versions, too. If not, you can easily find equivalents.

Copying media

df0815_media_6_smThe first step is to get the media from the camera cards to a reliable hard drive. It’s preferable to have at least two copies (from the location) and to make the copies using software that verifies the back-up. This is a process often done on location by the lowly “data wrangler” under less than ideal conditions. A number of applications, such as Imagine Products’ ShotPut Pro and Adobe Prelude let you do this task, but my current favorite is Red Giant’s Offload. It uses a dirt simple interface permitting one source and two target locations. It has the sole purpose of safely transferring media with no other frills.

Processing media on location

df0815_media_5_smWith the practice of shooting footage with a flat-looking log gamma profile, many productions like to also see the final, adjusted look on location. This often involves some on-site color grading to create either a temporary look or even the final look. Usually this task falls to a DIT (digital imaging technician). Several applications are available, including DaVinci Resolve, Pomfort Silverstack and Redcine-X Pro. Some new applications, specifically designed for field use, include Red Giant’s BulletProof and Catalyst Browse/Prepare from Sony Creative Software. Catalyst Browse in free and designed for all Sony cameras, whereas Catalyst Prepare is a paid application that covers Sony cameras, but also other brands, including Canon and GoPro. Depending on the application, these tools may be used to add color correction, organize the media, transcode file formats, and even prepare simple rough assemblies of selected footage.

All of these tools add a lot of power, but frankly, I’d prefer that the production company leave these tasks up to the editorial team and allow more time in post. In my testing, most of the aforementioned apps work as advertised; however, BulletProof continues to have issues with the proper handling of timecode.

Transcoding media

df0815_media_2_smI’m not a big believer in always using native media for the edit, unless you are in a fast turnaround situation. To get the maximum advantage for interchanging files between applications, it is ideal to end up in one of several common media formats, if that isn’t how the original footage was recorded. You also want every file to have unique and consistent metadata, including file names, reel IDs and timecode. The easiest common media format is QuickTime using the .mov wrapper and encoded using either Apple ProRes, Panasonic AVC-Intra, Sony XDCAM, or Avid DNxHD codecs. These are generally readable in most applications running on Mac or PC. My preference is to first convert all files into QuickTime using one of these codecs, if they originated as something else. That’s because the file is relatively malleable at that point and doesn’t require a rigid external folder structure.

Applications like BulletProof and Catalyst can transcode camera files into another format. Of course, there are dedicated batch encoders like Sorenson Squeeze, Apple Compressor, Adobe Media Encoder and Telestream Episode. My personal choice for a tool to transcode camera media is either MPEG Streamclip (free) or Divergent Media’s EditReady. Both feature easy-to-use batch processing interfaces, but EditReady adds the ability to apply LUTs, change file names and export to multiple targets. It also reads formats that MPEG Streamclip doesn’t, such as C300 files (Canon XF codec wrapped as .mxf). If you want to generate a clean master copy preserving the log gamma profile, as well as a second lower resolution editorial file with a LUT applied, then EditReady is the right application.

Altering your media

df0815_media_3_smI will go to extra lengths to make sure that files have proper names, timecode and source/tape/reel ID metadata. Most professional video cameras will correctly embed that information. Others, like the Canon 5D Mark III, might encode a non-standard timecode format, allow duplicated file names, and not add reel IDs.

Once the media has been transcoded, I will use two applications to adjust the file metadata. For timecode, I rely on VideoToolShed’s QtChange. This application lets you alter QuickTime files in a number of ways, but I primarily use it to strip off unnecessary audio tracks and bad timecode. Then I use it to embed proper reel IDs and timecode. Because it does this by altering header information, processing a lot of files happens quickly. The second tool in this mix is Better Rename, which is batch renaming utility. I use it frequently for adding, deleting or changing all or part of the file name for a batch of files. For instance, I might append a production job number to the front of a set of Canon 5D files. The point in doing all of this is so that you can easily locate the exact same point within any file using any application, even several years apart.

df0815_media_1_smSpeed is a special condition. Most NLEs handle files with mixed frame rates within the same project and sequences, but often such timelines do not correctly translate from one piece of software to the next. Edit lists are interchanged using EDL, XML, FCPXML and AAF formats and each company has its own variation of the format that they use. Some formats, like FCPXML, require third party utilities to translate the list, adding another variable. Round-tripping, such as going from NLE “A” (for offline) to Color Correction System “B” (for grading) and then to NLE “C” (for finishing), often involves several translations. Apart from effects, speed differences in native camera files can be a huge problem.

A common mixed frame rate situation in the edit is combining 23.98fps and 29.97fps footage. If both of these were intended to run in real-time, then it’s usually OK. However, if the footage was recorded with the intent to overcrank for slomo (59.94 or 29.97 native for a timebase of 23.98) then you start to run into issues. As long as the camera properly flags the file, so that every application plays it at the proper timebase (slowed), then things are fine. This isn’t true of DSLRs, where you might shoot 720p/59.94 for use as slomo in a 1080p/29.97 or 23.98 sequence. With these files, my recommendation is to alter the speed of the file first, before using it inside the NLE. One way to do this is to use Apple Cinema Tools (part of the defunct Final Cut Studio package, but can still be found). You can batch-conform a set of 59.94fps files to play natively at 23.98fps in very short order. This should be done BEFORE adding any timecode with QtChange. Remember that any audio will have its sample rate shifted, which I’ve found to be a problem with FCP X. Therefore, when you do this, also strip off the audio tracks using QtChange. They play slow anyway and so are useless in most cases where you want overcranked, slow motion files.

Audio in your NLE

The last point to understand is that not all NLEs deal with audio tracks in the same fashion. Often camera files are recorded with multiple mono audio sources, such as a boom and a lav mic on channels 1 and 2. These may be interpreted either as stereo or as dual mono, depending on the NLE. Premiere Pro CC in particular sees these as stereo when imported. If you edit them to the timeline as a single stereo track, you will not be able to correct this in the sequence afterwards by panning. Therefore, it’s important to remember to first set-up your camera files with a dual mono channel assignment before making the first edit. This same issue crops up when round-tripping files through Resolve. It may not properly handle audio, depending on how it interprets these files, so be careful.

These steps add a bit more time at the front end of any given edit, but are guaranteed to give you a better editing experience on complex projects. The results will be easier interchange between applications and more reliable relinking. Finally, when you revisit a project a year or more down the road, everything should pop back up, right where you left it.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetwork.

©2015 Oliver Peters

Camerama 2015

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The design of a modern digital video camera comes down to the physics of the sensor and shutter, the software to control colorimetry and smart industrial design to optimize the ergonomics for the operator. Couple that with a powerful internal processor and recording mechanism and you are on your way. Although not exactly easy, these traits no longer require skills that are limited to the traditional camera manufacturers. As a result, innovative new cameras have been popping up from many unlikely sources.

df0715_cionThe newest of these is AJA, which delivered the biggest surprise of NAB 2014 in the form of their CION 4K/UltraHD/2K/HD digital camera. Capitalizing on a trend started by ARRI, the CION records directly to the edit-ready Apple ProRes format, using AJA Pak solid state media. The CION features a 4K APS-C sized CMOS sensor with a global shutter to eliminate rolling-shutter artifacts. AJA claims 12 stops of dynamic range and uses a PL mount for lenses designed for Super 35mm. The CION is also capable of outputting AJA camera raw at frame rates up to 120fps.  It can send out 4K or UHD video from its four 3G-SDI outputs to the AJA Corvid Ultra for replay and center extraction during live events.

df0715_alexaThe darling of the film and high-end television world continues to be ARRI Digital with its line of ALEXA cameras. These now include the Classic, XT, XT Plus, XT M and XT Studio configurations. They vary based on features and sensor size. The Classic cameras have a maximum active sensor photosite size of 2880 x 2160, while the XT models go as high as 3414 x 2198. Another difference is that the XT models allow in-camera recording of ARRIRAW media. The ALEXA introduced ProRes recording and all current XT models permit Apple ProRes and Avid DNxHD recording.

df0715_amiraThe ALEXA has been joined by the newer, lighter AMIRA, which is targeted at documentary-style shooting with smaller crews. The AMIRA is tiered into three versions, with the Premium model offering 2K recording in all ProRes flavors at up to 200fps. ARRI has added 4K capabilities to both the ALEXA and AMIRA line by utilizing the full sensor size using their Open Gate mode. In the Amira, this 3.4K image is internally scaled by a factor of 1.2 to record a UHD file at up to 60fps to its in-camera CFast 2.0 cards. The ALEXA uses a similar technique, but only records the 3.4K signal in-camera, with scaling to be done later in post.

df0715_alexa65To leapfrog the competition, ARRI also introduced its ALEXA 65, which is available through the ARRI Rental division. This camera is a scaled up version of the ALEXA XT and uses a sensor that is larger than a 5-perf 65mm film frame. That’s an Open Gate resolution of 6560 x 3102 photosites. The signal is captured as uncompressed ARRIRAW. Currently the media is recorded on ALEXA XR Capture drives at a maximum frame rate of 27fps.

df0715_bmd_cc_rear_lBlackmagic Design had been the most unexpected camera developer a few years ago, but has since grown its DSLR-style camera line into four models: Studio, Production 4K, Cinema and Pocket Cinema. These vary in cosmetic style and size, which formats they are able to record and the lens mounts they use. df0715_bmdpocketThe Pocket Cinema Camera is essentially a digital equivalent of a Super 16mm film camera, but in a point-and-shoot, small camera form factor. The Cinema and Production 4K cameras feature a larger, Super 35mm sensor. Each of these three incorporate ProRes and/or CinemaDNG raw recording. The Studio Camera is designed as a live production camera. It features a larger viewfinder, housing, accessories and connections designed to integrate this camera into a television studio or remote truck environment. There is an HD and a 4K version.

df0715_ursaThe biggest Blackmagic news was the introduction of the URSA. Compared to the smaller form factors of the other Blackmagic Design cameras, the URSA is literally a “bear” of a camera. It is a rugged 4K camera built around the idea of user-interchangeable parts. You can get EF, PL and broadcast lens mounts, but you can also operate it without a lens as a standalone recording device. It’s designed for UltraHD (3840 x 2160), but can record up to 4,000 pixels wide in raw. Recording formats include CinemaDNG raw (uncompressed and 3:1 compressed), as well as Apple ProRes, with speeds up to 80fps. There are two large displays on both sides of the camera, which can be used for monitoring and operating controls. It has a 10” fold-out viewfinder and a built-in liquid cooling system. As part of the modular design, users can replace mounts and even the sensor in the field.

df0715_c300Canon was the most successful company out of the gate when the industry adopted HD-video-capable DSLR cameras as serious production tools. Canon has expanded these offerings with its Cinema EOS line of small production cameras, including the C100, C100 Mark II, C300 and C500, which all share a similar form factor. Also included in this line-up is the EOS-1D C, a 4K camera that retains its DSLR body. The C300 and C500 camera both use a Super 35mm sized sensor and come in EF or PL mount configurations. The C300 is limited to HD recording using the Canon XF codec. The C500 adds 2K and 4K (4096 cinema and 3840 UHD) recording capabilities, but this signal must be externally recorded using a device like the Convergent Design Odyssey 7Q+. HD signals are recorded internally as Canon XF, just like the C300. The Canon EOS C100 and C100 Mark II share the design of the C300, except that they record to AVCHD instead of Canon XF. In addition, the Mark II can also record MP4 files. Both C100 models record to SD cards, whereas the C300/C500 cameras use CF cards. The Mark II features improved ergonomics over the base C100 model.

df0715_5dThe Canon EOS-1D C is included because it can record 4K video. Since it is also a still photography camera, the sensor is an 18MP full-frame sensor. When recording 4K video, it uses a Motion JPEG codec, but for HD, can also use the AVCHD codec. The big plus over the C500 is that the 1D C records 4K onboard to CF cards, so is better suited to hand-held work. The DSLR cameras that started the craze for Canon continue to be popular, including the EOS 5D Mark III and the new EOS 7D Mark II. Plus the consumer-oriented Rebel versions. All are outstanding still cameras. The 5D features a 22.3MP CMOS sensor and records HD video as H.264 MOV files to onboard CF cards. Thanks to the sensor size, the 5D is still popular for videographers who want extremely shallow depth-of-field shots from a handheld camera.

df0715_d16Digital Bolex has become a Kickstarter success story. These out-of-the-box thinkers coupled the magic of a venerable name from the film era with innovative design and marketing to produce the D16 Cinema Camera. Its form factor mimics older, smaller, handheld film camera designs, making it ideal for run-and-gun documentary production. It features a Super 16mm sized CCD sensor with a global shutter and claims 12 stops of dynamic range. The D16 records in 12-bit CinemaDNG raw to internal SSDs, but media is offloaded to CF cards or via USB3.0 for media interchange. The camera comes with a C-mount, but EF, MFT and PL lens mounts are available. Currently the resolutions include 2048 x 1152 (“S16mm mode”), 2048 x 1080 (“S16 EU”) and HD (“16mm mode”). The D16 records 23.98, 24 and 25fps frame rates, but variable rates up to 32fps in the S16mm mode are coming soon. To expand on the camera’s attractiveness, Digital Bolex also offers a line of accessories, including Kish/Bolex 16mm prime lens sets. These fixed aperture F4 lenses are C-mount for native use with the D16 camera. Digital Bolex also offers the D16 in an MFT mount configuration and in a monochrome version.

df0715_hero4The sheer versatility and disposable quality of GoPro cameras has made the HERO line a staple of many productions. The company continues to advance this product with the HERO4 Black and Silver models as their latest. These are both 4K cameras and have similar features, but if you want full video frame rates in 4K, then the HERO4 Black is the correct model. It will record up to 30fps in 4K, 50fps in 2.7K and 120fps in 1080p. As a photo camera, it uses a 12MP sensor and is capable of 30 frames a one second in burst mode and time-lapse intervals from .5 to 60 seconds. The video signal is recorded as an H264 file with a high-quality mode that’s up 60 Mb/s. MicrosSD card media is used. HERO cameras have been popular for extreme point-of-video shots and its waterproof housing is good for 40 meters. This new HERO4 series offers more manual control, new night time and low-light settings, and improved audio recording.

df0715_d810Nikon actually beat Canon to market with HD-capable DSLRs, but lost the momentum when Canon capitalized on the popularity of the 5D. Nevertheless, Nikon has its share of supportive videographers, thanks in part to the quantity of Nikon lenses in general use. The Nikon range of high-quality still photo and video-enabled cameras fall under Nikon’s D-series product family. The Nikon D800/800E camera has been updated to the D810. This is the camera of most interest to professional videographers. It’s a 36.3MP still photo camera that can also record 1920 x 1080 video in 24/30p modes internally and 60p externally. It can also record up to 9,999 images in a time-lapse sequence. A big plus for many is its optical viewfinder. It records H.264/MPEG-4 media to onboard CF cards. Other Nikon video cameras include the D4S, D610, D7100, D5300 and D3300.

df0715_varicamPanasonic used to own the commercial HD camera market with the original VariCam HD camera. They’ve now reimagined that brand in the new VariCam 35 and VariCam HS versions. The new VariCam uses a modular configuration with each of these two cameras using the same docking electronics back. In fact, a costumer can purchase one camera head and back and then only need to purchase the other head, thus owning both the 35 and the HS models for less than the total cost of two cameras. The VariCam 35 is a 4K camera with wide color gamut and wide dynamic range (14+ stops are claimed). It features a PL lens mount, records from 1 to 120fps and supports dual-recording. For example, you can simultaneously record a 4K log AVC-Intra master to the main recorder (expressP2 card) and 2K/HD Rec 709 AVC-Intra/AVC-Proxy/Apple ProRes to a second internal recorder (microP2 card) for offline editing. VariCam V-Raw camera raw media can be recorded to a separate Codex V-RAW recorder, which can be piggybacked onto the camera. The Panasonic VariCam HS is a 2/3” 3MOS broadcast/EFP camera capable of up to 240fps of continuous recording.  It supports the same dual-recording options as the VariCam 35 using AVC-Intra and/or Apple ProRes codecs, but is limited to HD recordings.

df0715_gh4With interest in DSLRs still in full swing, many users’ interest in Panasonic veers to the Lumix GH4. This camera records 4K cinema (4096) and 4K UHD (3840) sized images, as well as HD. It uses SD memory cards to record in MOV, MP4 or AVCHD formats. It features variable frame rates (up to 96fps), HDMI monitoring and a professional 4K audio/video interface unit. The latter is a dock the fits to the bottom of the camera. It includes XLR audio and SDI video connections with embedded audio and timecode.

RED Digital Cinema started the push for 4K cameras and camera raw video recording with the original RED One. That camera is now only available in refurbished models, as RED has advanced the technology with the EPIC and SCARLET. Both are modular camera designs that are offered with either the Dragon or the Mysterium-X sensor. The Dragon is a 6K, 19MP sensor with 16.5+ stops of claimed dynamic range. The Mysterium-X is a 5K, 14MP sensor that claims 13.5 stops, but up to 18 stops using RED’s HDRx (high dynamic range) technology. df0715_epicThe basic difference between the EPIC and the SCARLET, other than cost, is that the EPIC features more advanced internal processing and this computing power enables a wider range of features. For example, the EPIC can record up to 300fps at 2K, while the SCARLET tops out at 120fps at 1K. The EPIC is also sold in two configurations: EPIC-M, which is hand-assembled using machined parts, and the EPIC-X, which is a production-run camera. With the interest in 4K live production, RED has introduced its 4K Broadcast Module. Coupled with an EPIC camera, you could record a 6K file for archive, while simultaneously feeding a 4K and/or HD live signal for broadcast. RED is selling studio broadcast configurations complete with camera, modules and support accessories as broadcast-ready packages.

df0715_f65Sony has been quickly gaining ground in the 4K market. Its CineAlta line includes the F65, PMW-F55, PMW-F5, PMW-F3, NEX-FS700R and NEX-FS100. All are HD-capable and use Super 35mm sized image sensors, with the lower-end FS700R able to record 4K raw to an external recorder. At the highest end is the 20MP F65, which is designed for feature film production.df0715_f55 The camera is capable of 8K raw recording, as well as 4K, 2K and HD variations. Recordings must be made on a separate SR-R4 SR MASTER field recorder. For most users, the F55 is going to be the high-end camera for them if they purchase from Sony. It permits onboard recording in four formats: MPEG-2 HD, XAVC HD, SR File and XAVC 4K. With an external recorder, 4K and 2K raw recording is also available. High speeds up to 240fps (2K raw with the optional, external recorder) are possible. The F5 is the F55’s smaller sibling. It’s designed for onboard HD recording (MPEG-2 HD, XAVC HD, SR File). 4K and 2K recordings require an external recorder.

df0715_fs7The Sony camera that has caught everyone’s attention is the PXW-FS7. It’s designed as a lightweight, documentary-style camera with a form factor and rig that’s reminiscent of an Aaton 16mm film camera. It uses a Super 35mm sized sensor and delivers 4K resolution using onboard XAVC recording to XQD memory cards. XDCAM MPEG-2 HD recording (now) and ProRes (with a future upgrade) will also be possible. Also raw will be possible to an outboard recorder.

df0715_a7sSony has also not been left behind by the DSLR revolution. The A7s is an APS-C, full frame, mirrorless 12.2MP camera that’s optimized for 4K and low light. It can record up to 1080p/60 (or 720p/120) onboard (50Mbps XAVC S) or feed uncompressed HD and/or 4K (UHD) out via its HDMI port. It will record onboard audio and sports such pro features as Sony’s S-Log2 gamma profile.

With any overview, there’s plenty that we can’t cover. If you are in the market for a camera, remember many of these companies offer a slew of other cameras ranging from consumer to ENG/EFP offerings. I’ve only touched on the highlights. Plus there are others, like Grass Valley, Hitachi, Samsung and Ikegami that make great products in use around the world every day. Finally, with all the video-enabled smart phones and tablets, don’t be surprised if you are recording your next production with an iPhone or iPad!

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetwork.

©2015 Oliver Peters

Audio Tools Update

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Most video editors can get by with the audio editing tools that are built into their NLE. But if you want that extra audio finesse, then you really need some dedicated audio applications and plug-ins. 2014 is closing out nicely with new offerings from Sony Creative Software and iZotope.

Sony Creative Software – Sound Forge Expands

df_audiotools_1Sony’s software arm – known for Acid, Vegas and Sound Forge, to name a few – has expanded its Mac audio offerings. Although Sony’s audio applications have traditionally been Windows-based, Sony previously ventured into the Mac ecosystem with its 1.0 version of Sound Forge Pro for the Mac. This year version 2.0 was released, which includes more features, power and support for 64-bit plug-ins. All Sound Forge Mac versions are architected for OS X and not simply a port from Windows.

As before, Sound Forge Pro continues to be a file-based editor and not a multi-track DAW designed for mixing. It supports high-resolution files up to 24-bit/192 kHz. Although file-based, it can handle up to 32-channel files and is capable of recording, as well as editing and mastering. The Pro version includes a number of Sony and iZotope plug-ins designed for mastering (EQ, reverb, multi-band compressor, limiter, imager and exciter), post processing (sample rate and bit depth conversion) and restore/repair (declicker, denoiser and declipper).

A new addition is the inclusion of the iZotope Nectar Elements plug-in. The Nectar series is a channel strip, all-in-one filter that combines a number of the processes that a recording engineer would place in the signal chain when recording vocals. However, it can still be used on music and mixed tracks without issue. Nectar Elements is the “lite” version of the full Nectar filter and is being bundled with a number of the Sony applications, including Vegas Pro. Another included filter is the Zplane élastique Pro time stretch and pitch shift plug-in.

df_audiotools_2The Convrt batch tool – a freestanding utility for mass file conversions – comes with Sound Forge Pro Mac 2. Load your files, set up the script and the rest is automated. If you purchase Sound Forge Pro as part of the Audio Mastering Bundle, you also get SpectraLayers Pro 2, an audio spectrum editing tool. Even without it, Sound Forge Pro Mac 2 now enables data interoperability between it and SpectraLayers Pro 2.

Loudness compliance is of big concern to broadcasters, so Sound Forge Pro Mac 2 now includes CALM Act compliant metering. Unfortunately, the read-out is by numbers and meters without the visual eye candy of an Insight or Radar-style meter; however, it does provide true peak values.

Mid-year, Sony also released Sound Forge for the Mac App Store. It doesn’t have all of the bell-and-whistles as the Pro version and due to the App Store’s sandboxing policies has other minor differences. Convrt and the iZotope plug-ins are not included; however, most of everything else is. Both versions support 64-bit AU and VST plug-ins. Both include real-time previewing. Both have generally the same tech specs. One extra that comes with Sound Forge is Wave Hammer, Sony’s own mastering compressor. It is not included in the Pro version. Lastly, both versions come with a large amount of downloadable sound effects content, which is available to users as a separate download, once they’ve registered the software.

There are a lot of audio tools on the market, but I find Sound Forge or Sound Forge Pro Mac 2 to be definite must-haves for the video editor serious about audio. The Sound Forge interface is clean and customizable and the operation is very intuitive. With nearly every spot I cut in FCP X, I’ll bounce the mix out to Sound Forge Pro for a mastering pass. Same if I need to modify a TV mix for a radio spot.

iZotope – Nectar

df_audiotools_4iZotope is one of the top audio plug-in developers and you’ll find their products bundled with a number of applications, including those from Sony and Adobe. One cool plug-in is the Nectar product, which is marketed in three versions: Nectar 2, Nectar Elements and Nectar Production Suite. These are compatible with most audio and video hosts that support AAX (Pro Tools), RTAS/AudioSuite, VST and AU plug-ins.

Nectar 2 is an all-in-one plug-in that combines eleven tools: plate reverb, pitch, FX, delay, de-esser, saturation, compressors, gate, EQ and limiter. It functions a lot like a very sophisticated channel strip in a mixing console, except with a lot more processes. Although designed with vocal recording in mind, it can easily be used for music and/or mastering. The interface presents you with an overview and easy controls for all tools, but then you can open each individual tool for more precise adjustments. It includes over 150 presets. You can switch between tracking and mixing modes for low-latency processing.

Nectar Elements is a reduced-feature version of Nectar 2. The controls tend to be more specific for vocal recording and the needs of home enthusiasts. On the other side is Nectar 2 Production Suite, which bundles the filter with a Pitch Editor and Breath Control plug-in for Nectar 2.

iZotope – RX 4

df_audiotools_5The biggest iZotope news is the release of the RX 4 audio repair and enhancement tool – the latest in iZotope’s RX series. RX 4 comes in a standard and advanced version and both include the RX 4 standalone application, as well as a set of RX 4 plug-ins that are compatible with a wide range of hosts. Built-in tools include declip, declick, hum removal, denoise, spectral repair, deconstruct (advanced), dereverb (advanced), leveler (advanced), EQ match (advanced), ambience match (advanced), time & pitch (advanced), loudness (advanced), gain, EQ, channel operations, resample and dither. Most, but not all of these, are also installed as RX 4 real-time plug-ins. Third-party plug-ins can also be accessed and used in the standalone RX 4 application. The breadth of what RX 4 offers makes it the biggest gun in the arsenal of most dialogue editors and sound designers, who are tasked with cleaning up challenging location recordings.

df_audiotools_3A powerful, new feature is RX Connect, which is a special “conduit” plug-in. It sets up a roundtrip between your host audio application and the RX 4 standalone application. For example, if you edit in Pro Tools, Audition or Sound Forge, highlight a range or a set of audio clips and select the RX Connect plug-in. (Where and how you select it will differ with each application). This opens an RX 4 window where you choose to send the selection to the RX 4 application. There you can process the clip as needed and send it back to the host application. In this way, you can use the individual effects as real-time plug-ins inside your audio host, or use the advanced processing power of the standalone application via the RX Connect roundtrip.

df_audiotools_6In addition to loudness processing, RX 4 Advanced also includes the Insight metering suite. This is iZotope’s extensive set of audio analysis and metering tools. It can be used for troubleshooting or to assure broadcast loudness compliance. Two other Advanced tools – EQ Match and Ambiance Match are ideal for the dialogue editor. EQ Match is exactly what the name implies. Here you send both a reference clip and a clip to be processed to the RX 4 application. The second clip is then analyzed and “matched” to the sonic qualities of the first. A common video editing practice is to cut out unwanted audio in your dialogue tracks, such as director’s cues, background noises, etc. This leaves gaps of silence in your track that need to be filled with ambient sound. In Ambiance Match, RX 4 samples areas of background sound between the spoken dialogue and creates a sound print from the quiet areas. RX 4 uses this to fill in gaps “automagically” between clips.

Finally, the standalone RX 4 application comes with built-in batch processing. There, you can set up a series of processing steps and the output location, naming and file formats. Add a set of files, apply the batch steps and process the files. iZotope’s RX 4 repair suite is a unique tool that is hard to beat when struggling with difficult audio that you want to make pristine. It’s a product that keeps getting better and, with the addition of the new RX Connect plug-in, provides better interoperability than ever before.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetwork

©2014 Oliver Peters

Color LUTs for the Film Aesthetic

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Newer cameras offer the ability to record in log gamma profiles. Those manufactured by Sony, ARRI and Canon have become popular, and with them, so have a new class of color correction filters used by editors. Color look-up tables, known as LUTs, have long been used to convert one color space to another, but now are increasingly used for creative purposes, including film stock emulation. A number of companies offer inexpensive plug-ins to import and apply common 3D color LUTs within most NLEs, grading software and compositors.

While many of these developers include their own film look LUTs, it is also easy to create your own LUTs that are compatible with these plug-ins. A commonly used LUT format is .cube, which can easily be generated by a knowledgable editor using DaVinci Resolve, AMIRA Color Tool or FilmConvert, to name a few.

Most LUTs are created with a particular color space in mind, which means you actually need two LUTs. The first, known as a camera profile patch, adjusts for a specific model of camera and that manufacturer’s log values. The second LUT provides the desired “look”. Depending on the company, you may have a single filter that combines the look with the camera patch or you may have to apply two separate filters. LUTs are a starting point, so you will still have to color correct (grade) the shots to get the right look. Often in a chain of filters, you will want the LUT as the last effect and do all of your grading ahead of that filter. This way you aren’t trying to recover highlights or shadow detail that might have been compressed by the LUT values.

Color Grading Central’s LUT Utility

df_lut_2a_smThe LUT Utility has become a “go to” tool for Final Cut Pro X editors who want to use LUTs. It installs with eleven basic LUTs, which include a number of camera log to Rec 709 patches, as well as several film looks for Fuji, Kodak, 2 Strip and 3 Strip emulation. LUT Utility installs as a Motion template and also appears as a System Preferences pane. You may use this pane to install additional LUTs, however, you can also install them by placing the LUT file into the correct Motion template folder. Since it uses LUTs in the .cube format, any application that generates a 3D LUT in that format can be used to create a new LUT that is compatible with LUT Utility. When you apply a LUT Utility filter to a clip or an adjustment layer inside FCP X, the inspector pane for the filter gives you access to all recognized LUTs through a pulldown menu. The only control is a slider to adjust the amount of the LUT that is applied.

Color Grading Central also has a partnership with visionColor to bundle the Osiris film emulation filters separately or together with LUT Utility. The Osiris set includes nine film emulations that cover a number of stocks and stylized looks. They are provided in the .cube format. Although both the Color Grading Central and Osiris filters are offered for FCP X, it’s worth noting that the LUTs themselves are compatible with Avid Media Composer, Adobe Creative Cloud, Autodesk Smoke and DaVinci Resolve. One thing to be careful of in FCP X, is that Apple also includes its own log processing for various cameras, such as the ARRI ALEXA, and often applies this automatically. When you apply a LUT to log footage in FCP X, make sure you are not double-processing the image. Either use a LUT designed for Rec 709 imagery, or set the FCP X log processing for the clip to “none”, when using a LUT designed for log color space.

In addition to Osiris, visionColor and Color Grading Central developed the ImpulZ LUT series. ImpulZ comes in a Basic, Pro and Ultimate set of LUTs, based on the camera profiles you typically need to work with. It covers a mixture of stock brands and types, including negative print and still film stocks. The Ultimate collection includes about 1950 different LUT files. In addition to camera profiles, these LUTs also cover four gamma profiles, including film contrast, film print, VisionSpace and Cineon Log (Ultimate only). The VisionSpace profile is their own flatter curve that is more conducive to further grading.

Koji Color

df_lut_2b_smAnother LUT package just released for Final Cut Pro X – but also compatible with other applications – is Koji Color. This is a partnership between noted color timer Dale Grahn (Predator, Saving Private Ryan, Dracula) and plug-in developer Crumplepop. This partnership previously resulted in the Dale Grahn Color iPad app. Unlike many other film emulation packages that attempt to apply a very stylized look, Koji Color, is design to provide an accurate emulation of a number of popular print stocks.

As implied by the name (Koji appears to be a mash-up of “Kodak” and “Fuji”), three key stocks from each brand are covered, including Kodak 2383, 2393, 2302 (B&W) and Fuji 3514, 3521, 3523. Each print stock has specific contrast and color characteristics, which these LUTs seek to duplicate. In FCP X, you select and apply the correct version of the filter based on camera type. Then from the inspector, select the film stock. There are extra skiers to tweak saturation and exposure (overall, hi, mid, shadow). This helps you dial in the look more precisely.

Koji Color comes in three product packages. The basic Koji DSLR is a set of filters that you would apply to standard HD cameras running in the video and not log mode. The output format is Rec 709 video. If you shoot with a lot of log profile cameras, then you’ll want Koji Log, which also includes Koji DSLR. This package includes the same LUTs, but with filters that have built-in camera patches for each of the various camera models that shoot log. Again, the output format is Rec 709.

The most expensive bundle is Koji Studio, which also includes the other two packages. The main difference is that Studio also supports output in the DCI-P3 color space. This is intended for digital intermediate color correction, which goes beyond the needs of most video editors.

SpeedLooks

df_lut_3_smLookLabs is the development side of Canadian post facility Jump Studios. As an outgrowth of their work for clients and shows, the team developed a set of film looks, which they branded under the name SpeedLooks. If you use Adobe Creative Cloud, then you know that SpeedLooks comes bundled for use in Adobe Premiere Pro CC and SpeedGrade CC. Like the other film emulation LUTs, SpeedLooks are based on certain film stocks, but LookLabs decided to make their offerings more stylized. There are specific bundles covering different approaches to color, including Clean, Blue, Gold and others.

SpeedLooks come in both .cube and Adobe’s .look formats, so you are not limited to only using these with Adobe products. LookLabs took a slightly different approach to cameras, by designing their looks based on the starting point of their own virtual log space. This way they can adjust for the differences in the log spaces of the various cameras. A camera patch converts the camera’s log or Rec 709 profile into LookLabs’ own log profile. When using SpeedLooks, you should first apply a camera profile patch as one filter and then the desired look filter as another.

If you use Premiere Pro CC, all you need to do is apply the Lumetri color correction effect. A standard OS dialogue opens to let you navigate to the right LUT file. Need to change LUTs? Simply click the set-up icon in the effect control window and select a different file. If you use SpeedGrade CC, then you apply the camera patch at the lowest level and the film look LUT at the highest level, with primary and secondary grading layers in between. LookLabs also offers a version of SpeedLooks for editors. This lower-cost package supplies the same film look LUTs, but intended for cameras that are already in the Rec 709 color space. All of these filters can be used in a number of applications, as well as in FCP X through Color Grading Central’s LUT Utility.

Like all of these companies, LookLabs has taken time to research how to design LUTs that match the response of film. One area that they take pride in is the faithful reproduction of skin tones. The point is to skew the color in wide ranges, without resulting in unnatural skin tones. Another area is in highlight and shadow detail. LUTs are created by applying curve values to the image that compress the highlight and shadow portion of the signal. By altering the RGB values of the curve points, you get color in addition to contrast changes. With SpeedLooks, as highlights are pushed to the top and shadows to the bottom, there is still a level of detail that’s retained. Images aren’t harshly clipped or crushed, which leaves you with a more filmic response that rolls off in either direction.

FilmConvert

df_lut_4_smFilmConvert (an arm of Rubber Monkey Software) is now in the 2.0 version of its popular film emulation application and plug-ins. You may purchase it as a standalone tool or as filters for popular NLEs. Unlike the others that use a common LUT format, like .cube, FilmConvert does all of its action internally. The plug-ins not only provide film emulation, but are also full-fledged, 3-way color correction filters. In fact, you could use a FilmConvert filter as the sole grading tool for all of your work. FilmConvert filters are available for Adobe, Avid, Final Cut and in the OFX format for Resolve, Vegas and Scratch. The Resolve version doesn’t include the 3-way color correction function.

You may keep your setting generic or select specific camera models. If you don’t have that camera profile installed, the filter will prompt you to download the appropriate camera file from their website. Once installed, you are good to go. FilmConvert offers a wide range of stock types for emulation. These include more brands, but also still photo stocks, such as Polaroid. The FilmConvert emulations are based on color negative film (or slide transparencies) and not release print stocks, like those of Koji Color.

In addition to grading and emulating certain stocks, FilmConvert lets you apply grain in a variety of sizes. From the control pane, dial in the amount of the film color, curve and grain, which is separate from the adjustments made with the 3-way color correction tool. New in this updated version is that you can generate a 3D LUT from your custom look. In doing so, you can create a .cube file ready for application elsewhere. This file will carry the color information, though not the grain. The standalone version is a more complete grading environment, complete with XML roundtrips and accelerated rendering.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetwork

©2014, 2015 Oliver Peters

Photo Phun 2014

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I’m back again this year with another post about stylizing photography. Thanks to Adobe’s Creative Cloud subscription model, the interest in alternatives to Photoshop has increased.

One application I ran across this year was Pixlr, which has been picked up by Autodesk. Free PC and Mac versions are available at their website and through the Mac App Store. You may then opt to extend it with a subscription. However, there’s plenty of power in the free version if your main interest is basic image correction (color adjustments, cropping, reframing). Of course, given the interest in stylizing photos with filters – the “Instagram” look – Pixlr features a number of menu options for effects, overlays and image styles. These are based on in-app downloads, so as you pick a category, the necessary files are downloaded and installed in the background to populate the selection, thus creating a library of elements to work with.

Below are a set of images processed with the free version of Pixlr. I’ve used many of these photo examples before, so if you check out the previous Photo Phun posts, you’ll be able to compare some of the same photos, but with different looks and styles. Click on any image below for a slideshow.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! See you in the new year!

©2014 Oliver Peters

Stocking Stuffers 2014

df_stuff14_1_smAs we head toward the end of the year, it’s time to look again at a few items you can use to spruce up your edit bay.

Let’s start at the computer. The “tube” Mac Pro has been out for nearly a year, but many will still be trying to get the most life out of their existing Mac Pro “tower”. I wrote about this awhile back, so this is a bit of a recap. More RAM, an internal SSD and an upgraded GPU card are the best starting points. OWC and Crucial are your best choices for RAM and solid state drives. If you want to bump up your GPU, then the Sapphire 7950 (Note: I have run into issues with some of these cards, where the spacer screws are too tall, requiring you to install the card in slot 2) and/or Nvidia GTX 680 Mac Edition cards are popular choices. However, these will only give you an incremental boost if you’ve already been running an ATI 5870 or Nvidia Quadro 4000 display card. df_stuff14_2_smIf you have the dough and want some solid horsepower, then go for the Nvidia Quadro K5000 card for the Mac. To expand your audio monitoring, look at Mackie mixers, KRK speakers and the PreSonus Audiobox USB interface. Naturally there are many video monitor options, but assuming you have an AJA or Blackmagic Design interface, FSI would be my choice. HP Dreamcolor is also a good option when connecting directly to the computer.

The video plug-in market is prolific, with plenty of packages and/or individual filters from FxFactory, Boris, GenArts, FCP Effects, Crumplepop, Red Giant and others. I like the Universe package from df_stuff14_3_smRed Giant, because it supports FCP X, Motion, Premiere Pro and After Effects. Red Giant continues to expand the package, including some very nice new premium effects. If you are a Media Composer user, then you might want to look into the upgrade from Avid FX to Boris Red. Naturally, you can’t go wrong with FxFactory, especially if you use FCP X. There’s a wide range of options with the ability to purchase single filters – all centrally managed through the FxFactory application.

df_stuff14_4_smFor audio, the go-to filter companies are iZotope, Waves and Focusrite to name a few. iZotope released some nice tools in its RX4 package – a state-of-the-art repair and restoration suite. If you just want a suite of EQ and compression tools, then Nectar Elements or Nectar 2 are the best all-in-one collections of audio filters. While most editors do their audio editing/mastering within their NLE, some need a bit more. Along with a 2.0 bump for Sound Forge Pro Mac, Sony Creative Software also released a standard version of Sound Forge through the Mac App Store.

df_stuff14_5_smIn the color correction world, there’s been a lot of development in film emulation look-up tables (LUTs). These can be used in most NLEs and grading applications. If that’s for you, check out ImpulZ and Osiris from Color Grading Central (LUT Utility required with FCP X), Koji Color or the new SpeedLooks 4 (from LookLabs). Each package offers a selection of Fuji and Kodak emulations, as well as other stylized looks. These packages feature LUT files in the .cube and/or .look (Adobe) LUT file formats and, thus, are compatible with most applications. If you want film emulation that also includes 3-way grading tools and adjustable film grain, your best choice is FilmConvert 2.0.

df_stuff14_6_smAnother category that is expanding covers the range of tools used to prep media from the camera prior to the edit. This had been something only for DITs and on-set “data wranglers”, but many videographers are increasingly using such tools on everyday productions. These now offer on-set features that benefit all file-based recordings. Pomfort Silverstack, ShotPut Pro, Redcine-X Pro and Adobe Prelude have been joined by new tools. To start, there’s Offload and EditReady, which are two very specific tools. Offload simply copies and verifies camera-card media to two target drives. EditReady is a simple drag-and-drop batch convertor to transcode media files. These join QtChange (a utility to batch-add timecode and reel IDs to media files) and Better Rename (a Finder renaming utility) in my book, as the best single-purpose production applications.

df_stuff14_7_smIf you want more in one tool, then there’s Bulletproof, which has now been joined in the market by Sony Creative Software’s Catalyst Browse and Prepare. Bulletproof features media offload, organization, color correction and transcoding. I like it, but my only beef is that it doesn’t properly handle timecode data, when present. Catalyst Browse is free and similar to Canon’s camera utility. It’s designed to read and work with media from any Sony camera. Catalyst Prepare is the paid version with an expanded feature set. It supports media from other camera manufacturers, including Canon and GoPro.

df_stuff14_8_smFinally, many folks are looking for alternative to Adobe Photoshop. I’m a fan of Pixelmator, but this has been joined by Pixlr and Mischief. All three are available from the Mac App Store. Pixlr is free, but can be expanded through subscription. In its basic form, Pixlr is a stylizing application that is like a very, very “lite” version of Photoshop; however, it includes some very nice image processing filters. Mischief is a drawing application designed to work with drawing tablets, although a mouse will work, too.

©2014 Oliver Peters