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Contrast ... and the 'film look'?


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I've been looking at footage shot on some current digital cinema cameras, from the BMPCC6K up to Canon and Sony top of the line cameras. I find a lot of the footage to have what I would call very heavy contrast. It's as if everything has been exposed in order to control blown out highlights, leaving the shadow and darker areas with no image information.

When I look at images shot on film, I see a much less contrasty image that retains detail in the shadows compared to today's fashion for overly contrasty images (in my opinion).

Here's the bit that surprises me the most. No one seems to be talking about this. Down in the comment section on youtube commenter after commenter praises the images crafted by the 'expert' who presents the video. I look at the images they generate and I prefer the 'before' image to their 'after' image. Does anyone else feel the same way?

I have a simple question to ask. Is this modern very high-contrast look a by-product of the latest cameras, in other words is it 'baked in' to the image, or can you get back to a less contrasty image in post? Are some cinema cameras more contrasty than others? I'm after a camera that smooths the contrast out as much as possible, in-camera.

Edited by Jon O'Brien
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As always, it is hard to link the final aspect of any youtube video - that will often be heavily corrected in post - to any generic topic like "film vs. digital" or "Sony vs. Canon". I am not even sure there is a real trend (proved statistically) of high contrast video. One could also talk about all these low-contrast low-saturation slow-motion videos that pop-up continuously. Maybe your feeling is just you not liking high contrast videos with no shadow details, and you notice/remind of these more than any other.

By the way, high-contrast high-saturation has always been a way to make the image more impressive. Postcards printers have been knowing this for ages.

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9 hours ago, Nicolas POISSON said:

As always, it is hard to link the final aspect of any youtube video - that will often be heavily corrected in post - to any generic topic like "film vs. digital" or "Sony vs. Canon"...

Well, I do think I'm onto something. And as I explained above it's something that not many seem to be mentioning in online videos or articles ... that I've seen so far. If anyone knows of interesting articles or videos on this subject I'd be really interested.

Perhaps I didn't explain myself well enough. I think basically what I mean is that for television broadcast for instance, it at least at one time applied that video had to be supplied that was I think what they termed 'broadcast safe'. That is, in terms of the levels of, for instance, contrast.

And to my eyes at least a lot of top movies in the cinema generally seem to try to have lower contrast images (within reason - I don't mean 'flat' images) compared to a lot of video I see online.

Anyway, I guess it's all a matter of what you like and what you don't. I generally don't like the look prevalent on many videos on youtube and vimeo that are allegedly shot by master videographers. If it was a painter you'd say they needed many tubes of carbon-based paint. If shooting outdoors in daylight for instance, areas of shadow, to my eyes, shouldn't be great swathes of intense dark with no information whatsoever. I'm well aware of course that videos on youtube and vimeo aren't seen at their best, and also that they are usually graded and modified in post by their creators. But these videos have to be viewed somewhere, and if these are the places they're viewed then surely efforts should be made to present them at their best. Where else are they going to be seen, other than by their clients - if they have clients?

A few years back there was a fashion for tv commercials to be washed-out with a milky look. Now things seem to have gone to the other extreme. That's okay. I just was curious for other's views on this. I do think in general film as it comes back from processing tends to have a smoother roll-off (not sure that's the right word in this context) of exposure variations within the frame. That is, if it's been exposed well.

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Where are the screenshots / photos being discussed? You can't discuss visuals with text only.

Forget about people comments...go with what appeals to your eye. Be true to your vision. If you are a hired gun, then give them what they ask for.  But if you are embarrassed or hate the work they demand of you...don't sign you name to it. Tell them you don't want to be credited as it is not representative of your work.

<><><><>

Atomic%20Bomb%20Family%20Photo%20Daniel%

Atomic Bomb Family - Found Photo

Post Processing: D.D.Teoli Jr.

 

Edited by Daniel D. Teoli Jr.
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3 hours ago, Daniel D. Teoli Jr. said:

Where are the screenshots / photos being discussed? You can't discuss visuals with text only.

Forget about people comments...go with what appeals to your eye. Be true to your vision. If you are a hired gun, then give them what they ask for.  But if you are embarrassed or hate the work they demand of you...don't sign you name to it. Tell them you don't want to be credited as it is not representative of your work.

<><><><>

Atomic%20Bomb%20Family%20Photo%20Daniel%

Atomic Bomb Family - Found Photo

Post Processing: D.D.Teoli Jr.

 

My God !   Is this real ?  Surely not.  If so, are these people alive now ?

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14 hours ago, Daniel D. Teoli Jr. said:

Where are the screenshots / photos being discussed? You can't discuss visuals with text only.

Forget about people comments...go with what appeals to your eye. Be true to your vision. If you are a hired gun, then give them what they ask for.  But if you are embarrassed or hate the work they demand of you...don't sign you name to it. Tell them you don't want to be credited as it is not representative of your work.

<><><><>

Atomic%20Bomb%20Family%20Photo%20Daniel%

Atomic Bomb Family - Found Photo

Post Processing: D.D.Teoli Jr.

 

I agree. Yes, I'm not so good with the ol' screenshots. That's just me. I don't have time to go looking for them or figure out how to do it. Perhaps I should type less. Agree with comments about signing name to work etc

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10 hours ago, Doug Palmer said:

Is this real ?

By that stage of the explosion sequence the shock wave would surely have reached the camera, and our seemingly oblivious subjects, knocking everyone and everything flat.

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I managed to find some footage from one of Canon's latest cinema cam lineup that I really like, since starting this thread. My confidence in the latest cameras and the latest taste in videography contrast 'look' has been re-energised.

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I do not know Canon cameras, but on my Fuji there must be like 10 looks built-in, including high-contrast + high-saturation (Velvia), low-contrast + low-saturation (Eterna), and several other looks in-between. These are all basis that I can tweak further in the shadows, highlights, and saturation. The dynamic range can be as low as 5 stops or close to 11 stops. Some looks allow for 64 times more DR than others on the same single camera! There is the same kind of system on the Sony A7 series (Picture Profiles), and I think on almost any hybrid/DSLR camera released since the 5DmkII. It is even more so on cameras that can record RAW or when using log: you are no longer limited to built-in camera looks. Again, I do not think it is possible to define any generic trend for a camera or a brand.

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Contrast is basically a gamma curve applied to the converted raw signal so there is no "inherent" contrast, there is only usable dynamic range that can have a gamma curved applied.  So if you really wanted to compare cameras and not how they apply a gamma curve, you'd probably have to look at tests shot of their dynamic range using something like a 21-step grey scale. And at different ISO settings since that affects usable dynamic range on some cameras.

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22 hours ago, Doug Palmer said:

My God !   Is this real ?  Surely not.  If so, are these people alive now ?

Looks exactly like the mushroom cloud from the Atomic Annie test in 1953,
the one and only time a nuclear warhead was fired from an M65 cannon.
The blast was recorded from approximately 6.5 miles away, with the cannon 
in the FG in the original footage.  Definitely comped here.  The explosive 
yield was around 15 kilotons, similar to the bomb that fell on Nagasaki.
 

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54 minutes ago, dan kessler said:

Looks exactly like the mushroom cloud from the Atomic Annie test in 1953,
the one and only time a nuclear warhead was fired from an M65 cannon.
The blast was recorded from approximately 6.5 miles away, with the cannon 
in the FG in the original footage.  Definitely comped here.  The explosive 
yield was around 15 kilotons, similar to the bomb that fell on Nagasaki.
 

That's a relief. I thought perhaps they'd been down in a roadside ditch.  Then just after it happened Dad told them to stand there for the photo 😁

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Thanks everyone. In retrospect, the last two years with lockdowns have affected output. There's really not a lot of footage online from the latest cameras (the ones I'm interested in, anyway) - cameras that were introduced already two years ago which can be a long time in digital land. What I was talking about above is clearly a fashion that is unrelated to brand. That's a relief. As for the merits of the look, as always, to each ... you know the saying.

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Sorry Jon, right off the subject I know...

Regarding Daniel's  'Found Photo'  that I fell for:   in this age of easy manipulation of images,  I hope nobody tries to airbrush in a rosy kind of way what happened  to a certain Japanese city and its inhabitants 77 years ago today.

Edited by Doug Palmer
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I do not think the fashion is that clear. As I said in my first post, one can also find many low-contrast low-saturation videos on You-tube, which I think would be considered by many as THE cinematic look. I would not have more data to support my statement than you, however. This is why I think it is more a question of what you do not like - and do notice - than a real trend. The only clear fashion I can think of might be super shallow depth of field or open mouth on the timestamps.

If the goal of this topic is more to talk about aesthetic choices than camera-related constraints, then it is hard to say anything without knowing the intent of each video.

Edited by Nicolas POISSON
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The look I wrote about above was evident on the great majority of the videos I've recently been watching, specifically on the cameras I mentioned above, all filmed in the last 2 years. I was sufficiently alarmed by what I saw that I felt compelled to begin this thread in order to figure out if cameras were getting more contrasty or was this an affect added in post. I want a camera that to me looks like film, which to me is a lower contrast look. Obviously some people may disagree - which is entirely fine.

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Posted (edited)

I don't quite follow your point Nicolas and why you keep making it.

Do you personally like a certain look in video? I like a certain look. I'm trying to figure something out, a pretty basic thing, such as which camera to use. Thus this thread. If you are saying that all camera brands are basically the same when it comes to contrast then I think you've sufficiently made your point. I am curious to discuss this topic with like-minded souls but it seems they're not to be found. No one seems to like the contrast topic. Fine. Let's all move on folks.

Edited by Jon O'Brien
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There are relationships between hardware limitation and contrast. In the old days of affordable DV cameras (Sony VX1000...), the usable dynamic range was like 5 stops. There was no other choice than getting a high-contrast image. It was a concern for many videographers that jealously looked at guys from the film world. Nowadays, any DSLR below $1000 allows for 10 stops or more of dynamic range. There is MORE usable dynamic range than ever before, and it keeps increasing. It is interesting to compare several generations:

https://www.photonstophotos.net/Charts/PDR.htm#Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5,Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2,Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3,Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4

What you consider to be "like film" seems to be low-contrast. Although not very scientific and highly debatable, it is a very common point of view (together with shallow depth of field). It is what so many video guys have dreamt of before and the Canon 5DmkII made it possible.

Thus:

- is there a technical reason for increasing contrast ? NO! That is the exact contrary.

- is contrast actually increasing ? Well, that is your feeling but "clearly" and "evident" are no proof. However, does this matter ?

- more important: can you get low contrast / high dynamic range (not HDR) with a recent and affordable camera ? SURE! Plenty of people have done it for years and keep doing it everyday. Usually, the more recent devices will give you slightly more DR than the older ones.

Edited by Nicolas POISSON
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