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J Van Auken

What's wrong with my 16mm?

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I've been shooting around, testing an SR I just received, and just got the film scans back.

 

I'm less than thrilled with the results after giving a new facility a try from the usual lab I go to. I'd hoped to find a place that could deliver a cleaner/smoother result, and not necessarily just the highest resolution.

 

The scan sent back displayed the same very sharp, prominent grain across the image that I've seen in the scans I've gotten before. Notably, the bright and colored specks of grain in areas that should be totally black.

 

Here are some screen grabs:

https://imgur.com/a/D4X8c0Y

 

That's Vision2 500T, rated at 250, and scanned on a Spirit 2k with DVNR applied.

 

This is the second lab I've personally used, and the third scanner (Spirit 2k, ScanStation, and Xena) and in each case I get this prominent grain pattern in the blacks, even when overexposing, and even when ordering grain reduction and color passes from the lab. Scan samples from labs never have this overbearing texture, and I seriously have to wonder what I'm doing wrong.

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Do you see the white specs in the negative on a light table with a loupe? This doesn't not look like film grain, more like noise from the scanning sensor

Edited by David Sekanina

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Do you see the white specs in the negative on a light table with a loupe? This doesn't not look like film grain, more like noise from the scanning sensor

 

I really don't. I pulled a few feet and took a look, and sure, I can see grain, but shadows are just clear bits of negative.

 

Something I'm doing/ordering is resulting in these noisy/grainy scans from what are supposed to be top of the line machines. Obviously, there are a lot of steps between negative and final product for things like Fruitvale Station, Mother! and Black Swan, but I never see other 16mm with this kind of prominent grain and I want to know what step(s) I'm missing, short of booking a full DI at Fotokem.

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Are these images representative of the actual scans? Imgur re-compresses the images, and I'm seeing all kinds of weird compression happening around the edges, in addition to the white specs you're seeing. ...Especially in the area around the subject's head in the first shot, there is what looks like spatial compression artifacting.

 

What I'm seeing doesn't look like grain, it looks like digital noise. Did you see *exactly* the same thing in all three scans? If so, I think there's something else going on here. Can you upload the actual scans, not recompressed (like a TIFF or DPX file from each) to something like DropBox? You can't evaluate image quality using a service like imgur.

 

The grain is what makes up the picture. If you're pushing the grain back at the scan stage with DVNR I'd argue you're not scanning the film in an optimal way. A proper scan should represent what's on the film, especially now, when there are a million tools to adjust the look later (such as grain reduction/removal, if that's what you want). With telecine, you kind of needed to do that stuff at the transfer stage, but with modern scanning, the scan itself is just one step.

Edited by Perry Paolantonio
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hmm, yes it's even in the DPX files.

You wrote it was shot on Vision 2 stock - that was discontinued in 2009. Has it been in the freezer for the past 9 years?

Then again I've never seen expired film with a 'digital' looking noise like that.

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hmm, yes it's even in the DPX files.

You wrote it was shot on Vision 2 stock - that was discontinued in 2009. Has it been in the freezer for the past 9 years?

Then again I've never seen expired film with a 'digital' looking noise like that.

 

Yeah it was from stock I bought new in college and kept frozen/refrigerated since then.

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A proper scan should represent what's on the film, especially now, when there are a million tools to adjust the look later (such as grain reduction/removal, if that's what you want).

 

I definitely understand and agree with getting the most 'true' scan possible under most circumstances, but for the purposes of the film I'm shooting now, I am really looking for a one-stop solution where I can be happy with the best-light scans straight from a lab.

 

Not that I any longer have the machines to run them, but I'm curious which post-tools you would recommend that best tackle the kind of noise/grain I'm seeing? I've been a long time user of Resolve, and NeatVideo, but I've found the way they 'clean up' 16mm to produce some very strange results, irrespective of which settings and mix of temporal and spatial reductions I use. If you know of any better, accessible tools for the job, I'm all ears.

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Did all of the scans you did (on all three scanners) have similar issues, or is this just from the most recent scanner? What flavor of ProRes was the film scanned to, and was it scanned directly to ProRes or to something else then converted? If the latter, what format was it scanned to, and what tools were used to make the ProRes?

 

I ask because, aside from the terrible overall look, the artifacting around high contrast edges suggests a fair bit of spatial compression. ProRes, in its better flavors (422HQ/4444HQ/4444XQ) should not have any visible compression artifacts. But if it's ProRes Proxy or LT, you might see something like that. If it was scanned to something like DPX then processed in, say, ffmpeg or some other unlicensed ProRes encoder, then it's possible you'd see this. I mean, that could be caused by a lot of stuff, but it sure looks like compression to me.

 

As for the grain issues you're seeing, that looks like it might have come from DVNR - like the edges are overly pronounced, which is indicative of a sharpening or aperture filter. Maybe.

 

What scanner was this set of frames scanned on?

 

Regarding grain and noise reduction - can't help you there. We don't use or offer any kind of post-scan grain management processing so I'm really not familiar with the tools out there these days. I like grain. But what you're seeing is something else - the grain has been heavily altered at some stage in the process, intentionally or not.

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This set of scans was from a Spirit 2k with DVNR, straight output to ProRes4444. This particular lab advertises that the scanner outputs it directly, and no conversion done. DPX were offered, but I wan't in the position to store those kinds of file sizes.

 

The grain that I'm seeing, specifically in the shadows, is typical of all the 16 and 35 I get back. Though its characteristics change from lab to lab, machine to machine, it's been a pervasive enough issue that I have to assume there's an error on my part. I have no problem with the grain in the upper midtones and highlights, as that's the whole reason I'm on film to begin with. It's just the shadows are so distracting, and anything but actual black.

 

As I said, no scanner demos ever look this way, and I'm hoping to find a solution that looks acceptable right out of the gate.

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OP, they look terrible. They look like still photos shot at ISO 25,000. Or digital that is pushed 4 or 5 stops. Is your film properly exposed?

 

Scan a sample of your film on a flatbed scanner and lets see what you really got with no post processing. That is the benchmark. The movie scanners output I've seen are just fair to poor in my opinion when it comes to scans. But I'm coming from still photography flatbed scans.

 

If you don't have a scanner, mail me a foot of your film and I will scan it for you.

Edited by Daniel D. Teoli Jr.

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This set of scans was from a Spirit 2k with DVNR, straight output to ProRes4444.

 

General rule - don't use DVNR. The problem with this kind of hardware is that it's not subtle at all. We have an old DigitalVision DVNR box from the analog video days when we were still authoring DVDs. It was the only way to get a decent MPEG2 encode. What most people did incorrectly though, was to use the noise reduction tools to smooth out the image and then the sharpening tools to bring back the sharpness that was lost. In reality all you needed to get good MPEG was the brickwall filter, and you had to be super careful about making sure you were setting it so that there was no visible change. Basically you just got rid of the super high frequency stuff that would cause MPEG encoders to freak out and cause artifacts. As soon as you could see a change in the image, you know you've gone way too far.

 

Most of what I see with DVNRs is that people try to strip grain and then tease some of that texture back, and it just looks terrible. I'm betting that's what's happening here.

 

As for your pronounced grain - it's something we see a lot in shadows but its something you can get rid of in color correction tools fairly easily. The tools you choose to do that can vary, but if you're seeing something like pronounced blue grain (a common thing in neg) then you might use curves to just subtly pull that blue out of the shadows

 

A lot of this stuff is affected by the stock, the age of the stock, the exposure, etc. If you've got underexposed 10 year old film you're likely to have some issues with it when it's transferred.

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General rule - don't use DVNR.

 

Do you have any experience/opinion on SCREAM grain management? That's other service offered at the lab (albeit on a different and costlier machine)

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This was an old 1975 8mm I had scanned a few years ago. The guy that scanned it did some noise reduction on the film. Before is no noise reduction, after has the noise reduction.

 

It was the first film I had scanned and don't know the tech details. He had a home scanning biz and produced it with some basic equipment. Nothing state of the art like we got today. I do know they were frame by frame scans as I bought all the TIFF files from him.

post-72141-0-56427700-1534202778_thumb.jpg

Edited by Daniel D. Teoli Jr.

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This was an old 1975 8mm I had scanned a few years ago.

 

That looks just like the type of image I've been after. Just a clean, smooth picture, perhaps not of the highest resolution or 'truest' to the source medium, but at the very least watchable.

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These stills look like something went very, very potato. Like, QC should have caught it before it left potato.

As someone whose been doing a bunch of tests and tinkering around with grain reduction pipelines, I'd strongly recommend two things:

 

1 unless its a mag scratch test, use a fresh 100' roll of film to rule out problems there, especially for any resolution or sharpness/flange depth tests.

 

2 scan WITHOUT any grain reduction. Neat Video alone is so powerful (and can re-composite your grain back in if you went too far) that its really kinda dicy to play with anything from the lab, especially if the person doing the grain reduction isnt from the days of lots of tv shows shooting super16. The only lab/scan place I'd even remotely consider letting run a spirit's SCREAM on is Fotokem, and thats just cause I've seen them actually do it tastefully. The catch is they are expensive, and if you're doing tests why not just use tools in Davinci or Neat Video and save the headache (and money)?

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Thanks for your thoughts on SCREAM. I'm unfamiliar with it, and not in a terrific position to go through another full scan on all the footage.

 

 

why not just use tools in Davinci or Neat Video and save the headache (and money)?

 

I've been making due this way in the past, but I'm just not entirely satisfied with the results regardless of the settings and mix of temporal and spatial reduction. I'm really after a one-stop solution that delivers acceptable results without requiring intensive post processes once they get back.

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Ya I think you either have an exposure or a scanning issue. That grain looks like garbage. I've scanned rolls of Vision2 500T on Super 8 sthat I shot last fall (so... well expired by the time it was shot and a smaller, therefore grainier format) and gotten less grain than this. Or rather, less peculiar grain like the white specks. I did overexpose the film about 2 stops and got a 2K scan with Perry at Gamma Ray Digital and the results were surprisingly great. I also applied the tiniest bit of noise reduction via Neat Video in Premiere but not to remove the grain, just reduce it so it wasn't quite so distracting.

I know it's not your preference but clearly getting subpar all-in-one telecines to save time over getting proper scans isn't saving you time or money at all. Best to just do it right the first time rather than continuing to have issues. Also you still need to set your black levels in those shots. All of them will benefit greatly from some light color correction.

Also as a matter of personal opinion, I think the B&W still linked above look too grainless. I like my film to still have SOME grain or else it feels too much like video. I'm clearly not against some grain reduction though if it's too distracting.

 

I've attached a still of that Vision2 500T shot on Super 8 in a Nizo 156 Macro which ain't the sharpest camera ever just to give you an example of a similar film and grain. Click for full size. 1) Raw 2K scan which shows LOTS of grain but normal grain. Just extra since it's expired. Nothing like your grain. 2) color correction 3) slight grain reduction. So I think you can handle it!

l3BpUnm.jpg

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Ya I think you either have an exposure or a scanning issue. That grain looks like garbage. I've scanned rolls of Vision2 500T on Super 8 sthat I shot last fall (so... well expired by the time it was shot and a smaller, therefore grainier format) and gotten less grain than this. Or rather, less peculiar grain like the white specks. I did overexpose the film about 2 stops and got a 2K scan with Perry at Gamma Ray Digital and the results were surprisingly great. I also applied the tiniest bit of noise reduction via Neat Video in Premiere but not to remove the grain, just reduce it so it wasn't quite so distracting.

 

I know it's not your preference but clearly getting subpar all-in-one telecines to save time over getting proper scans isn't saving you time or money at all. Best to just do it right the first time rather than continuing to have issues. Also you still need to set your black levels in those shots. All of them will benefit greatly from some light color correction.

 

Also as a matter of personal opinion, I think the B&W still linked above look too grainless. I like my film to still have SOME grain or else it feels too much like video. I'm clearly not against some grain reduction though if it's too distracting.

 

I've attached a still of that Vision2 500T shot on Super 8 in a Nizo 156 Macro which ain't the sharpest camera ever just to give you an example of a similar film and grain. Click for full size. 1) Raw 2K scan which shows LOTS of grain but normal grain. Just extra since it's expired. Nothing like your grain. 2) color correction 3) slight grain reduction. So I think you can handle it!

 

l3BpUnm.jpg

 

 

Nice work with the PP! But why is your first sample so flat? I would think the raw image would look better. This is why we need to see the OP's raw footage. To see what was what from the start.

 

Yes, agreed, the BW I posted is a little too plasticy of a look. But when you depend on others doing the work you are stuck with choice 'A' or 'B' sometimes. That is why I would like to do the work myself if I could, to have more options.

 

I had hired him because he was willing to do the underground material that others had refused to scan and he was willing to take a song off YouTube and marry it to my film. In the end I bought scans both ways from him...plastic look and non plastic look.

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Nice work with the PP! But why is your first sample so flat? I would think the raw image would look better. This is why we need to see the OP's raw footage. To see what was what from the start.

 

Because it's a flat log scan from color neg. That's how they look.

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I know it's not your preference but clearly getting subpar all-in-one telecines to save time over getting proper scans isn't saving you time or money at all.

 

That's what's confusing. It was scanned on a Spirit 2k, not one of the older telecine machines.

 

 

 

Also you still need to set your black levels in those shots. All of them will benefit greatly from some light color correction

 

This was the best-light color that was sent back, so I could bring the black levels down, but the specks in the shadows still show prominently. I'd prefer not to have to crush the bottom 10IRE just to get an acceptable picture.

 

Maybe 'one-stop-shop' is a misnomer. Frankly, I'm looking for a place to go that provides a clean picture that doesn't require me to do full grain passes once they get back. When I worked as a colorist, that was a non-issue, but I'm in a very different line of work now and don't want to have to maintain the hardware suite just to shoot my personal stuff.

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Maybe 'one-stop-shop' is a misnomer. Frankly, I'm looking for a place to go that provides a clean picture that doesn't require me to do full grain passes once they get back. When I worked as a colorist, that was a non-issue, but I'm in a very different line of work now and don't want to have to maintain the hardware suite just to shoot my personal stuff.

 

I think you're overestimating what is necessary with today's tools. I work with 2K Super 8 scans all day on a 2012 Mac Pro and a 2013 13" MBP so neither of them cutting edge by any means and I get by just fine with Premiere and the Lumetri Color panel (and Scopes) in that program. Or many people recommend Resolve as it's free and powerful but I just don't know it. Honestly you can get halfway decent results with Auto Color in Premiere. I'd definitely say don't crush blacks just to save the picture but everything needs a little contrast added in my opinion. But ya those specks are super prominent. Too much.

 

And honestly I've never seen grain look so good until I got 2K scans. When I was getting V3 500T telecined it looked terribly grainy and overpowering but then I got my first 2K scan of 500T and was blown away! So was my client who was expecting something much grainier haha.

 

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And honestly I've never seen grain look so good until I got 2K scans.

 

Which leads to the heart of why this has been so frustrating, as this is a 2k scan from a spirit, far from a cheap option, and the results are unacceptable.

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Which leads to the heart of why this has been so frustrating, as this is a 2k scan from a spirit, far from a cheap option, and the results are unacceptable.

 

But it's from a spirit *through* a brute force image processing pipeline (DVNR). Now it may be that something is wrong with the telecine, but my guess is that more likely it's an issue with the signal processing.

 

One thing that I'm not sure a lot of people really get is that if you bring a film to a facility with a Spirit, and you bring the same film to a different facility, you will almost without a doubt, get different results. While the machine doing the transfer may be the same, they might have different options installed, could be different versions of the hardware or software, and more importantly, they almost definitely have different signal processing, specific to each facility. And I'm not even considering the possibility of operator error here, which is also a possibility.

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Honestly it looks like something wrong in the machine pipeline as mentioned-- some kind of algorithm somewhere messing up the bottom of the image. I would recommend just doing a flat scan-- not even a BEST LIGHT-- with NO Processing (well you know, as little as possible) to ProRes, even 422HQ and bringing that into some color program (hell even 3-way in FCP7) and seeing what is actually on the neg. Once you get into best lights and stuff you are no longer seeing what is on the actual neg, you are seeing what they colorist and or machine thought the neg should be as opposed to what the neg can be/is.

 

Honestly, the way I'd work on a big budget would be to shoot tests, flat scan, go into post with flat scan, set look-- that's now our preset for the dailies.

No budget; I'd ask for a flat scan 1080 in ProRes and bring that into resolve myself and do an auto-color just to see it, edit it (maybe mess around with colors myself to get an idea, though I'm no colorist), then re-scan and get the look as we want and / or bring in examples of ideas of the "look" and work with the colorist-- in person or via skype or whatever we need to do.

 

Now, onto the question at hand, what it seems you're doing wrong is having the machine do all the heavy lifting for you on a pre-set and then asking how you exposed wrong. The thing is you don't know if it's something you did, something on the neg, or something in a magical blinking box with the wrong settings. That's why you start on the neg (or a print in the old days) just as it is and then get to the grain stuff at the end of your coloring/correcting.

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