Brewing up a Scene File for the PMW-350 (and other cameras)

I decided to write a more detailed post to continue the discussions on scene file settings for the PMW-350. This is a work in progress. Some of this may also be of interest to other camera users as I hope to give a basic description of what all the various settings do.

First off let me say that there is no “right way” or “wrong way” to set up a scene file. What works for one person may not be to anothers taste, or suit different applications. For me, my requirements are a neutral look, not over corrected or too vivid, but retaining a pleasing contrast range. I hope, as this thread develops to explain a little bit about each of the settings and what they actually do in the hope that it will make it easy for you to adjust the scene files to suit your own needs. I hope others will jump in with their suggestions too!

So first of all I have been looking at the sharpness of the image. The principle settings that affect this are the Detail and Aperture settings.

Detail enhances rapid transitions from light to dark within the pictures by exaggerating the transition with the addition of a black or white edge. So it only really works on object outlines and larger details (low frequency). The circuitry that determines where these edges are uses an electronic delay to compare adjacent pixels to see whether they are brighter or darker compared to each other. Because of this any rapid movement within the frame stops the circuitry from working. If you have picture with a lot of detail correction and you do a pan for example the image will appear to go soft as soon as the camera moves as the detail circuitry can no longer determine where the edges within the image are and thus applies less detail correction. A good way to visually gauge how much detail a camera is applying to a clip is to look for this. With a good high resolution camera, set up well, it should not be all that obvious, but a low resolution camera that uses lots of detail correction to compensate will exhibit lots of softening on pans.

As well as adjusting the amount of detail correction (Detail Level), you can also adjust the ratio of horizontal and vertical correction, the maximum brightness or darkness of the applied edges (white and black limit). The thickness of the edges (frequency), the minimum contrast change that the correction will be applied to (crispening) and you can tell the camera not to apply detail correction to dark areas (level depend).

The other setting that effects picture sharpness is Aperture. Aperture correction is a high frequency boost circuit, it simply, in effect, enhances transitions from dark to light or light to dark in fine detail and textures such as fabrics, skin, hair, grass etc. It’s operation is not as obvious as “Detail” correction, but if overdone it can make textures sparkle with flashes of white or black, all very un-natural.

An important note about image detail is that if you have too much of it for the given image resolution then you get problems such as aliasing and moire which manifest themselves as rainbows of colour or buzzing, jittering areas in the picture. If you want to know more about this look up Nyquist theory. This is one of the reasons why downconverting HD to SD and getting a good picture can be harder than you might think as you are often starting out with too much detail (but that’s another topic on it’s own).

So… on to the PMW-350. Out of the box it’s really sharp. The camera has full 1920×1080 sensors, so even with all detail correction turned off the image is still pretty sharp. However most viewers are used to seeing picture with some detail correction, so if you turn it all off, to many it looks soft. If you were going for a really filmic look, detail off and aperture off would have to be a serious option. For my customers though a little bit of subtle “zing” seems to be what they like.

I found that these settings worked well for general all-round use.

Detail Level -14?H/V Ratio +20 (helps balance horizontal and vertical resolution)?Frequency +35 (makes the edges thinner, if your doing a lot of SD you may want to go the other way to -50 so that the edges can still be seen in SD)?White Limit +35 (limits brightness of white edges)?Black Limit +30 (limits darkness of black edges)

Aperture -20

If you are doing a lot of grading and work with low key scenes (large dark areas) you can use the level depend and crispening settings to help prevent “detail” being added to any picture noise. This makes any noise less apparent.

A starting point for this would be:

Crispening +35?Level depend +20

For normal light levels these are not needed with the 350 IMHO. If you are shooting with more than +6db gain then raising the level depend to +60 will help with noise.

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