I kind of feel like we have been here once before. That’s probably because we have and I wrote about it first time around.
A typical video camera has a special filter in it called an optical low pass filter (OLPF). This filter deliberately reduces the contrast of fine details in the image that comes from the cameras lens and hits the sensor to prevent aliasing, jagged edges and moiré rainbow patterns. It’s a very important part of the cameras design. An HD camera will have a filter designed with a significant contrast reduction on parts of the image that approach the limits of HD resolution. So very fine HD details will be low contrast and slightly soft.
When you shoot with a 4K camera, the camera will have an OLPF that operates at 4K. So the camera captures lots of very fine, very high contrast HD information that would be filtered out by an HD OLPF. There are pro’s and con’s to this. It does mean that if you down convert from 4K or UHD to HD you will have an incredibly sharp image with lots of very fine high contrast detail. But that fine detail might cause aliasing or moiré if you are not careful.
The biggest issue will be with consumer or lower cost 4K cameras that add some image sharpening so that when viewed on a 4K screen the 4K footage really “pops”. When these sharpened and very crisp images are scaled down to HD the image can appear to flicker or “buzz”. This will be especially noticeable if the sharpening on the HD TV is set too high.
So what can you do? The most important thing is to include some form of anti-aliasing to the image when you down scale from 4K to HD. You do need to use a scaling process that will perform good quality pixel blending, image re-sampling or another form of anti-aliasing. A straight re-size will result in aliasing which can appear as either flicker, moire or a combination of both. Another alternative is to apply a 2 or 3 pixel blur to the 4K footage BEFORE re-sizing the image to HD. This seems a drastic measure but is very effective and has little impact on the sharpness of the final HD image. Also make sure that the sharpening on your TV is set reasonably low.
I previously wrote about this very same subject when HD cameras were being introduced and many people were using them for SD productions. The same issues occurred then. Here are the original articles:
The C300 is not Moiré free as can be seen from this blown up section of a frame grab. Once again it’s fine brickwork thats causing the problem. Now before everyone runs off in a panic, lets put this into perspective. The F3′ aliases, the Alexa aliases as do most single chip cameras. This is certainly no worse than an F3 and is right at the resolution limits of the camera, so your not going to see it very often. It takes a very fine, high contrast pattern, in sharp focus before you’ll see this kind of thing.
I’ve been testing and playing with my F3 and first off let me say this… I love this camera, it produces amazing images and I can play with lots of lenses!
But, it’s not all roses. The F3 suffers from aliasing. A zone plate shows extensive aliasing. Until today this had not caused any concerns as I had seen little evidence of it in actual footage, but when shooting some brick houses this afternoon I came across some coloured moire patterns appearing as faint coloured stripes across the brickwork in the footage. It’s not anywhere near as bad as a DSLR, my wife looked at the footage and didn’t notice it until I pointed it out to her, but it’s certainly there. This is disappointing on a camera at this price level, my EX1 doesn’t do this. Now the zone plate shows this to be an issue with the cut off of the optical low pass filter, so I doubt that there is much that can be done in the firmware, but then Sony have done some clever stuff in the past with firmware updates. When working on my picture profile settings I did find that increasing detail above -15 would increase the visibility of the aliases on the zone plate, however when I tested various detail settings with the brickwork there was little difference. I think Nigel Cooper has also seen this, but I’ve not seen it mentioned anywhere else. Has anyone else observed this?
As you may have seen from my earlier post I became the owner of the new Canon T2i (or 550D as it’s known in the UK) at the weekend. Clearly before using any camera in anger it’s important to see what it can and can’t do. I will say that I am not a Canon DSLR expert. I have been following the fuss and much admire some of the work done with these cameras by Phil Bloom, but frankly after playing with the Canon over the weekend I have to say I’m disappointed. Yes you can achieve shallow depth of field very easily and you do get a filmic look to the pictures, but look at the footage on a big monitor and it just looks soft. At first I wondered if this was the lens I was using, so I tried a couple of others including a nice Tamron 28mm prime. I tried different apertures, shutter speeds etc, but every clip I’ve taken looks soft. In isolation, on scenes with low detail this isn’t immediately apparent, but anything with lots of fine detail looks soft. Some of this is aliasing, look at the roof of the house in the T2i image, it appears to have diagonal roof tiles, this is a pretty typical aliasing artifact. I shot some closer shots of the buildings and the brickwork aliased like crazy.
Looking at the flowers picture you can see that the EX1 has picked up more of the subtle texture, or at least it has recorded more of the texture. I’m sure some of the Canon’s softness is due to compression artifacts. The other thing that I found is that it is tending to crush blacks a bit. I have played around with the picture styles and you can reduce this a bit, but there is very little detail in deep blacks, which would IMHO make grading tricky. The one good thing I did find was that it is very noise free at 200 and 400 asa, it’s also useable up to 800 asa or at a push 1600asa, so it would make a good camera for very low key scenes, provided you use a good fast lens. Looking at the Canon pictures there was something pleasing about the deep, almost crushed blacks. I think this helps contribute to the Canon DSLR “look” so I quickly threw together a new picture profile for the EX1/3 and PMW-350, but I’m afraid that the details of that will be the subject of another post, as I have work that I must do first! The EX images in the frame grabs were shot with this picture profile. As we all know the ergonomics of the video DSLR’s is pretty poor for video. It’s tricky to hold and you have to use an add on Loupe to make the LCD useable as a viewfinder. You can’t zoom mid shot and without peaking or zebras adjusting exposure and focus accurately is difficult. I was hoping to be able to use the 550D as a B camera for those situations where I need a small, discreet camera, but having seen the pictures, so far, for me it will be reserved for holidays and shooting where you not supposed to video and for shoots where supper shallow DoF is essential. I have to say I’m really disappointed, I wanted this camera to be so much better, I knew it would suffer from aliasing, but I wasn’t expecting the soft pictures, I guess some will say that the softness adds to the filmic look, but I’d much rather do that with some nice pro-mists or filtration in post production rather than starting out with soft pictures. Perhaps I’ve done something wrong? If I have please add a comment!
UPDATE: I was so convinced that I must be doing something wrong that I shot some more clips, this time with less harsh lighting. No, change however, the T2i is still soft and the new clips show just how big a problem aliasing is. You have to consider that the coloured moire patterns are recorded like that, no amount of grading will get rid of it. A small amount of diffusion on the camera should help, but then your going to have to work out how much to soften and diffuse each shot to make sure your not making the pictures even softer than they already are.
The frame grabs are all 1:1 pixel for pixel, no trickery has been used! You can download some further examples by clicking here. Even if you were shooting stuff for the web this level of aliasing could cause big problems as it’s really obvious. For this shot I had the Canons sharpness setting turned all the way down. I have also turned down the contrast setting as this gives better dynamic range with less crushed blacks. My workflow is to import the H264 files from the camera and then convert them to ProResHQ. This helps a little with sharpness over working with the native H264, but for me this last test was the nail in the coffin for DSLR’s as footage like this would simply be unusable. If you watch the YouTube clip please make sure you watch it full screen or at least at the 480P setting. The small embedded size doesn’t show the aliasing as much as the bigger versions.
OK, so it’s defiantly not just me doing something wrong. When in focus the T2i/550D aliases (as do all the current Canon DSLR’s). This is a grab from Philip Blooms latest Canon short. For once this is a daylight piece and as I expected it exhibits a lot of aliasing. The grab is actually taken from the thumbnail on his exposure room page. I’m really pleased to see this as it shows that aliasing is a problem for the experts too. You start to appreciate why so many of the Canon shorts are shot at night, with millimeter deep DoF… it’s to stay clear of having stuff in focus that will alias. there are filters from Caprock that are supposed to help, but you need a different filter for each focal length and aperture that you use, they also soften the picture somewhat.
If you want my opinion, then it has to be that the Canon’s are close, but still a mile away. The aliasing issue is a biggie. Sort it out and the skew, jello and overheating can be worked around, but if you have to worry about simply having a piece of wood in focus and whether it’s going to exhibit rainbows of colour or whether cobble stones will twitter and change colour (At 00.35 and this is from Canon) then it will limit what you can do. There is quite a lot of aliasing in Phil’s new daytime clip, basically anytime anything is steady, has texture and is in focus, it aliases. I’ve been shot down in flames on other forums for saying that this is a problem, but if even the experts can’t deal with it then what hope does everyone else have? I would love to have the option of shooting with the shallow DoF that the Canon’s offer, but not at the expense of having to avoid any kind of texture. Perhaps Red and Scarlet will be better, perhaps Canon will sort it out, or perhaps not, as the cameras are clearly selling like hot cakes, even with the issues. If they do fix it then the camera will almost certainly be for video only.
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