Posting DSLRs

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It’s edging close to the two-year mark since DSLRs were first used on professional motion-picture and TV productions. Back then, it was an open question whether DSLRs could find a home in mainstream production or whether using them constituted a one-off production trial. Equally important was whether the postproduction zeitgeist could easily adapt to some of the weaknesses inherent in the cameras themselves: issues of compression, rolling shutter and moiré/anti-aliasing, etc.

Today, DSLRs are commonplace in production, and postproduction solutions to the peculiarities of that camera genre are everywhere. An all-star team of post specialists from Hollywood post facilities and software companies—Adobe, Cinnafilm, Hollywood-DI and Technicolor—recently spoke with HDVP about innovative solutions to DSLR issues in post, as well as about some realities, both positive and negative, regarding the small-camera/big-sensor presence in today’s professional production picture.

One fact is clear, however: The most important element in correcting DSLR problems in post is stopping them before they start. That’s hardly a new approach to correcting any post problem, but in the case of DSLRs, it appears to be the best. Take the problems associated with rolling shutter, for example—artifacts such as wobble and skew that sometimes appear in footage from CMOS cameras during a horizontal pan. When HDVP first reported on the DSLR movement last year, rolling shutter was a major issue to filmmakers and post houses alike.

For Premiere Pro in CS5.5, Adobe has worked very closely with Canon to present the pixels captured in its DSLRs as accurately as possible.

But according to Neil Smith, CEO of Hollywood-DI, one of the better-known 2D/3D color-correction facilities working with DSLR footage, and colorist Bjorn Myrholt, DaVinci colorist and online editor, it has been some time—the better part of a year—since they’ve seen any footage with that problem.

"DPs have sussed it out," reveals Smith in a phone interview after consulting with Myrholt. "They’re getting smarter. It’s one of the things you don’t do. I know it’s a problem if you do it. The cure is, definitely, slower pans."

Although the learning curve has helped to solve a variety of issues, problems still occur with DSLR footage, and a number of post solutions are available to solve a variety of issues. "However, if you don’t [have that knowledgeable DP], it’s a lot harder to push it around in post," cautions Smith. "There’s nothing to work with if the Canon footage has been under- or overexposed, and you can quickly get into high-noise levels."

Smith specifically notes issues matching poorly shot Canon DSLR footage with the popular RED ONE MX camera. "It’s just not going to match," he says, "because the texture is quite different. It’s hard to get rid of the video look Canons have sometimes if you don’t set the cameras up correctly. If you don’t hit the sweet spot, it’s a very thin neg. There’s not much room to push or pull it in color correction as you would with an ALEXA or RED file. The secret is for the DP to expose the Canon properly. You still need to shoot for that sweet spot, especially on flesh tones. It’s easy to end up with plastic flesh tones."