The emergence of Canon DSLR video has been a triumph and a struggle for wannabe Steven Spielberg’s, me included. The triumph is the undoubted quality of the image, and the creative avenues opened up by the wide variety of lenses available.
The struggle includes the introduction of so much new terminology, so many new ways to be creative and to fail miserably, and the inevitable havoc caused to well established workflows with the introduction of video. This post outlines my efforts to arrive at something resembling a usable workflow for video, using MPEG Streamclip, Adobe Premiere Pro, and YouTube.
- Movie Mode: Depending on whether you have your Canon 7D set to PAL or NTSC, you are normally presented with 3 real options:
- 1080P @23.97 Frames/Second or “24P”: This is the Movie Pro’s choice for the supposed cinematic look.
- 1080P @25 Frames/Second for PAL or 30 Frames/Second for NTSC
- 720P @50 Frames/Second for PAL or 60 Frames/Second for NTSC. This is the setting I use. Why? Mainly because it is the best balance between good quality and acceptable file size. Also, converting, editing, playing back HD clips takes a lot of processing power, which not everyone has.
- Shutter Speed: For best results Canon recommends a shutter speed between 1/<video frame rate> to 1/125 of a second. Click here for more.
- Aperture: One of the great benefits of Canon DSLR video is the ability to use fast lenses, so this is very much a creative decision.
- ISO: For lowest noise, this excellent article from Marvels Films suggest using one of 160, 320, 640, 1250, 3200.
- Highlight Tone Priority: The interwebs suggest leaving HTP off to reduce banding in the movie files, as mentioned in this forum.
- Noise Reduction: With moving images, noise isn’t the same issue it is for photo’s. This can be turned off.
- White Balance: As with photography, try and set this before shooting. Saves pain later.
- Image Stabilization: Some seem to imply that using image stabilization helps reduce jitter / flicker in your movies… BUT if you are using the inbuilt mic, you can hear the lens motor all the time!
- Picture Style: After seeing this YouTube video, I was using the Canon Neutral style to preserve shadow and highlight detail, as in the movie at the top of this post. More seasoned Movie Pro’s employ custom Picture Styles, as excellently outlined in this video:
Shooting video with a Canon 7D brings with it a number of ergonomic challenges, which many companies have sought to address with Finders, Follow Focus, Matte Boxes, Contact Rigs. These can all add up, but if you have the money to spend, get a load of this:
If you are not in this category, and are improvising with their existing photographic supports and techniques, as I am, then I can share the following:
- Shoot more, shorter clips than fewer longer ones. Camera shake, noise, etc. will be less noticeable in your final edited movie as the viewer will have less time to notice erratic movement on-screen.
- If you plan on changing zoom, or focus, then you better be using a tripod or monopod, as it looks wobbly as hell if you try to do it hand-held.
- A lot of sites recommend manual focus, mostly for the creative cinematic effect of bring a scene into focus, but if you are shooting handheld, I would go for a larger F-stop with focus at infinity. This is especially important if you are shooting moving objects.
- Aperture Priority, Time Priority are completely ignored when shooting video. They become Program Mode, where you adjust exposure using Exposure Compensation. If you are dealing with erratic lighting or have a creative goal in mind, Full Manual is the way to go.
- The built-in Mic in the Canon 7D is fairly poor, and just “loves” the wind! I nearly always overlay my movie clips with music for this reason.
Ah yes, now to the heart of some of the difficulties. If you think the range of photographic file formats was complicated, wait till you get a load of movie file formats! You’ve got containers, codecs, compression settings, frame rates, dimensions, associated sound formats, sampling rates… it goes on and on. Let’s start with a couple of definitions from Wikipedia:
My knowledge is very far from in-depth at this stage, but the reason why Canon 5D Mk II and 7D movie editing has preoccupied many people on the web is that the file format chosen by Canon (using the H.264 codec in a Quicktime MOV container) is a great balance between quality and size for playback but terrible for editing.
The reason for this is the video compression used, which utilizes Groups of Pictures, where only every 15th frame of the movie is a complete frame, and the intermediary frames are calculated based on differences from this complete frame. As you scrub forward and backwards in your editing software, searching for clips to extract, your CPU needs to work overtime to calculate and re-calculate movie frames as you make edits. Some editing programs do this better than others, with Sony Vegas, AVID Media Composer, and Pinnacle Studio coming in for mention. Try scrubbing through Canon 7D movie footage in Adobe Premiere Pro and you will think that your CPU’s are going to melt!
Adobe Premiere Pro CS5 is meant to be a vast improvement in this area, implementing native support for Canon DSLR movie footage. This improvement is enabled by a move to 64Bit, a new rendering engine called Mercury, and support for real-time rendering on a number of high-end nVidia CUDA enabled graphics cards.
While I have vastly simplified this explanation, you can now get some idea why movie files like this are so hard to edit, so the approach taken by most people is to transcode or convert the out-of-the-camera movie files to a format which is less CPU intensive to work with. The three main approaches that I have read about are:
- Convert to ProRes which is a Codec supplied by Apple as part of Final Cut Studio. Which means you need to buy Final Cut Studio. And a Mac. $$$$
- Convert to Neoscene which is a Codec supplied by Cineform. This Codec is compatible with Adobe Premiere Pro, but it does cost US$129.
- Convert to DNxHD supplied by AVID which many in would consider to be the leader in HD Video Editing. The basic Codec can be downloaded for free here. You need to also get a copy of the free MPEG Streamclip from Squared 5 to accomplish the conversion.
The availability of a trial download of Adobe Premiere Pro CS5, which brings with it greater native support for DSLR video and much improved performance during playback and editing, allowed me to compare editing performance as can be seen in the following sequence of screenshots:
I am unable to show Cineform Neoscene as my trial had expired and I don’t plan on purchasing it after seeing what Adobe Premiere Pro CS5 can do. Pending an upgrade, Adobe Premiere Pro CS4 is still my day-2-day video editor, and I chose the last, free option of AVID DNxHD and MPEG Streamclip. After installing these to components, here is how to go about performing the transcode:
- File, Open 7D file.
- File, Export to Quicktime.
- Choose AVID DNxHD.
- Click Options button beside the AVID DNxHD choice, which brings up a confusing looking dialog window. There is a bug in the layout.
- Set Color levels RGB.
- Click the tiny sliver of a box at the bottom of the window, and a drop down box will appear, allowing you to select the bit rate for DNxHD. As I demonstrated with the screenshots above, you may need to experiment to see what works best for your editing workflow, but ensure you pick the same resolution and frame rate as the source clip.
- Hover over the Uncompressed selection and the OK button will appear. This is another bug. Click OK.
- Set quality to 100% (again this is something to be experimented with).
- Uncheck Interlaced Scaling.
- Ensure that “1920x1080 unscaled” is selected (or the relevant unscaled resolution for your source clip).
- Click “Make Movie”
I tested the waters with a number of video editors, including:
- Microsoft Windows Live Video (I can’t believe that I am even admitting this, but it worked fine!)
- Pinnacle Studio HD (based on the advice from this Photoframd Blog post)
- Premiere Elements 7
As I stated at the beginning, and alluded too at a number of other points, I eventually settled on Adobe Premiere Pro CS4, which I am lucky enough to have as part of the Adobe Master Collection. No point having all that professional software if I don’t use it! For me, the easiest way to learn this product is to watch a number of the excellent tutorial series on Youtube, such as this one from Sesestro:
I won’t go into great detail here about the editing process, as that in itself would make up a very very long post, but will make the observations:
- When creating a new project in Premiere Pro you will need to create a new preset based on the nature of the video files you will be using, i.e. you shot 24p
- I am still tiptoeing creatively when it comes to editing, using simple standard Cross Dissolves / Dips to Black
- I am not using any external sound recording, and the Mic on the Canon 7D just loves background noise and wind, so I mostly overlay music on the clips
- If you have imported a lot of media, some of which you have trimmed, others you haven’t used at all, creating a new “Trimmed” project at the end and deleting the original is a great way of conserving disk space.
I am not really churning out sufficiently long (or sufficiently high quality for that matter) videos to want to create DVD’s or BluRays… currently. When it comes to exporting, I typically have the following two targets in mind:
- Web Video: mainly YouTube, but for a more professional feel I am also looking at Vimeo.
- iPhone / iPod Touch: My iPhone is my photo album, my slide collection, my primary method of physically sharing with those around me.
Once you are done in Premiere with your edits, you need to render or export your project for the appropriate destination. I am not familiar with your version of Premiere Pro but these are the general settings I use, much of which is based on the guidance from this YouTube and this Vimeo support page :
- Originals: the fewer re-encodings or transcodings between original file and YouTube the better
- Aspect Ratio: don’t change the aspect ratio if possible
- Resolution & Frame rate: again, don’t change the resolution or frame rate
- TV Standard: I am not sure whether this has a major bearing, but if you shot in PAL you should export in PAL (same for NTSC)
- Containers & Formats: While YouTube and Vimeo both support a wide variety of import formats, sticking with H264 in a MP4 container seems to be the best option
So that’s it, my longest, most involved blog post to date. Writing this has helped me collect together the various snippets of knowledge required to produce something approximating a quality video.
Hopefully it will be useful to all of you as well.
For further reading, please visit:
- Canon Digital Learning Center: Harnessing the Power of the EOS 7D’s Video System
- Philip Bloom: Articles about DSLR Video
- Cinema5D: Originally created for 5D, but relevant to 7D as well
- Planet5D: 5D and 7D News
- DVINFO: Canon 7D Video Forum
- Vimeo: Canon 7D Group