Canon HD Flash Camcorders FAQ: HF10 / HF100 / HF11 / HF-S series
Here’s a Canon HD flash based camcorder FAQ. Note usual disclaimers apply and always good to double-check any information. Also many of the answers are subjective and are based on personal preference.
For recording best settings scroll down and skip ‘GENERAL BUYING’.
Q: Should I wait for the next new model?
UPDATE: Note this section has not been updated in a year and is now outdated. See also: HF-G10 compared to HF-S21
First let’s clarify the naming: models with extra built-in memory have 2 digits in their name. Without it’s 3 digits. For example HFS10 and HF11 have built-in memory and the HF100, HF200, HF S100 have none.
New models 2010 March/April:
Brochure overview all new models (reenter URL to avoid error): VideoFullLineBrochure_1H10.pdf
I think it’s worth to wait for these models: main changes are bigger LCD, a new top-model with viewfinder (but fairly low-res) and an additional powered stabilization mode which works great for still video. There’s also now a 2 slot SDHC for relay recording and copying.
My comparison review: Canon HF S200 to HV20 comparison review
1. Review HF-S21 by Camcorderinfo: CCInfo HF-21 Review. As usual I think the stabilization tests here are useless as the shaking is so intense that is causes CMOS wobble effects. This won’t give you an indication how it will perform in real-world shaking patterns. In my tests the dynamic mode is a big improvement for walking shots and the powered IS works great to steady a shot (both wide and at tele end).
2. SlashCam review HF-S21: http://www.slashcam.de/artikel/Test/Canon-Legria-HF-S21.html. They liked the performance but think it’s little bit overpriced. Also the digital viewfinder is a bit low-res for this price (I’d go for the $400 cheaper HF-S200 without viewfinder unless you consider it a must have feature). The ISO test image shows some sharpness loss vertically just like previous HF-S models (unlike HF models). They attribute it to the downscaling. Also compared to Panasonic they say resolution is lower (which is different from ccinfo test). However the chrominance resolution looked great (and better than HF) so I think in real-world images most likely you wouldn’t notice this. If you compare their 1200 lux image with latest Panasonic flash model and HF-S21 then the detail is higher in the HF-S21 image. Note that ccinfo test showed a loss of vertical resolution but horizontal resolution is pretty high. This mismatch would also explain the ISO test image (albeit on a speculative different cause). Last if you compare the low lux shots you can see a clear improvement over the HF models.
3. LesNumeriques review HF-S21: they liked it and most interesting I thought is the comparison pages to HF100: http://www.lesnumeriques.com/duels.php?ty=8&ma1=1&mo1=93&p1=3362&ma2=1&mo2=167&p2=7473&ph=1. You can see greenish color cast has improved in low-light and there’s more resolution. I still some W/B cast so will be interesting to test this myself. Their new IS powered stablization video looks great. It’s to keep image steady and probably will work at any focal length: HF-S21 Powered IS video
I will test the HF-S200 (same as HF-S21 except no viewfinder and built-in memory) once it becomes available in April. You can find manual here: HF S200 (refresh link in browser if you see error).
Differences of these models compared to HF S11:
- Bigger 3.5” touchscreen LCD with 922K pixels instead of 2.5” 211K pixels
- HF S21 (only) has a viewfindernow: .27” / 123K pixels with diopter adjustment
- 2 SD slots(relay recording supported). There are copy functions to copy to 2nd slot (internal/1st card)
- New powered IS stabilization(more info to follow but seems only for tele focal lengths)
- HF S20 is same as HF S21 except no viewfinder and 32MB instead of 64MB built-in memory
- HF S200 is same as HF S20 except no built-in memory (this would be the best value)
- HD to SD built-in camera down-conversion
- Size: 75 x 74 x 140-148mm compares to 70 x 69 x 136mm (HF-S11)
- Optional 5.1 surround microphone for about $250 (audio will then be recorded in surround)
Product tour: Canon HF S21 interactive product tour
Prices: $1399 / $1099 / $999. Available April 2010
Canon’s midrange models that are most comparable to the HF 20 models. These models also have now a touchscreen (and few buttons unfortunately).
Prices will range from $679 – $799. Available April 2010.
Slashcam Review (German): Slashcam.de HF-M31 Test
New entry level HD camcorders ranging from $499 to $699. Sensor is 1/5.5” CMOS and has 20x optical zoom. Note no lens filter threads and no control dials and no touch screen. Available March 2010.
New models 2009 September:
– HF S11
This model is announced and will be available in US/Europe in September 2009. It’s almost identical to the HF S10 but 3 differences:
- 64GB instead of 32GB internal memory
- New stabilization mode
- New low-light nightscene mode
So far I’ve seen only 1 review and the new stabilization mode looks great: HF-S11 test by watch impress. You can also find a few walking HF S11 shots on youtube.com.
The nightscene mode appears to look better in certain conditions but the night video showed a lot of noise and cinemode 30p looked better. The nightscene mode doesn’t look like a major improvement especially since gain can be a bit high in this mode (noisy). See here video on youtube.com with a comparison: HF S11 Night Scene mode test
Internal memory is doubled to 64MB but I hope that Canon will also announce later a cheaper version without the internal memory (March/April most likely).
New models 2009 March/April:
– HF S10 / HF S100
This is a brand new model and is the new top model. CamcorderInfo justed tested the HF-S100: HF S100 Review. CCInfo compared it to other new camcorders like the Sony HDR-XR520V and Panasonic HDC-TM300 (but not the HF100). Key findings:
- The HF S100 had best resolution and color accuracy in ‘daylight’. Their resolution tests showed 800/650 lines (HF11: 675/600 lines)
- They tested color accuracy I assume in controlled indoor settings. Judging from user video’s I still see the typical magenta cast at times in bright outdoor conditions (but less so than HV20). If you don’t like the colors see below how to workaround that (use different W/B mode). The Sony to my eyes looked again not red enough (overshoot yellow). But same workarounds apply (and they do have a color shift)
- In low-light he XR520V and especially the HDC-TM300 did better in 60i unless they switched Canon to 30p mode. The sensor of the Canon is larger so in theory it should be better in low-light. I anticipated this might happen since we’ve seen it before in digital cams: pixel pitch. If you cram that many pixels you do get an increase in noise. On the other hand it captures more light and you get improved digital zoom. All in all decent improvement but less pixels could have made it better
- Comparing low-light scores HF-S10 vs HF11: 60i noise levels: 1.3525% vs 1.9225%. Color error at 30p: 4.69 vs 10.2 and saturation 69.9% vs 89.97%
- The 3 camcorders are fairly close in overall performance now. The Canon still has edge in sharpness and resolution in daylight
- Image stabilization: the HF-S100 correction wasn’t impressive in CCInfo tests (note: see new HF S11). The Sony/Panasonic did bit better. The Sony has a new active mode that stabilizes bit more and looking at some footage it’s seems to be comparable to their stabilization in their mini-DV camcorders. It still won’t replace a steadicam (see also question below on how to get more stable recordings) but it’s usable for some walking shots and to reduce some shaking zoomed in.
- Compared to the cheaper HF20 they didn’t really see much difference in daylight but the HF20 did not perform well in low-light. The HF200 is about $350 cheaper and if you almost never shoot often in low-light this could be a better value but then again the HF100 would be even better value
Couple of other reviews and opinions:
- Slashcam HF-S10 (translated from German to English)
- InfoSync HF-S10 review
- Trusted reviews HF-S10
- Watch Impress Review HF S10
- Nikkei Trendy HF S10 review
Looking at several HF S10 footage I can’t see a clear image quality improvement but to judge fairly we’d need side by side comparison. One side-by side I’ve seen is slashcam’s controlled indoor test and in that framegrab the HF-S10 looked similar to HF10. UPDATE: 2nd side by side comparison can be found here: http://vimeo.com/4241960. The only difference in that scene is sharpness levels which can be matched in camera (but resolution is pretty much the same). For now I think HF10/HF100/HF11 might still give you better value for its performance since you can get the HF100 for about $550 less. But if money is not an issue I’d probably go for the HF S100 given it’s additional features. And regarding the decision to upgrade I would wait for Canon’s next models and get the improved more corrective stabilization (HF S11 in September and new derived cheaper models most likely next March/April).
You can find already several user video’s on Vimeo.com for this camcorder: http://www.vimeo.com/videos/search:hfs10
Differences compared to HF11:
- Bigger lens and bigger sensor: 58mm instead of 37mm which should yield in theory better low-light sensitivity
- New image sensor: 1/2.6″, 8.5 million pixels (compares to 1/3.2″ 3.3 million pixels). Brighter but potentially noisier
- New DIGIC DV III image processor
- 10x optical zoom (instead of 12x). Note digital zoom 1.7x supposedly has no quality loss (due to high pixel count)
- Pre-recording of 3 seconds (requires camcorder to be in standby mode)
- Manual max gain controls: auto, 0,6,12,18dB
- SMPTE color bars and test tone for calibration
- Red, green or yellow peaking: highlight areas of the image that are in focus (also B/W option)
- Zebra patterns 70 / 100 IRE (to indicate areas of overexposure)
- Face detection technology
- Video snapshot (shot recording intended for uploading to computer)
- Custom dial. Assignable: exposure, focus (easier to control this way), assist functions, mic level, gain level
- Left/right Mics on the sides of the camcorder. Pro: potentially better stereo seperation; cons: potentially you pick up more handling noises
- Higher price: $1300 and $1100 (+$300). Prices go down normally after couple of months
See here full review by CCI: Camcorder info HF20 review and Slashcam HF200 review (German). The HF20 shows great resolution in daylight (albeit at partially higher sharpness levels according to Slashcam which can lead to some moire), but it won’t perform as well in low-light and overall I think the HF10/HF100 has still better overall performance at a lower price. Here are some differences:
- 15x zoom (instead of 12x zoom)
- 1/4″ (vs larger 1/3.2″ sensor of HF100)
- Focal length: 39.5 – 592.5mm (vs 43 – 430mm). Meaning less zoomed in (although I still would recommend wide-angle lens)
- Pre-recording of 3 seconds
Comparison HF100 to HV20 (tape based model) can be found here: http://lucienk.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!A4AE3FB12A26635!712.entry
Q: Known cons Canon HD flash camcorders
There’s no perfect consumer camcorder and they all have their strengths and weaknesses. Overall I think Canon’s picture quality is one of the best and it has some weaknesses that most users probably could workaround. Here are main weaknesses:
- Image stabilization correction: this has been addressed fairly well in the newest 2010 models with the new dynamic and powered IS mode. For older models without dynamic mode the stabilization is pretty poor. For improving stabilization see below in recording section. A steadicam works great (better than any on-board image stabilization).
- Auto white balance can be inaccurate in bright daylight causing blue/magenta cast: this also has been addressed in models since 2009. Older models often had not enough yellow for daylight while Sony’s have typically too much greenish/yellowish cast in these conditions. To mitigate (for any camcorder): 1. compare W/B modes and choose best program or use manual W/B; 2. in post processing adjust color curves if needed (typically increasing green channel and decreasing blue channel works). I looked at several HF S10 footage and it seems Canon improved the magenta cast in bright daylight but I haven’t seen side-by side footage to 100% confirm this.
- No viewfinder: this has been addressed in the new 2010 model HF S21 but it’s pretty pricey. The LCD screen is ok in almost all daylight conditions except when you have very bright direct sunlightsee. The new 2010 HF S models have now higher resolution LCD but manual focus can still be a bit tough to confirm. Best to use the zoom focus assistance which works well now. The new HF S models help also by offering a peaking feature. The big strength though of the Canon’s are very accurate and fast auto-focus. Here’s an example where I used manual focus: http://vimeo.com/930336
- Some purple (or blue) fringing in very high contrast areas. Note that Sony’s have this as well but the color is aqua blue and therefore much harder to detect. This can be corrected in post-processing see below if desired
- Other…. Best to check reviews and compare
Q: Are there any Canon HD flash based model with a viewfinder?
UPDATE 5/2011: HF-G10 has a viewfinder and improved low-light performance (and wide-angle lens). It’s not cheap though at $1500 MSRP. HF-S30 also has a viewfinder at about $1100 MSRP (comparable to HF S21 I believe).
Two models: HG21 which is a HDD model and the HF S21 available April 2010.
The HG21 allows you to record to flash as well. Potential downsides with HDD:
- Theoretically higher point of failure since it has more (mechanical) moving parts than flash but practically speaking point of failure is not higher than other parts in the camcorder
- You do not want to record in very ‘shaky’ (rollercoaster like) conditions. However recording wouldn’t be great anyway with CMOS wobbling image effect
- HDD should not be used at very high altitudes / low atmospheric pressure (>3KM / 9800 ft).
All in all for most people not a major issue.
Q: What is the difference between HF10 and HF11?
HF11: 24Mbps mode instead of max 17Mbps mode for HF10/HF100. The difference is typically not visible in most recordings. However if you will be editing and reprocessing you should get a slight advantage with higher bit rates. The extra space required is not too bad and when I tested the files in Vegas Pro I only got a 10% processing time increase.
Q: Should I get the built-in memory model?
To make this decision look at how important the pro/cons are for you for built-in memory:
- Pro: you can never forget to put memory in
- Con: not as good value given that flash memory is pretty cheap. 32GB (2x16GB) cost around $60 and the price increase for the built-in memory model is typically much higher
- Con: copying data from built-in memory will require you to hook up the camcorder to the PC
Q: Which accessories should I get?
I’d recommend at least:
- 2nd higher capacity battery BP-819 (lasts 2-3 hours instead of 1-1.5 hours for standard battery)
- Wide-angle lens (see why further down below). Exception is HF G10 which it’s optional since it’s has decent wide-angle view
You can also buy an UV / ND filter to protect the lens. This is especially important if you do not use a wide-angle or other lens in front of the camcorder.
Some prefer also video light and external mic. The internal audio quality is fairly decent for most type of recordings but clearly depends on your audio quality needs. The stereo separation is fairly weak as in pretty much all camcorders with built-in mic but overall the volume is pretty good and you don’t hear recording noises (only some faint zoom). Since I don’t have a Canon external mic I can’t give any recommendations in that area. However I’ve heard some footage with DM-100 and quality was pretty good with clearly better separation and bigger dynamic range. So that looks like a good choice.
Q: Do I need a wide-angle lens? Which one?
Note: this was written for the HF100. All of the HD models are slightly zoomed in (I’d say 35mm is typically neutral and the HD models are about 43mm). So therefore I personally say a wide-angle is a must. Comparison of view can be seen here: http://vimeo.com/855992.
Which lens to recommend is more difficult. Canon officially recommends WD-H37C and WD-H37II which are great fully zoomed out with no resolution loss but at about 70% zoom you start to see CA (color shifts). The WD-H37II is the newer version of the WD-H37c and might be slightly better but I’ve heard different experiences (some say same CA, some say less). I only have the WD-H37C and that lens definitely has CA at zoom. See picture below with larger battery and WD-H37C (click to zoom):
An alternative is to use the WD-H43 lens with a conversion ring (i.e. Cokin R3743) especially if you happen to have that lens already. However that lens is very heavy and officially not recommended and might damage the thread over time (so do this at your own risk). I’m using this lens often and so far still works fine. See below picture of HF100 with WD-H43 and BP-819:
There are other lenses but I can’t comment on that as I have no experiences with other lenses on the HF10/HF100. Note that if a lens works fine on 1 camcorder, it doesn’t mean it will work well on another (with a different built-in lens). Most wide-angle lenses from 3rd parties have more wide-angle but also more vignetting and corner softness.
Q: Where to find Manuals?
Canon’s site has all manuals. For instance the HF10 manual can be found here: http://www.usa.canon.com/consumer/controller?act=ModelInfoAct&fcategoryid=177&modelid=16186#DownloadDetailAct
Couple of manual links:
Q: Which default factory settings should I change:
- I’d recommend highest bit rate mode always given that memory is fairly cheap. The difference between 17 and 24 Mbps is very difficult to detect and I could see 17Mbps would work just fine most of the time if you need a bit more recording time. See here comparison of modes: http://av.watch.impress.co.jp/docs/20080723/zooma370.htm
- I turn off digital zoom. Reason is that digital zoom will degrade picture quality and if I want to digitally zoom I could always do in PP. That way the camcorder will stop at max optical zoom
- I set standby to lowest minutes typically since standby still takes 50% of power (default I believe)
- Other recording settings see below. I prefer using custom picture effect contrast -1. But most people will be fine with default setting here. I would stay away from increasing any of the other picture effect settings since that often results in less picture quality (e.g. overexposure, detail loss). Also a neutral image in post processing has much more correction potential
Q: What are the best setting for daylight?
- The HF10/HF100/HF11 can suffer from a magenta / purple cast in bright daylight conditions. For newer models like HF S200 it’s not much of an issue. For the older models I’d recommend to check various W/B settings for each scene if condition are very bright (e.g. compare AUTO to daylight or cloudy). Note that if you leave it in shade W/B and forget to change it back your recordings might become way too red (so keep checking until you put it back to AUTO W/B). Example where I did this is http://vimeo.com/1850797 where I alternated now and then. If this is too much hassle then an alternative is to leave it in Auto W/B mode and do PP afterwards if needed for some scenes. I found it’s fairly easy to correct the colors by lowering blue channel and if needed adjust red channel as well using color curve. See example here: http://vimeo.com/905817. Note: make sure your display is calibrated (e.g. white is really white). Otherwise you’re adjusting against your display only.
- Alternative to above: manual W/B which should give you most ‘accurate’ W/B. However note this may not always be what you want. For example if there’s red sunlight at dawn and you calibrate you would want to keep these reddish colors and manual W/B wouldn’t do that (same for indoors). To use manual W/B you need as white as possible paper and after selecting manual W/B hold it in front of the camcorder until it stops blinking the calibration. Note the calibration won’t work in low-light and if light conditions change the manual W/B won’t adjust. Otherwise though this could be a great option to fix white balance and improve accuracy. I don’t use it too often but if the scene is fixed like in the Hummingbirds video then it’s a great option. See this example: http://vimeo.com/4123378
- The contrast by default is fairly high but to most very pleasing. If you want little bit more detail and less overexposure you can try the custom picture effect contrast -1. See here comparison video: HF100 Default vs minus contrast. Also often in bright sunlight many camcorders tend to overexpose at times causing clipped highlights. So consider at times to adjust exposure (note this is a fixed exposure level so don’t forget to set it back to auto exposure).
- Some people fix frame rate to get more consistent fixed (film-like) motion. E.g. slower framerates e.g. 1/25 for PAL or 1/30 for NTSC. However with these slow framerates the camcorder typically selects smallest aperture and lens would not be at its sharpest unless you add a ND filter on the camcorder. Wen I tested several aperture values I found for some reason that F1.8 looked sharpest with the HF100 (not sure why since around middle of aperture is usually sharpest). See here: http://vimeo.com/894698. Potentially F2.8 might be the sweet spot but I haven’t tested that. I’d just leave it in auto unless you shoot special scenes like sports mode (see below) or want the above mentioned fixed film-like motion.
Q: What are the best settings for low-light?
- 30p and Cinemode in most situations works very well. Reason 30p since 60i typically ends up looking too dark with Cinemode (see below). Example: http://vimeo.com/942017. You could also use 24p to get a slightly brighter image if fluid motion is not an issue for the recording
- 30p and Spotlight if you want darker and more contrast/black level in image (typical example Christmas lights)
Example comparisons framerates and default/Cinemode indoor and in low-light (click to zoom):
Q: Best settings for sports or fast motion?
That partially depends on preferences but in general best sharpness in motion is achieved by:
- Fast shutter
- Progressive mode 30p
This is personal preference and you first should test if you like the high shutter effect and the slightly less fluid motion in progressive framerates. Also note the downside with fast shutter is that you will need enough light otherwise the picture might end up too dark. If that’s the case slowly increase shutter time until exposure looks good. Video example with fast shutter and compared to default mode see here: http://vimeo.com/1061969.
If focus is highest priority then it depends. Zoomed out there’s typically not too much concern since it has not a very shallow DOF and everything is pretty much in focus. If you need to fully zoom you will get shallow DOF and although auto-focus is fast, it still has to guess what it needs to focus on. If the auto-focus causes trouble and the object distance is stationary I’d first use the auto-focus and once you confirm good focus you lock the focus by clicking once manual focus. If the object distance is not stationary then it will be tough. You could try landscape scene or use aperty priority mode and use largest F value (but at zoom the max will drop).
Q: How do I get a blurry background or shallowest depth of field?
There’s a portrait scene but don’t bother since it doesn’t create much of a blurry background and the camcorder (zoomed out) doesn’t have much shallow DOF to begin with. However you can get a decent blurry background at maximum zoom. Keep in mind to keep minimum distance for focus (at least 1m or about 4 feet). See example below which is fully zoomed in at about 6 feet (click on picture to go to video):
Q: Best way to record from race car or bumpy helicopter?
Problem is like most HD camcorders that it’s CMOS based and this will cause a wobble effect with heavy vibrations. So don’t expect great recordings unfortunately. See also this article: http://dvxuser.com/jason/CMOS-CCD/. Most SD camcorders with typically more corrective steady-shot and without CMOS will do better (except you don’t have HD quality obviously). I don’t have specific recommendations/experiences (yet). Here are some potential options:
- If you already have a steadicam try to use that. I tried the Hague MMC from a car and it smoothed out movements very nicely. In a race car though it might swing a bit in corners but you could try to use your 2nd hand to limit movements (as a passenger). It should work in theory well in a helicopter although it’s a bit more to carry and space shouldn’t be too cramped to effectively use it
Build your own solution. You see a lot of DYI video’s on this topic on youtube
- Use a different type of camcorder for this (SD as mentioned before or a dedicated cam like POV.1 but not sure if there are any HD options currently)
- Try a digital camera since you never know (newer model with at least 25p). Haven’t tried my G9 yet but looking at this video shot with Casio EX-F1 it’s worth a try and the Casio even offers HD resolution: http://www.vimeo.com/946309.
- Hague offers the SM1 suction mount or SC2 superclamp but not sure if that will fix wobble effect (I doubt it)
See example video of the (HF100) wobble effect here: http://vimeo.com/920276.
Q: Which frame rate should I choose?
This very much depends on type of recording and personal preferences. Here are couple of key points for each frame rate:
- 60i has the best fluid motion and therefore for most people the best (default) choice. Even if you convert to progressive it will have more natural motion
- 30p is slightly sharper and slightly less fluid motion. Typical example of this advantage can be seen in this video: 1/2000s shutter and 30p Hummingbirds video
- 30p and 24p doesn’t require de-interlacing. Good de-interlacing can be very tricky. So 30p and 24p are best suited and easier to deal with for playback on PC (or progressive displays)
- 30p and 24p have a 1 and 1.5 stop respectively advantage and therefore will give brighter better picture in low-light
- 24p gives best low-light advantage and can give a film based look. However without tripod it’s almost impossible to pan without jerky motion. And even with tripod this needs some practice and general techniques. In general most people want to stay away from 24p unless they are shooting a movie or want to go for that look. See here example (where I disregarded smooth panning): http://vimeo.com/897818
Q: What is Cinemode?
Cinemode reduces the gamma output curve which in turn increases detail at highlights/shadow areas and reduces contrast and saturation. It also lowers sharpness (which could be close to the raw image sharpness?). See graph below.
Cinemode creates a film like look due to its lower contrast, saturation and sharpness. Also it’s often used in combination with 24p to get film like motion as well (which requires though some careful panning ideally with tripod only to avoid jerky movements).
In daylight most people would find Cinemode look way too pale. So best to give it a try first and compare to default mode. Here’s a JPG and video comparison: Outdoor framegrab cinemode comparison and Outdoor video comparison
In low-light Cinemode 30p does really well. Due to its lower contrast you capture more detail than in auto mode with less noise. See also above ‘What are best settings for low-light’.
One other benefit of Cinemode is that it doesn’t alter the raw image as much and therefore retains most detail. This is ideal if you want to try different looks in post processing. Here’s a great example of Cinemode in daylight from another user: Charlotte, NC (Uptown).
Q: Why do I always see 60i in the video files even if I recorded in 24p or 30p?
Currently Canon always records progressive as 60i container using pull-down (2:2 and 2:3) except for the latest 2010 HF S models where in addition you can record to 24p file. The reason I believe is max compatibility since not all (older) players/displays might playback 1080p30. However 1080p30 is officially a standard so new displays/players should have no problems. Note that your editor may treat these progressive files as interlaced files so make sure you turn off deinterlacing. Typically you can deduct it from the scene. E.g. if you turn of deinterlacing and there’s some movement you would see lines for interlaced content but not for progressive.
Q: Can I mix 30p and 60i?
Officially this is not recommended. However I typically switch to 30p and cinemode for low-light and change it back to 60i/default for daylight recordings. I had no problems doing so with most software. You might suffer a slight quality loss with 30p being treated as 60i in some software programs (that don’t detect 2:2 pull-down) but in general quality is still better than using 60i instead given it has improved brightness.
Note that 30p is recorded as 60i using 2:2 pull-down. But some players/software might try to apply smart de-interlacing on progressive playback when they don’t detect it’s 2:2 pull-down and that might degrade quality and image sharpness. If you are editing check if you can change the progressive or interlace flag and manually override it to progressive (e.g. Tmpgenc Xpress and Vegas have this capability).
Q: How do I get a more steady / stable picture?
The image stabilization doesn’t correct much but there are couple of options:
- Shoot differently
If you don’t have a tripod with you then you still often can find surfaces you can put the cam on. Or you can find places to lean the camcorder against to keep it steady. Obviously that won’t work well with walking but otherwise this helps a lot. Also to get smooth panning using a tripod you can use a rubber band on the tripod to pull more evenly.
- Hardware solution: steadicam
Buy a steadicam or build one yourself. One of the cheapest solutions is the Hague mini motion cam. See http://vimeo.com/713207 how it’s setup. It does a pretty good job (especially with some training). Downside is that it does have a tendency to swing to the side and if it’s windy it’s almost impossible to avoid. However (with some practice) you can use your other hand to stabilize/direct it if needed. UPDATE: I shot a video with the Hague MMC hiking Snow lake: http://vimeo.com/5501086. It worked pretty well and motion is pretty smooth. I’d think the MMC would also work well shooting from helicopter (with one downside is that it takes bit more space to carry). Video from another user comparing with/without MMC: http://vimeo.com/736478. Also see this example:
- Use software in editing
There are several software solutions that can make video material more steady. For example ProDad Mercalli works pretty well. However for steadying walking or more extreme movement I found results rather mixed and you get visible resolution loss. See http://vimeo.com/875112.
Another software solution is Smoothcam in Final Cut Pro. Looks good in this video but I have no personal experience with this software and I believe it’s only available on Apple: http://vimeo.com/943310. The original file is not available but seems unavoidable that you get some visible resolution loss as well here. Also here’s the same video with the Mercalli filter: http://vimeo.com/2100549. Personally I find the resolution loss too big for recording that require more correction like walking shots. You could add sharpening which might help but overall not a perfect solution. Here’s a framegrab showing the resolution loss: Framegrab Mercalli comparison.
Q: How about other modes like Vivid, Neutral and which mode retains most details for post processing?
See http://vimeo.com/894698 for a comparison of several modes. In general ‘Vivid’ will destroy details and it’s better to destroy details in post processing since then you can go either way. Same applies more or less for increasing saturation and contrast using custom picture effect. Neutral might be ok but unless you find the default too oversaturated and contrasty, most would end up adding saturation and contrast back anyway in post processing. For important recordings where you plan to do extensive editing you could use cinemode which looks flat but definitely retains most detail and would allow you to tweak the look in the most directions.
Q: How do I improve composition and quality of my video’s?
Q: How do I remove purple fringing?
Vegas Pro (not other editions unfortunately) offers one of the best methods to remove the purple fringing without affecting other areas. See example and steps here (also includes color correction illustration): http://vimeo.com/905817. Most other program often only offer color replacement and that typically will also affect areas without the purple fringing. That said I’ve rarely had purple fringing and few scenes I did have it I didn’t find it worth to remove it.
See example below. Note that the purple flower on the left has not changed after removing the blue/purple fringing from the porch (most editors would do that unless they allow advanced filtering methods like Vegas). Click on picture to zoom:
Q: I’m buying a new computer. Which specs should it have for AVCHD editing?
This is a big topic so I won’t make a full recommendation (best to research that further in other sites). However when it comes down to CPU I would right now get a computer with Intel i7 chip. Next best thing (and cheaper) are quad processors. See here comparison of these CPU’s and speed with Vegas Pro software and HD file: http://www.legitreviews.com/article/896/5/
Q: Which output format should I choose?
- XBOX360 / PC: See this tutorial for Vimeo/XBOX360 WMVHD: Creating compact high quality WMVHD video (Vegas/Tmpgenc Xpress). I stick now with 1080i since it does have slightly more resolution than 720p
- Blu-ray player: AVCHD BDAV disk. Big advantage here is that if your software editor supports smart rendering it doesn’t need to re-render if you only trimmed the clip. That causes no quality loss plus it renders much faster. For example in Vegas 9 choosing Sony AVC to render 20 minutes of video with no filters took only 6 minutes (on my Core i7). Rendering same project to WMV took 2 hours. However one downside I found is that rest of the video that does require re-encoding will not be 2-pass rendering and you’d potentially lose some quality in those clips. Blog article with more info to follow including best Blu-ray compatibility given officially AVCHD is not a Blu-ray standard and to be investigated how many players support it.
Format that will play on both XBOX 360 and Blu-ray?
WMVHD? Although the video in WMVHD can be encoded with WMV9 Advanced profile which is VC-1 compliant and therefore a supported Blu-ray format, the rest (audio/container) is not. I haven’t seen WMV support in recent Blu-ray players (and heard mixed reports). You could later demux WMV (windows media encoder) and convert audio stream to AC3 and put back together in MP4 container but bit of a hassle. I did notice that some TV’s can playback WMVHD 1080i from USB (but most don’t).
MP4? MP4 with H.264 and AAC codecs would seem to be the format that would work on both XBOX360 (stereo only sound) and most Blu-ray players. However note that officially AAC is not a supported audio format for Blu-ray although most players will play it. I tested XBOX360 MP4 (H264 high profile with AAC) playback recently and found that 1080i 12Mbps MP4 played smoothly. Also 2 pass CBR 12M MP4 looked pretty good when I compared this to WMVHD VC1 also at 2 pass CBR. The MP4 quality was mostly identical but there were spots where it showed slightly less macroblocking artifacts. Two downsides with MP4 playback on XBOX 360 is that it requires you to be connected to the live network for AAC playback and second files larger than 4GB will not play:-(.
Bottom line? For now I’d create both AVCHD/BDMV and WMVHD but it seems MP4 (stereo only) would work typically on both as long as it’s < 4GB in size (and your source video is shot interlaced).
Q: Which editing software?
Software is a personal choice and I don’t have experience with all of the software available that edits AVCHD. But here are some I have experience with:
- Sony Vegas Pro 8/9: very powerful editing capabilities and sufficient filters to do more complex editing like removing purple fringing (see http://vimeo.com/905817). B&H photo video sold CD only for $129 but they discontinued this with V9 unfortunately. Vegas 9 can be bit buggy at times and crash for certain formats and it doesn’t support WMV 1080i output (only progressive for 1080) and has poor 720p downscale quality. To workaround I typically use Vegas for complex editing and then output first to loss-less intermediate format (then use other software for conversion like Tmpgenc Xpress). Also note that for WMVHD output you must either choose project setting 32bit color space and gamma 2.222 or another option is to use secondary color filter with studio to computer rgb preset. Otherwise black will become dark gray (with Canon AVCHD files). Vegas 9 is very similar to Vegas 8 and still no 1080i WMVHD support but smart rendering is supported when you choose Sony AVCHD output (it shows message ‘skipping re-rendering’ when no changes are made). I also found 64bit version is a bit more stable than Vegas 8.0c (with adequate memory). I did find an issue that I couldn’t play Sony YUV lossless AVI format (some people reported they could). I created a workaround by switching a bit in the format header (to match Vegas 8 output). See utility FixVegas9SonyYUVAvi. Use at your own risk: download cmd & exe and run the cmd with 1st argument the AVI file. Note: do not render 720p in Vegas since its downscale quality is not great. See Creating compact high quality WMVHD video for more info.
- Tmpgenc Xpress 4.0: for basic editing very easy to use and great renderer. Output capabilities are excellent and downscale 720p quality is much better than Sony Vegas (where picture becomes softer). However missing is transition effects and editing big project doesn’t work well or even crashes (e.g. 150+ files or so). I believe they improved this in latest version by lowering memory consumption
- Tmpgenc Authoring Works: I tried trial briefly and it’s similar to Xpress except no video filters. Instead of various file formats you choose a disc format (DVD/BDMV,…). Very easy to use and it would support smart rendering (e.g. skip conversion if no changes made to the scene). It also adds transition effects and some disc writing tools. It’s able to create and burn compatible Blu-ray disks. UPDATE: Latest version I was able to load more than 100 clips (3GB memory) and I’ve been told a new release is coming in May where memory consumption will be lowered further so you could add more clips. However I had some issues with rendering a few AVCHD files (distorted picture after cutting). I still would recommend Vegas if you need to edit a very large amount of clips and use this for burning/authoring the final output
- Pinnacle 12 would also support smart rendering. I have limited experience with v11 so can’t comment on this. In general less advanced options than Sony Vegas but might be sufficient what most people need and might be easier to learn
- UPDATE 5/2011: TMPGEnc Video Mastering Works 5 is a new product and it combines Authoring works and Tmpgenc Xpress. Also it adds timeline editing and has now transition and slow motion effects. I tried the trial and first impressions are very good.
Q: How do I archive my recordings?
The downside with flash is that eventually you do need to erase it again since it’s not as cheap as a mini-DV tape. Depending on how important the recording is there are different strategies. Here are couple common archival method (the more important the recording the more steps you should include):
- Burn the edited final recording on a DVD or Blu-ray* and store it in a dark place. Problem with DVD’s is that their lifetime is limited. I typically use Taiyo Yuden DVD+R since these should last considerably longer than regular DVD’s. See for more details here: Best CD/DVD media for archival*. There are now Taiyo Yuden Blu-ray media but I don’t know how their lifetime compares.
- Buy a 2nd (external) larger HDD and copy all your original flash files and edited recordings to this drive (you can organize by creating directories with date or subject since file names are not unique)
- Make another 2nd DVD copy of the final recording (every 5-10 years)
- Make copies of the HDD to DVD/BD (see above)
* The Taiyo Yuden DVD+R are only available as a single layer 4GB. They did release DVD DL but haven’t seen them for sale in the US. They also released now Blu-ray BD-R LTH media that can hold 25GB. Those should be also pretty reliable and durable but I haven’t seen tests or reviews on these yet. Older blu-ray players will not be able to play LTH media (potentially through an firmware update). See also new Sony blu-ray burner that can write to BD-R LTH: http://www.cdrinfo.com/Sections/Reviews/Specific.aspx?ArticleId=25139
Another alternative is a tape recorder backup but few people have such device.
Note this is not a complete guide for archival by any means so usual disclaimers apply and good to check other sources as well.