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Image quality of NX5U and similar HD cameras

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Eric Pensenstadler
Image quality of NX5U and similar HD cameras
on Jul 23, 2011 at 1:25:30 pm

I've posted a similar question/post in the past, but I've done some recent comparisons and wanted to bring up this topic again and see what you all think: (sorry the post got a little long but worth the read/reply. WOULD REALLY LIKE YOUR INPUT!)

This is regarding what I feel is very poor image quality for HD cameras in the $3000 - $5000 range. Above 5k I'm not sure as I have not personally used or seen footage from these cameras.

Here's a recap: I have 2 Sony NX5U cams as well as a little Sony HD palm cam and I am very disappointed with how noisey the image is (grainy, but not like a high gain). All three of my cameras look the same so I didn't think that they were faulty. I finally found another videographer close to me who has the NX5U and so we compared ours side by side. His was the same. To me they looked very poor image quality, but he said it was fine and that's the best that can be expected with these types of cameras. I find this very hard to believe. In my opinion (and I hope I'm wrong) I'm reluctant to offer HD to clients if this is the how it looks. My only saving grace is that I can now tell them it's "the industry norm".

Further, I recently had to rent a Panasonic HVX-200 (P2 cards)HD camera and I was excited to see the footage because I expected it to be so much better than my NX5Us. But alas, it was the same. Very noisy image, and naturally VERY bad image quality (ie, noisey) in low light.

One more interesting note that just throws me for a loop - It is ONLY when viewing the footage on my new iMac computer with the glossy HD screen that it looks great! Little to no noise. But on any HD tv or my MacPro it looks bad. I don't get it.

If I take my NX5U and connect it directly to an HD TV via HDMI cable, and then select color bars, the image looks amazing. Smooth, clear, crisp. But as soon as I take color bars off and see the image it's noisy. "noisy" is the best way I can describe it.

What are your thoughts? Surely I'm not the only one who sees the noise in the image. Do I just get over it and accept it, or invest in more expensive cameras, etc?

Here is a link to a recent post by Michael Johnston possibly addressing some of these issues: http://forums.creativecow.net/readpost/298/634


Thanks for your time, I'm really interested in your feedback regardless of what HD camera you're using.

Eric P


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john lenihan
Re: Image quality of NX5U and similar HD cameras
on Jul 23, 2011 at 4:06:44 pm

Eric,

I have three nx5u cameras and they are all equally noisy.

I came from a PD170 camera, which I consider the low light king. With the PD170, which was only SD and tape based, in low light past the maximum gain, it just got dark. Gracefully. I could usually boost the brightness in post.

With the NX5u when the light is low and the gain is up high, it gets noisy. There is not much I have found to do in post other than adjust the gamma to at least make the dark noise go black.

Last weekend I shot a multicam wedding with one NX5U and one EX1. The EX1 was much less noisy, but also darker. It was easier to boost the brightness on EX1 in post and have it look nice. So I can attest to that works better than the NX5U.

There is another issue here though. The NX5U has a longer zoom when fully zoomed than the EX1. Obviously the more zoom, the less light gets into the sensor. I did not compare the camera at identical zoom or in a controlled condition.

John

John Lenihan

LeniCam Video Productions
http://www.lenicamvideoproductions.com


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Michael Johnston
Re: Image quality of NX5U and similar HD cameras
on Jul 23, 2011 at 10:17:34 pm

Three quick things about 1/3" chip cameras. 1. CMOS chips, regardless of what you've read, are NOT better than CCD. 2. Because of the small chip, anything over 0db will have noise. No way around it. For the NX5U, -3db is actually 0db. Operate above -3db and you'll get grain or noise, especially in the blacks. 3. 1/3" chips need A LOT OF LIGHT. Close the aperture (iris) below f4 and you'll get grain/noise. No way to avoid it.

Keep the camera at -3db or -6db and the iris between f2.8 to f4 and you'll get a fantastic image. That means you have to light the he'll out of indoor shots for optimal quality.

Obviously, the EX1/3 or any other 1/2" chip camera will have more room to play within gain and aperture while 2/3" chip cameras allow for using the full range without quality issues.

Bottom line, there is no way to get 2/3" chip quality out of a 1/3" chip camera. You get what you pay for. Buy a $3000-$5000 camera and get $3k-$5k quality. Spend $60k, get $60k quality. Either way, it's still better than SD or those $60k BetaSP cams from 10 years ago.


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Eric Pensenstadler
Re: Image quality of NX5U and similar HD cameras
on Jul 24, 2011 at 12:34:03 pm

John and Michael, thank you both for your feedback. VERY helpful and hopefully informative to all following this thread.

I will try to keep my NX5U in -3 or -6db and see how that helps. But as you probably know, that's nearly impossible for wedding shooting which is a big portion of our business.

The best thing for me is simply knowing that yes this is normal and it's just the limitations of the camera. John, you might remember a few months ago when I first started really using these cameras you and I corresponded in a few threads as I was struggling with the transition. This image noise has been taxing on me for months, but now a weight has been lifted off of my shoulder simply in knowing that this is normal for this price range of camera, as I stated above.

I am, however, going to seriously consider selling these two almost brand new NX5Us and biting the bullet to invest in 1/2" or 2/3" cameras.

Thank you very much!
Eric



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john lenihan
Re: Image quality of NX5U and similar HD cameras
on Jul 24, 2011 at 2:14:52 pm

I agree, the noise is a pain in the neck. The other problem is the focus at zoomed levels which favors straight lines and not faces. I have documented that in earlier posts.

I use a 50 watt frezzi light on top of my camera and try and keep it turned as high as my subjects can stand. I at least try and keep the gain down to 12 db.

I may be interested in one or two of you NX5Us if you are serious.

Since I already have this model, I need matching ones.

John

John Lenihan

LeniCam Video Productions
http://www.lenicamvideoproductions.com


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Eric Pensenstadler
Re: Image quality of NX5U and similar HD cameras
on Jul 25, 2011 at 12:55:56 pm

John, I am serious about possibly selling them. 2 things first though - I need to have hands-on testing of whatever other camera I may buy first, and that could take some time. Second, I shot a commercial over the weekend and the camera was always at either -3 or -6db. So I'm real anxious to see that footage. If it is noticably better then I may be more inclined to keep the cameras. We'll see.

I'll definitely let you know, and feel free to check back with me later if you haven't heard anything from me.

Thanks,
Eric



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Eric Pensenstadler
Re: Image quality of NX5U and similar HD cameras
on Jul 24, 2011 at 12:37:56 pm

May I ask one more question of you...

I'm unfortunately very backed up with the editing, so the projects I've been filming with the NX5Us I'm just now starting to edit and send to clients.

Have you had any negative feedback from your clients if they notice the noise? I'm wondering how noticable it will be to an average end client. And what about broadcast? I do do a few TV spots and I'm almost hesitant to do them with these cameras. I'm sure that people will see the HD on television and expect their weddings, etc to look the same because they don't know that there's differences between cameras and chips. Have they noticed and do you simply tell them that the cameras are limited (compared to tv broadcast cameras)?

Thanks again,
Eric



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Michael Johnston
Re: Image quality of NX5U and similar HD cameras
on Jul 24, 2011 at 10:49:29 pm

Eric,

I have had no complaints about the HD image from brides. In fact, some have commented that it looked better than their favorite TV shows (usually TLC shows).
I've noticed that burning to Blu-Ray actually does something like flatten the image and eliminates most of the noise I see while editing. I can't explain it but I like it!!!


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Eric Pensenstadler
Re: Image quality of NX5U and similar HD cameras
on Jul 25, 2011 at 12:52:23 pm

I've actually noticed that too. I've been doing a lot of test burns and I have noticed that sometimes a lot of the noise is gone on BD, but not always.

Thanks for the feedback!



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Greg Barringer
Re: Image quality of NX5U and similar HD cameras
on Aug 5, 2011 at 12:14:25 pm

If you decide to sell let me know.
barringer4@comcast.net
I compare video noise and BD to photography. Photography noise may look bad on the computer at high ISO but when printed it looks much better.


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Eric Pensenstadler
Re: Image quality of NX5U and similar HD cameras
on Aug 5, 2011 at 12:37:18 pm

For those interested - after some further testing (see below) I've decided there is no advantage to getting different cameras. I will keep these and as much as possible work in negative gain and wide open iris.

A couple months ago I compared the NX5U to the Panasonic HVX-200 HD and the image was virtually the same (in regards to noise). In just the past couple days I compared it directly with the Canon XF 300 and 105 (thanks to the folks at Texolve in Pittsburgh, PA)and again, virtually no difference in regards to image noise.

With that said, here's what's buggin me so much about this. We all invested in HD equipment in order to improve our quality and provide sharp, clear, high definition products. Sometimes I feel that the SD cameras provide a better image (at least in regards to noise). I just feel like I/we invested in this high tech new camera and can't use it to it's full potential because I have to keep the iris wide open and in negative gain just to get a satisfactory image. It just doesn't seem right.

Please don't take this as me venting or complaining, I really don't mean it to come accross that way, it just doesn't make sense to me. Maybe it's still the transition and in time these issues will work themselves out, or the larger chip cameras will come down in price.

Thank you and feel free to continue to leave any thoughts on this issue.

Eric



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john lenihan
Re: Image quality of NX5U and similar HD cameras
on Aug 5, 2011 at 1:07:29 pm

Eric,
Thanks for the comparison information.

Regarding the noise, I think you are right, we are never satisfied and camera manufacturers will continually try and improve their product.

I started out shooting on 8 mm silent film with 3 100 watt bulbs for indoor shooting.

John

John Lenihan

LeniCam Video Productions
http://www.lenicamvideoproductions.com


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john lenihan
Re: Image quality of NX5U and similar HD cameras
on Aug 6, 2011 at 2:04:33 am

Eric,

Have you tried the plug in called
Neat Video?


I just read about it on one of the forums and tried out the demo. It seems to do a nice job on the noise issue.

I am seriously considering buying it.

John

John Lenihan

LeniCam Video Productions
http://www.lenicamvideoproductions.com


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Eric Pensenstadler
Re: Image quality of NX5U and similar HD cameras
on Aug 6, 2011 at 1:13:56 pm

Thanks John. You're right, let's keep it in perspective too!!

I'm not sure if it's "Neat Video", but I recently came accross a plug-in for reducing noise too (you might even have been the one to share the info). Was the online demo footage of a highway and some trees in the background?

The demo online seemed good but I have not tried it. Perhaps it's worth another look.

Thanks,
Eric



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john lenihan
Re: Image quality of NX5U and similar HD cameras
on Aug 6, 2011 at 6:00:12 pm

Eric,
Yes that is the one.

John

John Lenihan

LeniCam Video Productions
http://www.lenicamvideoproductions.com


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Jeff Pulera
Re: Image quality of NX5U and similar HD cameras
on Aug 19, 2011 at 7:24:38 pm

Hi John,

I haven't used the NX5U, but other Sony cams I work with have a GAIN LIMIT setting in the menu, so that if the Exposure is on AUTO, the GAIN won't go past your preset, otherwise things can get ugly. With the old VX-2000, I was comfortable at +9, but with my Sony FX7 HDV camera, I've kept the preset limit at +6, but even that has proven too noisy.

The last set of dance recitals I shot on stage used NO GAIN and I got amazingly clean pictures with nice black blacks and everything is just so clear, and I can easily boost the middle in post if needed, keeping the blacks as they are. I'd much rather do some color correcting than have a lot of noise, since there is no going back once the picture is full of grain.

If shooting in dark areas and you need more light, consider switching to 30 shutter speed in a pinch, really helps! Can add some stuttering on panning or fast movement, but can save the day in dark churches/reception halls (shooting 1080i).

You may want to try an LED camera light as well, I'm finding this really helps versus the old standard lights with HD cameras.

Jeff Pulera
Safe Harbor Computers


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Eric Pensenstadler
Re: Image quality of NX5U and similar HD cameras
on Aug 20, 2011 at 1:57:01 pm

Hey Jeff, nice to hear from you.

All good advice. You're right about the gain limit too, but personally I keep the camera in manual controls, but that's a great tip.

I think earlier in this thread or in another somebody mentioned that with the NX5Us 0db is not really quite 0. He suggested that -3db is really more of the 0. I'm not 100% certain but something to keep in mind.

I've been keeping the gain in -3 or -6 and have been much much happier with the cameras.

You had another good point too about shooting in a lower gain and then boosting the mids or even highlights in post. There's a lot to be said for taking that extra time in post rather than bumping up the gain.

30 shutter speed can also help a ton too, but ya, gotta be careful of the stuttering.

Thanks!
Eric



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Max Daniel
Re: Image quality of NX5U and similar HD cameras
on Aug 24, 2011 at 6:03:50 am

I am new to the forum.Now I am confuse from this thread. Should I purchase NX5U or not?


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john lenihan
Re: Image quality of NX5U and similar HD cameras
on Aug 24, 2011 at 1:33:50 pm

Max,
That is a question you have to decide on your own based on your needs and budget.
I have had two of nx5u cameras for a year, and I am earning a living off them shooting events.
I just bought two more because my business is expanding.
I bought these last two knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the cameras.
That is what we can help you with, is the strengths and weeknesses.
Strengths,
Great image in most light situations
Timecode sync for multicam shoots
tapeless storage of media
Dependable for blowing and going shooting
Weakness
Grainy in low light, but Eric points out no one is better
Sometimes the autofocus feature fixates on bricks behind the subject to focus on, so watch your viewfinder

John Lenihan

LeniCam Video Productions
http://www.lenicamvideoproductions.com


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Eric Pensenstadler
Re: Image quality of NX5U and similar HD cameras
on Aug 24, 2011 at 7:45:29 pm

I completely ditto what John said. I can't say it any better.

For me, it's all about realistic expectations. Ask John and a few others on this forum, immediately after purchasing my 2 NX5Us I was ready to throw them off a clif - but thanks to those in this forum I realized that not all of my problems were due to the camera, and, most importantly, I learned to work within the limitations of the camera.

Again ditto-ing what John said, I've performed extensive tests with the NX5U and about 3 or 4 other cameras and other than personal preference features, I don't see any major advantage or disadvantage between them. The NX5Us are GREAT cameras IF you use them properly.

Hope that helps,
Eric



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john crossman
Re: Image quality of NX5U and similar HD cameras
on Dec 6, 2011 at 1:18:36 am

I record our church services with 2 Ex1rs and an NX5U. The EX1r has significantly better image quality. There is less noise in low light and better overall clarity. Even though the EX1r has a shorter zoom, the iris and zoom are completely independant allowing you to use a fully open iris at max zoom.

We record directly to a computer through a multicam switcher, so the larger EX1R files are not an issue. With SXS to SD interface cards and low cost class 10, 32 Gb SD cards, the EX1R file size really isn't as big of an issue as it was 18 months ago.

If you are dissatisfied with NX5U image quality, I would highly recommend an EX1R. The less convenient worflow and higher cost/weight is more than made up for by the better image quality. If you have to operate remotely, however, the NX5U with a remote commander is the only way to go.


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David Eaks
Re: Image quality of NX5U and similar HD cameras
on Dec 6, 2011 at 1:08:39 pm

I own 2 NX5U's and Neat Video. I feel your pain regarding the grain! I've felt much the way you did about the picture quality and this thread did ease my mind a bit. No complaints from customers though, shooting recitals, meetings and the like it's all Ohhh's and Ahhh's because they are so impressed with HD. They don't even see the noise.

But I must say that Neat Video is Awesome! You can make huge, vast improvements to noisy low light clips and it's got decent sharpening as well. Just don't over do it and be prepared for the long render times!

Also, it is very helpful to keep in mind that Neat Video needs to build a noise profile based off of an area with no detail, like a flat black background. It can be tough to get a good profile if you don't have a good section of the frame to work with. So be sure to shoot with that in mind if you plan to use Neat.

Does anyone have picture profile settings that they use specifically for low light situations, that they would like to share?


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