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Blurry footage when downsampling 1080p to 720p in FCPX.

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Shawn Liebling
Blurry footage when downsampling 1080p to 720p in FCPX.
on Feb 21, 2016 at 7:59:36 pm

I currently shoot all my footage in 1080p at a fairly high bitrate (Panasonic GH3) and then edit/output in FCPX to 720p. Using FCPX, I edit in a 720p timeline and simply drop my 1080p footage into it. I prefer this method because it allows me to do pans/zooms on static shots, etc. I also assume that when applying image stabilization it might degrade the quality less (since the footage being cropped is also being downsized).

I have noticed that the final output video files tend to be somewhat blurry when compared to the original footage, no matter how I render the final file (ProRes, H.264, etc). I have tried many experiments and have come to the conclusion that FCPX just isn't good at downsampling and there is nothing I can do about it. Is this true? Am I missing something?

I prove this theory, I have also downsampled the original footage to 720p using QuickTimePro, imported it into FCPX, and included it in the same timeline/output as the footage downsampled in FCPX. The end result is a noticeable difference in quality between the footage within the same file. I realize a solution would be to downsample all my footage before bringing it into FCPX, but this is less than ideal because of the added time/effort as well as negating the benefits of editing 1080p on a 720p timeline (as mentioned above). Another solution (which is my current method) is to sharpen the footage during the editing process. However, this is also not ideal because although the end result looks less blurry, it also degrades the image quality (it is like taking a sharp photo, blurring it, and then re-sharpening it). Despite these solutions and workarounds, I am still hopeful that I am wrong and that FCPX can somehow downsample footage without the blurry effect. Any ideas?

Here is some extra info that may be helpful:

• I am using FCPX 10.0.9 on a MacBook Pro (I have OS Mountain Lion, so can't install a newer version of FCPX).

• I am importing footage using the Optimize setting (transcoded to ProRes) since my original files tend to cause playback challenges. I have carefully compared the transcoded 1080p files to the originals and I don't see any visual quality loss, so this tells me that it isn't the optimization process that is creating my issue.

• I am outputting the final video using FCPX's "share" command, and have tried every kind of codec (H.264, ProRes, Uncompressed, etc). I am fairly certain that my issue has nothing to do with the output method or codec since the blurriness is clearly visible within my timeline viewer when comparing the pre-downsampled video to the video downsampled in FCPX.

Many thanks in advance to anyone to can help with this!
-shawn


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Noah Kadner
Re: Blurry footage when downsampling 1080p to 720p in FCPX.
on Feb 22, 2016 at 2:54:35 am

I'd suggest a 1080p timeline and then export at 1080p ProRes 444 and then convert that to 720p in Compressor. Also, with all due respect 'blurry' is very subjective. I shoot 4K with high quality optics and still see occasionally less than desirable looks in downconverts. Why 720p at all? Blu-ray web, YouTube etc all accept at the very least 1080p and most a lot more now.

Noah

FCPWORKS - FCPX Workflow
FCP Exchange - FCPX Workshops


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Shawn Liebling
Re: Blurry footage when downsampling 1080p to 720p in FCPX.
on Feb 24, 2016 at 5:16:08 pm

[Noah Kadner] "I'd suggest a 1080p timeline and then export at 1080p ProRes 444 and then convert that to 720p in Compressor."

That may be what I end up doing. However, I am still trying to to answer the original question of whether or not FCPX is capable of downsizing to 720p without the blurriness. Also, I like having the ability to pan/resize/zoom/etc when working with 1080p footage on a 720p timeline.

[Noah Kadner] "Also, with all due respect 'blurry' is very subjective."

You are right. I tend to be a "pixel peeper" and tend to notice the details more than the average person, however I feel there is a noticeable difference. I will go ahead and attach screen shots in another post.

[Noah Kadner] "Why 720p at all? Blu-ray web, YouTube etc all accept at the very least 1080p and most a lot more now."

There are a few reasons. The main reason is that all I have is a 13" MacBook Pro with a 1280x800 screen… so I am literally not capable of viewing 1080p footage at 100%. I am pretty much constantly traveling, so having an external monitor isn't really an option. Also, I am a little behind the times and still happy to be doing 720p. I plan to switch to 1080p in the near future, but I just haven't gotten there yet. I need a new computer, a better camera, etc.. so it will happen eventually, just not quite yet. :)

Thanks for the response,
Shawn


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Christopher New
Re: Blurry footage when downsampling 1080p to 720p in FCPX.
on Feb 22, 2016 at 6:27:39 pm

You also haven't mentioned anything about frame rate. E.g., if you're shooting in 23.98 or 30p, & your 720p timeline is 59.97, then FCPX has to do some frame doubling. This could "stretch" the data between more frames, especially interframe codecs like ProRes. But I haven't seen the kind of noticeable blurring you're alluding to; I just ran a test of 1080p23.98 Canon XF 50 Mbps footage in both a 720p23.98 & 720p59.97 timeline, and didn't see any difference. Perhaps this is a FCPX 10.0.9 issue (but I hope not).

You said you were comparing the 720 outputs to your original footage: this will always look blurrier, even with the best downres. Make sure you're comparing apples to apples (no pun intended) – 720 to 720. I agree with Noah; try a 1080 timeline, but then also try to export a 720 .m4v from the timeline to see if your results are better. Another thing to think about is if the blurriness you're getting is the stabilization of shaky footage? Are you comparing clips when both have stabilization turned on?

Christopher New
Event1 Video
Ankeny, IA
event1video.com


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Shawn Liebling
Re: Blurry footage when downsampling 1080p to 720p in FCPX.
on Feb 24, 2016 at 5:23:33 pm

[Christopher New] "You also haven't mentioned anything about frame rate. E.g., if you're shooting in 23.98 or 30p, & your 720p timeline is 59.97, then FCPX has to do some frame doubling."

Original footage from camera is 29.97fps and my timeline is 29.97fps. No framerate changes during any of the input/editing/output process.


[Christopher New] "You said you were comparing the 720 outputs to your original footage: this will always look blurrier, even with the best downres. Make sure you're comparing apples to apples (no pun intended) – 720 to 720. I agree with Noah; try a 1080 timeline, but then also try to export a 720 .m4v from the timeline to see if your results are better. Another thing to think about is if the blurriness you're getting is the stabilization of shaky footage? Are you comparing clips when both have stabilization turned on?"

Actually, the downres looks better than the original footage in my opinion (when done in QuickTime instead of FCPX). I will post some screenshots in a different post when I get a chance. I have tried a 1080p timeline with a 720p export and it looks identical to a 720p timeline export.

The blurriness isn't due to stabilization.. I am comparing non-stabilized footage because I am fully aware that the stabilization blurs the footage by cropping it (although I was hoping the downsizing thing would make it less of an issue).

Thanks for the response,
Shawn


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Joe Marler
Re: Blurry footage when downsampling 1080p to 720p in FCPX.
on Feb 22, 2016 at 8:35:40 pm

[Shawn Liebling] "1080p at a fairly high bitrate (Panasonic GH3) and then edit/output in FCPX to 720p. Using FCPX, I edit in a 720p timeline and simply drop my 1080p footage into it. I prefer this method because it allows me to do pans/zooms on static shots, etc. I also assume that when applying image stabilization it might degrade the quality less (since the footage being cropped is also being downsized).

I have noticed that the final output video files tend to be somewhat blurry when compared to the original footage, no matter how I render the final file "


I have edited lots of H264 1080p material from various cameras including GH4 and exported 720p H264 without seeing a major decrease in sharpness or apparent resolution. I have done frame grabs of the output at 1080p vs 720p and there is not a huge visual difference. This is using 1080p content in 10.1.2 or later and edited in a 1080p timeline, exported at 720p vs exported at 1080p.

However I rarely edit in a 720p timeline. The procedure you describe should work without major problems, and I have done similar procedures between 4k and 1080p. I can't explain your results.

I just finished a similar test comparing H264 4k material from an AG-DVX200 and A7RII in a 4k timeline, exported at 4k vs the same 4k content in a 1080p timeline exported at 1080p, where in both cases 2x cropping/zooming was done. Taking frame grabs of the final file played in Quicktime, I couldn't see any visual difference at 2x zoom, which indicated FCPX was using the full-res 4k content when zooming into the 1080p frame. The purpose of this test was to see if any image quality loss happened when using a 4k timeline vs 1080p timeline, when original content is 4k and exporting in 1080p. Editing performance is faster if using 4k in a 1080p timeline vs a 4k timeline, thus the incentive for that method (which I'm sure you know).

In all cases I exported using Share>Master File, Format: Computer, Video codec: H.264 Faster Encode, Resolution either 4k, 1080p or 720p.


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Shawn Liebling
Re: Blurry footage when downsampling 1080p to 720p in FCPX.
on Feb 24, 2016 at 5:27:41 pm

[Joe Marler] "I have edited lots of H264 1080p material from various cameras including GH4 and exported 720p H264 without seeing a major decrease in sharpness or apparent resolution. I have done frame grabs of the output at 1080p vs 720p and there is not a huge visual difference. This is using 1080p content in 10.1.2 or later and edited in a 1080p timeline, exported at 720p vs exported at 1080p"

Hmm… I wonder if it has to do with the version of FCPX that I am using? (10.0.9) I wouldn't think this would be the case, but who knows. Eventually I want to start shooting in 4k and downsizing to 1080p, but as I mentioned in a post above, I am simply not there yet in terms of equipment, etc.

Thanks for the response,
Shawn


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Patrick Donegan
Re: Blurry footage when downsampling 1080p to 720p in FCPX.
on Feb 22, 2016 at 11:59:49 pm

Did you wait enuf time for the "Render / Transcode" to occur?

FCP X 10.2.2 - user since FCP 1.25
iMac mid 2011, MBA mid 2012
HVX-200, Shure wireless mic


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Shawn Liebling
Re: Blurry footage when downsampling 1080p to 720p in FCPX.
on Feb 24, 2016 at 5:38:20 pm

[Patrick Donegan] "Did you wait enuf time for the "Render / Transcode" to occur?"

Yes. As my original post states; the issue I am seeing is both in the timeline (after render/transcode is finished) as well as in the final output.


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Shawn Liebling
Re: Blurry footage when downsampling 1080p to 720p in FCPX.
on Feb 24, 2016 at 6:16:55 pm

Ok, here are some actual screenshots of what I am talking about. I realize the blurriness isn't huge, but I find it noticeable and it is important to me to have the highest quality that I can achieve.

Here is a downsized image of the full frame of original footage (for context):


To get the following screenshots I did the following: Create 720p timeline in FCPX and insert two clips of the same footage into the timeline. The first clip is the original 1080p footage (which is downsampled in FCPX by placing it on the 720p timeline), and the second clip is the same footage which has been downsampled using QuickTime Pro to 720p before importing into FCPX. Next, I "shared" the footage using the "Master File" setting and choosing "ProRes 222" format. Finally, I opened the output file in Quicktime and took screenshots from the same frame in each clip.

And here is the crop from the footage downsampled in FCPX:


This is a crop from the footage that was downsampled using QuickTimePro:


And just in case people can't see the difference (which would surprise me), here are the two crops enlarged by 200%:

The FCPX clip:


The QuickTime Pro clip:


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