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Letterbox in camera or post?

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Quentin
Letterbox in camera or post?
on Feb 2, 2006 at 5:51:33 pm

I'm at the hobby level of cinematography and, through a few local public access classes, have access to their equipment. Their cameras are much better than my own, but obviously nowhere near the quality of a feature film, being a Sony PD150. I would like to film things in letterbox, but I'm on the fence on how to film it.

The camera supports a letterbox record function where it squeezes the shot into a letterbox aspect ratio - this works fine, but it seems to me as though I actually lose quality in that route because less pixels are used to make a larger area (or rather, the same pixels are stretched to a larger area). My question is, should I use the built-in letterbox function with the security that what's seen in the viewfinder will be what's recorded, or should I film very carefully* with the native 4:3 aspect ratio and add the letterbars (or rather, trim the footage) later in the NLE?

* I don't have access to a broadcast monitor or some way to project letterbox guides onto the viewfinder or screen while filming.



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SydneyS
Re: Letterbox in camera or post?
on Feb 7, 2006 at 4:28:30 am

You're not seeing things, (Very perceptive by the way, many people do not notice this) You are actually losing pixels and image quality when that particular camera goes into 16X9 mode. The best way is to frame the shot, knowing you will crop later. How I used to do this is, I didn't have any tools within the camera to frame this, so I would simply draw directly on to the glass with a sharpie until I got the hang of it... After a while, I didn' really need the help... Some people would tape paper onto external monitors and frame their shots this way... Pretty much all editing programs these days have a cropping tool built into their basic video effects tools, and all you have to do is drag and drop this effect on to your time line, and there you are! (All the effect does is put a black bar in the correct position on the top and bottom... It doesn't remove pixels in the middle like the camera does.)



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Quentin
Re: Letterbox in camera or post?
on Feb 7, 2006 at 3:19:05 pm

Thanks for the reply SyndneyS.

Here's my followup question. I know that when I use the camera to record in 16:9 mode, the footage played (on a 16:9 HDTV) looks as though it was recorded with few pixels, or at least wider pixels (which makes sense). If I do record in 4:3 how should I treat the footage in the NLE? I'm guessing that I'd be clipping off the top and bottom and then stretching (or fitting) the footage into a 720x480 clip with a widescreen aspect ratio. Is the scaling of the footage in the NLE going to be a higher quality that originally recording with a width-compressed version of widescreen?

Thanks again!

Addendum: .... It is highly likely that I have failed utterly in trying to express my question. If this is the case, feel free to point and laugh and I'll just figure it out through my own experimentation.





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SydneyS
Re: Letterbox in camera or post?
on Feb 7, 2006 at 5:23:43 pm

Well, you're actually getting into a more complex area here... Some cameras, like the one you mentioned, do eliminate pixels to achieve the DV widescreen effect... But, not everything works this way... I think the software treats it something like 853 by 480, (Someone may correct me on this) so yes, you would basically stretch to fit... The difference there is, you're not losing any pixel resolution when the camera creates its own 16X9 image... Even high end HD cheats a little... Both Sony HDCam and cheaper HDV actually record the image at 1440X1080, and stretch to fit at 1920X1080... The top of the line cameras (Arri D20, etc.) are really the only cameras that don't cheat...


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