It seems that the quest to make digital video look like celluloid film is in no danger of ending any time soon. Ironic, isn't it? With all of the amazing technology at our fingertips we still yearn for the feel of something so.... analog... I suppose some things are perfect after all. Such is the case with what we consider the 'look' of film. There are literally thousands of tricks that filmmakers employ to achieve that end result. From color correction software or literally copying the grain profile of different types of ACTUAL film and pasting it onto digital video to a million different pre-made 'effects' that promise to convert your sterile, bland video into something that would make Fellini proud.
Well allow me to introduce you to one more such trick - and yes, this one is worth a look.
Our friends at Technicolor have joined forces with the eggheads at Canon's engineering department and the ASC Directors of Photography to put out what just might be the finest custom Picture Style ever. According to them, it will give you optimum dynamic range by leveraging the power of Canon's imaging chipset. It can also make waffles and rub your feet.
So how does all this translate into you making better, cooler videos? Well, in short, it's about having options. Unlike beefier, more expensive cameras like the Arri Alexa, RED, or Canon C300 that shoot in a RAW format, DSLRs shoot what is essentially a series of moving jpegs. The very nature of compressing video means that a large amount of digital information is simply thrown out. We filmmakers and photographers want to always minimize what gets 'thrown away' and retain as much information as possible. That's where CineStylecomes in. By tweaking the dynamic range to adjust how your Canon DSLR records moving images, it preserves more data. The end result is a muddy image but don't freak out - we like muddy. This gives you more data to manipulate later, where you can add contrast and sharpening to get the final look you're going for in the editing software of your choice. Think of it like shooting RAW photos and tweaking them in Lightroom or Aperture later - the more information that is preserved during the shoot, the better.
Here's the technical explanation from Technicolor:
"When the Technicolor CineStyle is selected in the camera it puts the standard H.264 REC709 color space into a log color space. Video images are recorded in log space. Still images are also converted into the same log color space. This is the first implementation of its kind for the Canon EOS line of cameras."
There is no magic bullet (get it?) and this is essentially an elegant workaround for shooting in a less than optimum format but for todays DSLR filmmakers (especially those of you shooting on 5D MKII's) it's a great tool. The reality is that the film look doesn't really come from one particular technical fix. Like most things, this one is an art - not a science. The key is in not screwing yourself up early on in the shooting process so you can achieve the look you want later.
For a real taste of what all this means, head over to Vincent Laforet's blog for comparison shots between the Canon and Technicolor profiles. Still not convinced? Philip Bloom put assembled a nice collection of comparison videos showing the profile in action here.
If you're sold on giving it a go, here's a less than thrilling how-to video on how to install this little gem.
Shoot first, - Clint