Why do some videos look so dang good?
May 13, 2011 6:44 AM   Subscribe

Why does some video quality appear warm and soft while others looks harsh and grainy?

I know a bit about this area, but not nearly enough to really understand what the differences are here. What is it exactly in a camera that moves quality from typical home-video grainy one into a more professional "softer" look? I don't really know how to explain this properly, so maybe this will work by example.

Here's an old smpfilms video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ogs9EUu_pdc

Here's a new smpfilms video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RyGgYkoNJiU

Everything just looks nicer in the new one, and I have no idea how to actually say exactly what's changed. It just looks way better. My MiniDV camcorder looks like the old video. A lot of HD cameras also look like the old one, but at a higher resolution. What is it that makes a video look like the newer example?

If someone is shopping for a new camcorder/camera, what is the feature they look for in a camera to get this kind of quality?

Sorry for sounding like a total goofball, I honestly have no idea how to describe this! Thanks!
posted by swrittenb to Technology (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Shallow depth of field.
posted by The Lamplighter at 6:55 AM on May 13, 2011


You probably won't be able to get that look with a standard video camera, though it should be pretty easy with a DSLR that will shoot video.
posted by The Lamplighter at 6:57 AM on May 13, 2011

-Obviously the second is HD, like you pointed out.

-The lighting is much better in the second one, nice bright lights in front of him, with the mirror behind him effectively lighting him from behind. Look up three-point lighting, this is sort of what's happening here.

-The second is actually focused on him, the first looks like it's filmed with a webcam, so, no ability to focus. I think this is probably what you're latching onto. It and the lighting are what are making the difference.

On preview, Lamplighter is correct, but it's essentially the same as my third point. The webcam isn't able to actually focus properly, so it has a very large depth of field. Everything looks okay but nothing looks great. The HD cam in the second gives him the ability to focus properly on himself, and so projects himself out of the surroundings.
posted by InsanePenguin at 6:57 AM on May 13, 2011

Also, the HD camera he's using has a higher frame rate.
posted by InsanePenguin at 6:59 AM on May 13, 2011

InsanePenguin - The first video is in focus, but the entire scene is focused because of the first camera's small sensor size and (presumably) high f-stop.

I'm also not sure that the lighting is better in the second clip although certainly that camera is better able to use the light.

He's probably using a Canon 5d mk2. Just a guess.
posted by The Lamplighter at 7:02 AM on May 13, 2011

Actually i think the frame rate is a little higher on the first clip. The second one may be 24fps vs 30 in the first one. 24fps can appear more "high end" because that's the frame rate that films use.
posted by The Lamplighter at 7:04 AM on May 13, 2011

InsanePenguin - The first video is in focus, but the entire scene is focused because of the first camera's small sensor size and (presumably) high f-stop.

Well, yes, technically the video is focused, but it may as well not be. It's not focused on him, which is what swrittenb was picking up on.
posted by InsanePenguin at 7:05 AM on May 13, 2011

He's using something that costs $100-$200 bucks in the first video and in the second he has a whole setup that probably cost a few thousand dollars (DSLR with HD Video, good lens, lighting, etc).

You will need pro equipment to get a pro looking video, but at the very least, light yourself properly so that everything pops. This is the reason that you could shoot an HD video with an iPhone on a clear sunny day and have it look great vs shooting indoors.
posted by darkgroove at 7:12 AM on May 13, 2011

He probably did pay quite a bit for that setup but you could get something very close with a consumer DSLR. Maybe one a generation or two old, like the T2i. Add a nice fast lens, like the 50mm 1.8, which is about $100, and you're in business for well under $1,000.
posted by The Lamplighter at 7:16 AM on May 13, 2011

Focus and lighting, among other things.
posted by pants tent at 8:00 AM on May 13, 2011

The lens in the video looks a little too big to be fixed-focus.
posted by The Lamplighter at 8:18 AM on May 13, 2011

Along with all the superior optics, sensor size (looks like a 7D to me) and processing, he also has a fancy portable shooting rig from redrock micro. The other camera looks like it might be sitting on a desk.

Additionally, the lens in the first shot seems more wide-angle, while the second shot is neutral or a little telephoto, which is always more flattering to the face.

Echoing the comments above, shot #1 is made with $50 worth of equipment, shot #2 is made with maybe $4000 worth of equipment. There's a reason people pay so much.
posted by bug138 at 9:10 AM on May 13, 2011

Equipment, lighting, and skill.
posted by kindall at 9:38 AM on May 13, 2011

swrittenb asked "If someone is shopping for a new camcorder/camera, what is the feature they look for in a camera to get this kind of quality?"

But swrittenb deserves an answer to the follow-up question which he - understandably - neglected to ask: "And should I get one?"

To which the simple answer is: Probably not.

That isn't meant to sound condescending. It's just that whilst DSLRs are capable of producing brilliant video in the right hands, there are some things that a standard video camera worth a few hundred dollars will do much better than a 2011-era DSLR. Like usable autofocus, for starters.

Passionate videographers work around the current limitations to produce some amazing footage. But in posing the questions the OP did I think it's a reasonable assumption that swrittenb is not (yet) a passionate videographer.

(Also: The second video's camera does not appear to have a pop-up flash. Therefore it's a 5D Mk II.)
posted by puffmoike at 9:58 AM on May 13, 2011

Lack of autofocus is not a limitation that "passionate videographers" somehow "work around." For many types of shooting, it's just not needed, and when focus does need to change in a shot, pros prefer to do it manually.

But yeah, if you're not a pro, you probably want autofocus.
posted by kindall at 12:15 PM on May 17, 2011

Thank you! Actually, I am intentionally not going to get a camera that supports this. I'm just always taken back when you see someone upgrade, and there's a clear difference in quality. I'm interested in the reason why things get better, and simply buying a better camera doesn't really answer the question appropriately. If it's the shallower depth of field with lighting that make the clearest difference (with HD, in this case), it seems to make sense to me, as a wimpy amateur.
posted by swrittenb at 10:54 AM on May 20, 2011

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