For Members

Photo courtesy ASMP member Andy Batt

Video Tutorial: Technical Issues

What are some standards in video? What is considered the pixel threshold for HD?

This is an area of chaos and confusion. With every new camera that a manufacturer puts on the market comes another type of codec. We should be striving for standardization of file formats and codecs and dialoging with camera manufacturers and software companies.

The answers to our survey varied widely:

  • There are format standards — things like NTSC, PAL, the various flavors of HD. Each of these covers, in many cases, not just the resolution of the imagery, but things like frame rate, brightness levels (IRE), and interlacing.
  • When you start getting into digital video, a whole new pile of standards start coming into play — codecs and file formats like Quicktime, Windows Media, H.264, Sorenson, Apple Motion JPEG, DV, the myriad flavors of MPEG, etc. A complete list could well run several pages.
  • Pixel threshold for HD? If you mean at what point a projects needs to exist in HD versus SD, there’s no hard and fast rule. Some say that any time you’re going above 640×480 then you need to be in HD. But even projects below that threshold will often benefit from being shot and cut at a resolution of at least 720p with a down-res to NTSC at the last stage of output.
  • The standard for HD is going in the direction of 1080 for everything so, in the interest of future proofing my footage, I want the biggest canvas there is for my clients.

“There are no standards in video! That is what I have struggled with from acquisition to output. It doesn’t matter if you listen to Apple, Panavision, Sony, JVC, Panasonic, Canon, or whoever; you must decide for yourself what is the highest-quality, final use that the client specifies. Now to make things worse, the client seldom knows all the uses. Panavision says that there were 2 standards, 35mm and 16mm film. Now there are 18 formats and growing for acquisition alone. The pixel threshold for HD is 1280×720 with 1920×1080 being the max.”

John Trotto

“Different clients have different standards. I shoot a fair amount of stuff with a Sony Z1U HDV camera that ends up being broadcast nationally. Other clients only want DVCPROHD or HDCAM. Often there is no rhyme or reason that is obvious. People you’d think would want broadcast HD are shooting HDV and people doing corporate stuff for the web that would look fine shot on mini-DV are shooting with a Varicam.”

John Freeland

“Real HD can’t be any less than 1920×1080, although many hybrid cameras offer it, it is not real HD.”

Jorge Parra

Are you shooting SD or HD? What formats do you shoot in? What frame rate (typically)?

  • 1920x1080p with various frames rates. Usually 24p or 30p.
  • Typically 24fps, HD with the RED One.
  • HDV – 24 or 30 FPS. 1080I, 720P.
  • Almost everything is shot and finished at 1080/24p. From there it’s easy to output NTSC or other formats. Better to shoot and finish at a higher quality than necessary than to suddenly find you need to take an SD project to HD.
  • HD is the main format and 59.97 is usually the frame rate.
  • Dictated by client and/or job.

“I have been working with videographers who have been shooting HD exclusively for the past five years. Generally we have been at 30fps (1080p30), but are now more often doing 1080p 24fps to achieve a more ‘film-like’ look when it is useful. It also depends on what digital platforms we may be looking to utilize for distribution. That also affects the codecs we would use for video compression. For example, podcasts, web use, DVDs, set-top boxes, and raw broadcast all might be treated separately and require separate codecs. For some web videos, we have gone down to 720p30 or even done 1080i30.”

Tom Kennedy

“I have chosen to shoot almost everything in HD, 720 24P, because my Panasonic camera is extremely efficient in regards to the file sizes when shooting this format to the P2 cards. I occasionally use 30P. Clients don’t know all the possible uses for the footage on the production day. I find it a good marketing tool to say that, if they decide to broadcast any part of the footage at a later date, we have it in HD”

John Trotto

“I own a Panasonic HDX900 DVCPROHD (720P/1080i) and a Sony Z1U HDV camera. But I still shoot a lot of Betacam SP, DVCPRO50 and DVCAM. Frame rate is up to the client.”

John Freeland

“Almost everything is shot and finished at 1080/24p. From there it’s easy to output NTSC or other formats. Better to shoot and finish at a higher quality than necessary than to suddenly find you need to take an SD project to HD. If some of the source footage is 60i, then the project typically moves to 29.97 fps with whatever 24p footage run through pulldown before editorial.”

Walt Jones

Do you edit your own material? What platform and software do you use?

  • Majority of people who edit their own material are working with Final Cut Pro on a Mac.
  • PC users typically work with Avid editing software.
  • Many are partnering with professional editors.

“I always do at least the rough cut and then send it off to a professional editor. I usually edit my documentary work myself. I edit with Final Cut Pro (only for a Mac). I also use Motion, After Effects, Soundtrack Pro, DVD Studio Pro, Compressor, Squeeze and Flash.”

Gail Mooney

“Only for a few clients. I am using Adobe Premiere Pro 3 on a Windows XP machine.”

John Freeland

“I am Mac based and use Final Cut Pro. I rarely edit but have seen an increase from producers to provide such services.”

John Sturdy

“Yes. I am generally working with Final Cut Pro on an Apple Macbook Pro laptop, fully loaded for video and audio editing (with respect to video card and RAM). PC editing would be done with Adobe products or Avid editing tools. With audio, I would use Adobe products if on a PC or Final Cut Pro (Soundtrack Pro) or ProTools when on a Mac. Many of my colleagues like ProTools because it is also very good for dealing with music. Again, there is a learning curve with recording and editing audio. I also think this is another area where it is essential for still photographers to learn the ropes or at least be able to partner with someone else who is skilled in doing audio and writing scripts for narration. I also think still photographers need to understand the value of strong narrating skills (both in writing and physical delivery). If they can’t learn to develop a strong natural ‘broadcast voice,’ then they need to do this with in partnership with someone who has those skills.”

Tom Kennedy

“I do edit a lot of my own material. Typically I’m working on a Win XP system running Avid Media Composer. I chose that route because often I’m doing onlines in systems that more easily load Avid timelines. I’ve used FCP on a number of projects as well.”

Walt Jones

How do you deliver your final product? Raw footage — on tape — on hard drives? As an edited piece? As a file and, if so, what type of file (i.e. H.264 etc.) On a DVD or Blu-Ray?

  • DVD or compressed files for the web.
  • Typically a QT movie, a WMV file, and a full-res output on DVD or hard drive depending on length.

“I have delivered jobs by all the ways mentioned, plus I have uploaded web videos to clients’ web sites. All but one job was a final edited piece. Raw files were delivered on a hard disk as Panasonic’s original MXF files, which store metadata.”

John Trotto

“Depends on the client and what they’ll be doing with it. As of late, pretty much everything gets handed off on a drive as a singular Quicktime file. To date the most common codecs have included H.264, Photo JPEG, DNxHD and uncompressed. If tape is in the mix, it’s usually either Digibeta or HDCAM. There’s usually some kind of DVD output in parallel with whatever main delivery method. So far I’ve not touched Blu-Ray.”

Walt Jones

“I provide final product H.264 and .MOV on DVD or hard drive. If they choose to not pay for the hard drive for raw footage they are reminded I am not responsible for archival. I do archive, but if they come back later when they lost their work, I bill for retrieval.”

Aaron Ansarov