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Color correcting DSLR footage on a Mac is a clustercuss

06.3.10 @ 12:46PM Tags : , , , , , ,

In Zacuto’s most recent DSLR/film comparison, one of the commenters noted that upconverting to ProRes gave much better results (than editing native h.264 footage) in post. While ProRes is definitely a better codec (in terms of color space and compression), the clip showed as a reference seemed to exhibit a perpetually-annoying gamma shift bug that applies to a lot of DSLR shooters — more specifically, anyone editing h.264 video on a Mac. When I shot some stuff on my 5D for Focus Features, I noticed that the clips looked desaturated and flat in Quicktime 7, and supersaturated and contrasty in Quicktime X (Quicktime X ships with Snow Leopard, and Quicktime 7 is an optional install). Jerome Stern at MotionLife corroborates this experience, decrying the lack of consistency when it comes to viewing and editing h.264 footage on a Mac:

Will somebody please remind me again why ProRes footage can’t play nice with RGB, or why exporting to H.264 still results in a gamma shift?  There’s nothing that I’ve seen in Snow Leopard, with it’s new system-wide gamma switch to 2.2, that seems to have done anything to remedy these issues.  I suppose I’m grateful that Macs and PCs finally share the same default gamma levels, but trying to navigate through the myriad of remaining unresolved color issues can be maddening.

Jerome goes on to show that the exact same clips look different whether they’re being viewed in Quicktime 7, Quicktime X (now know simply as Quicktime Player), Final Cut Pro, After Effects, and more. This makes it impossible to determine the correct “master,” which makes color correction on a Mac, as they say in Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, a “clustercuss.” Jerome goes on to conclude:

My advice, for whatever it’s worth, is not to color correct until the client has approved the final cut. Then, once the picture is locked, get out of YUV. Export your ProRes timeline to an RGB codec such as Sheer’s 8-bit RGB, or, if you’re more courageous, use Media Manager to export the actual edited clips, and then batch convert those from within MPEG Streamclip to Sheer.

This is a terrible solution! Not through any fault of Jerome’s, but simply because this is a totally unreasonable workflow for hardware and software components that share “Pro” monikers (MacBook Pro, Mac Pro, Final Cut Pro, and Quicktime Pro (aka 7)). Check out the full version of his post if you’re interested in the ins and outs, and please share here if you’ve come up with a reliable color correction workflow!

Link: Which Version Do I Color Correct?

[via FreshDV]


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Description image 16 COMMENTS

  • Dan Nguyen (@wynddan) on 06.3.10 @ 1:13PM

    definitely an issue i’ve come across, and have yet to come across an exact solution. thanks for bringing more awareness to the problem.

  • This is a year-old issue:

    Unfortunately, the reality is that there’s no way to create a master that will look exactly the same on every format or OS anymore. Even uploading to vimeo or YouTube looks different than a mpeg-4 or H.264.

  • I’m aware it’s a year-old issue… which kind of makes it worse! Apple released fixes to QT but then QTX messed it up again.

    I’m not saying everything should look the same no matter time and place (YouTube, DVD, etc) but I am saying that within a pro-level Mac postproduction environment, we should not be seeing this level of color shift based on whether we’re in After Effects or FCP or Color. It’s ridiculous.

    • > I’m reminded of the scene in Barry Lyndon when Barry complains that his water cup is filled with grease…

      We can all complain all we want…

    • Any real colorist knows that you should never judge an image based on what it looks like in FCP, and no real colorist would be using FCP for color correction willingly anyway, even if it’s just for the internet. Maybe you should be using a professional broadcast monitor, the image will look the same even in different applications.

      There’s a simple fix for correcting gamma issues in Quicktime. Look at the clip in a few different players and monitors then create a preset in Compressor that compensates for your specific source codec in order to get a happy medium.>

      • I agree with your first point, Nigel. The thing is, back when I was shooting standard-def DV it was actually easier to color correct on a broadcast monitor, by using the firewire-out on the computer connected to a camera (DVX100 in my case) which then output to a Sony broadcast monitor. Before that I had a miroVIDEO DC30 which output to a TV as well. But very few people watch content on CRTs anymore, and so it’s actually more difficult to color-correct in the high-def and mobile world. However, I don’t agree that this is a “simple fix”:

        “Look at the clip in a few different players and monitors then create a preset in Compressor that compensates for your specific source codec in order to get a happy medium.”

        So basically you’re not sure how it’s going to look until you output the final file? Or, if you recompress everything before you edit, averaging out a “right” and “wrong” look will just leave you half-wrong. I’m not sure why people like to defend Apple as if they’re some sort of holy institution, but they do. To quote the PVC article Roman links here in the comments:

        “Everything worked fine two years ago when we did the first edition, but something has changed since then, and now the same settings produce unsatisfactory results. It is sad that this known bug has been around for so long.”

  • Or we can just switch to a PC.

    Maybe not just yet, but the door’s open thanks to Apple’s lackadaisical FCP updates (and closed mentality when it comes to application approval and content distribution).

    This is a documented bug that’s been out there for a year, as you point out. It’s a pretty serious one. I’m not reminded of Barry Lyndon.

    • It’s always been like this. I always refused to use H.264 for web video because it looked different depending on the program that played it: Quicktime, Safari, iTunes, etc. Most of the time it looked completely gained-up and bleached out. That’s why I always stuck with MPEG-4 — it was much more accurate. But now with ColorSync it doesn’t really matter so much; they both look kind of crappy.

      But we’re talking DIY filmmaking here. This isn’t Cameron or Fincher and what tools they can buy (even though Fincher uses FCP). But even in the studio world I know there’ve been issues because usually one color-corrected master is made — and from that source flows 35mm prints, digital prints, DVD/Blu-ray, etc. Yet, each of those formats has different properties and reads the information slightly different. Do the best you can, then you put it out there and it’s out of your hands…

      You need to have a sense of humor…

  • Yes, I used “clustercuss” in the title because I have no sense of humor. Anyway, all I’m saying is the gamma issue should be fixed. It’s a bug, son. It’s not that hard.

    • Thanks Ryan for post.
      despite of mentioned issues is decoding H.264 to apple pro 4 2 2 for color correction still one the best way in post or not ?


  • That colorshifting on a Mac is really tedious to work with. Haven’t found a solution yet. Even working with the x264 codec doesn’t seem to be better ( Thanks for posting this!