FCP 7: Getting Slo-Mo Images to Look Better

Posted on by Larry

[ This article was first published in the November, 2009, issue of
Larry’s Final Cut Pro Newsletter. Click here to subscribe. ]


Dave Pastor writes:

I am just a serious enthusiast when it comes to videography. I don’t do any professional recording. I use Final Cut Studio and I probably need to upgrade. I purchased it back in 05.


Anyway my question is that I mostly find myself recording games for a weekend warrior flag football league. I put together a highlight DVD for the players to purchase at the end of the season. I use a Canon XL-1 and record on mini DV tapes. I am really disappointed in the quality of the footage. I am disappointed because the playback is jittery and when I slo-mo some nice catches everything looks??interlaced??


My question is am I not recording things right, capturing things right or is that just the best its gonna be and I need to purchase a high def camera?

Larry replies: There are three possible answers here: Yes, No, and Maybe.

All DVDs are standard-def – so shooting in standard-def makes perfect sense. So, do you NEED to purchase an HD camera? No.

If you plan to distribute your work on Blu-ray Disc, which is HD, your SD footage will look very soft and grainy. So, do you NEED to purchase an HD camera? Yes.

However, I suspect the answer lies in-between. If you compare your slo-mo with what the networks create, yours will look jittery and somewhat soft. That’s because you are working with a $3,000 camera, while the networks are using $150,000 cameras, combined with SERIOUS post-production gear. You could replicate the effect for about $150,000 using a combination of hardware and software. So, do you NEED to purchase an HD camera? Maybe.

To make things look better, try changing your speed in the following increments: 50%, 25%, 20%, 10% or 5%. Lo-motion percentages that yield the best results are those that divide evenly into 100.

You can also consider buying, or renting, a camera that shoots a variable frame rates. Video that is shot in slow-motion always looks better than video that is slowed down in post-production.

That should fix the jitter.

All NTSC video is interlaced, that can’t be avoided. However, shooting a progressive image, which the Canon camera supports, will help a lot.

So, do you need to purchase an HD camera? Probably not – shoot progressive and only work with certain slo-mo speeds and things should improve.

UPDATE – Jan. 2, 2010

Tore Jonssen adds:

Making movies for a lot of oil and offshore companies, I have recorded lots and lots of hours filming small scale model tests, often having to slow footage down to as much as 15% of real life speed. The FCP plugin Twixtor has given me great, smooth slo-mos from interlaced SD footage where FCP couldn’t. Great plugin, the only downside is you’ll have to expect a LOT of rendering.

Larry replies: Thanks, Tore, for sharing this.


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