Editing in Widescreen

December 17, 2008 by Samantha Halfon · 2 Comments
Filed under: Editing 

Last year, our JVC Camcorder gave out after several years of good service and we decided to replace it this summer. In the meantime, we had got our Canon EOS 350D photo camera and really got to like it. So when the time came to pick a camera, we payed special attention to Canon. We ended up buying the Canon GL2. Our JVC was PAL, the GL2 is NTSC. We used the JVC as 1.33 aspect ratio (default, square) and started to use the GL2 as 1.66 (widescreen). Basically, everything is different.

When it comes to editing, there are a few things to know.

When you create your new project, you must select the right presets which can be:

  1. PAL Standard
  2. NTSC Standard
  3. PAL Widescreen
  4. NTSC Widescreen

The values that will change depending on the presets you select are:

  1. The frame size
  2. The frame rate
  3. The pixel aspect ratio

These settings will be important to have in mind when exporting the final movie and when importing outside elements like photos or animations. Of course you might also be editing in HD which is yet another format. I will not talk about HD here as we’ve not yet used it for our films.

Here is a sumup of these three values for the four availalbe presets:

Pal Standard

  • Frame Size: 720×576
  • Frame Rate: 25fps
  • Pixel Aspect Ratio: 1.067

NTSC Standard

  • Frame Size: 720×480
  • Frame Rate: 29.97fps
  • Pixel Aspect Ratio: 0.9

Pal Widescreen

  • Frame Size: 720×576
  • Frame Rate: 25fps
  • Pixel Aspect Ratio: 1.422

NTSC Widescreen

  • Frame Size: 720×480
  • Frame Rate: 29.97 fps
  • Pixel Aspect Ratio: 1.2

As you can notice, when switching from Standard to Widescreen, the frame size doesn’t change, the pixel aspect ratio does. If you need to import an image from a photo editing software, you will need to make sure your image respects this in order for it to fit (without distortion) into your movie. The same thing goes for an animation you might have produced before hand.

But why play with these odd pixel aspect ratios ? If pixels were squarred, the NTSC widescreen format frame size would be 864×486. So you can actually create your photo or animation using these dimensions and the standard squarre pixels. When using them in your movie project, these will look correct (no distortion). It’s a lot easier to handle them that way, even if it means remembering more numbers.

Here are the frame sizes (using a square pixel ration) for the two widescreen formats we are interested in:

PAL Widescreen

1024 [720 * 1.422]

576 [1024 * 9 / 16]

NTSC Widescreen

864 [720 * 1.2]

486 [864 * 9 / 16]

To illustrate these explanations, I used one of our photos and resized it three different ways then imported it to a NTSC Widescreen editing project.

  1. Resized it to a 720×480 squared pixels image
  2. Resized it to a 720×480 1.2 pixels image
  3. Resized it to a 864×486 squared pixels image

I imported these images into the project and displays them into the monitor.

  1. As expected, the first image doesn’t fit. It looks like a “Standard image” into a “Widescreen frame” with black empty lines on the sides
  2. The second image has the correct ratio, it is not distorted and fits the mointor.
  3. The third image is also correct

A 720x480 squared pixel image in a widescreen movie


A 720x480 1.2pixels in a widescreen movie


A 864x486 sqared pixel image in a widescreen movie

We had to study these issues recently as we switched to a Widescreen mode and hope our conclusions can help you understand these aspect ratio problems. We are also opened to any sggestions about working with widescreen you may have.

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Filming in Widescreen

December 7, 2008 by Samantha Halfon · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Equipment, Filming 

Yesterday we filmed an exhibition opening at an art gallery in Montmartre, Paris. As i mentioned in an earlier post, I intended to film in Wide Screen (16:9) for the first time. Our camera, the Canon GL2, offers two options to film in Wide Screen:

  • The first option is to display two lines (one of top, one of the bottom) showing the limit of the 16:9 frame. You can then film in 4:3 and, when post-producing, generate a 4:3 version and/or a 16:9 version. If you respected the lines while filming and framed making sure that no important information was outside the limit, both versions will be OK.
What you see in the viewfinder

What you see in the viewfinder

The resulting 4/3 image

The resulting squared ratio image

The resulting 16/9 image

The resulting wide image

  • The second option is to modify the aspect ratio and film in 16:9. In that case, in the viewfinder, you will see what you are framing but resized to a 4:3 ratio. It will make everything look squeezed and distorted but when played back in the correct ratio, the image will be perfect. While you film, you can rely on what is and what is not in the frame which is the strong point. The weak point of course is that everything you see through the view finder is deformed by the 4:3 ratio.
The image as seen in the viewfinder

The image as seen in the squared viewfinder

The same image as seen in the widescreen movie

The image as seen in the resulting wide screen movie

As this was my first time filming with that ratio, I expected difficulties framing but it actually came naturally. The only thing that disturbed me at first was that I had to place myself a little bit further away from a painting to film it entirely since, to film 16:9, the camera has to blow everything up a little bit. I quickly adjusted to that and all my instincts fell back into place.

As for what the ratio brings, well, it enables to put more characters or more action in the frame which brings more depth, more life to the images. It also looks more like the movies we’re now used to and I think it is now a necessary thing for video makers to do. We just can not afford to keep using 4:3 when everything else people watch is shot wide. At no point did I feel like I missed the 4:3 ratio, I doubt I will be going back.

Please don’t hesitate to comment on your experience if you already switch to 16:9, let us know why and when you switched and what you like and dislike about this ratio.

Get Wide?

December 3, 2008 by Samantha Halfon · 1 Comment
Filed under: Computing, Filming 

As the story goes, in the fifties, Widescreen was the argument cinema opposed to the increasing power of the television. It was a way to improve the magnificence of the cinema in order to keep audiences coming. Thus, leaving behind their newly acquired small and grainy little black and white box. Actually, alternative (wider) ratios had already been used prior to the 50’s. Still the coming of the Cinemascope or of the less destructive VistaVision were due to the studio’s worries over television and the falling attendance numbers. Eventually, in the fifties, the 1.85:1 ratio became the standard, at least in American cinema as opposed to the past 1.33, “squared” ratio.

The Big Heat by Fritz Lang (1953)

The Big Heat by Fritz Lang (1953)

As usual, the technical progress is the combination of technology and the need someone will have for it. As they say: “necessity is the mother of invention”. So widescreen had been around but it was an expensive luxury. Studios needed special cameras and film and theaters needed a specific projector. The need to keep a deserting audience coming pushed theaters owners and studios to switch their equipment to support the new format. In the same way, I believe electric cars don’t stand a chance at replacing the current gasoline ones simply because there is no immediate advantage to car makers. Maybe if gas gets more expensive, car designers will rush to offer an alternative.

Bad Day At Black Rock by John Sturges (1955)

Bad Day At Black Rock by John Sturges (1955)

About seven years ago, Apple made an incredible comeback selling iPods. The iPod became the unsurpassed leader of the portable music player market. The iPod, the first one, was a great product but it wasn’t that much better than its competitors of the time: it just played music. The difference with the iPod was that they created a product that really met a demand: a nice, elegant device to play music on the move. It was not about storing data and playing music. It was about music. It introduced album management and music online shopping. That probably was, the first real step in the connected-multimedia world we live in now. It changed the way we regard our digital devices. Apple’s marketing campaign for the iPod was all about the music. They showed hundreds of albums covers pouring out of iPods and people carelessly dancing in the intimacy of the sound that only they could hear and carry around.

Computers quickly followed this marketing path. Nowadays, a computer company doesn’t advertise about its storage capacity, it advertises about the possibility for you to store and edit your photos. Internet providers don’t advertise a 20Mbits/seconds connection speed, they advertise the “possibility to watch streaming HD TV”. Multimedia, whatever it is, became the first advertising element for everything digital. Strangely enough, computers, and especially laptops, were the first to go widescreen advertising on the possibility to watch movies. Suddenly, the computer became a smart TV. It could do all the computing tasks and replace the TV. A lot of teenagers don’t watch television anymore. Students, when going to college bring a single device, the laptop which holds everything they need: music, movies and works.

Televisions finally caught up with the trend and became flat with wide screens. To compete with the computers, they argue they offer a better resolution and a better quality. And then appeared the HD-Ready and Full-HD logos we now see everywhere.

Nevertheless, everything is widescreen now. Everything that comes from the film industry that is (and little by little what comes from the broadcasting industry) but what about what we do, what about us, video makers. Our videos look “square”. They don’t fit the computer screen, nor the iPhone screen. Little by little, the video format will switch from 1.33 to 16.9. Most cameras, even the low end ones, now offer an option to film emulating a 16.9 aspect ratio. I say emulate because the sensor is actually still a 1.33 and the option only disables the sensors of the top and bottom rows to frame the image with the 16.9 ratio. It’s cheating and cutting down but it looks like cinema.

Last week, youTube, the main video broadcast website, went widescreen too! From now on, it’s widescreen all around! A movie like Mr. Smith Goes To Washington will suddenly look even older. Not only doesn’t it have color, it doesn’t even fit the screen anymore. I can only imagine the disaster if editions with reframed ratio start coming along, cutting not the valley and mountains on the border of the cinemascope western frame, but the foreheads and collars of the golden age Hollywood stars!

Audiences are now distracted by the Internet. What is the new effect cinema will bring to keep its attendance? The hype, when I walked around the IBC [International Broadcasting Conference] in Amsterdam last year, seemed to be around 3-D. 3-D, just like wide format before it, has been around for a while. Actually, one of the first 3-D movies, Hondo, stars John Wayne and was directed by John Farrow back in1953. This time, with a new increased competition, 3-D might make a lasting comeback. We shall see.

So what about us, World Wide Angle? I admit I want to try my hand at this wider ratio. Our camera, the Canon GL2, offers such an option and I will be trying it out at our next shoot. Until now I have filmed with a 1.33 aspect. Lately we have took a lot of photos with the 1.5 digital camera ratio and that made me want to use a wider aspect with the video too. Next shoot: exhibition opening at chez Grace on Saturday evening. We shall discuss widescreen further then.