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28 Nov

Why do people do this? Camera comparisons on YouTube

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Sony F55 on YouTube Sony F55 on YouTube Yosh Enatsu/RedShark

Why do people put video from one of the world's top cameras on YouTube with the expectation that we can judge the quality of the material? Just to make it perfectly clear: video on YouTube is highly compressed.

In the realm of video streaming, some videos on YouTube can look remarkably good, but they're not Master quality. You couldn't show them in a cinema and you certainly wouldn't use them to master Blu Ray disks from.

So how can we be expected to gauge the almost infinite subtleties and nuances that distinguish the world's finest digital cinematography tools?

Here's a video in point - it's the new Sony F55. The pictures have undoubtedly come from a fine source - by the look of it deliberately shot very flat either for flexibility in grading or just for that "look". But you can see 8-bit artefacts and the normal sort of grunge that you'd see in any low-bitrate streamed video, so we're not learning anything here. Just to repeat: these artefacts are not coming from the camera.



There may be 4K pixels, but that doesn't make the stream 4K

Just in case you're wondering, when you click on the "settings" cog, and change the resolution to "original", you are most definitely not looking at the original 4K footage. You are looking at video that if you were watching on a 4K monitor, might be decoded to 4 x HD resolution. What you are also looking at is the result of very strong H.264 compression which will be 8 bit, 4:2:0 and displaying every type of artefact that is associated with this clever but severe codec at low bitrates.

And these are low bitrates. There is simply no way that you'll be able to watch an uncompressed 4K stream using your broadband. (Go here for RedShark's explanation of 4K video data rates)

Perfume in a fish-market

Trying to assess the quality of a camera on YouTube is like sampling perfume in a fish-market. It's like listening to a symphony in a tube-station, and it's like wearing gardening gloves to feel the texture of fine silk.

But most of all, it's like looking at the Mona Lisa through the bottom of a beer glass.

This is all harmless enough, but some people take it very seriously. I used to work for a company that makes portable field recorders. The idea was that if you recorded direct to the device, it would store the uncompressed output from your camera as Apple ProRes which is very mildly compressed and virtually free of artefacts. It certainly did make a difference, but not so great that casual viewers would see it in comparison with the original material. But this didn't stop people posting their comparisons to YouTube and Vimeo, which as we know know is an utterly fruitless exercise, because the effect of the compression needed for streaming was at least ten times worse than the improvement that the poster was trying to demonstrate.

Admittedly, starting with a truly fantastic image, with low noise and massive detail is a recipe for higher quality streaming, but the Sony F55 is not a webcam; it's one of the best cameras available, and in order to be able to quantitively judge its quality in comparison with other cameras, you would need almost perfect conditions,

What do you think? Agree or disagree? Scroll down to leave a comment.




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  • Thanks for writing this. Couldn't agree more.

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  • Sometimes a video on Youtube can look better than the video direct from the camera.

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  • Sadly it's true, but technology will change it along the way. I still remember when watching video on internet was a luxury and took ages.

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  • I think the positive part of these tests is that they can show dynamic range.
    And of course, on vimeo, you're able to download the original uploaded footage - sometimes actually the original.

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  • Ummm, I think it's called Marketing.

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  • I think compression artifacts can be ignored in online comparisons. I expect pretty much any camera, other than a consumer camcorder, to exhibit a lack of compression artifacts on ungraded material. Problems only crop up when you grade the material and the lack of color information becomes apparent. The only thing I look at in these kinds of tests are how dynamic range is handled, noise and sharpness, and these issues will survive compression in these comparisons--unless the compression artifacts are REALLY apparent, in which case I will pass.

    What I find really unhelpful are the "objective" tests that are overblown and meaningless (I'm looking at you Zacuto...). The first Zacuto test was good, showing how each camera performed next to each other in similar situations, but the "...revenge..." test was stupid. My minimum expectation is for a great DP and their crew to make great pictures from any camera when they accommodate a given cameras limitations. Hooray for them, they did their job! I want to know what the limitations of a given camera are, and that shootout did not address that. Phillip Bloom did a much better job in his informal tests. Just to be clear, the FIRST Zacuto shootout was great; NOT the second.

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  • I missed this post first time around. I couldn't agree more and it reminds me of the story about the Youtube kid looking at his screen and exclaiming: "Wow, look at these great streaming videos!" whilst his Dad, a broadcast professional, looks over his shoulder and asks: "Ugh! What's wrong with those dreadful videos?"

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  • Vimeo is much better than Youtube but even then I don't think it's a useful forum for comparing pro hardware. Youtube is just horrible... maybe useful for smartphone cameras (which are equally horrible). Vimeo in HD allows you to get a hint of the performance of pro kit, but even then there's too much compression to get you far.

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David Shapton

David is the Editor In Chief of RedShark Publications. He's been a professional columnist and author since 1998, when he started writing for the European Music Technology magazine Sound on Sound. David has worked with professional digital audio and video for the last 25 years.

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