Is The iPhone A Real Camera?

For whatever reason I’ve seen several articles/posts over the last few days about whether you can be a photo/videographer with a camera phone. Usually the argument is that just because the iPhone (or whatever) can take the occasional good video/pictures, it doesn’t make you a good videographer. Of course not. Neither does a 5Dm4 or an Arri Alexa.

Camera phones can be used for professional video.

But what if you have a good eye and are a decent videographer? I think a lot of the hand wringing comes from people that have spent a lot of money on gear and are seeing people get great shots with their phone. It’s not going to change. The cameras in a lot of phones are really good and if you have a bit of skill, it can go a long way. You can check out this blog post comparing the iPhone’s slow motion video capabilities to a Sony FS700. The 10x price difference doesn’t beget a 10x quality difference.

There is obviously a place for long or fast lenses that you need a real camera for. There are definitely shots you won’t get with a phone. However, there are definitely shots you can get with a phone that you can’t get with your big, fancy camera. Partially just because you ALWAYS have your phone and partially because of the size. Sometimes the ability to spontaneously shoot is a huge advantage.

Then you add something like Dave Basaluto’s iOgrapher device and you’ve got a video camera capable of some great stuff, especially for stock or B roll.

There are issues for sure. Especially with these devices trying to shoot 4K, like a GoPro. It doesn’t matter how well lit and framed the shot is because it’s often got massive compression artifacts.

Overall though, the cameras are impressive and if you’ve got the skills, you can consistently get good to great shots.
What’s this got to do with Digital Anarchy? Absolutely nothing. We just like cool cameras no matter what form they take.  :-)

(and, yes, I’m looking forward to getting the new 5D mark4. It was finally time to upgrade the Digital Anarchy DSLR)

VR: Because Porn! (and Siggraph and other stuff)

Over the last few months I’ve been to NAB, E3, and Siggraph and seen a bunch of VR stuff.

VR people with their headsetsMost VR people with their headsets

One panel discussion about VR filmmaking was notable for the amount of time spent talking about all the problems VR has and how once they solve this or that major, non-trivial problem, VR will be awesome! One of these problems is that, as one of the panelist pointed out, anything over 6-8 minutes doesn’t seem to work. I’m supposed to run out and buy VR headsets for a bunch of shorts? Seriously?

E3 is mostly about big game companies and AAA game titles. However, if you go to a dark, back corner of the show floor you’ll find a few rows of small 10×20 booths. It was here that I finally found a VR experience that lived up to expectations! Porn. Yes, there was a booth at E3 showing hardcore VR porn. (I wonder if they told E3 what they were showing?)

One of my favorite statistics ever is that adult, pay-per-view movies in hotel rooms are watched, on average, for about 12 minutes. Finally! A use case for VR that matches up perfectly to its many limitations. You don’t need to worry about the narrative and no one is going to watch it for more than 12 minutes. Perfect. I’m sure the hot, Black Friday special at Walmart will be the Fleshlight/Oculus Rift bundle.

Surely There Are Other Uses Besides Porn?

Ok, sure, there are. I just haven’t found them to be compelling enough to justify all the excitement VR is getting. One booth at Siggraph was showing training on how to fix damaged power lines. This included a pole with sensors on the end of it that gave haptic (vibrations) feedback to the trainee and controlled the virtual pole in the VR environment. There are  niche uses like this that are probably viable.

There are, of course, games, which are VRs best hope for getting into the mainstream. These are MUCH more compelling in the wide open space of a tradeshow than I think they’re going to be in someone’s living room. For the rank and file gamer that doesn’t want to spend $8K on a body suit to run around their living room in… sitting on the couch with a headset is probably going to be less than an awesome experience after the novelty wears off. (and we don’t want to see the average gamer in a body suit. Really. We don’t.)

And then there are VR films. There was a pretty good 5 minute film called Giant being shown at Siggraph. Basically the story of parents and an 8 year old daughter in a basement in a war zone. You sat on a stool that could vibrate, strapped on the headset and you were sitting in a corner of this basement.  It was pretty intense.

However, the vibrating stool that allowed you to feel the bombs being dropped probably added more to the experience than VR. I think it probably would have been more intense as a regular film. The problem with VR is that you can’t do close-ups and multiple cameras. So a regular film would have been able to capture the emotions of the actors better. And it’s VR, so my tendency was to look around the basement rather than to focus on what was happening in the scene. There was very little interesting in the basement besides the actors, so it was just a big distraction.

So if your idea of a good time is watching game cinematics, which is what it felt like, then VR films are for you. And that was a good VR experience. Most VR film stuff I’ve seen are either 1) incredibly bland without a focus point or 2) uses the simulation of an intimate space to shock you. (Giant was guilty of this to some degree) The novelty of this is going to wear off as fast as a 3D axe thrown at the screen.

There are good uses for VR.  It just doesn’t justify the hype and excitement people are projecting onto it. For all the money that’s  pouring into it, it’s disappointing that the demos most companies are still showing (and expecting you to be excited about) are just 360 environments. “But Look! There are balloons falling from the sky! Isn’t it cool?!” Uh… yeah. Got any porn?

Comparing Beauty Box To other Video Plugins for Skin Retouching/Digital Makeup

We get a lot of questions about how Beauty Box compares to other filters out there for digital makeup. There’s a few things to consider when buying any plugin and I’ll go over them here. I’m not going to compare Beauty Box with any filter specifically, but when you download the demo plugin and compare it with the results from other filters this is what you should be looking at:

  • Quality of results
  • Ease of use
  • Speed
  • Support

Support

I’ll start with Support because it’s one thing most people don’t consider. We offer as good of support as anyone in the industry. You can email or call us (415-287-6069). M-F 10am-5pm PST. In addition, we also check email on the weekends and frequently in the evenings on weekdays. Usually you’ll get a response from Tor, our rockstar QA guy, but not infrequently you’ll talk to myself as well. Not often you get tech support from the guy that designed the software. :-)

Quality of Results

The reason you see Beauty Box used for skin retouching on everything from major tentpole feature films to web commercials, is the incredible quality of the digital makeup. Since it’s release in 2009 as the first plugin to specifically address skin retouching beyond just blurring out skin tones, the quality of the results has been critically acclaimed. We won several awards with version 1.0 and we’ve kept improving it since then. You can see many examples here of Beauty Box’s digital makeup, but we recommend you download the demo plugin and try it yourself.

Things to look for as you compare the results of different plugins:

Skin Texture: Does the skin look realistic? Is some of the pore structure maintained or is everything just blurry? It should, usually, look like regular makeup unless you’re going for a stylized effect.
Skin Color: Is there any change in skin tones?
Temporal Consistency: Does it look the same from frame to frame over time? Are there any noticeable seams where the retouching stops.
Masking: How accurate is the mask of the skin tones? Are there any noticeable seams between skin and non-skin areas? How easy is it to adjust the mask?

Ease of Use

One of the things we strive for with all our plugins is to make it as easy as possible to get great results with very little work on your end. Software should make your life easier.

In most cases, you should be able to click on Analyze Frame, make an adjustment to the Skin Smoothing amount to dial in the look you want and be good to go. There are always going to be times when it requires a bit more work but for basic retouching of video, there’s no easier solution than Beauty Box.

When comparing filters, the thing to look for here is how easy is it to setup the effect and get a good mask of the skin tones? How long does it take and how accurate is it?

Speed

If you’ve used Beauty Box for a while, you know that the only complaint we had with it with version 1.0 was that it was slow. No more! It’s now fully GPU optimized and with some of the latest graphics cards you’ll get real time performance, particularly in Premiere Pro. Premiere has added better GPU support and between that the Beauty Box’s use of the GPU, you can get real time playback of HD pretty easily.

And of course we support many different host apps, which gives you a lot of flexibility in where you can use it. Avid, After Effects, Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro, Davinci Resolve, Assimilate Scratch, Sony Vegas, and NUKE are all supported.

Hopefully that gives you some things to think about as you’re comparing Beauty Box with other plugins that claim to be as good. All of these things factor into why Beauty Box is so highly regarded and considered to be well worth the price.

Wherein Jim Tierney rants and opines about After Effects, Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro, and other nonsense