PapaJohn's Newsletter #35 - Jan 8, 2005

Movie Maker 2 and Photo Story


 Adjusting Dark Movies

What can you do if your video footage is so dark it doesn't seem to be usable?... it was the end of the wedding reception party and time for 'the last dance', and the lights were down to the lowest of the low . I knew my Hi8 camcorder would take much better video in low light than my digital, but its batteries were drained... so I shot the dance with the digital, which is really poor in low light.
I was thinking that bad footage might be better than no footage... at least I'd be recording the audio which I could put together with some snapshots in a Photo Story... and I can toss the poor video to the editor. Maybe he can fix it (yes, I'm the shooter and the editor)!!
I'd been rolling out the videos to the bride and grooms website... after most were finished, the bride asked ' you have video of the last dance?...".  Sure, I'm working on it :)
Take a look at the challenge. Here's a link to the first minute of the scene, the dark raw footage (almost raw - it's an unedited WMV file made from the DV-AVI capture clip).
Dark Video from Camcorder
I remember how great it was to get Adobe PhotoShop with its 'Levels' adjustment feature to work on still pictures. Adobe Premiere also includes a 'Levels' feature... and so does some other software.
The feature is kind of an all-in-one tool for adjusting brightness, contrast and colors. My wife Bernadette uses 'levels adjustments' all the time in her Photoshop work, but I rarely go to it.
Being somewhat color impaired I tend to skirt around color issues, and I don't trust my color judgment when I do it. 
Jumping ahead to the conclusion, here's a link to the happy ending, the last dance scene on the couple's website... and the VCR tapes, and the DVDs. 
Last Dance - CorrectedAfter
It's a pretty dramatic before and after situation.
Movie Maker has brightness and contrast effects... but I opted to take the footage over to Premiere 6.0 to make the adjustments with its levels adjustment feature.
After importing the adjusted footage back into Movie Maker, I added a sepia tone effect to the final edited video, giving it a bit more of an old time, end of the party mood... and to hide any of the off-colors I can't see very well.
For the newsletter, let's explore this footage and how to do the adjustment. We'll see what we can do with brightness and contrast effects in Movie Maker, step through the process of levels adjustment in Adobe Premiere 6.0, and then look at a few other options in our video utility toolboxes. There are adjustment features in:
If you want to compare what you can do with the footage to what I ended up with, you're welcome to download the online copy of the dark file. If you make it better than the one on the website, send a copy so I can upgrade it.
... before getting into the adjustments, a couple notes about things going on...

 This newsletter aligns a bit with the book chapter I'm working on about the world of Virtual Dub... the Levels adjustment is one of its standard video filters. If it works as well as Premiere and that's all you need to fix in a video, its a much more cost-effective option. I have a feeling it might even be easier to get better results using Virtual Dub.
 The wedding project has progressed to the point that I've delivered 10 copies of a one hour video on VCR tapes, and I used MyDVD 4.5 to make 7 copies of a DVD. Everything came out great, including the last dance.  

Adjusting Dark Movies
When it comes to dealing with visual adjustments, I'll classify video editing apps and utilities into 4 groups, those that: (1) don't provide any adjustment features, (2) provide individual adjustments for brightness, colors, hue, saturation, luminosity, etc. (3) provide 'levels adjustments' for easier put-it-all-together selections, and (4) include Photoshop style 'curve adjustments' with even more power and ease than 'levels adjustments'.
I checked a book about Premiere 6... it says you can use brightness and contrast effects but for more control try using the levels effect. Extrapolating that to video - if software offers levels controls, use it. If not, use brightness and contrast controls.
Movie Maker and its third party effects don't include slider type user-adjustable levels effect settings. Microsoft only allows single parameter add-ons. We'll see what you can do with the brightness and contrast effects.
Then we'll go to Premiere 6.0 for a look at its levels feature... and then explore what's in Virtual Dub, TMPGEnc and Rad Video Tools... free apps that should be in everyone's toolbox. There are links on the Setup > Other Software page of my site.
For this newsletter I went back to the original tape from the wedding, and used MM1 to capture the scene as a type II DV-AVI file. I knew the type II would work in all the apps. The newer type I file from MM2 isn't supported by some utilities.

MM2 Brightness
Movie Maker 2.1 - Brightness Effect
Movie Maker 2 includes a video effect to increase brightness... and you can apply it up to 6 times on a clip.
You can see from the figure at the left that using it on this video isn't a good solution. I see lots of posts asking how to make a dark picture brighter, and applying the brightness increase effect is the first response... not necessarily the best.
The levels adjustment of Premiere is a lot more complex than just the brightness dimension.
Pixelan has a package that includes brightness and contrast effects. And you can get into the tweaking of custom XML code if you want. They are all limited by not having adjustable slider type options for the user, with real-time feedback about what the effect will do.

Premiere 6.0 - Levels Adjustment
You've seen the final movie. There were only two adjustments made from the raw footage, applying levels adjustment in Premiere 6 followed by a sepia tone effect in Movie Maker 2. Let's look at the steps needed to do the levels adjustment in Premiere.
1 - Use your file manager to drag/drop the video file into Premiere's left preview monitor.
2 - Drag the clip from the left preview monitor to a video track on the timeline.
3 - Drag the levels adjustment control from the video palette onto the clip on the timeline... the marching ants will outline the clip that is selected.
4 - Go to the setup option in the Effect Controls palette and tweak the levels settings until the image in its preview monitor looks good. If you have 6 dance scenes in the same place with the same lighting, and you have one looking good... use the Save button to save the settings... when you open the other dance scenes, just Load the saved settings file.
Levels Adjustments
5 - Right click the clip on the timeline and opt to 'Clear Clip Marker > All Markers' - this is to preclude the effect being applied between markers rather than the entire clip.
6 - Use File > Export Timeline > Movie to get the adjusted DV-AVI file to use in Movie Maker.
I haven't mentioned audio... I'm using Premiere here to adjust the video only. When I'm done with that I'll marry the adjusted video with the original audio in Movie Maker. So no need to think about the audio in Premiere or any of the other apps we'll look at. The goal is just to get the visual looking good.
Premiere is great for this adjustment feature... but it's more of an upscale pricey application. Those who use Movie Maker and want to stay a bit lower in utility prices.... continue reading. If you want to try Premiere, Adobe usually offers a 30 day full featured trial version of its software.

Virtual Dub 1.5.10
Virtual Dub specializes in helping you fix video clips by applying filters. Its Levels filter is perfect for doing this video if you don't own something like Premiere... or even if you do.
1 - Using your file manager, drag the clip of dark footage into Virtual Dub.
2 - From the main menu, use Video > Filters > Add > Levels.... select the Show preview button.
3 - Adjust until the preview looks good... see how similar the controls compare to Premiere... and how much bigger the preview monitor of Virtual Dub is. I've reduced the size of this picture by a factor of 4, whereas the picture of the Premiere feature above is shown at full size.
Levels Adjustment
4 - Say OK a couple times and press the Enter key to preview the before and after footage.
Preview Results
5 - Repeat until pleased with the results, and then use the main menu File > Save as AVI to get your adjusted video source file.

TMPGEnc 2.5
Most are familiar with TMPGEnc as a tool to take a saved movie and convert it to an MPEG file as it heads toward a disc for TV viewing. What you might not know is that you can use a DV-AVI file as an input, do some adjustments to it, and save it as an AVI file that works fine in Movie Maker.
Here are the steps to fix the dark video.
1 - Using your file manager, drag the clip of dark footage into the Video source field.
2 - Select the Setting button in the middle of the bottom line
3 - Advanced tab > select the Custom color correction in the list > double click the item to open up the world of possible settings. Adjust them until satisfied and...
Color Corrections
4 - From the main menu use File > Output to File > AVI file

Rad Video Tools - Bink Version 1.6h 
Rad Video Tools is usually mentioned as the utility to convert QuickTime MOV files to AVI... here's how to use it to adjust a DV-AVI file and save it as another AVI.
1 - Use the browse feature to select the dark AVI file
2 - Press the Convert a file button
3 - Select the Output type as AVI
4 - Enter values for the adjustments:
Rad Video Tools
Here's the info from the Rad Video Tools help file:
  • Contrast - This filter allows you to increase the contrast of a video. Increasing the contrast will make the blacks blacker and the whites whiter. This almost always improves compression because it will make "almost black" pixels fully black. The contrast range is 0 (no contrast increase) to 127 (maximum increase). A good default value is 8.
  • Black clamp - This filter hard clamps the pixels to fully black when each of the color values are below the specified value. This is another way to force "almost black" pixels to become fully black. It's especially good for video captured titles. For most video, however, the contrast control is the best way to get black pixels looking nice and dark. The clamp range is 0 (no clamp) to 255 (all colors forced to black). A good starting value is 20.
  • Brightness - This filter lets you increase or decrease the brightness of the input video frames. The brightness control is a percentage where 100% is the existing brightness, 10% is 10 percent of the existing brightness (or 10 times darker), and 200% is twice as bright.
  • Gamma correct fields - This filter lets you increase or decrease the gamma of the input video frames. Gamma is kind of like non-linear brightness - that is, the entire spectrum isn't all brightened by the same amount. The gamma correction range is from 0.0 (completely dark) to 1.0 (the existing level of gamma) to above 1.0 (which brightens the pixels). Gamma correction is usually used to adjust a Mac-authored movie that plays too dark on a PC. A gamma of 1.4 is usually about right for converting the gamma of a Mac input file to the same level of PC brightness. If you have a movie that looks good on the PC and you want to use it on an Xbox, PS/2 or GameCube connected to a TV, then you must adjust the gamma (or the movie will be too bright and washed out). Use a factor of 0.88 to covert from PC gamma to TV gamma.
Press the convert button to pick a compression codec > OK to start the rendering..

One of the points I stress over and over is to get to know the tools you have, and use them when appropriate. It's usually not a matter of having the perfect app as it is being able to effectively use the features of many apps, and easily move your clips among them. 
Adjusting an extremely dark video to something presentable is one of the cases that illustrates the need.
For this type of dark situation, I consider Premiere, VirtualDub and TMPGEnc to be the best as they provide 'levels' type adjustments.... Rad Video Tools comes next with the ability to easily enter a number of adjustment factors, followed by Movie Maker 2 which supports one tweak at a time.

Have a great week...