When looking at video footage in any capacity, it's important to get a sense of what data lies beneath the surface of the picture. This applies whether you're on set during production or performing a final grade right at the end of the editing process. In any scenario, you want to make absolutely sure that the files you're working with are going to look good when they finally make it to the screens of consumers.
Scopes will allow you to see the bare essentials of your data, and make any changes necessary.
Broadcast standards exist for this very reason, but how can you ensure your footage falls within the defined parameters? You certainly can't make such an important call with the naked eye, which is why video scopes that look beyond the aesthetics of an image are so important. By ignoring composition and performance, these scopes will allow you to see the bare essentials of your data, and make any changes necessary to fully comply with the standards.
In this article we'll examine three of the most common and useful video scopes, and discuss what they do and why they should be an integral part of any filmmaking process. Best of all, they'll likely be already integrated into your camera or external portable monitor, so there's no need to invest in new gear to use them.
1. Waveform monitor
Switching to the waveform monitor scope will show you a detailed readout of the brightness of your image. This is important for a number of reasons, but perhaps most importantly, it helps you to ensure the entire dynamic range of your footage falls within a range that can be accurately recreated by screens around the world. If you don't do this, dark scenes may appear completely back while lighter elements of a shot could clip. In either scenario, your audience's experience will suffer.
Your waveform monitor will clearly show you a display of all the different brightness points in a frame.
To prevent this from happening, your waveform monitor will clearly show you a display of all the different brightness points in a frame. These will be put on a scale from 0-100, which corresponds to the capabilities of a television. Anything below the scale will appear as pure blackness while anything above it will be washed out. Of course, this scale was designed a long time ago, and modern technology means that we can now reproduce a wider dynamic range on some screens. Even so, it's typically worth sticking within the scale as you'll be able to know for sure how things will look for every viewer.
The histogram video scope serves a similar purpose to the waveform monitor – displaying brightness – but the way it goes about this is a little different. Instead of showing luminescence on a point-to-point scale, this scope graphs every part of an image and turns the data into a graph. Typically this will be plotted from left to right, with the readout showing how many parts of your frame fall into different areas of the scale which is again measured from 0-100.
This won't give you a detailed run down of points that may be too bright or too dark like the waveform monitor, but will instead provide an overall impression of where the image as a whole fits within the brightness scale. So for example, a noticeable peak at the left would mean that the image contains a significant amount of darkness, while a peak at the right would mean the image is quite bright. This is particularly helpful for judging any issues of exposure, and when combined with the waveform monitor and great editing software, can ensure your footage falls perfectly within the scale.
Moving away from brightness, we have the vectorscope, which focuses on colour data. Again, while modern screens can produce a far greater range of colours than in years gone by (as we've touched on in a previous article), it's often best to stick within a range that can be reproduced on a broad range of monitors and televisions. This is also important when shooting with more than one camera, as you'll need to align the colours of both to match up in the final edit.
Essentially, a vectorscope works by displaying a circular chart which plots saturation from the inside to the outside of the circle. As well as this, there are typically target boxes that correspond to the colour bar test pattern. By hitting these with your footage, you can rest easy that your project will look as it should when viewed on any different screen.
Of course there are plenty of other video scopes that can be used, but these are three of the most important. For more information, be sure to contact the team at DVT today.
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