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Canon EOS R5 Underwater Photo and Video Review

The summer 2020 release of the Canon EOS R5 made one thing clear – Canon has decided to set the photographic standard for this decade. Without a doubt, the EOS R5 is the top image maker of 2020 and could potentially go unmatched in the camera world for another few years.

It is the first full frame mirrorless camera to offer 8K video capability and features a specs sheet that puts it at the top of its class. The EOS R5 directly answers many of the concerns that photographers had with the original EOS R camera and promises significant updates to important functions including autofocus, stabilization, continuous burst shooting, and video.

Despite the Sony A7R IV‘s dominance in the underwater camera market over the last year, it is likely that the Canon EOS R5 will be even more popular as the camera of choice for both underwater photographers and videographers.

Some lucky individuals on our staff at Bluewater Photo were given the opportunity to capture some of the first underwater photos and video with the Canon EOS R5. After braving long drives, difficult shore entries, long swims, windstorms, and post-apocalyptic levels of wildfire smoke, we feel quite confident that we put this camera to the test in the harshest conditions the Pacific Northwest has to offer. We also feel confident in saying that the Canon EOS R5 might just be our favorite camera we’ve ever shot underwater.

Yes, that’s right. Say goodbye to your Canon DSLRs, Nikons, and Sonys.

With the R5, Canon has reached the ultimate balance of great glass, great resolution, great autofocus, great dynamic range, and pretty much great everything.

Although Canon got everything right with the R5 from the ergonomics to the performance, they also got one important thing wrong: their marketing. After the original flop of the Canon EOS R, Canon’s marketing department got the memo that specs matter and took the mantra to the extreme. By January of 2020, the R5 had garnered a cult-like following drooling for 8K video, internal RAW recording, and 4K @120p. Yes, the R5 does all these things, but with limited availability.

Before you read this review, please unread anything you may have read about this camera. While the R5 is a great video camera, it is, in fact, the very best stills camera on the market for underwater photography. So think of it as a stills camera first, with amazing hybrid video capability. It is not a dedicated video camera. For that, we have the Sony A7S III. Alright, let us begin…

Spectacular resolution with the Canon EOS R5. Photo of a mosshead warbonnet captured with the Canon EOS R5 in an Ikelite housing, Canon 100 mm macro lens, dual Ikelite DS 161 strobes, Kraken +13 diopter, and Ikelite Canon TTL converter. f/16, 1/160, ISO 100

Canon EOS R5 Compared with Canon EOS R

The Canon EOS R was Canon’s first attempt at a full-frame mirrorless camera. With many good options form Sony and Nikon, it fell short. Fortunately, the Canon EOS R5 addresses many of the concerns that Canon EOS R users brought up. Though I would like to interject and say that the Canon EOS R was one of our favorite cameras that we tested underwater.

For underwater photography, Canon was lagging behind Sony and Nikon because of a lack of in-body image-stabilization. The Canon EOS R5 is Canon’s first camera with IBIS, capable of 7-8 stops of correction when combined with a stabilized lens. The EOS R5 also features a new 45 MP CMOS sensor – addressing concerns that the EOS R was not a high enough resolution for professionals. Furthermore, the EOS R5 has the capability of shooting 12 frames per second with the mechanical shutter (20 fps electronic), vs the 8fps on the EOS R! Did we mention dual card slots?

For underwater videography, Canon fell short of its competitors with its original EOS R by offering cropped 4K video. The EOS R5 not only goes above-and-beyond addressing these concerns – it is industry changing. The EOS R5 is capable of capturing 8K 10 bit 4:2:2 @ 30p RAW video recorded internally – and the option of recording in 4K ProRes RAW externally simultaneously! The camera is also capable of 4K video using the full width of the sensor at an amazing 120p! The R5 will be able to capture video with dual pixel autofocus, full AF in all modes. The EOS R5 will be one of the first consumer level cameras to offer 8K video, so it’s already a very popular camera for underwater video.

Canon EOS R5 Key Specs

  • New 45 Megapixel Full-Frame CMOS Sensor and Digic X processor
  • Canon’s first 5 axis In-Body Image-Stabilization (IBIS) which works in conjunction with optical IS RF and EF lenses. Up to 8 stops of correction
  • Improved Dual Pixel II Autofocus
  • 5,940 AF points
  • 100% of the sensor has AF coverage!
  • ISO 100 – 51,200
  • Animal eye AF detection (for birds, cats, and dogs) – it works on macro fish 20-40% of the time!
  • 12fps burst shooting with mechanical shutter
  • 20 fps burst shooting with silent (electronic shutter)
  • 180 shot RAW image buffer
  • Dual card slots – 1x CFexpress and 1x SD UHS-II
  • 8K video @ 30p, 10- bit 4:2:2 – using the full width of the sensor!
  • Internal RAW and C-Log recording
  • 4K oversampled video up to 120p, 10-bit 4:2:2
  • 5.69 million dot OLED Electronic Viewfinder
  • Dimensions: 135.8 X 97.5 X 88mm
  • Weight: 738 grams (with card and battery)
  • Canon EOS R5 Key Features

    Body, Build, Ergonomics, and Battery Life

    We find the build of the Canon EOS R5 to be a little more plastic-y than we would like. But when we first got the R5 in our hands, we were amazed at how small the body was considering it’s video processing capabilities. No wonder there are recording limits! If you want 8K video from a body this small, there are going to be some compromises. The weather sealing on the camera is great. At one point during our tests, we needed to open the housing on the beach and we felt confident that the camera would be ok – even after a little sand and water dropped onto the body. We don’t recommend it, of course, but the camera is pretty solid for most conditions you might find on a dive trip.

    The Canon EOS R5 is built similarly to the EOS R and EOS R6. As a mirrorless camera, it’s a tad bit smaller than its DSLR counterparts. But it’s still a substantial camera with a nice grip.

    In most cases, due to the size of RF and EF glass, underwater housing manufacturers will need to use their DSLR port systems. Full EOS R5 underwater systems are about the same size as a DSLR system, despite the added size benefits of mirrorless cameras. For most manufacturers, we expect the EOS R5 to need a separate housing from the R6 and EOS R.

    The button placement on the camera is well thought-out and the ergonomics of the EOS R5 are excellent. In fact, the ergonomics just might be the best in its class of mirrorless camera across all brands. Canon discontinued the use of the touch bar that many found annoying on the original EOS R. They replaced it with a classic joystick control and added a wheel to the back of the camera, instead of a D-pad.

    We think these button improvements make it an even more compelling camera from the standpoint of usability – clearly surpassing the Sony A7R IV. This is especially the case if you do a lot of topside shooting as the joystick is a breeze to use above water. However, many underwater housings will not support the joystick which will leave underwater shooters with the dials to control their settings underwater instead of the D-pad. This can take some getting used to, but we found that it actually made switching settings a bit quicker once the muscle memory was built into our fingers.

    The battery life of the EOS R5 is acceptable. It could be better, but it will be enough for almost a whole day of diving if you are just taking photos. We found that we could get about 3 dives out of one battery taking both photos and videos (about 200-300 photos and 6-8 minutes of video). If you are just taking video, the battery life is about one hour (i.e., one to two dives).

    Canon EOS R5 in an Ikleite EOS R5 Housing during our field tests

    Video Overheating Concerns

    Although the EOS R5 has a lot to brag about when it comes to video specs, there is a major caveat. Because of the camera’s smaller size and extreme processing power, we actually think the EOS R5 was built a little too small for its spec sheet. Canon ultimately decided not to include a dedicated cooling system in the body in favor of portability – leading to some issues with overheating while shooting 8K video or high frame rates. Canon has been forthcoming about the exact runtime limitations of the body due to heat with a recent statement.

    At 8K, the EOS R5 will be able to record for about 20 minutes at room temperature until it needs to shut down for 10 minutes before it can shoot one minute of video again. After that, it can record for a maximum of 3 minutes unless there is a longer wait period. The camera won’t fully reset unless it turns off for about half an hour. At 4K and 120 fps, the max run time at room temperature drops to 15 minutes.

    This will be a concern for warm water divers, and we do recommend adding silica desiccant packets to and underwater system to prevent fogging. Cold water underwater photographers and videographers may fare better with this camera.

    To obtain a more accurate assessment on how bad the overheating issue may be for underwater videographers, we decided to put the Canon EOS R5 through an underwater overheating test. The overall assessment was that an underwater videographer should have approximately 20-25 minutes of consecutive or nonconsecutive video during a dive at 8K @ 30p with internal RAW recording and slightly less time with 4K @ 120fps. Due to the recovery times that are necessary before you can shoot video again, once the camera reaches its overheating limit, it is essentially done for the dive.

    For most photographers and hybrid shooters this won’t be an issue. However, serious video shooters may want to consider the A7S III if they need those high frame rates. Fortunately, 4K @ 60p shouldn’t cause issues with overheating during a dive and we recommend shooting at that resolution and frame rate anyway.

    You can see the full results of our overheating test here.

    Please Note: Photographers should not be concerned about the overheating issue. The Canon EOS R5 does not overheat when taking photos!

    Improved Image Quality and Processing

    The Canon EOS R5 is Canon’s first high resolution, full-frame mirrorless camera. They designed a 45 megapixel, full-frame CMOS sensor specifically for the R5. The original 30 megapixels in the Canon EOS R didn’t quite cut it for us when we compared it to other cameras like the Nikon Z7 and Sony A7R IV. An extra 15 megapixels puts the R5 firmly in the “high resolution class” – ideal for large prints, macro crops, and all-around mouth watering photography.

    For underwater photographers who are considering the EOS R5 for the high resolution sensor, we should mention that more megapixels can add noise in some situations – especially low light photography. However, we really didn’t find this to be an issue when we took photos with the R5 like it was with the A7R IV. The images were all very clean, even at slightly higher ISOs. Any noise that we got in our images was fine grained and easy to remove in post. If you are looking for amazing, sharp images in a high performing stills camera, we think the Canon EOS R5 is second to none – especially when paired with Canon’s amazing lineup of RF and EF lenses.

    The Canon EOS R5 is equipped with the same DIGIC X processor used in the 1DX Mark III. Certainly, the processing power is the key to the 8K video and amazing 12 fps/20 fps electronic frame rates boasted by Canon. Due to this processing power, the R5 is also capable of a 180 shot RAW image buffer. At 20fps, that’s 9 seconds of continuous shooting! It’s a truly impressive feat that is going to tantalize any underwater photographer looking to shoot quick subjects or owns a quick pair of strobes like the Sea & Sea YS-D3 or Ikelite DS 161.

    Photo of a yawning sculpin with the Canon EOS R5 in an Ikelite housing, Canon 100 mm macro lens, dual Ikelite DS 161 strobes, and Ikelite Canon TTL converter. f/8, 1/160, ISO 160

    In-Body Image-Stabilization

    In-body image-stabilization, or IBIS, is a mechanical system built into a camera that moves the sensor to compensate for camera shake. This can allow photographers to take sharp, hand-held photos at slow shutter speeds that previously weren’t possible. IBIS has been common in full-frame mirrorless camera competitors like the Nikon Z series and Sony A7 series, but the EOS R5 and R6 are Canon’s first IBIS capable camera. When combined with an optically stabilized RF and EF lenses, the EOS R5 is allegedly capable of recovering up to 8 stops of exposure!

    This is very beneficial to underwater photographers and underwater videographers alike. Underwater photographers will be able to shoot at slower shutter speeds in low light and limited visibility conditions while suffering less motion blur. Underwater videographers will be able to capture stable, handheld video in underwater environments that are notorious for their instability. Combined, with 4K @ 120fps, videographers will have the ultimate hand held underwater video system.

    At the end of our dives with the R5, we realized that the IBIS offered in the Canon EOS R5 ended up being our favorite feature on the camera. When we tested the IBIS for still, we found that we were able to get amazingly crisp photos at 1/13th of a second exposures (@15mm)!! When we tested the IBIS with a 100mm macro lens in video modes, we found that the video was about as still as we had ever captured handheld. There have been some complaints about warpiness in the IBIS in video mode, but Canon seems to have fixed the issue – at least, it’s not noticeable in our underwater video.

    A perfect example of the amazing 5 axis IBIS in the Canon EOS R5. 1/13s, f/22, ISO 200. Ikelite EOS R5 housing, Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens, dual Ikelite DS 161 strobes, and Ikelite Canon TTL converter.

    Top-of-the-line Autofocus

    Although it isn’t discussed as much as the EOS R5’s video specs, there have been some truly astounding improvements to the R5’s autofocus capability. Foremost, the R5 is the first full-frame mirrorless camera with 100% autofocus point coverage! This means you can place an AF point anywhere on the sensor. As underwater photographers, we are often put in positions requiring awkward composition and uncentered focal points. The R5 is the ultimate compositional tool.

    Underwater videographers are going to be able to pair Canon’s amazing dual pixel autofocus with 100% AF coverage to capture any subject in motion.

    Canon is also boasting animal eye autofocus that is better developed than its competitors – capable of photographing cats, birds, and dogs. We’ve tried animal eye AF with Sony and Nikon and have had mixed luck with capturing fish eyes. Overall, we’ve found Canon’s autofocus tracking system to be slightly less accurate than Sony’s but much better than Nikon’s.

    When it came to animal eye autofocus tracking, we’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that when we shot macro photos, the camera was able to detect fish eyes and faces about 20-40% of the time depending on the species. When it couldn’t detect the face, the AF tracking worked anyway as long as we selected the correct AF point. In non-tracking modes, Canon’s AF is just a tad slower than Sony’s but certainly useable at a professional level in almost every photographic situation.

    A moon jelly under the sun captured with the Canon EOS R5 in an Ikelite EOS R5 housing, Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens, dual Ikelite DS 161 strobes, and Ikelite Canon TTL converter. f/22, 1/160, ISO 100

    Canon EOS R5 for Underwater Photography

    The Canon EOS R 5 is clearly one of the best tools on the market for underwater photography. A higher resolution, 45MP sensor places the camera in the same niche as the Nikon Z7 and Sony A7R III/A7R IV. Macro photographers will appreciate the ability to shoot at a higher resolution to crop on minute details. Other working professionals will appreciate the ability to produce large prints. And with amazing burst speeds of up to 12 fps mechanical and 20 fps electronic, the EOS R5 will be an excellent camera for wide angle shooters who need to photograph quick, moving subjects.

    Canon’s first rendition of IBIS in a camera promises 7-8 stops recovered with an image stabilized lens. That’s massively exciting for cold water underwater photographers that shoot in low-light situations. To top it all off, 100% autofocus coverage and improved dual pixel autofocus tracking will give creators the capability to produce artistic works of art with unorthodox composition.

    Overall, we think this camera is the best camera on the market for underwater photography. The resolution is just the right level to capture amazing, detailed images with very little noise. The dynamic range is beautiful. IBIS is our favorite feature of the camera, allowing us to take crisp underwater photos even at 1/13th of a second! The autofocus speed and autofocus tracking rarely failed us in our underwater test.

    Any photographer looking to by the top of the line mirrorless camera on the market for stills photos should be looking at the Canon EOS R5. If you want the highest resolution possible, then the Sony A7R IV might be a better option. But if you want an all around great camera, with a high quality selection of lenses, we like the Canon EOS R5.

    Canon EOS R5 for Underwater Video

    What might be even more exciting than 8K video is the R5’s ability to capture 4K @ 120p and 60p using the full width of the sensor. Finally: no crop factor in a Canon mirrorless camera! It’s what underwater videographers have waiting years for. Higher frame rates allow underwater videographers to slow down their footage and stabilize the inherent motion that comes from filming underwater. The 4K video will be oversampled which means it will have more detail than normal 4K video and the lack of a crop factor will allow videographers to take full advantage of their lenses.

    We think that Canon nailed the R5 as a video camera, but they failed at the marketing. They should have presented it for what it is: an amazing stills camera that can capture some spectacular video. If you want to capture spectacular video for most use cases, then shooting 4K @ 60p will allow you to avoid overheating as well as capture some beautiful video.

    We think that this is still one of the best cameras on the market for underwater video, but videographers will need to be willing to only use special features like 8K or 4K @120p during special, short situations.

    Who Should Consider Purchasing the Canon EOS R5?

    The Canon EOS R5 is one of those rare cameras that would work perfectly for any professional underwater photographer or videographer. It features in-body image-stabilization and resolutions high enough for avid macro photographers. It has burst shooting abilities good enough for wide angle shooters. The video is excellent and has the potential to revolutionize underwater video.

    We think any underwater creative in 2020 should consider purchasing the EOS R5 unless they are a serious video shooter that needs long run times over 20 minutes before overheating.

    An urchin under the sun captured with the Canon EOS R5 in an Ikelite EOS R5 housing, Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens, dual Ikelite DS 161 strobes, and Ikelite Canon TTL converter. f/22, 1/160, ISO 100

    Underwater Housings for the EOS R5

    Due to the anticipated popularity of the Canon EOS R5, we anticipate housing from all leading underwater housing manufactures, Therefor, there will be great aluminum housing options from Isotta, Sea & Sea, Aquatica, and Nauticam. An excellent polycarbonate option can be expected from Ikelite.

    If you are upgrading to the Canon EOS R5 from the EOS R, you will need a new housing. The EOS R6 will likely require a separate housing as well, but this has not yet been determined for most brands.

    Conclusion

    After months of drooling over the thought of shooting the Canon EOS R5, the last few dives that we had with the camera feel like an extension of our dream. The R5 rocks. It’s great. We love it. It is definitely the camera of 2020. If you are looking for an amazing high resolution stills camera with quick burst shooting, accurate AF tracking with high AF speeds, some of the best IBIS on the market, dual card slots, great dynamic range, minimal noise, and all-around spectacular video then you’ve found your camera.

    After multiple dives with the R5, the content we captured given the conditions we had was nothing short of a miracle. This camera allows you to perceive the world and interact with your environment in ways that weren’t capable with other cameras. The IBIS lets you conquer darker depths and turbulent waters. The autofocus tracking puts you on friendly terms with the most anxious of fish. The burst rates allow you to capture the split seconds between life and death or everything in between.

    Yes, Canon did a poor job in marketing the R5’s video capability. But that shouldn’t hinder anyone from reading between the lines and seeing the R5 for what it truly is – the best all around content creation tool you could take underwater.

    Kelp Forest captured with the Canon EOS R5 in an Ikelite EOS R5 housing, Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens, dual Ikelite DS 161 strobes, and Ikelite Canon TTL converter. f/25, 1/6.3, ISO 250

    About the author: Nirupam Nigam is head of marketing at Bluewater Photo and the Editor-in-chief of the Underwater Photography Guide. He is an avid underwater photographer with degrees in fisheries science and biology.

    You can read more of his camera reviews here or here. The review was originally published here.

Inexpensive HDMI capture sticks solve camera shyness types 1, 2 & 3 in many cases

For under US$20, these new —often unbranded— HDMI capture sticks have flooded the market to “compete” with the renowned Elgato CamLink 4K which officially costs ≈US$130 but has become scarce and the victim of price gouging. In fact, in many streaming situations, these two models I tested —which each now cost under US$20— are often better when 1080p (or 720p) streaming is appropriate even though a local 4K UHD recording may be desired too. These inexpensive HDMI capture sticks can indirectly solve type 1, 2, & 3 camera shyness while the more expensive CamLink 4K can only solve type 3, with a caveat that most people won’t mind after they see (or don’t see) its impact (or non impact) on the visual experience.

 

In this article:

  • Refresher about the three types of “shy” 1080p camera situations
  • The reality of streaming in 2020: Why not stream 4K live…
  • These inexpensive HDMI capture sticks downscale 4K UHD to 1080p in hardware, although with a tiny caveat
  • Fascinating conclusions

 

Inexpensive HDMI capture sticks solve camera shyness types 1, 2 & 3 in many cases 39

Refresher about the three types of “shy” 1080p camera situations

There are three types of 1080p shyness in cameras, in order of importance: PsF, Telecine and Doubling.

Type 1: PsF (progressive segmented frame)

I am separating PsF (progressive segmented frame) into three subcategories:

  1. When the shy camera is set to image (and sometimes also to record internally) with a common progressive framerate (in ex NTSC regions) like ≈29.97p, it sadly outputs the signal as PsF (progressive segmented frame), in other words, disguised as ≈59.94i. To be more specific, it takes each progressive frame and segments it into two artificial fields, each with half of the original pixel resolution and each with 540 intertwining lines to add up to the original 1080. Unlike true 1080i —where each field can potentially have different temporal (time) information when there is movement, with PsF the temporal information of each artificial field is always identical.
  2. Similarly, when the shy camera is set to image (and record internally) with a common progressive framerate (in ex PAL regions) like 25p, it sadly outputs it the signal as PsF (progressive segmented frame), in other words, disguised as 50i.
  3. The third PsF case is very rare nowadays and never happens with HDMI, but only with some SDI and with very expensive cameras, where with the ≈23.976p (aka ≈23.98p) rate the camera sadly outputs the signal as PsF (progressive segmented frame), in other words, disguised as 47.952. (In the case of HDMI, shy 1080p cameras in ≈23.976p use a telecine method with a 2:3 (aka 3:2) pulldown explained ahead.) This rare case is outside the scope of this article.

Type 2: Telecine with pulldown

To make the ≈23.976 fit in a more standard ≈59.94i television rate, telecine performs a complex assignment to make pieces of the original frames “fit” into ≈59.94 fields, some of which contain the same temporal information and others don’t.

 

Inexpensive HDMI capture sticks solve camera shyness types 1, 2 & 3 in many cases 40

This is illustrated in the above graphic, which I created in 2008 to illustrate my very first article in ProVideo Coalition magazine. The instructions for the pulldown (i.e. “Put the first progressive frame in both fields of the first interlaced video frame. Now, put the second progressive frame in both fields of the second video frame in the first field of the third video frame, then…”) seem as twisted as the Twister game which dates back to 1966.

Type 3: Doubling of progressive frames per second

When set to image and record ≈29.97p, some shy 1080p cameras duplicate the number of frames per second to ≈59.94 progressive frames per second on the HDMI or SDI output. Similarly, when set to image and record 25p, they duplicate the output framerate to 50 progressive frames per second over HDMI or SDI. As long as your hardware can accept high progressive framerates like 1080/50p and 1080/≈59.94p (i.e. more recent models like the UltraStudio Recorder 3G, ATEM Mini, ATEM Mini Pro, ATEM Mini Pro ISO), this is the easiest type of shyness to solve, and doesn’t require the video mixer (“switcher”) developers/manufacturers to do anything special, as several already have at my request to properly resolve PsF and telecine while retaining all of the original image quality. To solve type 3 shyness, the user/operator should simply set the camera menu and the session in the video mixer for the desired delivery framerate (1080/25p or 1080/≈29.97p) and the mixer or software will simply skip half of the repeated progressive frames per second. This solution is not perfect, but has been the best way to solve type 3 shyness when your camera suffers from it, until the other solution proposed ahead in this article, which can also solve all types: 1, 2 and 3.

The reality of streaming in 2020: Why not stream 4K live…

Even though many available cameras offer 4K UHD, in most cases in 2020, it’s not feasible to live stream 4K UHD yet (even if you really wanted to do that). This is both because of bandwidth issues (your Internet upload speed) and platform capabilities. I’ll cover some popular services in alphabetical order:

  • Facebook Live now supports 1080p (after only supporting 720p before) according to this official page. In fact, Facebook now prefers we send 1080p, not 720p.
  • Google Hangouts is currently limited to 720p according to my research.
  • Google Meet is currently limited to 720p according to my research.
  • Google’s YouTube Live supports up to 4K UHD according to this official page if your equipment and your upload speed allow it. It also accepts 1080p and lower.
  • Skype supports 1080p, at least Skype for Business does.
  • Vimeo Pro live and Vimeo Enterprise live support up to 1080p.
  • Zoom.us supports 1080p with Business, Education or Enterprise accounts but must be enabled by Zoom Support. Zoom.us also supports 720p for Pro, Business or Enterprise account without requesting it from Zoom Support. This is per this official site.

Often in 2020, we simply want to stream at 1080p or 720p, without any local recording or ISO recording. Other times, we want to record 4K UHD locally but live stream at 1080p or 720p. In either case, it is often too demanding on a single computer to receive and then downscale from 4K UHD to 1080p (or lower) while also performing other tasks (i.e. switching cameras, connecting remote video guests, picture-in-picture, adding lower thirds, chroma key) so it would be better to send the signal to the computer already downscaled to 1080p by performing that task externally of the computer.

Although many 4K UHD capable cameras can indeed supply a pre-downscaled 1080p signal, sadly many of them are still shy with the 1080p signal, as explained earlier in this article. In other words, they don’t output the original native framerate as we really need it, but instead complicate things by either doubling it (type 3 shyness) or as a quasi-interlaced 1080i over ≈59.94i or 50i (type 1 or 2 shyness).

Fortunately, since in 4K UHD there is no such thing as interlaced video, even those camera manufacturers who love to make their cameras “shy” when outputting 1080 have been forced to make them “outgoing” when outputting 4K. So when these cameras output a signal like 4K UHD at ≈23.976, exact 24, exact 25 or ≈29.97 fps, there is no longer any possible confusion of it being interlaced, since it’s undoubtedly progressive at its original native framerate, without pulldown or doubling, since the manufacturers know that all 4K UHD monitors can accept the native rate. That’s where (for this particular purpose) the new inexpensive HDMI capture sticks can shine even more than the higher-priced CamLink 4K from Elgato, which passes through the native 4K UHD signal as received. Why? Read the next section 🙂

These inexpensive HDMI capture sticks downscale 4K UHD to 1080p in hardware, although with a tiny caveat

As explained in the prior section, although for non-streaming purposes, you might want your 4K UHD signal to enter in your computer as is, if your main reason to sending it to computer in 2020 is to stream it live, it makes more sense to send it already downscaled to 1080p to alleviate your computer and your software, i.e. Ecamm Live, (covered in many articles click for a free trial) to later feed any of the platforms discussed earlier via the Virtual Cam feature in Ecamm Live Pro. It’s enough work to have your computer encode the streaming signal in real time. Alleviate it by downscaling the 4K UHD in external hardware for under US$20. That’s exactly what the two models I tested do, since their USB output is fortunately limited to 1080p.

Before explaining the tiny caveat (which probably won’t bother you for this application), I’ll first share some examples I captured at 1080p at ≈29.97p from Francisco Javier Arbolí’s Sony PXW-X70 camera (which suffers from type 3 shyness at this framerate when outputting 1080p over HDMI or SDI, but fortunately is not shy at all when outputting 4K UHD over HDMI) onto Memo Sauceda’s MacBook Pro. NOTE: All videos in this article are silent. All were imaged in the PXW-X70 at 4K in the same room but on different days, downscaled by an inexpensive capture stick, recorded at ProRes422 at the matching incoming framerate and later trimmed.

As covered before in past articles, when Sony says “30p” in cameras under ≈US$5k, Sony really means ≈29.97p. Exact 30 fps hasn’t been a broadcast standard rate since before 1953.

Did you notice any missing frames in the above clip? I didn’t either when watching it at normal speed, but I was surprised to see in the metadata that they both seemed to capture at 1080p25 (25p is a standard framerate in ex-PAL regions) instead of ≈29.97p. The same thing with the two different ones I tested. At first, I suspected that maybe these two inexpensive HDMI capture sticks were providing erroneous metadata. However, after further investigation (as you’ll see ahead), they are both actually converting the ≈29.97p signal to 25p by removing four (4) non-sequential frames. I confirmed this by later setting the Sony PXW-X70 to display free-run, non-drop frame (NDF) timecode onscreen and then playing back the recording frame-by-frame.

Although Vimeo’s compression and player sadly don’t allow us to advance every individual frame (even when using Shift + right arrow or left arrow), on my computer when playing the original ProRes 422 file (which is CFR i-frame compressed, meaning every frame is complete unto itself) frame-by-frame, I see that frames 2, 8, 14, 20 and 26 have been removed to convert the original ≈29.97p into 25p, but it is fortunately not noticeable when playing at real time, even with the continuous movement of an oscillating fan. Both units do the same removal of five frames, despite the official description of one of them which states that it delivers up to 30 Hz.(Of course, everything was shot with the shutter set for 180 degrees.)

Next, I wanted to test how these two inexpensive HDMI capture sticks would behave when actually setting the camera to shoot at 4K UHD at 25p. Here are the results:

Above, the 25p 4K UHD source video recorded with the Amazon-brandless unit.
Above, the 25p 4K UHD source video downconverted from 4K UHD to 1080p with the Walmart-GeweYeeli unit.

Both units fortunately passed all 25 frames, without skipping any. So when feeding these inexpensive HDMI sticks with 4K UHD at 25p, they pass the native 1080p25 signals.

Next, I wanted to test how they would behave if I sent 4K UHD at ≈23.976p:

Above, the ≈23.976p source video downconverted from 4K UHD to 1080p with the Amazon brandless unit. In cameras under ≈US$5k, when Sony says “24” in a menu, Sony means ≈23.976. Starting at about ≈US$5k cameras, Sony begins to offer both exact 24 and what it calls 23.98, so with those, Sony has no choice but to be more accurate in the menu.
Above, the ≈23.976p source video downconverted from 4K UHD to 1080p with the Walmart-GeweYeeli unit.

Both added an extra frame to make them be 25p! The unbranded Amazon unit repeated frame 17 consistently, while the Walmart-GeweYeeli unit repeated frame 16 consistently, so apparently they don’t share the same chip. Now we know that these inexpensive capture sticks are 25p exclusive, although each one is repeating a different frame. Fortunately, the additional frame is not noticeable when played at normal speed.

Fascinating conclusions

These inexpensive HDMI capture sticks do an amazing job of down-converting 4K UHD signals to 1080p when that’s the maximum spatial resolution you are going to live stream anyway. The GeweYeeli model from Walmart has the advantage of an HDMI passthrough (i.e. to feed a local monitor or monitor/recorder), although it requires external power. The Amazon unbranded model has the advantage of being more compact and not requiring external power, since it is USB bus-powered. They both indirectly solve all three types of camera shyness (1, 2 and 3) as long as your camera can output 4K UHD over HDMI. This means that they both indirectly prevent your software from unjustifiably de-interlacing an already progressive (albeit disguised) signal. That’s great since you’ll conserve all of the spatial resolution (1920×1080), rather than sacrificing it by omitting a field (leaving you essentially with only 1920×540) or running it through a more complex “coffee grinder”.

The forced framerate conversion explained earlier is fortunately not noticeable to me at normal playback. However, if your cameras are capable of being set to 25p natively (i.e. because it’s a worldcam or because it’s a segregated European version) and 25p doesn’t cause any flicker with your lighting in a 60 Hz country (as was fortunately the case with Memo Sauceda’s professional LED light), be a purist and set your cameras to 25p as long as you are not additionally making a local recording for use on traditional broadcast in an ex-NTSC country (i.e. the United States and most other countries in the Americas). If you do that, then set your Ecamm Live Pro to stream 25p also. On the other hand, if you are making a local recording at ≈29.97p for subsequent traditional broadcast, then indeed set the camera to ≈29.97p. But since we know that the signal reaching Ecamm Live via one of these inexpensive HDMI capture sticks is 25p, set Ecamm Live Pro to stream 25p in any case. It is silly to stream more frames than those that actually exist, since it’s a waste of your available bandwidth budget, which is better served to have less compression on each of the 25 frames per second being streamed.

I am amazed at how well these extremely inexpensive HDMI capture sticks can facilitate accomplishing these essential tasks simultaneously at such a low cost:

  • They indirectly cure type 1, 2 or 3 camera shyness by accepting 4K UHD, which is always true to the native desired framerate and is always undoubtedly progressive.
  • They alleviate your computer (and your software) from downscaling 4K UHD to 1080p by doing it externally in a much better way than what shy cameras are capable of doing.
  • They interface to your computer via the nearly ubiquitous USB 3.0 connection, not the much more rare Thunderbolt.

The more expensive ≈US$130 Elgato CamLink 4K indeed has its virtues, but not for the explained task described in this article. For live streaming in 2020, these inexpensive HDMI capture sticks do more for us at over 84% savings in cost. Fortunately for Elgato, they are already selling more than then can build, so they shouldn’t be too upset about this article.

Acknowledgements

I thank Francisco Javier Arbolí for lending his Sony PXW-X70 for these tests and Memo Sauceda for lending his oscillating fan, tripod, light and MacBook Pro.

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FTC disclosure

No manufacturer is specifically paying Allan Tépper or TecnoTur LLC to write this article or the mentioned books. Allan Tépper has no financial connection to any of the capture cards mentioned in this article. Some of the other manufacturers listed above have contracted Tépper and/or TecnoTur LLC to carry out consulting and/or translations/localizations/transcreations. Some of the manufacturers listed above have sent Allan Tépper review units. So far, none of the manufacturers listed above is/are sponsors of the TecnoTur , BeyondPodcasting CapicúaFM or TuSaludSecreta programs, although they are welcome to do so, and some are, may be (or may have been) sponsors of ProVideo Coalition magazine. Some links to third parties listed in this article and/or on this web page may indirectly benefit TecnoTur LLC via affiliate programs. Allan Tépper’s opinions are his own. Allan Tépper is not liable for misuse or misunderstanding of information he shares.

Copyright and use of this article

The articles contained in the TecnoTur channel in ProVideo Coalitionmagazine are copyright Allan Tépper/TecnoTur LLC, except where otherwise attributed. Unauthorized use is prohibited without prior approval, except for short quotes which link back to this page, which are encouraged!

Review: Invisor media file inspector for macOS

I have written a fair amount about about the differences about VFR (variable framerate) used with most Android, iOS and iPadOS recording apps (and with streaming), versus CFR (constant framerate) in standard camcorders and TV studios. I have also written about how to conform VFR files to CFR properly in video editing apps. Today I am going to share a brief review about Invisor, the tool I currently use to evaluate video files to determine many technical details, including whether that video file was recorded as VFR or CFR. In all cases, Invisor shows the target framerate. In the case of VFR, Invisor shows the minimum and maximum framerate too. Ahead I’ll go into more detail about the Invisor paid version, the free version and a competitor which is multiplatform. I’ll also cover other uses of the term Invisor.

Review: Invisor media file inspector for macOS 3

Refresher about about VFR versus CFR

As I have covered in several past articles, video recording in mobile phones and tablets is not the common CFR (constant framerate) found in camcorders and traditional TV studios, but VFR (variable framerate).

 

Review: Invisor media file inspector for macOS 4

When we set a framerate in an app like the renowned FiLMiC Pro, for example: 24, 25 or 30 (see screenshot above), they are actually just targets and we should interpret the menu to be saying ≈24, ≈25 or ≈30. The recording actually varies continually (based upon the complexity or simplicity of a scene) both above and below the target to save bandwidth. The recorded material is later conformed to a desired framerate at CFR after manually setting a project in a compatible editor before adding the first clip to the timeline. Some examples of those final desired distribution framerates include:

  • ≈23.976 (aka ≈23.98) which is actually a rounded number from the result of 24/1.001 (for television in ex-NTSC regions or for the web)
  • 24 exact (for DCI film projection or for the web)
  • 25 exact (for television broadcast in ex-PAL regions or for the web)
  • ≈29.97 which is actually a rounded number from the result of 30/1.001 (for television broadcast in ex-NTSC regions or for the web)
  • 30 exact (not standard since before 1953)
  • 50 exact (not recommended for final delivery unless you are covering sports or video gaming) (for television broadcast in ex-PAL regions, especially for sports channels)
  • ≈59.94 which is actually a rounded number from the result of 60/1.001 (not recommended for final delivery unless you are covering sports or video gaming) (for broadcast television in ex-NTSC regions)
  • 60 exact (only for gaming, not for traditional on-air broadcast)

Some apps capable of this have us set the desired framerate via the user interface/UI (i.e. Adobe Premiere Pro CC, Apple Final Cut Pro) while creating a project manually, before dragging the first clip. With a capable app like iMovie for macOS but which no longer offers this setting in the UI, you can do it using a workaround as explained in this article. If you use a video editor that does not support VFR footage satisfactorily, you can always transcode to a CFR format first.

Use Invisor to determine whether suspicious footage is CFR or VFR

As an editor, you will sometimes receive footage from outside sources and not know whether it is CFR or VFR. Although you can often find out very basic information about a video file from the the QuickTime Player’s Inspector feature (press Command + I within the QuickTime Player app), Invisor for macOS is among the few software tools that will identify whether a video file is CFR or VFR. Invisor goes much further than that, since in the case of a VFR file, Invisor will actually the display the minimum and maximum frames per second, as well as its spatial resolution, bit rate, internal códec, color space, whether it’s progressive or interlaced and other value information.

To determine whether a particular video file is CFR or VFR, slide down in the Invisor report to the item called Frame rate mode: There it will either state Variable or Constant. In the case of Constant, below you’ll see the Frame rate (i.e. average), Minimum frame rate, Maximum frame rate and Frame count.

Included features:

  • Export allows you to save gathered information in different formats: Text, HTML, CSV, XML, JSON.
  • Comparison table can be exported to CSV or HTML document.
  • Removing geolocation information from images and MPEG-4 video.
  • Extracting cover and image previews.

The paid version currently costs US$3.99 from the US Apple AppStore for macOS (or a similar amount in your region). I paid full price from mine and have no commercial relationship with the developer as of publishing this review article.

Differences with Invisor Lite (free):

Invisor Lite is a free version of Invisor, has the same features as the full version but without export and comparison functionality. It’s available directly from the developer’s website at InvisorApp.com.

Other uses of the term invisor

The term invisor is very similar to the Castilian term inversor used in some countries like Chile, even though the official dictionary term is inversionista and it’s used in more countries in my experience. This similarity of the term may be the reason for the name of the Canadian company Invisor Financial Inc. and its website Invisor.ca, even though it’s not exactly the same as the French term inviseur either. II have no connection with this company.)

MediaInfo: a competitive, free multiplatform app

Thanks to information recently shared with me by Daniel Hernández Portugués (Lead Android Engineer / FiLMiC Inc.), I now know about the free multiplatform competitive app called MediaInfo. This app also gives similar information about CFR versus VFR and is available for:

  • Android
  • ArchLinux
  • CentOS
  • Debian
  • Fedora
  • Linux Mint
  • macOS
  • openSUSE
  • Rasbian
  • RedHat Enterprise Linux
  • Ubuntu
  • Windows

It’s available via the developer’s website which is multilingual.

Although I haven’t yet used MediaInfo personally, I’ll be covering and quoting fascinating information from MediaInfo via Daniel Hernández Portugués in an upcoming article. Be sure to be on my free mailing list to be notified.

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Stand by for upcoming articles, reviews, books and courses. Sign up to my free mailing list by clicking here. If you previously subscribed to my bulletins and no longer receive them, you must re-subscribe due to new compliance to GDPR. Most of my current books are at books.AllanTepper.com, and my personal website is AllanTepper.com. Also visit radio.AllanTepper.com.

Si deseas suscribirte (o volver a suscribirte) a mi lista en castellano, visita aquí. Si prefieres, puedes suscribirte a ambas listas (castellano e inglés).

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FTC disclosure

No manufacturer or developer is specifically paying Allan Tépper or TecnoTur LLC to write this article or the mentioned books. Some of the other manufacturers listed above have contracted Tépper and/or TecnoTur LLC to carry out consulting and/or translations/localizations/transcreations. Many of the manufacturers listed above have sent Allan Tépper review units. So far, none of the manufacturers listed above is/are sponsors of the TecnoTur , BeyondPodcasting CapicúaFM or TuSaludSecreta programs, although they are welcome to do so, and some are, may be (or may have been) sponsors of ProVideo Coalition magazine. Some links to third parties listed in this article and/or on this web page may indirectly benefit TecnoTur LLC via affiliate programs. Allan Tépper’s opinions are his own. Allan Tépper is not liable for misuse or misunderstanding of information he shares.

Copyright and use of this article

The articles contained in the TecnoTur channel in ProVideo Coalition magazine are copyright Allan Tépper/TecnoTur LLC, except where otherwise attributed. Unauthorized use is prohibited without prior approval, except for short quotes which link back to this page, which are encouraged!