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In the Studio: proDAD Mercalli 2.0
Posted Sep 7, 2010 Print Version     Page 1of 1

As an EDIUS user, I was thrilled when I updated to EDIUS 5 and discovered that Grass Valley had included a free copy of the Mercalli anti-shake plugin version 1.0. Unfortunately, I’ve used it much more than I’d like to admit, but that is a fault of the shooter. When I’ve needed an anti-shake filter, the Mercalli plug-in has done a pretty good job in most cases. Obviously, bad footage is bad footage, and sometimes nothing will save it. But for shots that are just a little shaky, Mercalli has been a real benefit to have in my arsenal of filters and plug-ins. When I was offered the opportunity to review a prerelease of Mercalli 2.0 from proDAD US, I was more than happy to put it through its paces and see what proDAD had done to upgrade and enhance this tool that was already a valued part of my workflow. Mercalli 2.0 has many new features, including being the first version of Mercalli to ship as a stand-alone application (Mercalli 2.0 SAL) that doesn’t need to plug in to an NLE (although plug-in versions of Mercalli 2.0 will still be available for all the mainstream NLEs).

According to proDAD, Mercalli version 2.0 includes a new 3D (i.e., 3-axis) stabilization technology and also has rolling shutter compensation, which will be great for all those CMOS cameras flooding the marketplace, including the HDSLRs that have become the hottest thing going in our business. The stand-alone version is Windowsonly, but plug-in versions of Mercalli 2.0 will be available for both Windows and Mac NLEs, which is another big step forward for the formerly Windows-only application.

I first got to test the stand-alone version (SAL), and while I liked what it did and how it looked, I really didn’t want to stabilize fulllength clips. Timeline support was the critical feature for me. The stand-alone version has a car dashboard feel to it with gauges and readouts, as shown in Figure 1.

proDAD Mercalli
Figure 1. The Mercalli 2.0 SAL interface, with its car dashboard-like panel of readouts and gauges <!-- /* Font Definitions */ @font-face {font-family:Calibri; panose-1:2 15 5 2 2 2 4 3 2 4; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:3 0 0 0 1 0;} /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:""; margin-top:0in; margin-right:0in; margin-bottom:10.0pt; margin-left:0in; line-height:115%; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-fareast-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} -->

It’s pretty impressive to watch when it is processing your video clip. I didn’t fully understand why I needed to see all that information, but it’s nice to know it’s there if I need it. After processing a full clip in Mercalli SAL, you then export to a new file for use elsewhere. It’s nice to know you can do this in the stand-alone app, but I’d much rather use it as a plug-in within my NLE of choice.

After a few days of testing the stand-alone app, I got a copy of the plug-in for EDIUS. Now I was cooking with gas. Some of the features are supposed to be missing in the plugin version. As I installed it and started testing it, I discovered none of the functionality I needed was missing— just the cool-looking interface with gauges and dials. I can live without that. Figure 2 shows the default screen for adjustments after you select the Further Settings option in the lower left. Those extra options in the middle will be of benefit in your adjustments.

proDAD Mercalli
Figure 2. The default Adjustments panel in the plug-in version of Mercalli 2.0

In my initial testing, I tried out some aerial footage I shot with my remote control airplane (a little side venture of mine I’ve deployed for local corporate shoots and a concept video). I was very impressed with how Mercalli fixed my footage. I would feed it footage from a relatively smooth flight and, after using the Mercalli plug-in, I would end up with very smooth footage. The most impressive thing was how well Mercalli 2.0 worked when compared side by side to version 1.0.

For my initial tests, I put together a few clips from some of my aerial flight and created a clip with three windows showing the raw footage, footage stabilized with version 1.0, and footage stabilized with version 2.0 (check out the before-and-after videos and version 1.0 vs. version 2.0 comparison footage). For all the tests with Mercalli 1.0, I used the same settings I have discovered work best for me on a regular basis.

I initially tried Mercalli 2.0 with the default settings; the output was mediocre and not much better than the raw footage. Then, I started experimenting with a few settings in the configuration window. After a few tries, I found a few settings that appeared to really make a difference. I encoded all the stabilized files (Mercalli is not real time, even in EDIUS) and put them all side by side. When I played back the footage, the Mercalli 2.0 footage clips were smoother and more fluid than the footage that I stabilized in Mercalli 1.0. Most of you probably know that one of the things antishake applications do is crop in the edges of the image to hide the shake; obviously, the less the app has to crop and zoom the image to fill up the screen to achieve the anti-shake effect the better. The big thing I noticed in comparing the two stabilized clips was that the aerial footage I ran through Mercalli version 2.0 was not zoomed in as much as the footage from version 1.0. In Figure 3, you can see the difference in zoom amount from version 1.0 to version 2.0. It’s not a huge difference, but any amount of zooming will degrade your final image, so any improvement is welcome. The footage was noticeably smoother as well.

proDAD Mercalli
Figure 3. When I ran my aerial footage (bottom center) through Mercalli 1.0 (top left) and Mercalli 2.0 (top right), Mercalli 2.0 not only gave me a smoother image, but also stabilized it with less zooming and thus less image degradation.

For this aerial clip, I modified the settings in the information window as shown in Figure 4. I moved the Roll Compensation slider up to 45 and the Quality setting up to Figure 3. When I ran my aerial footage (bottom center) through Mercalli 1.0 (left) and Mercalli 2.0 (right), Mercalli 2.0 not only gave me a smoother image, but it also stabilized the image with less zooming and, thus, less image degradation.

proDAD Mercalli
Figure 4. My modified settings for aerial footage stabilization in the Mercalli 2.0 plug-in

The Quality setting will cause the filter to use a little more zoom to apply more anti-shake. I would change the Quality setting last and see if the initial changes to other settings work to your satisfaction. For my use, the little extra on the quality setting was worth the small amount of lost resolution. I was excited with the footage. A few weeks later I had a chance to make an aerial video when the conditions were completely calm. My raw footage was very smooth for aerial footage. After applying the Mercalli 2.0 anti-shake to the clip, it seemed almost as smooth as you’d see in a movie.

Much as I enjoyed doing the aerial testing and was impressed with how Mercalli 2.0 fared against the elements, I realized I needed to test this in a real-world situation similar to what an event or wedding shooter may encounter. I went outside and shot some footage handheld with my 7D. I got my neighbor riding around on his lawn mower. For the Mercalli 2.0 settings, I stayed with those that worked best previously, setting the Roll Compensation to 45 and the Quality to 40. I experimented with many other tweaks and still discovered those two small adjustments gave me the best results.

The other feature new to version 2.0 that will interest many users is the Rolling Shutter Compensation (for more on the rolling shutter issue experienced with CMOS cameras, where your image can start to look like Jell-O if you pan too fast, see Anthony Burokas’ CCD vs. CMOS comparison article). To test the Rolling Shutter Compensation feature in Mercalli 2.0, I shot some simple footage of a power pole and a street sign next to each other and did some moderately fast pans. To isolate this correction in the Rolling Shutter test, I checked only the boxes for Rolling Shutter Compensation, Quality, and Keep Dynamic Camera. All other selections were unchecked, as shown in Figure 5.

proDAD Mercalli
Figure 5. My settings for the Rolling Shutter test

After processing the video, it was great to see that the power pole and the street sign stayed nice and straight, just like they should, and the zoom amount was very nominal. This can be a very useful filter in many situations where the CMOS issues are apparent. The Rolling Shutter Compensation doesn’t work with CMOS issues from flash photography.

For the 7D footage I tested, the Virtual Stabi-Cam option seemed to work best when set to Universal Camera. Also available with that option are Glide Camera, Rock-Steady Camera, and Alternative Camera. I tried a few of the other camera settings, but with my footage, I found that the Universal Camera worked best.

Border Handling is another option to experiment with based on your footage or your needs. I’ve left the setting on Best Border because it keeps the screen filled with your clip by using the Zoom function. The other options under Border Handling are Best Stabilization and Fix Border. In my testing, those options did a nice job of stabilizing, but they also allowed the footage to move around the screen and reveal black around the borders as the stabilization was being done.

Overall, I found Mercalli 2.0 a solid improvement over the previous version, which was already a tool I’d used very successfully in my workflow. Depending on how much you need an anti-shake filter—and particularly if you’ve experienced rolling shutter issues with your HDSLR or other CMOS camera—Mercalli 2.0 could be a great investment. You’ll want to try out the many options and tweaks available in the filter to get the settings that work best for you and your footage. All in all, the combination of better shake reduction and reduced picture degradation from zooming in make for a great update for a tool that was already my longtime stabilizer of choice.

Philip Hinkle (philip at frogmanproductions.com) runs Madison, Wis.-area video production company Frogman Productions. A 2008 EventDV 25 honoree, he won a 2008 WEVA CEA Gold in the Social Event category and a 2006 AAA Diamond. He was a 2009 WEVA CEA judge and a featured speaker at WEVA Expo 2009. He is co-founder and vice-president of the Wisconsin Digital Media Group.

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