Since I left the ABC around three decades ago, I’ve had an interest in video cameras and production. Over the years, I’ve owned a few different cameras all with different recording medium. The first camera I owned (after a Super 8 film camera) was a Sony black and white camera. It had a seperate reel to reel video recorder. After a few years, I graduated to a full size VHS camera/recorder. Next it was a compact SVHS camera which had an adapter to enable me to play the camera tapes in a normal SVHS machine. After that, I purchased a Mini DV camera and now my latest camera records onto an SD card. The difference between most of these cameras is firstly the quality of the pictures and then the type of media used to record the video. Obviously each camera recorded part of my families history and was not compatible with what came after it. So, each generation of camera required me to import the videos to my computer. That enabled me to cut out the terrible bits and improve the quality of those recordings.
But as I look at those old videos today they all look muddy and have got varying amounts of snow in the pictures. The original videos from the black and white days are so filled with noise and grain the people are hardly recognisable. Of course the video from my current camera, is miles ahead of the first camera and everything in between.
So is it possible to improve the videos from the past and make them look acceptable? It’s quite easy to cut out the worst bits. I use a Mac so iMovie is the default method of editing video. There are many video editing programs available to purchase. Many are cross platform so they work with Mac and PC’s. For reasons I come to below, I have been looking for a video editor that will reduce the visible noise in my movies so the price difference means (I hope) the more I pay the better the results from the program.
So firstly import the video into iMovie and use the Command B keys often. If you hold those down together, it gives you a cut in the video track at the point where the cursor is at the time. So cut before and after the bit you want to remove, then click on the bit you need to remove and then press the delete key and it’s gone.
But you are still left with a noisy video without the very bad bits. In iMove you can make some adjustments to the video using the icons above the preview window. The left two say “Color Balance” and “Color Correction”. So you can change the overall movie to make the colours look more correct. If you dont want to change the whole movie, just go to the frame after you want the change to end and press Command B. That will give you two clips, before and after the cut and you then can apply the filter to either parts.
The Color Correction icon also includes a correction for exposure by moving the white and black sliders sideways you can change some parts of the video clips. The next two icons are for cropping the video if you need to and if you have camera shake the shaky icon will remove some of that.
Unfortunately, iMovie is very limited in the adjustments you can make. So you could spend $US79 (or download a time limited free trial) for Topaz Video Enhancer. Before you download it, find all the videos you need to fix and then try each one while the free trial is on. You can certainly set that program to remove a significant amount of video noise and it does work well. It looks at each frame and reduces the noise in each frame. However a four minute video took around 7 hours to fix so you need to set it upon to work through the night when you go to bed. It did produce a significant reduction in the video noise that was worth having. And there are several working modes to make it work. I just used the default but may experiment with others as time goes on.
A better solution is to download Final Cut Pro from the Mac App Store. I purchased it years ago when I think it was about $299 but its considerably more expensive now. It gives you much better flexibility than iMovie but only works on Macs. It can, for example, move any titles you put in a video to a better position in the frame if they need to move. It also come with filters built in for you to add and adjust as you need to. These include colour correction, contrast correction and a video noise reduction filter. There are also many audio filters to fix things like the balance between the high and low sounds, hum removal, voice equalisation etc. Now the learning curve for FCP is a bit steep but it is worth the effort. You can find any number of YouTube clips that show you how to do things.
Even the Final Cut video noise filter is a bit limited. It works on each frame of the video and reduces the noise but also reduces the sharpness too. So when you come to edit some old film that has been transferred to video, you will still have artefacts on the picture. They are typically dust and hairs from the projection process. To get rid of them you need a noise filter that looks at each frame and compares it to the previous frame (or two) to determine if something should be there or not. Thats called temporal noise reduction. One piece of software that can do is Neat Video – Reduce Noise. I have downloaded the demo of this plug-in for Final Cut and it works well. You can set it to examine up to 5 sequential frames of video to determine what should be there and what should not. It does take some time to run as well but nowhere near the 7 hours for 4 minutes of video like the Topaz program. Unfortunately, it costs around $US79 for the limited version but since I don’t plan to use it every day I may buy that. I could buy another video editor but since I know how to use FCP, I’ll probably stick with that.
There are other video editors available between iMove and Final Cut. I have a trial version of Filmora 9 and have briefly tried it. The video smart noise filter does work and doesn’t seem to reduce the fine details on the old black and white videos I have used. Maybe at the cost of $US69 it is worth it. The fact that you can move the titles to where you want them unlike to iMovie probably make it worth the money. Its available for PCs as well.
For $US299 you can buy DaVinci Resolve 16 which seems like another full featured editor. Again, there is a free version available but since I haven’t tried this editor I can comment on how well it works nor how easy it is to use. But if you download it and send me an email, I’ll add your comments to this story. It apparently does temporal noise reduction so that makes it better for film transfers.