Telecine to Disk in High Definition

Recently I shot about 2 hours of S16 footage for a documentary I am working on, and I decided to have the film telecined to HD.  My company does not own a HD deck, so I desired to take delivery of the material on hard drive. 

Frame grabs from these tests are at the end of this article, click on the small images to download full res TIFF files.

I contacted SpyPost in San Francisco, where I had previous work done (when the transfer suite was owned by Retina).  SpyPost is developing a direct to hard drive service, and they ran some tests for me as they attempted to work the kinks out of their system.  SpyPost only has a HDcam deck – no HDcam SR or D5 – so that made the direct to disk option even more interesting, as it bypasses the quality hits imposed by tape.  Exploring other options, I saw that BonoLabs in Washington DC was also offering a Direct to Hard Drive service for a very reasonable price based on the runtime of the material.

I prepared 3 200’ rolls of S16 as a test – nature footage and scenes of San Francisco that I shot for stock and never previously transferred.  The film stocks were 7245 and either 7217 or 7212 (I can’t remember which).

I sent the negatives to BonoLabs first.  Bono has a great system for delivery of material worked out.  Mail the negative, and then Bono mails back a Firewire800 / USB2 LaCie hard drive.  Offload the material, and then mail the drive back to them.  (It is also possible to purchase new LaCie drives from Bono, which Bono will load with material and deliver.)  If the material is being put onto a stationary RAID – which is probably most often the case for HD – you don’t have to buy a separate set of drives to do the transport, though they could also be used for backups.  The price of Bono’s service is low enough that it makes sense not to worry about back-ups overmuch – running the negative through telecine again is an equivalent price to the cost of the storage space the material takes up.  I transferred to 1920 x 1080 23.976fps 10-bit uncompressed 4:2:2, where 1 hour of material takes up 478 GBs of hard drive space, slightly more than a formatted 500GB drive.  Hopefully Bono will start to also offer the new G-Tech Q drives with Firewire800 / USB2 AND eSata, or LaCie will offer a similar product, for those of us with Sata cards in our systems.

Bono’s service was prompt.  They transferred the material and put it in the mail as soon as I filled out the paperwork for them, which includes options for what flavor of HD to go to, and whether to do a Flat or Best-Light transfer.  I picked Best-Light.  Bono uses a Blackmagic card to digitize, and I requested the files be delivered in the Blackmagic 10-bit uncompressed codec, as I was running Final Cut Pro 4.5 at the time, which does not properly recognize the Apple Codec used by Final Cut Pro 5, even though the files play.

When Bono’s drive arrived, I loaded the test footage onto my RAID and was quite excited to view it, as it was the first time I had gone through this particular process.  I was immediately let down.  At first I thought files were corrupt somehow, and I asked Bono to resend them, which he did.  Then, I thought (and Bono assured me) that I was not viewing the material properly, as it was displaying through graphics on my desktop monitor, an Apple 23” Cinema Display.  However, even after the addition of a Blackmagic Decklink Pro HD 4:4:4 card, the purchase of a consumer Sony HD television, and upgrades to Mac OS 10.4.3 Tiger and Final Cut Studio (from Production Suite), the images from Bono still look soft.  In my opinion the transfer by BonoLabs is unacceptably soft and unusable.  There is a lot of room to grade the files for improved color, but there just is not enough detail in the images.

About the time I finished my upgrades, SpyPost provided their test files to me, coming off the same source negative.  At the time, their service still wasn’t officially online, but they were able to manually capture a file to give me an idea of the quality level of their upcoming service, and to allow me to do a comparison with Bono.  SpyPost captures using an AJA Kona2 card to the Apple 10-bit uncompressed codec, vs. BonoLab’s Blackmagic card/codec.  I doubt this is a relevant difference, and FCP Studio handles both.  SpyPost did a full grade on the material, vs. the Best-Light approach Bono used, which is important to consider when looking at the color differences between the files, as the color in the SpyPost files is much, much better. 

The most relevant factor to consider, however, is that SpyPost’s telecine is a Spirit, while BonoLabs utilizes a Cineglyph HD.  Despite the technical claims, the Cineglyph just doesn’t seem to resolve as highly, for whatever reason, especially at the left / right sides of the frame.  A great example of this are the San Francisco City Hall images.  Look at the two side buildings.  In the SpyPost transfer, every individual brick is visible and defined, and the circular inlays just under the roofs are clear.  In the Bono transfer it is all just noise, with no detail at all.  It is a similar situation for the details of all the buildings in the San Francisco skyline, and for the flowers around the clock.  In the clock image, also note the upper left corner, where the roof of the Conservatory of Flowers is visible.  In the SpyPost transfer, the small spikes are clean and sharp out to the edge of the frame.  In Bono’s transfer, the spikes bleed into a mucky blur.

All of the sample frames are from the same negative, and are matching frames.  Both were exported from the FCP timeline as uncompressed tiffs directly from the uncompressed source files provided to me by the facilities.

At the end of the day, for this project I got my material transferred to D5 and digitized to disk from tape, all by Matchframe in Burbank.  I would have used SpyPost’s service, but I needed the material slightly ahead of when they were ready to deliver.  Maybe next time there.  I was really disappointed with BonoLab’s results, as both the workflow and price were the best, and I had high hopes.  Although BonoLab’s service is significantly cheaper than the alternatives, saving the money just isn’t worth it in this case.  I would recommend transferring to tape, even HDcam, before using Bono’s service in its current state.  This is a shame, as Bono has a forward looking concept for telecine workflow.


David Mallin
Cloudchaser Films LLC
Santa Monica / San Francisco

Click on any of the images below to get a full res1920 *1080 tiff




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