Using Video Frame Grabs in Print: A Case Study

By Scott Anderson

As a video producer, I have been asked a number of times whether our newspaper, the Racine, Wis. Journal Times, uses frame grabs from video for the print edition. It is a topic that has been gaining more interest over the last couple years as more photojournalists trade still cameras and photoshop for video cameras and Final Cut Pro or Premiere.

The answer to the question I posed is: Yes. Over the last three months, our newspaper has run three images, taken from our video camera, the Canon XH-A1. Two have run on the cover, and the third inside.

Each image was produced differently. I have broken down each example as a case study, highlighting the news-gathering situation, the process behind obtaining the image, and my overall impression and satisfaction with each result.

Scott Anderson
Video Producer
Racine, Wis. Journal Times

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Case 1: Tuesday, August 14 – HD image captured by camera

Situation: We were covering a story about a local club that was trying to reintroduce the Bluebird back into our area. I shot video in HD (High Definition) and used Canon’s photo-capture button to capture a number of still images I intended to use in the video and online promotion. When I returned to the office, I learned that our supplied art fell through and the reporter and photographer did not connect on the assignment. That’s when I offered up a still image captured by our Canon XH-A1
Process: The Canon XH-A1 records still images on an SD (Smartmedia) card, which I downloaded into the computer. The camera recorded an image 9.6 inches wide by 5.4 inches deep at 200 pixels per inch at its highest quality setting, easily large enough for print. I pulled the image straight from the card into Photoshop, where I prepared it for print.
Overall Impression: Bluebirds are small and fast, and it takes some practice tracking moving objects with a video camera. The advantage to capturing an image with the camera is that it behaves like a still camera: you have shutter speed and aperture control, focus control and gain settings that behave like ISO setting in a limited fashion. Even at its highest setting, though, the camera produces a fair amount of grain and sharpening artifacts. They can be quieted in Photoshop to some degree, but my overall conclusion is that a still camera can take a more technically-superior image.

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Case 2: Sunday, September 9, 2007 – DV image captured by camera

Situation: We covered a breaking news event in the early evening in which shots were reported fired on a city block. Police roped off the shooting area, and I recorded video sufficient to produce a short online news piece. As the situation eased, I saw police investigators silhouetted on a church wall, surrounded by police tape. As a colleague said once seeing the image “Even the shadows are imprisoned.”
Process: I shot this image on DV (Standard Definition – lower resolution, smaller video files compared to HD) video and also captured a few frames onto my SD card. The Canon XH-A1 has a custom function where you can capture frames while you record by pressing the photo button, but pressing it makes an audible click while recording, which I found to be unfortunate. When I got back to the office, I liked the image I recorded on tape, but liked the composition on one still frame I captured the best. When shooting DV, the Canon XH-A1 records an image 7.2 inches wide by 5.4 inches deep at 200 pixels per inch. Sharpening artifacts and image grain are more obvious compared to my earlier test in HD, but can still be edited in Photoshop into a more usable image. We had a photographer on the scene with some newsier images, but this image was later considered for a news/feature piece on summer violence later that week.
Overall Impression: I was pleased to get this image, but disappointed it wasn’t on a still camera of higher resolution and better quality. The still image I took held up very well in print and online, however would not hold well if reproduced larger than 5×7 on photo quality paper.

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Case 3: Friday, October 19, 2007 – Frame grab in Adobe Premiere using Voodoo

Situation: I was covering Rudy Giuliani’s visit to Milwaukee on a fundraising stop. I committed to shooting strictly video without shooting frame grabs. Sure enough, near the end of his visit, Giuliani took a few seconds to sign autographs. As I worked the setting, a really interesting still photo opportunity played out before me and my video monitor. I held the camera steady, trying not to jump out of my socks. When I returned to the office, I imported my DV footage into Premiere before selecting that still image that eluded my video.
Process: After transferring footage into my computer at the office, I made a screenshot capture in Premiere of Giuliani signing autographs. The screenshot feature in Premiere captured a JPEG image JPEG 640 pixels wide by 480 pixels deep at 72 pixels per inch. Not very big. I used Voodoo, a magical tool developed by David Leeson (see note at end of this article) to increase the resolution of my tiny screenshot large enough for print. I was able to pull out an image large enough for print publication using Voodoo.
Overall Impression: Voodoo saved this image from relative obscurity. The image wouldn’t bode well if made into a glossy 8×10 reprint, but made for a solid image in our print edition. The advantage of selecting an image in Premiere (or Final Cut Pro if using Mac) is that you can select any frame, any moment and potentially make it a still frame. The drawback is that your footage is input at one of three frame rates: 60 fps, 30 fps or 24 fps. This means you’re effectively limited to a still frame shot no faster than 1/60s. The Canon XH-A1 shoots 60 fps interlaced and 30 and 24 fps progressive. I shoot at 30 fps, because interlacing wreaks havoc with a still frame grab. Giuliani was really on the move, and as a result, his face was not sharp in this image. Still, I got a nice image out of something I only thought would be a video job.

About Voodoo:

David Leeson, is a well-accomplished visual journalist with the Dallas Morning News. Leeson developed a program designed to increase the size of a video frame grab large enough for use in print. Leeson has used the tool on innumerable projects and is a strong advocate of converging still and video technologies in the newsroom.

You can find out more about Voodoo here:

For PC

For Macintosh

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