It wasn't that long ago that getting a point-of-view shot was a major undertaking. About a decade ago, a producer I work with wanted to do a story on the last of the bicycle newspaper delivery boys. We acquired a bike with a front basket and a rear rack. Gaffer-taped to the basket was an “ice-cube” surveilliance camera, purchased from Supercircuits.com. On the back rack was a Sony BVW-50 Betacam SP deck, which measured about 18″ square by 6″ deep, and weighed an easy ten pounds with a battery.
The producer rode the bike and tossed newspapers out of the front rack while simultaneously delivering his lines to the camera. We got the shot, and for the time it was pretty spectacular… but then came GoPro. Action shots? Pfffft. Oh yeah, the entire GoPro rig costs one-one-hundredth of the Beta deck alone. The GoPro is an amazing tool, but it does have a “look” – the wide-angle look.
You've seen “the look”. One of the technical terms is “barrel distortion,” where lines your mind knows are straight are actually bowed to some extent. If you are using a wide-angle as a quick cutaway or an accent shot, a viewer can fairly easily ignore the distortion, but if you intend to use a shot for a long time, the distortion might pull a viewer out of the story, asking themselves “What's weird about this picture?” Luckily, there is software can adjust the wide-angle look, and it's pretty inexpensive. ProDAD DeFishr is a PC-based program which sells for $79, and it can do some seemingly magical things, at a very slight visual cost.
I used footage shot at the US Cyclocross Championship to test out DeFishr, with cameras including the GoPro Hero2 and Hero3 and a Canon 60D DSLR. The DeFishr software interface is pretty simple. The “View Mode” section is particularly useful, toggling the monitor between source and result window or playing both side-by-side for easy comparison. You can export the footage either corrected or in the side-by-side view.
A large monitor window is topped with a toolbar that includes buttons to import media, a selection of preset camera profiles, and manual geometry controls to the right of the page.
DeFishr comes preloaded with 14 correction presets, for cameras including various GoPro setups, Contour HD and even the Samsung Galaxy S2 and S3 smartphones. If you've ever used a GoPro (and seriously, who hasn't by now?) you'll realize that the angle of view varies depending on whether the camera is mounted in the case or not. The GoPro presets are optimized for “caseless” footage, but honestly, by trying out all of the presets – and not just the GoPro ones – it's usually pretty easy to find a look that will work.
Here is a quick video example of a shot corrected by DeFishr. The camera is a GoProHero2, suspended from the seatpost with a Manfrotto Magic Arm.
And here is a still from that video:
If you compare the two images, you can easily see that while the seat tube (2) has straightened out very well, the generator (1) and wheel support arm (4) have changed position radically, and the wheel (3) actually looks less round. For a fleeting shot from an unusual angle, this is a pretty sweet adjustment.
And if you need to tweak some more, the control panel on top allows you to tweak the amount of “DeFishing” with lens, roll, X and Y positioning, zoom, tilt and pan.
A processed shot…
If you really want to get insight into how DeFishr does it's magic, select a preset the looks good for your shot and then zoom out. The amount of the picture that lies outside the visible space is sometimes enormous, with funhouse-style bowing that, under the right circumstances, could be pretty entertaining.
The same shot, zoomed out.
Yet while this sounds like an invitation to reducing the resolution of your original shot, in reality any artifacting resulting from the “blowing up” of the footage is very hard to detect. Creating an editable corrected clip is as easy as clicking the “Export” button, ticking the “Export Files Into Directory” box, defining your file path, and hitting “Start Export.” Render times were quite speedy on my four-year-old HP eight-core Xeon Windows 7 machine. Defishr can export clips as mov, mpg, mpeg, mp4, mts, m2t, m2ts, m2v, avi, mxf, vob, vcd, or 3gp, and stills as jpg and tif.
While the provided presets seem to be able to straighten up shots from many cameras, DeFishr also provides the ability to create a specific preset for any camera you might own by using the Calibrator. When the Calibrator is invoked, the screen turns into a checkerboard that you shoot from various angles in a prescribed “lap” around the screen. Truth be told, in about a dozen attempts with several different cameras and monitors I was never able to get a recording that DeFishr found good enough to create the preset.
But in all honesty, that doesn't concern me much. After all, this is version 1.0, and I'm sure that function will get better over time. And secondarily, by just tweaking the available presets you can create a look that will work in most any situation. If you've ever read my reviews, you know I'm a big dollars-to-donuts guy, and at $79 US DeFishr is a steal. The main changes I'd like to see would be to make the Calibrator easier to use, and to make DeFishr a plug-in for the Adobe CS family. But as it stands today, ProDAD DeFishr v1 is a really useful tool, and I'm already looking forward to v2. DeFishr is available for purchase and download at www.proDAD.com.