Temporal Aliasing – Beware!

As camera resolutions increase and the amount of detail and texture that we can record increases we need to be mindful more and more of temporal aliasing. 

Temporal aliasing occurs when the differences between the frames in a video sequence create undesirable sequences of patterns that move from one frame to the next, often appearing to travel in the opposite direction to any camera movement. The classic example of this is the wagon wheels going backwards effect often seen in old cowboy movies. The cameras shutter captures the spokes of the wheels in a different position in each frame but the timing of the shutter relative to the position of the spokes means that the wheels appear to go backwards rather than forwards. This was almost impossible to prevent with film cameras that were stuck with a 180 degree shutter as there was no way to blur the motion of the spokes so that they were contiguous from one frame to the next. A 360 degree shutter would have prevented this problem in most cases. But it’s also reasonable to note that at 24fps a 360 degree shutter would have introduced an excessive amount of motion blur elsewhere.

Another form of temporal aliasing that often occurs is when you have rapidly moving grass, crops, reeds or fine branches. Let me try to explain:

You are shooting a field of wheat, the stalks are very small in the frame, almost too small to discern individually. As the stalks of wheat move left, perhaps blown by the wind, each stalk will be captured in each frame a little more to the left, perhaps by just a few pixels. But in the video they appear to be going the other way. This is  because every stalk looks the same as all the others and in the following captured frame,  the original stalk may have moved  say 6 pixels to the left. But now there is also a different stalk just 2 pixels to the right of where the original was. Because both stalks look the same it appears that the stalk has moved right instead of left. As the wind speed and the movement of the stalks changes they may appear to move randomly left or right or a combination of both. The image looks very odd, often a jumbled mess, as perhaps the tops of the stalks appear to move one way while lower parts appear to go the other.

There is a great example of temporal aliasing here in this clip on Pond5 https://www.pond5.com/stock-footage/item/58471251-wagon-wheel-effect-train-tracks-optical-illusion-perception

Notice in the pond 5 clip how it’s not only the railway sleepers that appear to move in the wrong direction or at the wrong speed but notice how the stones between the sleepers appear to look like some kind of boiling noise.

Like the old movie wagon wheels one thing that makes this worse is the use of too fast a shutter speed. The more you freeze the motion of the offending objects or textures in each frame the higher the risk of temporal aliasing with moving textures or patterns. Often a slower shutter speed will introduce enough motion blur that the motion looks normal again. You may need to experiment with different shutter speeds to find the sweet spot where the temporal aliasing goes away or is minimised.  If shooting at 50fps or faster try a 360 degree 1/50th shutter as by the time you get to a 1/50th shutter motion is already starting to be as crisp as it needs to be for most types of shots unless you are intending to do some for of frame by frame motion analysis.


Temporal Aliasing – Beware! was first posted on February 13, 2020 at 5:22 pm.
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