Have you ever uploaded a video to YouTube, only to find that it looks blurry, grainy and generally lower quality? You’re not alone! Common questions I get asked on the Suspension Traveler Youtube channel are “what’s your export setting” or “how do you make your videos look so crisp”.
As someone who has uploaded 100+ mountain biking videos to Youtube, I know it can be frustrating to spend hours filming and editing a video, only to have it appear low-quality once it’s uploaded. But why does this happen? And most importantly: How can you avoid blurry videos?
Common causes for your YouTube video uploads being blurry or low-resolution:
- Blurry Raw Footage: Does the raw footage straight out of camera look blurry already? There’s a whole bunch of possible reasons behind that.
- Editing Export Settings: The export settings of your editing program could be too low. Always pick the highest ones you can to survive YT compression.
- Youtube Video Processing: It takes a while for youtube to process 4K videos. Lower-resolution versions are available earlier. You may be watching 1080p instead of 4K.
- Youtube Video Compression: Youtube always compresses video into a lower bitrate which leads to a lower quality than the original video uploaded. There’s almost no way to get around that sadly, but YT Premium offers higher bitrate playback now.
Before we get into each of those in detail, a quick word on grainy videos. This is an entirely different issue, that’s caused by low-light situations or bad camera settings. Learn how to fix grainy footage here. It’s an issue with the original video file and is only made worse by the issues that lead to blurry video.
So, the first and most important step is to record good quality footage in the first place.
Improve Initial Video Quality
Making the original video quality as best as you can is the biggest difference you can make when dealing with blurry YT videos. There are a lot of different issues that can cause it, so you got the most chances to a fix at this stage. With every step after actually recording, the number of possible solutions gets smaller quickly.
You’ve heard it a million times: Trash in, trash out.
Make sure you start out with quality.
Before you upload your video to YouTube, there are several things you can do to enhance the video quality. Here are some tips:
- Use a high-quality camera to record your video. The best (action) cameras will get you the best video quality. In our scenario better means higher resolution and higher bitrates.
- Digital image stabilization is also something modern cameras can do, not just action cams. Get buttery smooth, dron-like clips using that.
- Avoid dark areas or bring a light source. Natural light or studio lighting can help but isn’t always there outdoors. In either case, adjust your settings to cope with low-light (low ISO is key).
- Avoid shaky footage by using a gimbal or a higher shutter speed. This can help produce a smoother video with less motion blur (if that’s what you want).
I’ve got a number of articles dedicated to good action camera settings and explanations of each setting. So I won’t go into too much detail here. If you think that would help you understand your camera more, feel free to browse the action cam articles. There’s even one dedicated to fixing grainy footage, which usually only happens in low-light scenarios.
Video Export Settings
If you’re cutting, editing or color-grading your videos before uploading to Youtube, your editing software is the next possible culprit for blurry videos. You could mess up the quality when grading, like getting the exposure wrong which could lead to a lot of grain. But most likely it comes down to the export settings, not to what you do during the actual edit.
Hint: Just a bit of “sharpness” added in the editing may help, but don’t overdo it as it looks unnatural very quickly!
Even though my cameras record MP4 files, I personally found to get better results when exporting to MOV (QuickTime) files. That may be entirely placebo, but well worth a try. Make sure it’s supported and recommended by Youtube.
Codecs are another one, depending on the file format. H.264 and H.265 tho are not different in quality or bitrate, only in file size. Just pointing out a misconception I come across often.
Getting the project resolution right is obviously important. But not only at the very end when you’re on the export screen – but right from the start! Make sure the project (timeline) settings match the video file in terms of resolution and framerate.
Exporting it in 4K but working in a 1080p timeline is a sure way to get low-resolution, blurry video even when the file resolution says otherwise.
Going higher than the source file obviously won’t make the video better or higher-resolution, only the file size bigger. All you’re doing is blowing a lower-resolution image to a bigger size.
Just make sure it’s the same as your original recording. Don’t change it to something completely different like recording in 30p and exporting in 60p. Exporting 60 frames per second when there were only 30 to start with? You don’t have to be a rocket surgeon to know that’s not going to end up well.
Color Grading for Action Cam Videos
Make your POV footage pop with custom color grades!
Download my FREE LUT specifically for MTB videos:
And finally, if your software offers some kind of general quality option for the export, just pick the highest quality one. Same goes for audio.
We want to make sure we’re getting the highest-quality file before we upload it into Youtube. By then it’s basically out of our control.
Check YouTube Playback Resolutions
If your video is already uploaded to YouTube and you notice your new video is blurry, you can check the reason for it. Maybe you’re still watching a lower-resolution version?
You can check which resolutions are available directly in the video’s details within the Youtube Studio. To the right of the screen (on desktop), you’ll see up to three resolutions:
Available ones are solid dark blue, while ones still processing flash in light blue:
Display size & resolution
Obviously, the display you’re watching on is a huge factor. Watching your video on a 1080p monitor is going to look different than on your 4K phone.
The bigger the screen, the more stretched the video gets and the higher resolution is required for it to look sharp.
Also, the higher the resolution of the display, the better it’s going to look and the more advantage you have when watching the higher-resolution versions of your video.
Youtube videos on modern smartphone displays generally look better than big TVs, simply because the screen is smaller.
Youtube Video Processing
And then there’s the part that we have no influence on: Youtube’s processing that reduces bitrate and overall video quality.
This is a main reason why your videos will always look worse on Youtube than they do straight from your harddrive.
Up until this point we did everything for to minimize the effect tho.
Recently Youtube added the opportunity for Premium subscriber to inccrease bitrate for playback. So you can actually get crisp, non-blurry, high-resolution video on Youtube – but if your viewers decide to pay for that privilige is out of your hands. You can only provide good, interesting content at the best quality you can export at.