Shooting Flat – No it’s not!

I know that many of my readers like to shoot log. One of the most common terms used around shooting log is “shooting flat”. Lets take a look at that term and think about what it actually means.

One description of a flat image might be – “An image with low contrast”. Certainly an image with low contrast can be considered flat.

Once upon a time shooting flat meant lighting a scene so that there was very little contrast. The background in an interview might be quite well  lit. You would avoid deep shadows or strong highlights. This was done because cameras had very limited dynamic ranges. These flat images of low contrast scenes could then have the contrast boosted in post production to make them look better.

8 years ago, with the advent of DSLR cameras that could shoot with film like depths of field it became fashionable to shoot flat because digital film cameras  when shooting using log produced an image that looks flat when viewed on a conventional TV or monitor.

But lets think about that for a moment. A typical digital cinema camera can capture 14 stops of dynamic range. A scene with 14 stops of dynamic range contains a huge contrast range, perhaps a brilliant bright sky and deep shadows, you can possibly describe the capture a scene with 14 stops of dynamic range as “flat”?

The answer is you can’t – or at least you shouldn’t because the recording  isn’t flat. The dynamic range that most digital cinema cameras can capture is not flat, not at all.

The problem is that a normal TV or video monitor can’t show a very big dynamic range. A conventional TV can only show around 6 stops. If you take a log video signal with a 14 stop image and try to show that on a 6 stop screen you will be squashing the highlights and shadows closer together, so the highlight that was at +14 stops in the scene and is recorded at 100%, gets pushed closer to the deepest shadow in the scene that is recorded at 1%.

On a normal 6 stop TV the 100% recording level is shown at +6 stops while the deepest shadow will be at 1%, so now the 14 stop recording is being shown with only 6 stops between the deepest black and the brightest highlight. Instead of the highlight being dazzlingly bright it’s now just a bright white and not all that much brighter than the shadows. As a result the image on the screen looks all wrong, nothing like what you recorded and it appears to be “flat”.

BUT THE DATA IN THE FILE IS NOT FLAT – that recording contains a high contrast, 14 stop image – it’s the inability of the TV or monitor to show it correctly that makes it look wrong, not that you have shot flat.

In the early days of DSLR shooting many DSLR shooters decided to mimic the way the image from a digital cinema camera looks flat on a normal TV, perhaps in the miss-guided belief that a flat image must always have a greater dynamic range. This definitely isn’t always the case. I can take any regular dynamic range image and make it look flat by reducing the contrast, raising the blacks a bit, shifting the gamma perhaps, that’s easy. But that doesn’t increase the dynamic range that is captured. Changing the capture range of a camera typically requires fundamental changes to the way it operates rather than simple tweaks to the basic picture settings.

So we went through a period where shooting a flat looking image with a DSLR was the trendy way to shoot because on a normal TV or monitor the image recorded is reminiscent of the image from a true digital cinema camera shooting log, even though in practice the “flat look”  was often damaging the image rather than improving it.

Now there are many digital cinema cameras that can capture a very big dynamic range using log encoding and these images look washed out and flat on a normal monitor or TV because of the miss-match between the camera and the monitor, not because the captured scene is flat. But we still call this shooting flat (wrong)!

Why? In many cases people like to leave the image this way as they like this “incorrect” look. Flat is trendy, it’s fashionable, at least to those inside the TV and Video production world. I’m not sure that the wider general audience really understands why their pictures look washed out.

If you have a monitor with high dynamic range display capabilities such as a Atomos Shogun Flame or Inferno, that can show a large dynamic range then you’ll know that if you feed it log and set the display range to HDR and choose the right gamma curve, the picture on the screen is no longer flat, it’s bright and contrasty. This isn’t a LUT or any other cheat. The monitor is simply showing the image with a range much closer to the capture range and now it looks right again.

storm-PQ-14stop-1024x577 Shooting Flat - No it's not!
This is a high dynamic range image. View it on an HDR TV set to HDR10 and it will be brilliantly bright, highly colorfull and full of contrast. On a regular TV or monitor it looks flat and washed out because the regular TV can’t show it properly.

So next time you use the term “shooting Flat” think very carefully about what it actually means and whether you are really shooting flat or whether it’s simply a case of using the wrong monitor. Using words or terms like this incorrectly causes all kinds of problems. For example most people think that log footage is flat and that that’s how it’s supposed to look. But it isn’t flat and it’s not supposed to look flat, we are just using the wrong monitors!


Sony Cash-Back Offer Ends Soon (Europe).

Camcorder-Accessory-Promotion_home-medium-EN Sony Cash-Back Offer Ends Soon (Europe).Sony are offering up to £220/€250 cash back on accessories purchased with an FS5 and up to £400/€450 cash back on accessories purchased with  FS7 or FS7M2 if you purchase one before the end of March 2018. So there’s only 2 weeks left to take advantage of this offer!

So if your looking at investing in a nice camera kit with perhaps one of the excellent UWP-D radio mic kits that connect directly to the cameras MI shoe or some extra batteries this might be a great way to get some money back from Sony. There are various terms and conditions so please take a look at the promotion page for the full details. Here’s a link to the promotion page.


Skills and knowledge in TV and video production are not keeping up with the technology.

TV and video production, including digital cinema is a highly technical area. Anyone that tells you otherwise is in my opinion mistaken. Many of the key jobs in the industry require an in depth knowledge of not just the artistic aspects but also the technical aspects.
Almost everyone in the camera department, almost everyone in post production and a large portion of the planning and pre-production crew need to know how the kit we use works.
A key area where there is a big knowledge gap is gamma and color. When I was starting out in this business I had a rough idea of what gamma and gamut was all about. But then 10 years or more ago you didn’t really need to know or understand it because up to then we only ever had variations on 2.2/2.4 gamma. There were very few adjustments you could make to a camera yourself and if you did fiddle, generally you would often create more problems than you solved. So those things were just best left alone.
But now it’s vital that you fully understand gamma, what it does, how it works and what happens if you have a gamma miss-match. But sadly so many camera operators (and post people) like to bury their heads in the sand using the excuse “I’m an artist – I don’t need to understand the technology”. Worse still are those that think they understand it, but in reality do not, mainly I think, due to the spread of miss-information and bad practices that become normal. As an example shooting flat seems to mean something very different today to what it meant 10 years ago. 10 years ago it meant shooting with flat lighting so the editor or color grader could adjust the contrast in post production. Now though, shooting flat is often incorrectly used to describe shooting with log gamma (shooting with log isn’t flat, it’s a gamma miss-match that might fool the operator into thinking it’s flat). The whole “shooting flat” miss-conception comes from the overuse and incorrect use of the term on the internet until it eventually became the accepted term for shooting with log.
As only a very small portion of film makers actually have any formal training and even fewer go back to school to learn about new techniques or technologies properly this is a situation that isn’t going to get any better. As we move into an era where, in the short term at least, we will need to start delivering multiple versions of productions in both standard dynamic range as well as several different HDR versions, additionally saving the programme master in another intermediate format. Things are only going to get more complicated and more and more mistakes will be made, technology will be applied and used incorrectly.
Most people are quite happy to spend thousands on a new camera, new recorder or new edit computer. But then they won’t spend any money on training to learn how to get the very best from it. Instead they will surf the net for information and guides of unknown quality and accuracy.
When you hire a crew member you have no idea how good their knowledge is. As it’s normal for most not to have attended any formal courses we don’t ask for certificates and we don’t expect them. But they could be very useful. Most other industries that benefit from a skilled labour force have some form of formal certification process, but our industry does not, so hiring crew, booking an editor etc becomes a bit of a lottery.
Of course it’s not all about technical skills. Creative skills are equally important. But again it’s hard to prove that you do have such skills to a new client. Showreels are all to easy to fake.
Guilds and associations are a start. But many of these can be joined simply by paying the joining or membership fee. You could be a member of one of the highly exclusive associations such as the ASC or BSC, but even that doesn’t mean you know about technology “A” or technique “Z”.
We should all take a close look at our current skill sets. What is lacking, where do I have holes, what could I do better. I’ve been in this business for 30 years and I’m still learning new stuff almost every day. It’s one of the things that keeps life interesting. Workshops and training events can be hugely beneficial and they really can lead to you getting better results. Or it may simply be that a day of training helps give you the confidence that you are doing it right. They are also great opportunities to meet other similar people and network.
Whatever you do, don’t stop learning, but beware the internet, not everything you read is right. The key is to not just read and then do, but to read, understand why, ask questions if necessary, then do. If you don’t understand why, you’ll never be able to adapt the “do” to fit your exact needs.

Should I shoot 8 bit UHD or 10 bit HD?

This comes up so many times, probably because the answer is rarely clear cut.

First lets look at exactly what the difference between an 8 bit and a 10 bit recording is.
Both will have the same dynamic range. Both will have the same contrast. Both will have the same color range. One does not  necessarily have more color or contrast than the other. The only thing you can be sure of is the difference in the number of code values. An 8 bit video recording has a maximum of 235 code values per channel giving 13 million possible tonal values. 10 bit recording has up to 970 code values per channel giving up to 912 million tonal values.
There is a lot of talk of 8 bit recordings resulting in banding because there are only 235 luma shades. This is a bit of a half truth. It is true that if you have a monochrome image there would only be 235 steps. But we are normally making colour images so we are typically dealing with 13 million tonal values, not simply 235 luma shades. In addition it is worth remembering that the bulk of our current video distribution and display technologies are 8 bit – 8 bit H264, 8 bit screens etc. There are more and more 10 bit codecs coming along as well as more 10 bit screens, but the vast majority are still 8 bit.
Compression artefacts cause far more banding problems than too few steps in the recording codec. Most codecs use some form of noise reduction to help reduce the amount of data that needs to be encoded and this can result in banding. Many codecs divide the image data into blocks and  the edges of these small blocks can lead to banding and stepping.
Of course 10 bit can give you more shades. But then 4K gives you more shades too. So an 8 bit UHD recording can sometimes have more shades than a 10 bit HD recording. How is this possible? If you think about it, in UHD each color object in the scene is sampled with twice as many pixels. Imagine a gradient that spans 4 pixels. In 4K you will have 4 samples and 4 steps. In HD you will only have 2 samples and 2 steps, so the HD image might show a single big step while the 4K may have 4 smaller steps. It all depends on how steep the gradient is and how it falls relative to the pixels. It then also depends on how you will handle the footage in post production.
So it is not as clear cut as often made out. For some shots with lots of textures 4K 8 bit might actually give more data for grading than 10 bit HD. In other scenes 10 bit HD might be better.
Anyone that is getting “muddy” results in 4K compared to HD is doing something wrong. Going from 8 bit 4K to 10 bit HD should not change the image contrast, brightness or color range. The images shouldn’t really look significantly different. Sure the 10 bit HD recording might show some subtle textures a little better, but then the 8 bit 4K might have more texture resolution.
My experience is that both work and both have pro’s and con’s. I started shooting 8 bit S-log when the Sony PMW-F3 was introduced 7 years ago and have always been able to get great results provided you expose well. 10 bit UHD would be preferable, I’m not suggesting otherwise (at least 10 GOOD bits are always preferable), but 8 bit works too. 

Can DaVinci Resolve steal the edit market from Adobe and Apple.

I have been editing with Adobe Premiere since around 1994. I took a rather long break from Premiere between 2001 and 2011 and switched over to Apple and  Final Cut Pro which in many ways used to be very similar to Premiere (I think some of the same software writers were used for FCP as Premiere). My FCP edit stations were always muti-core Mac Towers. The old G5’s first then later on the Intel Towers. Then along came FCP-X. I just didn’t get along with FCP-X when it first came out. I’m still not a huge fan of it now, but will happily concede that FCP-X is a very capable, professional edit platform.

So in 2011 I switch back to Adobe Premiere as my edit platform of choice. Along the way I have also used various versions of Avid’s software, which is another capable platform.

But right now I’m really not happy with Premiere. Over the last couple of years it has become less stable than it used to be. I run it on a MacBook Pro which is a well defined hardware platform, yet I still get stability issues. I’m also experiencing problems with gamma and level shifts that just shouldn’t be there. In addition Premiere is not very good with many long GOP codecs. FCP-X seems to make light work of XAVC-L compared to Premiere. Furthermore Adobe’s Media encoder which once used to be one of the first encoders to get new codecs or features is now lagging behind, Apples Compressor now has the ability to do at he full range of HDR files. Media Compressor can only do HDR10. If you don’t know, it is possible to buy Compressor on it’s own.

Meanwhile DaVinci Resolve has been my grading platform of choice for a few years now. I have always found it much easier to get the results and looks that I want from Resolve than from any edit software – this isn’t really a surprise as after all that’s what Resolve was originally designed for.

editing-xl-1024x629 Can DaVinci Resolve steal the edit market from Adobe and Apple.
DaVinci Resolve a great grading software and it’s edit capabilities are getting better and better.

The last few versions of Resolve have become much faster thanks to some major processing changes under the hood and in addition there has been a huge amount of work on Resolves edit capabilities. It can now be used as a fully featured edit platform. I recently used Resolve to edit some simpler projects that were going to be graded as this way I could stay in the same software for both processes, and you know what it’s a pretty good editor. There are however a few things that I find a bit funky and frustrating in the edit section of Resolve at the moment. Some of that may simply be because I am less familiar with it for editing than I am Premiere.

Anyway, on to my point. Resolve is getting to be a pretty good edit platform and it’s only going to get better. We all know that it’s a really good and very powerful grading platform and with the recent inclusion of the Fairlight audio suite within Resolve it’s pretty good at handling audio too. Given that the free version of Resolve can do all of the edit, sound and grading functions that most people need, why continue to subscribe to Adobe or pay for FCP-X?

With the cost of the latest generations of Apple computers expanding the price gap between them and similar spec Windows machines – as well as the new Macbooks lacking built in ports like HDMI, USB3 that we all use every day (you now have to use adapters and dongles). The  Apple eco system is just not as attractive as it used to be. Resolve is cross platform, so an Mac user can stay with Apple if they wish, or move over to Windows or Linux whenever they want with Resolve. You can even switch platforms mid project if you want. I could start an edit on my MacBook and the do the grade on a PC workstation staying with Resolve through the complete process.

Even if you need the extra features of the full version like very good noise reduction, facial recognition, 4K DCI output or HDR scopes then it’s still good value as it currently only costs $299/£229 which is less than a years subscription to Premiere CC.

But what about the rest of the Adobe Creative suite? Well you don’t have to subscribe to the whole suite. You can just get Photoshop or After Effects. But there are also many alternatives. Again Blackmagic Design have Fusion 9 which is a very impressive VFX package used for many Hollywood movies and like Resolve there is also a free version with a very comprehensive tools set or again for just $299/£229 you get the full version with all it’s retiming tools etc.

motion-xl-1024x512 Can DaVinci Resolve steal the edit market from Adobe and Apple.
Blackmagic Designs Fusion is a very impressive video effects package for Mac and PC.

For a Photoshop replacement you have GIMP which can do almost everything that Photoshop can do. You can even use Photoshop filters within GIMP. The best part is that GIMP is free and works on both Mac’s and PC’s.

So there you have it – It looks like Blackmagic Design are really serious about taking a big chunk of Adobe Premiere’s users. Resolve and Fusion are cross platform so, like Adobe’s products it doesn’t matter whether you want to use a Mac or a PC. But for me the big thing is you own the software. You are not going to be paying out rather a lot of money month on month for something that right now is in my opinion somewhat flakey.

I’m not quite ready to cut my Creative Cloud subscription yet, maybe on the next version of Resolve. But it won’t be long before I do.

Use the cameras media check to help ensure you don’t get file problems.

Any of the Sony cameras that use SxS or XQD cards include a media check and media restore function that is designed to detect any problems with your recording media or the files stored on that media.
However the media check is only normally performed when you insert a card into the camera, it is not done when you eject a card as the camera never knows when you are about to do that.
So my advice is: When you want to remove the card to offload your footage ensure you have a green light next to the card, this means it should be safe to remove. Pop the card out as you would do normally but then re-insert the card and wait for the light to go from red, back to green. Check the LCD/VF for any messages, if there are no messages, take the card out and do your offload as normal.
Why? Every time you put an XQD or SxS card into the camera the card and files stored on it are checked for any signs of any issues. If there is a problem the camera will give you a “Restore Media” warning. If you see this warning always select OK and allow the camera to repair whatever the problem is. If you don’t restore the media and you then make a copy from the card, any copy you make will also be corrupt and the files may be inaccessible.
Once the files have been copied from the card it is no longer possible to restore the media.  If there is a problem with the files on the card, the restore can only be done by the camera, before offload. So this simple check that takes just a few seconds can save a whole world of hurt. I wish there was a media check button you could press to force the check, but there isn’t. However this method works.
It’s also worth knowing that Catalyst Browse and the old Media Browser software performs a data integrity check if you directly attach an SxS card or XQD card to the computer and access the card from the software. If a problem is found you will get a message telling you to return the media to the camera and perform a media restore. But if this is some time after the shoot and you don’t have the camera to hand, this can be impossible. Which is why I like to check my media in the camera by re-inserting it back into the camera so that it gets checked for problems before the end of the shoot.

Checking Log exposure with the Hi and Low Key Function on the PXW-FS7, PMW-F5 and PMW-F55

First: If there is something you wish to know about please try the search box to search this web site. You should find a search box on the left of every page when using a normal web browser. If you are using a mobile web browser then the search box will appear towards the bottom of each page, you may need to scroll down to find it, but it’s there.

A great function that allows you to check the extreme ends of your log exposure in the CineEI mode is the Hi/Low Key function. It has to be assigned to a button before you can use it, but it provides a very fast way to check what is really going on in your highlights and shadows. You’ll find all you need to know about High and Low key here.

Interfoto Video Camp, Oslo, 7-8th March 2018

2018-02-12-videocamp-100224610_scaled_1280-1024x722 Interfoto Video Camp, Oslo, 7-8th March 2018There are still spaces at the Interfoto Video Camp in Oslo next week. I will be there on Wednesday to give a presentation on how I use various Sony cameras including the A7s, PXW-Z90 and PXW-FS5 and FS7. In addition I will be talking a bit about HDR and how I shoot the Northern Lights. In the evening I’m going to give a talk on my career, how I got started, some of the things that help me get to where I am today and where I plan on going from here.

As well as myself there are many other speakers with presentations on all kinds of topics from video production and sound to streaming and gimbals. For more details please click here.

Camera setup, reviews, tutorials and information for pro camcorder users from Alister Chapman.