I get asked a lot about settings for shooting in low light with the EX1 and EX3. To be honest there is not much that will make a big difference that can be done, beyond adding in camera gain. There are a few tweaks you can make to the picture profiles that will help minimise noise levels and give a slightly brighter picture without resorting to overall gain and I’ll go through those here.
Gamma: By using a brighter or higher gain gamma curve you can get a slightly brighter image without an across the board gain increase. Do however consider though that gamma does add gain so a brighter gamma curve has more gain and thus more noise than a darker gamma curve. Where you light range is limited or controlled then I recommend using Standard Gamma 2 with the black gamma set to +40. Raising the black gamma helps lift shadow and dark areas of the image. For scenes with bright highlights then it’s useful to have some extra dynamic range and in this case I would choose cinegamma 4, again with the black gamma raised, this time to +50.
If you are happy with turning detail off altogether then this may be a wise choice as it will prevent any noise from being enhanced. If not in order to keep the appearance of noise to a minimum I would decrease the detail level to -10. As we are shooting in low light then I will assume there are a lot of dark areas in the image. To keep noise less visible in low contrast areas I would set the crisping to +50. This will slightly soften the image but help control noise.
There are two principle forms of noise, chroma noise and luma noise. There’s not much we can do about luma noise other than controlling detail enhancement as above, but if we reduce the image colour saturation we can reduce the chroma noise. Better still using the low key sat function we can just reduce the chroma (colour) level in low key parts of the shot. So for my low light profile I would set Low Key Sat to somewhere around -50.
So by changing the gamma we can increase the sensitivity a little, turning off the detail correction or using crispening we can ensure that the visibility of any noise is as minimised and the Low Key Sat function will keep the noise to a manageable level.
These setting won’t turn your EX1 or EX3 into a mega low light monster, but they will give a small boost to the low light performance before you have to resort to adding gain. Talking of gain, do make sure you read this to understand what gain is doing.
EX1/EX3 Picture Profile suggestions for low light:
Gamma Standard 2, Black Gamma +40 OR Cinegamma 4, Black Gamma +50
Detail OFF or Detail Level -10, Crispening +50
Low Key Sat -50
Black level -3 (restores black to zero)