This is something that keeps coming up in my workshops. It’s very important if shooting with S-Log2 or S-Log3 not to under expose and in most cases it can be highly beneficial to over expose a bit. Especially if you are using a camera like the A7s or FS5 in 4K when you only have 8 bit data.
Take a look at this chart. It plots the S-Log2 and S-Log3 gamma curves on a log scale of f-stops against the amount of 10 bit or code values used to record each stop. The center line of the chart is middle grey. Both S-log2 and S-log3 provide 8 stops below middle grey and 6 stops above. Take a look at the darkest stop, the one that is -7 to -8 and look at how much data is allocated to that stop. With 10 bit recording you have according to this chart about 10 code values for S-Log2 and about 20 for S-Log3. That’s if you have 10 bit, and it’s not a lot of data. Admittedly there isn’t going to be a great deal of scene information in that darkest stop, deep in the shadows and the noise. But there’s part of the issue, the noise. If you have under exposed and you take this in to post and have to stretch out the shadows, the noise in these darkest shadows is going to look pretty coarse because it hasn’t been recorded with many shades/steps so stretching it out will make even “rougher” for want of a better term. If you are recording with 8 bit the problems is even worse. With 8 bit, S-Log2 will only have around 2 or 3 code values for that bottom stop, in effect the noise will have two values – black or +1 stop. Imagine how nasty that will look if you need to raise or stretch you blacks because you are under exposed, it will become very blocky and grainy.
The solution is to over expose a bit. By over exposing your footage by a stop when you go in to post production you will in most cases be bringing your levels down. So instead of stretching the noise out and making it worse you will be shrinking it down and reducing the negative impact it has on it’s image. Because cameras like the FS5, A7s etc have 14 stops of dynamic range this small bit of over exposure is going to make very little difference to your highlights in the vast majority of situations. Any slight over exposure you may have will likely look quite natural anyway, after all our own eyesight does also over expose, we don’t have unlimited dynamic range. On top of that the display technology does not exist to show a 14 stop range shot in it’s entirety and with natural contrast.