Revealing Signal to Noise and Exposure experiment for PMW-F5, F55 and FS7.

Here’s a little experiment for you to try if you have a PMW-F5, PMW-F55 or PMW-FS7. It should help you understand a few key things about the way these cameras behave, notably:

1: Why ISO does not actually reflect the sensitivity of the camera.

2: Why it is beneficial to expose S-Log2 or S-Log3 brighter than the Sony recommended levels.

3: How to get the best possible S-Log footage.

4: Why S-log may be a poor choice for low light.

Ideally you will want to use an external waveform monitor connected to the cameras SDI output, but it is possible to use the built in waveform display.

Start with the camera in Custom mode. Choose “STD” gamma and Rec-709. Set the gain/ISO settings so that the camera is showing ISO.

Set the ISO to the base ISO (800 ISO on F5/FS7, 500 ISO on F55).

Expose a 90% white card so that white is 90% on the waveform display. This doesn’t need to be 100% accurate, you can use a piece of paper if you don’t have a proper white card. Don’t change the ISO/Gain, light the white card if you need to. Make a note of the aperture.

Now change the gamma selection to S-Log2, do not change the exposure.

Note how white now drops down to about 70% and also note that the ISO becomes 2000 ISO on an F5 or FS7 and 1250 ISO on an F55.

Think about this for a moment: If the ISO has gone up, how can white and the bulk of my image become darker?

Now switch the camera to show dB gain instead of ISO, the gain should be showing 0dB. Repeat the above switching from Standard 709 gamma to S-Log2 and note that the gain remains at 0dB for both rec-709 and S-Log2.

Think about this: The gain is the same for both 709 and S-log2 but the S-Log2 image is darker. As the gain is NOT changing then the sensitivity is not actually changing, so why does the ISO change?

If you were to use a light meter and start off with the light meter set to 800 (500) ISO the light meter would tell you to set the aperture to whatever it is you currently have to give the correct exposure in rec-709 with white at 90%.  If you had a light meter and you change the ISO setting on the light meter from 800(500)ISO to 2000(1250) ISO the light meter will tell you to close the aperture by 1.3 stops.

So, on your camera, while it is set to S-Log2 close the aperture from it’s original setting by 1.3 stops. Now you will find that white will be at the recording levels given by Sony for S-Log2 which is 59% for white and 32% for middle grey.

So what have we learnt from this? The gain is the same for both standard gamma and S-Log2, even though the ISO changes from 800(500) to 2000(1250) ISO. So the sensitivity and amount of noise coming from the sensor is the same in both cases. But the indicated ISO changes so that if you are using an external light meter, when you switch to S-Log the higher indicated ISO  will make the light meter tell you to close the aperture. This means there is less light falling on the sensor. This means that the recorded image will have a worse signal to noise ratio (noise remains the same, but signal is smaller).

To solution of course to this poorer signal to noise ratio is simply to open the aperture back up again by 1.3 stops. When shooting S-Log2 or S-Log3 using the CineEI mode I always recommend using 800EI on an F5 or FS7 or 640EI on an F55. This means your aperture becomes the same as it would be when shooting in vanilla Rec-709, the end result is the same, improved, signal to noise ratio. If you are not using CineEI or LUT’s, then expose white at 70%.

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