Picture Profile Settings For The PXW-Z280

Sony’s new PXW-Z280 is a great compact camcorder. Having now spent even more time with one I have been looking at how to best optimise it.

It should be remembered that this is a 4K camcorder. So Sony are packing a lot of pixels onto the 3 sensors. As a result the camera does exhibit a little bit of noise at 0dB gain. No camera is noise free and we have become spoilt by the large sensor super 35mm cameras with big sensors, big pixels and very low noise levels.

Use -3dB Gain to reduce noise.

So I did a little bit of work with various settings in the camera to see if I could minimise the noise. The first thing was to test the camera at -3dB gain. On many cameras using negative gain will reduce the cameras dynamic range due to a reduction in the highlight recording range. But on the Z280 using -3dB of gain does not seem to adversely effect the dynamic range, but it does significantly reduce the noise. I found the noise reduction to be much larger than I would normally expect from a -3dB gain reduction. So my advice is – where possible use -3dB gain. The Z280 is pretty sensitive anyway, especially in HD so -3dB (which is only half a stop) is not going to cause problems for most shoots.

I fell that the cameras standard detail corrections result in some over sharpening of the image. This is particularly noticeable in HD where there is some ringing (over correction that gives a black or white overshoot) on high contrast edges. Dialling back the detail levels just a little helps produce a more natural looking image. It will appear a touch less “sharp” but in my opinion the images look a bit more natural, less processed and noise is very slightly reduced. Below are my suggested detail settings:

Z280 Detail Settings For HD.

Detail -12, Crispening -15, Frequency +18 lower.

Z280 Detail Settings For UHD(QFHD).

Detail -5, Crispening -11, Frequency +16

White Clip and Knee.

In the SDR mode the Z280 has a range of standard Rec-709 type gammas as well as Hypergammas 1 – 4. Like many modern digital camcorders, by default, all the SDR gammas except HG1 and HG2 record at up to 109%. This might cause problems for those going direct to air for broadcast TV. For direct to air applications you may need to consider changing the white clip setting. The default is 109% but for direct to air broadcast you should change this to 100%.

If working with the STD5 gamma (Rec-709) and a 100% clip point you will also want to modify the knee settings. You can either use the default auto knee or turn the auto knee off and change the knee point to 87 and slope to +25 to bring the highlights down to fit better with a 100% clip point. HG1 and HG2 are broadcast safe gammas, so these are another option for direct to air.

Hypergamma.

As well as Rec-709 gamma the camera has Sony’s Hypergammas. If using the Hypergammas it should be noted that the optimum exposure will result in a slightly darker image than you would have with normal 709. As a guide you should have skin tones around 60% and a white card would be around 75% for the best results. Exposing skin tones at 70% or brighter can result in flat looking faces with reduced texture and detail, so watch your skin tones when shooting with the Hypergammas.

The Z280 has four Hypergammas.

HG1 3250G36. This takes a brightness range the equivalent to 325% and compresses it down to 100% (clips at 100%). Middle grey would be exposed at 36% (G36). This gives a nice reasonably contrasty image with bright mid range and a moderate extension of the highlight range.

HG2 4600G30. Takes a brightness range of 460% and compresses down to 100% (clips at 100%). Middle grey is exposed at 30% (G30). This has a darker mid range than HG1 but further extends the highlights. Generally HG1 works better for less challenging scenes or darker scenes while HG2 works for high contrast, bright scenes. Both HG1 and HG2 are broadcast safe.

HG3 3259G40. This takes a brightness range the equivalent to 325% and compresses it down to 109% (clips at 109%). Middle grey would be exposed at 409% (G40). This gives a nice contrasty image with reasonably bright mid range and a moderate extension of the highlight range.

HG4 4609G33. Takes a brightness range of 460% and compresses down to 109% (clips at 109%). Middle grey is exposed at 33% (G33). This has a darker mid range than HG3 but further extends the highlights. Generally HG3 works better for less challenging scenes or darker scenes while HG4 works for high contrast, bright scenes.

Color and The Matrix.

If you don’t like the standard Sony colors and want warmer skin tones do try using the SMPTE-240M color matrix. You will find skin tones a bit warmer with more red than the 709 matrix.

To change the saturation (amount of color) you need to turn on the User Matrix and then you can use the User Matrix Level control to increase or decrease the saturation.

Many people find the standard Sony look to be a little on the yellow side. So I have come up with some settings for the user matrix that reduces the yellow and warms the image just a touch.

AC NATURAL COLOR SETTINGS:

Matrix: ON. Adaptive Matrix: Off. Preset Matrix: ON. Preset Select: ITU-709. User Matrix: ON. Level: 0. Phase: 0.

R-G: +10. R-B: +8. G-R: -15. G-B: -9. B-R: -5. B-G: -15.

So here are some suggested Z280 Picture Profile settings for different looks:

Note that these picture profile are similar to some of my FS7 profiles, so they will help match the two cameras in a multi-camera shoot. Use each of the setting below with either the HD or UHD(QFHD) detail settings given above if you wish to reduce the sharpening.

AC-Neutral-HG3.

Designed as a pleasing general purpose look for medium to high contrast scenes. Provides a neutral look with slightly less yellow than the standard Sony settings. I recommend setting zebras to 60% for skin tones or exposing a white card at 72-78% for the best results.

Black: Master Black: -3.  Gamma: HG3 .  White Clip: OFF. 

Matrix: ON. Adaptive Matrix: Off. Preset Matrix: ON. Preset Select: ITU-709. User Matrix: ON. User Matrix Level: 0. Phase: 0.

R-G: +10. R-B: +8. G-R: -15. G-B: -9. B-R: -5. B-G: -15.

AC-Neutral-HG4.

Designed as a pleasing general purpose look for high contrast scenes. Provides a neutral look with slightly less yellow than the standard Sony settings. I recommend setting zebras to 58% for skin tones or exposing a white card at 70-75% for the best results.

Black: Master Black: -3.  Gamma: HG3 .  White Clip: OFF. 

Matrix: ON. Adaptive Matrix: Off. Preset Matrix: ON. Preset Select: ITU-709. User Matrix: ON. User Matrix Level: 0. Phase: 0.

R-G: +10. R-B: +8. G-R: -15. G-B: -9. B-R: -5. B-G: -15.

AC-FILMLIKE1

A high dynamic range look with film like color. Will produce a slightly flat looking image. Colours are tuned to be more film like with a very slight warm tint. I recommend settings zebras to 57% for skin tones and recording white at 70-75% for the most “filmic” look.

Black: Master Black: -3.  Gamma: HG3 .  White Clip: OFF. 

Matrix: ON. Adaptive Matrix: Off. Preset Matrix: ON. Preset Select: SMPTE WIDE. User Matrix: ON. User Matrix Level: +5. Phase: 0.

R-G: +11. R-B: +8. G-R: -12. G-B: -9. B-R: -3. B-G: -12.

AC-VIBRANT-HG3

These setting increase dynamic range over the standard settings but also increase the colour and vibrance. Designed to be used for when a good dynamic range and strong colours are needed direct from the camera. Suggested zebra level for skin tones is 63% and white at approx 72-78%.

Black: Master Black: -3.  Gamma: HG3.  White Clip: OFF.

Matrix: ON. Adaptive Matrix: Off. Preset Matrix: ON. Preset Select: ITU-709. User Matrix: ON. User Matrix Level: +25. Phase: -5.

R-G: +12. R-B: +8. G-R: -11. G-B: -7. B-R: -5. B-G: -17.

AC-VIBRANT-HG4

These setting increase dynamic range over the standard settings but also increase the colour and vibrance. HG4 has greater dynamic range than HG3 but is less bright, so this variation is best for brighter high dynamic range scenes. Designed to be used for when a good dynamic range and strong colours are needed direct from the camera. Suggested zebra level for skin tones is 60% and white at approx 70-75%.

Black: Master Black: -3.  Gamma: HG4.  White Clip: OFF.

Matrix: ON. Adaptive Matrix: Off. Preset Matrix: ON. Preset Select: ITU-709. User Matrix: ON. User Matrix Level: +25. Phase: -5.

R-G: +12. R-B: +8. G-R: -11. G-B: -7. B-R: -5. B-G: -17.

AC-Punchy Pop Video.

A punchy, contrasty look with strong but neutral colors. Maybe useful for a music video, party or celebration.

Black: Master Black: -3.  Gamma: STD5 .  Auto Knee Off. Knee level 87. White Clip: OFF. 

Matrix: ON. Adaptive Matrix: Off. Preset Matrix: ON. Preset Select: ITU-709. User Matrix: ON. User Matrix Level: 20. Phase: 0.

R-G: +10. R-B: +8. G-R: -15. G-B: -9. B-R: -5. B-G: -15.

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13 thoughts on “Picture Profile Settings For The PXW-Z280”

  1. In AC-VIBRANT-HG4 you say use gamma HG3. Is this a typo?
    I’ve heard that with HG4 you should set zebra 2 to 93%. You say set whites to 70-75%. Are you talking about zebra 2? If so I am confused why you set it so much lower than what I have heard. I would be grateful for your opinion on Zebra 2 levels, especially with your profiles above. Many thanks.

    1. Thanks for pointing out the typo. I have corrected it now and yes it should have been HG4.

      There is, understandably, a lot of confusion over the term “white”. The white that I refer to is a 90% reflectivity white card, the standard white reference used for photography and exposure control. A piece of white paper will be a fraction brighter at about 93% reflectivity. However many people use the term white to mean the very brightest thing in the image, I would normally refer to this as the peak level or maximum brightness.

      It must be understood that exposure is not brightness. Exposure is putting the correct amount of light on to the sensor. Different gamma curves will produce different brightness levels when exposed correctly. They are not all the same and they should have different brightness levels. White is a critical exposure value because anything brighter than white must be a direct light source or specular reflection, so anything brighter than that white card or white piece of paper is normally considered a highlight.

      Below white are all the important tones, skin tones, plants, buildings etc.

      So white becomes a tipping point. Below white you keep good contrast, above white you can reduce contrast to roll of highlights. In Rec 709 white is reproduced at 90% leaving only a very small range between 90% and clipping all of a scenes highlights. This is part of the reason why 709 struggles in high contrast situations. If you want a bigger dynamic range you have to move white to a lower recording value to make space for the increased highlight range. So the Hypergammas move white down to around 70% so there is a much larger recording range available for extra highlights.

      Personally I never use Zebra 2. Zebra 2 used to be used as a way to tell when you were close to clipping. That’s why it comes on at a preset value but stays on no matter how bright the image gets. Zebra 1 operates over a narrow range of values to help you pin point a particular exposure level. With modern high dynamic range cameras it makes no sense to expose for the highlights. Who cares about the highlights? What’s important is the mid range, skin tones etc, that’s what the audience will notice if it isn’t right.

      What you do need to watch with Hypergammas, Cinegammas and most other high dynamic range curves with a big highlight roll off is that if you expose skin tones at 70% your brighter tones will end up with flat, washed out and unnatural looking. This is because with most of these curves (including HLG) white is placed around 70% and from 70% and up the image will have reduced contrast due to the highlight roll off.

      With Rec 709 Zebras at 93% makes no sense. This is brighter than white should be but still some way from clipping. Modern cameras don’t clip until they get to at least 104% if not 109%, so a value of 100% would be more appropriate as a clipping warning.

      1. Hi Alistar.

        Many thanks for your detailed reply.

        So are you saying for good exposure, in practical terms, to set Zebra 1 (not 2)to 70-75% and use a standard reference white card to be just zebrad before start shooting the scene.

  2. Thank you Alister
    I already customized those of the PXW X200 with yours.

    There with those there is something to do.

    A specific point to this Z280, the difficulty of achieving a correct Focus.
    Without exceeding the iris at f 5.6 (if not in UHD we lose the definition)

    Did you find the same thing?

    If the focus is not accurate the picture is too soft

    1. Diffraction – this is a problem with small sensors with 4K of pixels. Once the aperture closes more than f5.6 you will hit the diffraction limit. This is simply down to the laws of physics and optics. Very small pixels and small apertures don’t mix. Thats where the variable ND is a huge help.

      1. thanks for profile setting of pxw z280,
        now pl tell how to do streaming setup and di live streaming in pxw z280
        I am very proud to use my own
        sony 4k pxw z280 camera

  3. no, he said who cares about the highlights
    expose the midtones and the skin tones correctly
    check the zebra settings for those and use them as zebra 1
    so, for rec 709 zebra should be 70 for skin tones and 44 for midtones
    for hlg, 55 for skin tones and 38 for midtones
    forget about highlights, that what he said

  4. Hi Alister,

    Thanks for the in depth post on how to set up the Z280 for best color and image quality. One big question I have about this camcorder that I have noticed – On the wider angles, at brighter apertures such as f4 and brighter, there seems to be a massive amount of softness all over the image. At UHD this is very evident and in HD it is definitely there. The images are basically unusable im my opinion. Other Z280 owners have made similar comments about their lenses as well.

    Have you noticed this with your Z280? I have performed the back-focus calibration many times and have yet to see any improvement with the lens. To be clear, this is most evident when zooming in and backing out to the widest angle. On the telephoto end it is nice and sharp. The image then starts to get horribly soft 50% of the way back to the widest angle. I have also tried static wide shots and when punching in to check focus, the image looks very distorted and very soft.

    I really like this camera for my work but the wide angle needs to be sharp for me to continue using it. Is this an issue that you are aware of? Does your copy exhibit anything like I have stated above? I have contacted Sony but it seems that they are not that interested in hearing what I have to say. Any help you could provide would be greatly appreciated.

  5. Hi Alister,

    Thanks for the tip about -0.3 gain. I have the Z90 (after your excellent review) and just discovered this feature. Will test more.

    Talking about the Z90 – how does this camera compare to the Z280 and also money wise: you can buy more than 2 Z90 for the price of 1 Z280

    Would really appreciate your comment on pointing out the differences.
    Stefan

    1. The Z280 and Z90 are two very different cameras. I really like the Z90 for it’s compact size and great autofocus. It would be a camera of choice where I need a very easy to use, simple camera. The Z280 is more of a workhorse camera for news and documentary production. It needs a bit more effort to get the very best from it, but when used correctly it can produce really good images, better than the Z90. The Z280 has more audio and streaming options, a bigger zoom range, a wider range of codecs and it records at higher quality levels. But if you don’t need all that then the Z90 is a simpler and lower cost option.

  6. I just got my hands on the z280 and am working to get the best image quality for my workflow. I’ve been recording with the Sony A7sii and hope to work the z280 in as a run-and-gun camera. I’ve also noticed the softness and noise others have mentioned. I’m looking forward to trying your profiles and seeing how hard I can push this.
    Thanks!

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