Even though I have written about these many times before the message still just doesn’t seem to be getting through to people.
Since the dawn of photography and video the only way to really change the signal to noise ratio and ultimately how noisy the pictures are is by changing how much light you put onto the sensor.
Gain, gamma, log, raw, etc etc only have a minimal effect on the signal to noise ratio. Modern cameras do admittedly employ a lot of noise reduction processes to help combat high noise levels, but these come at a price. Typically they soften the image or introduce artefacts such as banding, smear or edge tearing. So you always want to start off with the best possible image from the sensor with the least possible noise and the only way to achieve that is through good exposure – putting the optimum amount of light onto the sensor.
ISO is so confusing:
But just to confuse things the use of ISO to rate an electronic cameras sensitivity has become normal. But the problem is that most people have no clue about what this really means. On an electronic camera ISO is NOT a sensitivity measurement, it is nothing more than a number that you can put into an external light meter to allow you to use that light meter to obtain settings for the shutter speed and aperture that will give you the camera manufacturers suggest optimum exposure. That’s it – and that is very different to sensitivity.
Lets take Sony’s FS7 as an example (most other cameras behave in a very similar way).
If you set the FS7 up at 0dB gain, rec-709, it will have an exposure rating of 800 ISO. Use a light meter to expose with the meters ISO dial set to 800. Lets say the light meter says set the aperture to f8. When you do this the image is correctly exposed, looks good (well as good as 709 gets at least) and for most people has a perfectly acceptable amount of noise.
Now switch the camera to S-Log2 or S-Log3. With the camera still set to 0dB the ISO rating changes to 2000 which give the impression that the camera may have become more sensitive. But did we change the sensor? No. Have we added any more gain? No, we have not, the camera is still at 0dB. But if you now expose at the recommended levels, after you have done your grading and you grade to levels similar to 709 the pictures will look quite a lot noisier than pictures shot using Rec-709.
So what’s going on?
If you now go back to the light meter to expose the very same scene, you turn the ISO dial on the light meter from 800 to 2000 ISO and the light meter will tell you to now set the aperture to f13 (approx). So starting at the f8 you had for 800 ISO, you close the aperture on the camera by 1.3 stops to f13 and you will have the “correct” exposure.
BUT: now you are putting 1.3 stops less light on to the sensor so the signal coming from the sensor is reduced by 9dB and as a result the sensor noise that is always there and never really changes is much more noticeable. As a result compared to 709 the graded S-Log looks noisy and it looks noisier by the equivalent of 9dB. This is not because you have changed the cameras sensitivity or changed because you have changed the amount of camera gain but because compared to when you shoot in 709 the sensor is being under exposed and as a result it is outputting a signal 9dB lower. So in post production when you grade or add a LUT you have to add 9dB of gain to get the same brightness as the original direct rec-709 recording and as well as making the desirable image brighter it also makes the noise 9dB higher (unless you do some very fancy noise reduction work in post).
So what do you do?
It’s common simply to open the aperture back up again, typically by 1.5 stops so that after post production grading the S-log looks no more noisy than the 709 from the FS7 – Because in reality the FS7’s sensor works best for most people when rated at the equivalent of 800 ISO rather than 2000 – probably because it’s real sensitivity is 800 ISO.
When you think about it, when you shoot with Rec-709 or some other gamma that won’t be graded it’s important that it looks good right out of the camera. So the camera manufacturer will ensure that the rec-709 noise and grain v sensitivity settings are optimum – so this is probably the optimum ISO rating for the camera in terms of noise, grain and sensitivity.
So don’t be fooled into thinking that the FS7 is more sensitive when shooting with log, because it isn’t. The only reason the ISO rating goes up as it does is so that if you were using a light meter it would make you put less light onto the sensor which then allows the sensor to handle a brighter highlight range. But of course if you put less light onto the sensor the sensor won’t be able to see so far into the shadows and the picture may be noisy which limits still further the use of any shadow information. So it’s a trade-off, more highlights but less shadows and more noise. But the sensitivity is actually the same. Its’s an exposure change not a sensitivity change.
So then we get into the S-Log2 or S-Log3 debate.
First of all lets just be absolutely clear that both have exactly the same highlight and shadow ranges. Both go to +6 stops and -8 stops, there is no difference in that regard. Period.
And lets also be very clear that both have exactly the same signal to noise ratios. S-log3 is NOT noisier than S-log2. S-log 3 records some of the mid range using higher code values than S-Log2 and before you grade it that can sometimes make it appear like it’s noisier, but the reality is, it is not noisier. Just like the differing ISO ratings for different gamma curves, this isn’t a sensitivity change, it’s just different code values being used. See this article if you want the hard proof: http://www.xdcam-user.com/2014/03/understanding-sonys-slog3-it-isnt-really-noisy/
Don’t forget when you shoot with log you will be grading the image. So you will be adjusting the brightness of the image. If you grade S-Log2 and S-Log3 to the same brightness levels the cumulative gain (the gain added in camera and the gain added in post) ends up the same. So it doesn’t matter which you use in low light the final image, assuming a like for like grade will have the same amount of noise.
For 8 bit records S-Log2 has different benefits.
S-Log2 was designed from the outset for recording 14 stops with an electronic video camera. So it makes use of the cameras full recording range. S-Log3 is based on an old film log curve (cineon) designed to transfer 16 stops or more to a digital intermediate. So when the camera only has a 14 stop sensor you waste a large part of the available recording range. On a 10 bit camera this doesn’t make much difference. But on a 8 bit camera where you are already very limited with the number of tonal values you can record it isn’t ideal and as a result S-Log2 is often a better choice.
But if I shoot raw it’s all going to be so much better – isn’t it?
Yes, no, maybe…. For a start there are lot’s of different types of raw. There is linear raw, log raw, 10 bit log raw, 12 bit linear, 16 bit linear and they are all quite different.
But they are all limited by what the sensor can see and how noisy the sensor is. So raw won’t give you less noise (it might give different looking noise). Raw won’t give you a bigger dynamic range so it won’t allow you to capture deeper or brighter highlights.
But what raw does normally is to give you more data and normally less compression than the cameras internal recordings. In the case of Sony’s FS5 the internal UHD recordings are 8 bit and highly compressed while the raw output is 12 bit, that’s a 4 fold increase in the amount of tonal values. You can record the 12bit raw using uncompressed cDNG or Apples new ProResRaw codec which doesn’t introduce any appreciable compression artefacts and as a result the footage is much more flexible in post production. Go up to the Sony Venice, F5 or F55 cameras and you have 16 bit raw and X-OCN (which behaves exactly like raw) which has an absolutely incredible range of tonal values and is a real pleasure to work with in post production. But even with the Venice camera the raw does not have more dynamic range than the log. However because there are far more tonal values in the raw and X-OCN you can do more with it and it will hold up much better to aggressive grading.
It’s all about how you expose.
At the end of the day with all of these camera and formats how you expose is the limiting factor. A badly exposed Sony Venice probably won’t end up looking anywhere near as good as a well exposed FS7. A badly exposed FS7 won’t look as good as a well exposed FS5. No camera looks good when it isn’t exposed well.
Exposure isn’t brightness. You can add gain to make a picture brighter, you can also change the gamma curve to change how bright it is. But these are not exposure changes. Exposure is all about putting the optimum amount of light onto the sensor. Enough light to produce a signal from the sensor that will overcome the sensors noise. But also not so much light that the sensor overloads. That’s what good exposure is. Fiddling around with gamma curves and gain settings will only every make a relatively small difference to noise levels compared to good exposure. There’s just no substitute for faster lenses, reflectors or actually adding light if you want clean images.
And don’t be fooled by ISO ratings. They don’t tell you how noisy the picture is going to be, they don’t tell you what the sensitivity is or even if it’s actually changing. All it tells you is what to set a light meter to.
In February 2019 I am running 2 Aurora hunting trips to the north of Norway. One of these has just sold out so that means that places are now only available on the first tour.
These are very different to the normal Aurora hunting trips to a big city. We start in the town of Alta in Northern Norway, staying in a nice hotel close to the amazing looking Northern Lights Cathedral. From there we travel inland to the capital town of the Sami people – Karasjok.
As we get near to Karasjok we exchange our mini-bus for snow scooters and sleighs and journey way off the beaten track, up above the tree line and across frozen lakes to a small lodge used by cross country skiers and dog sled teams. This group of cabins becomes our base to explore the Finnmarksvidda for 4 days as well as being a near perfect location for watching, photographing and filming the Northern Lights.
It is stunningly beautiful around the cabins, it’s also amazingly peaceful and quiet. We are looked after by a couple of Sami people who cook meals for us, take us ice fishing and help us explore this spectacular and unspoilt winter wilderness.
If you want to know more please take a look at the main page for the tours: http://www.xdcam-user.com/northern-lights-expeditions-to-norway/
There are a lot of videos circulating on the web right now showing what appears to be some kind of magic trick where someone has shot over exposed, recorded the over exposed images using ProRes Raw and then as if by magic made some adjustments to the footage and it goes from being almost nothing but a white out of over exposure to a perfectly exposed image.
This isn’t magic, this isn’t raw suddenly giving you more over exposure range than you have with log, this is nothing more than a quirk of the way FCP-X handles ProRes Raw material.
Before going any further – this isn’t a put-down of raw or ProRes raw. It’s really great to be able to take raw sensor data and record that with only minimal processing. There are a lot of benefits to shooting with raw (see my earlier post showing all the extra data that 12 bit raw can give). But a magic ability to let you over expose by seemingly crazy amounts isn’t something raw does any better than log.
Currently to work with ProRes Raw you have to go through FCP-X. FCP-X applies a default sequence of transforms to the Raw footage to get it from raw data to a viewable image. These all expect the footage to be exposed exactly as per the camera manufacturers recommendations, with no leeway. Inside FCP-X it’s either exposed exactly right, or it isn’t.
The default decode settings include a heavy highlight roll-off. Apple call it “Tone Mapping”. Fancy words used to make it sound special but it’s really no different to a LUT or the transforms and processes that take place in other raw decoders. Like a LUT it maps very specific values in the raw data to very specific output brightness values. So if you shoot just a bit bright – as you would often do with log to improve the signal to noise ratio – The ProRes raw appears to be heavily over exposed. This is because anything bright ends up crushed into nothing but flat white by the default highlight roll off that is applied by default.
In reality the material is probably only marginally over exposed, maybe just one to 2 stops which is something we have become used to doing with log. When you view brightly exposed log, the log itself doesn’t look over exposed, but if you apply a narrow high contrast 709 LUT to it, it then the footage looks over exposed until you grade it or add an exposure compensated LUT. This is what is happening by default inside FCP-X, a transform is being applied that makes brightly exposed footage look very bright and possibly over exposed – because thats the way it was shot!
This is why in FCP-X it is typical to change the color library to WCG (Wide Color Gamut) as this changes the way FCP-X processes the raw, changing the Tone Mapping and most importantly getting rid of the highlight roll off. With no roll-off, highlights and any even slight over exposure will still blow out as you can’t show 14 stops on a conventional 6 stop TV or monitor. Anything beyond the first 6 stops will be lost, the image will look over exposed until you grade or adjust the material to control the brighter parts of the image and bring them back into a viewable range. When you are in WCG mode in FCP-X the there is no longer a highlight roll off crushing the highlights and now because they are not crushed they can be recovered, but there isn’t any more highlight range than you would have if you shot with log on the same camera!
None of this is some kind of Raw over exposure magic trick as is often portrayed. It’s simply not really understanding how the workflow works and appreciating that if you shoot bright – well it’s going to look bright – until you normalise it in post. We do this all the time with log via LUT’s and grading too! It can be a little more straight forward to recover highlights from Linear Raw footage as comes form an FS5 or FS7 compared to log. That’s because of the way log maintains a constant data level in each highlight stop and often normal grading and colour correction tools don’t deal with this correctly. The highlight range is there, but it can be tricky to normalise the log without log grading tools such as the log controls in DaVinci Resolve.
Another problem is the common use of LUT’s on log footage. The vast majority of LUT’s add a highlight roll off, if you try to grade the highlights after adding a LUT with a highlight roll off it’s going to be next to impossible to recover the highlights. You must do the highlight recovery before the LUT is added or use a LUT that has compensation for any over exposure. All of these things can give the impression that log has less highlight range than the raw from the same camera. This is not normally the case, both will be the same as it’s the sensor that limits the range.
The difference in the highlight behaviour is in the workflows and very often both log and raw workflows are miss-understood. This can lead to owners and users of these cameras thinking that one process has more than the other, when in reality there is no difference, it’s appears to be different because the workflow works in a different way.
This is a much discussed topic right now, so as I promised in my last article about this, I have put together a video. Unfortunately YouTube’s compression masks many of the differences between the UHD XAVC and the ProRes Raw, but you can still see them, especially on the waveform scopes.
To really appreciate the difference you should watch the video on a large screen at at high quality, preferably 4K.
This is a part of a much larger project I have been working on recently for Philips. The Philips “Extreme Earth” project. The idea being to show of some of the latest technologies in their HDR Ambilight TV’s.
Last year we started the project up in Norway filming the Northern Lights. This year we travelled to Nevada and Arizona to shoot the second set of films under the “Canyon” headline, then we spent another couple of weeks travelling all over the Midwest shooting what will be the 3rd set of films under the headline “Storm”. We are now looking ahead to next year with several ideas being looked at from Volcanoes to Rain Forests.
For the Norway and Canyon shoots competitions were run ahead of the shoots in various consumer technology magazines . The winners getting to come on our adventures, stay in nice hotels and take part in various activities such has horse riding.
The main Canyon film was shot by myself on a Sony Venice using Sigma FF Primes as well as an Angenieux EZ zoom. The 1000fps Super Slow motion by Dustin Farrell on a Phantom Flex. I shot some additional 4K 120fps footage on an FS5 on a gimbal recording ProRes raw to a Shogun (horse riding and some tracking shots). The interviews and behind the scenes footage was shot by the projects director Leigh Emmerson of Persistence of Vision Productions (POV) using an A7sII, but there is a fair bit of FS5 (ProRes Raw) footage that I shot in there too.
The main film was produced at 60fps in HDR (I did the grade and encoding) and will be shown at the IFA trade show next month. The other films are all SDR.
Here is the HDR main video. To view this correctly ensure your HDR TV or HDR monitor is set to HDR10 (ST2084 gamma with Rec2020 colour).
Here is the “Making Off” video.
Here’s a video of the Canyon launch event:
I released my first version of the Venice Look LUT’s a few weeks ago and they have been a big hit. Overall most people seem to like them and get some great results. I’ve seen quite a few good looking videos produced using them.
I have received some feedback though that some people feel that the LUT’s may be crushing the blacks a bit too much for them, personally I think the deep shadows gives quite a film like look. However in response to that feedback I created an additional LUT set that keeps the blacks slightly higher. This can make grading a little easier, especially in FCP-X. You will find these new version 3 LUT’s here in the packages below – but please read on…..
While I was at it I also created another set of LUTs with a minus green offset. The idea behind these was that they can be used for material shot under lights with a green tint such as many LED or fluorescent light fixtures. Playing with these “-G1” LUT’s I have decided that I really like the slightly warmer and even less “Sony” look that these versions of the LUT’s give when shooting under “normal” lighting. So do please give them a try for a warmer look for skin tones both with LED/Fluorescent lighting and also with full spectrum lighting such as tungsten and sunlight.
Taking that a step further I have also included an even stronger minus green offset in a further -G2 set of LUT’s. So between the 3 sets of LUT’s offered in this download you should be able to find a set for most types of lighting with a variety of skin tone renditions.
Included in the LUT sets are LUTs for grading (with exposure offsets), LUT’s for Small HD monitors and the Zacuto Gratical. The grading LUT’s can also be used in other monitors and devices such as the Atomos recorder/monitors.
As always (to date at least) I offer these as a free download available by clicking on the links below. However a lot of work goes into creating and hosting these. I feel that this LUT set is worth $25.00 and would really appreciate that being paid if you find the LUT’s useful. But I will let you pay what you feel is fair, all contributions are greatly appreciated and it really does help keep this website up and running. If you can’t afford to pay, then just download the LUT’s and enjoy using them. If in the future you should choose to use them on a paying project, please remember where you got them and come back and make a contribution. More contributions means more LUT offerings in the future. I’m currently working on a couple of different film stock emulations based combined with the Venice look highlight rendition.
Please feel free to share a link to this page if you wish to share these LUT’s with anyone else or anywhere else.
To make a contribution please use the drop down menu here, there are several contribution levels to choose from.
There are two different LUT sets. One set is for S-Log3 and S-Gamut3.cine. The other set is for S-Log2 and SGamut. Please only download what you need to save my bandwidth!
Typically if you are shooting with 8 bit, for example with an FS5 in UHD or an A7S, A7R etc, then I recommend you use S-Log2 with SGamut. For most other cameras that have 10 bit recording then I recommend S-Log3 and SGamut3.cine.
Here are the links to my Venice Look Version 3 LUT’s. Including the minus green offset LUTs. Make sure you choose the right version and once you have downloaded them please read the README file included within the package.
I got a request for a set of Rec-709 Venice Look LUT’s – So here they are. I’m not expecting miracles from these, you will be starting with a much reduced dynamic range by shooting with Rec-709, but try them if you wish. I make no promises as to how well they will or will not work!
Here’s another of my “I need one of these” products. The standard Sony mic mount isn’t the greatest thing in the world. It’s a little limited as to the range of microphones it can hold and over time they become floppy and loose. What I wanted was a lightweight, sturdy, simple to use mic mount that would fit easily on to the camera without taking up either of the shoe mounts. So I designed one for myself. A few years ago I did a mic mount for the PMW-F5 and PMW-F55 that turned out to be be pretty popular and this mount shares some of that DNA. It’s made out of plastic and uses either rubber bands or O-Rings to give really good vibration and handling isolation.
It mounts where the stock mount attaches using the two screws used to secure the original mount. There are two different mounting positions so you can adjust how far from the carry handle the microphone sits.
If you want one for yourself you can order one from my Shapeways store in a variety of colours. I also have a similar generic mic mount that fits many of the Sony camcorder lineup.
To buy one check out my Shapeways store: https://www.shapeways.com/shops/alisterchapman
This just keeps coming up over and over. Almost all log gamma curves and the majority of raw recording formats don’t have a highlight roll-off. Any roll off that you might see is probably in the LUT’s that you are using.
The whole point of log and raw is to capture as much information about the scene that you are shooing as you can. Log normally achieves this by recording every stop above middle grey with a constant amount of data, so even the very brightest stop has the same amount of recording data as the ones below it – there is no roll off.
In conventional limited range recordings such as Rec-709, hypergamma, cinegamma etc, highlight roll-offs work by reducing the contrast in the highlights to make the amount of data needed to record the very brightest stops much smaller than used for the rest of the image. This allows 2 or 3 stops to be squeezed into a very small recording range, keeping most of the recording data available for a nice bright high contrast image. The reduction in contrast in the extreme highlights helps hide any highlight handling problems and makes it appear as though the sensors clipping point is reach in a more pleasing soft manner.
But you don’t want this in a log or raw recording as it makes grading much harder as the footage will contain different contrast ranges, each needing it’s own grading adjustments. Also by reducing contrast in the highlights you are reducing the data. It would be very difficult to un-pick a highlight roll off and if you did want to expand the data back out you will get issues such as banding.
S-Log2 and S-Log3 like almost all log gammas have no highlight roll-off. The only roll off is from middle grey and down. So if you underexpose you will start to roll away the data in your scenes mid range and that’s not good. Expose for the mid range, this is the most important part of any image. If your highlights are a bit clipped don’t worry about this too much. In post production you can add a roll off in the grade that will make any clipped highlights roll away gently. Adding a bit of highlight diffusion in post will also nicely mask any clipped highlights and make them look natural.
Here are some updated pictures of the screen protector for the FS5 that I sell via Shapeways. It’s not an exciting product, it’s just a clip on plastic cover that protects the LCD panel from damage when you are not using the camera. I travel a lot with my camera and the unprotected LCD screen is very vulnerable and could easily get scratched or worse still smashed. Arriving for a shoot and finding the FS5’s LCD screen smashed would be a disaster!
If you want one for yourself you can order them through my Shapeways store: https://www.shapeways.com/shops/alisterchapman