Category Archives: cameras

Exposing and Using S-Log2 on the Sony A7s (or any other Alpha camera). Part One: Gamma and Exposure.

This document has been prepared independently of Sony. It is based on my own findings having used the camera and tested various exposure levels and methods. Part 2 which explains how to use LUT’s to correct the footage in the edit suite or post production is here: http://www.xdcam-user.com/2014/10/using-s-log2-from-the-a7s-in-post-production/

If you find this useful please consider buying me a coffee or a beer. I’m not paid to write these articles.


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pixel Exposing and Using S-Log2 on the Sony A7s (or any other Alpha camera). Part One: Gamma and Exposure.

One of the really nice features of the Sony A7s and Sony’s other Alpha cameras, including the A6300, A6500 etc is the ability to use different gamma curves and in particular the Sony S-Log2 gamma curve.

What are gamma curves?

All conventional cameras use gamma curves. The gamma curve is there to make the images captured easier to manage by making the file size smaller than it would be without a gamma curve. When TV was first developed the gamma curve in the camera made the signal small enough to be broadcast by a transmitter and then the gamma curve in the TV set (which is the inverse of the one in the camera) expanded the signal back to a normal viewing range. The current standard for broadcast TV is called “Recommendation BT-709”, often shortened to Rec-709. This gamma curve is based on standards developed over 60 years ago and camera technology has advanced a lot since then! Even so, almost every TV and monitor made today is made to the Rec-709 standard or something very similar. Many modern cameras can capture a brightness range, also known as dynamic range, that far exceed the Rec-709 standard.

The limitations of standard gammas.

As gamma effects the dark to light range of the image, it also effects the contrast of the image. Normal television gamma has a limited dynamic range (about 6 to 7 stops) and as a result also has a limited contrast range.

Normal-Gamma Exposing and Using S-Log2 on the Sony A7s (or any other Alpha camera). Part One: Gamma and Exposure.
When shooting a high contrast scene with conventional gamma the brightest highlights and the darkest shadows cannot be recorded. The contrast on the TV or monitor will however be correct as the camera captures the same contrast range as the monitor is able to display.

Normally the gamma curve used in the camera is designed to match the gamma curve used by the TV or monitor. This way the contrast range of the camera and the contrast range of the display will be matched. So the contrast on the TV screen will match the contrast of the scene being filmed and the picture will look “normal”. However the limited dynamic range may mean that very bright or very dark objects cannot be accurately reproduced as these may exceed the gammas dynamic range.

Slide5 Exposing and Using S-Log2 on the Sony A7s (or any other Alpha camera). Part One: Gamma and Exposure.
Although the dynamic range of Rec-709 may not always capture the entire range of the scene being shot, as the gamma of the camera matches the gamma of the TV the contrast will appear correct.

The over exposure typical of a restricted range gamma such as Rec-709  is commonly seen as bright clouds in the sky becoming white over exposed blobs or bright areas on faces becoming areas of flat white. Objects in shade or shadow areas of the scene are simply too dark to be seen. But between the overexposed areas and any under exposure the contrast looks natural and true to life.

Slog-709-FH Exposing and Using S-Log2 on the Sony A7s (or any other Alpha camera). Part One: Gamma and Exposure.
Typical limited Rec-709 exposure range. Contrast is good but the clouds are over exposed and look un-natural.

Log Gamma.

Log gamma, such as Sony’s S-Log2, allows the camera to capture a much greater brightness range or dynamic range than is possible when shooting with conventional television gamma. Dynamic range is the range from light to dark that the camera can capture or the range that the monitor or TV can display within one image. It is the range from the deepest blacks to the brightest whites that can be captured or shown at the same time.

There are some things that need to be considered before you get too excited about the possibility of capturing this much greater dynamic range. The primary one being that if the camera is set to S-log2 and the TV or monitor is a normal Rec-709 TV (as most are) then there is no way the TV can correctly display the image being captured, the TV just doesn’t have the range to show everything that the camera with it’s high range log gamma can capture accurately.

Fixed Recording Range For Both Standard and Log Gamma.

The signal range and signal levels used to record a video signal are normally described in percent. Where black is 0% and the brightest thing that can be recorded is normally recorded at 100% to 109%. Most modern video cameras actually record the brightest objects at 109%. The important thing to remember though is that the recording range is fixed. Even when you change gamma curve the camera is still constrained by the zero to 109% recording range. The recording range does not change whether you are recording Rec-709 or S-log2. So log gamma’s like S-Log2 must squeeze a much bigger signal range into the same recording range as used by conventional Rec-709 recordings.

Slide6 Exposing and Using S-Log2 on the Sony A7s (or any other Alpha camera). Part One: Gamma and Exposure.
Log gamma squeezes the scenes large range to fit in the camera’s normal 0%-109% recording range.

Recording S-Log2.

In order to record using S-log2 with the A7s you need to use a picture profile. The picture profiles give you several recording gamma options. For S-log2 you should use Picture Profile 7 which is already set up for S-log2 and S-Gamut by default (for information on gamuts see this article). In addition you should ALWAYS use the cameras native ISO which is 3200 ISO and it is normally preferable to use a preset white balance. Using any other ISO with S-log2 will not allow you to get the full benefit of the full 14 stops of dynamic range that S-log2 can deliver. In most of the Alpha cameras you now also have the ability to use a different version of S-log, – S-Log3 and this is found in picture profiles 8 and 9. You can use S-Log3 if you wish, but S-Log2 was designed from the outset by Sony to work with digital camera sensors. S-Log3 is based on an older curve designed for film transfers to a 10 bit recording. As a result when using a camera that only has 8 bit recording with a limited number of code values, S-Log2 tends to be more efficient and yield a better end result. This is what it was designed for.

Grey Cards and White Cards.

Before I go further let me introduce you to grey and white cards in case you have not come across them before. Don’t panic you don’t have to own one, although I would recommend getting a grey card such as the Lastolite EzyBalance if you don’t have one. But it is useful to understand what they are.

The 90% White Card.

The 90% white card is a card or chart that reflects 90% of the light falling on it. This will be a card that looks very similar in brightness to a piece of ordinary white paper, it should be pure white, some printer papers are bleached or coloured very slightly blue to make them appear “brilliant white”  (as you will see later in many cases it is possible to use an ordinary piece of white paper in place of a 90% white card for exposure).

The Grey Card.

The 18% grey card, also often called “middle grey” card, is a card that reflects 18% of the light falling on it. Obviously it will appear much darker than the white card. Visually to us humans an 18% grey card appears to be half way between white and black, hence it’s other name, “middle grey”.

Middle grey is important because the average brightness level of most typical scenes tends to be around the middle grey brightness value. Another key thing about middle grey is that because it falls in the middle of our exposure range it makes it a very handy reference level when measuring exposure as it is less likely to be effected by highlight compression than a 90% white card.

Exposing White and Middle Grey.

Coming back to Rec-709 and conventional TV’s and monitors. If we want a piece of white paper to look bright and white on a TV we would record it and then show it at somewhere around 85% to 95% of the screens full brightness range. This doesn’t leave much room for things brighter than a white piece of paper! Things like clouds in the sky, a shiny car, a bright window or a direct light source such as a lamp or other light.  In order to make it possible for S-log2 to record a much greater dynamic range the recording level for white and mid tones is shifted down. Instead of recording white at 85%-95%, when using S-log2 or S-Log3 it is recommended by Sony that white is recorded at around 60%. For S-Log2 Middle grey moves down too, instead of being recorded at 42%-43% (the normal level for Rec-709) it’s recorded at just 32% with S-Log2 (S-log3 uses 41%).

By recording everything white (ie a white piece of paper) and darker in a  lower range, we free up  lot of extra space above the white recording level, within the full recording range, to record all those bright highlights in any scene that would be impossible to record with conventional gammas where there is only 10% to 20% from white at 90% to the peak of the recording range at 100 to 109%.

Slide7 Exposing and Using S-Log2 on the Sony A7s (or any other Alpha camera). Part One: Gamma and Exposure.
To make room for the extra dynamic range and the ability to record very bright objects, white and mid tones are shifted down in level by the S-log2 gamma curve. As a result, white, mid tones etc will be displayed darker than normally expected with conventional gamma.

As S-Log2 and S-Log3 normally shift a lot of the recording levels downwards, if we show a scene shot with S-Log2 or S-log3 that has been exposed correctly on a conventional TV or monitor it will look dark due to the lower recording levels. In addition it will look flat with very low contrast as we are now squeezing a much bigger dynamic range into the limited conventional Rec-709 display range of a normal TV or computer monitor.

Slide8 Exposing and Using S-Log2 on the Sony A7s (or any other Alpha camera). Part One: Gamma and Exposure.
The on screen contrast appears reduced as the capture contrast is greater than the display contrast.

This on screen reduction in contrast and the darker levels are actually perfectly normal when shooting using log gamma, this is how it is supposed to look on a normal monitor or TV. So don’t be alarmed if when shooting using S-Log your images look a little darker and flatter than perhaps you are used to when shooting with a standard gamma. You will adjust the S-Log footage in post production to restore the brightness and contrast later.

S-log2-correct-FH-1024x576 Exposing and Using S-Log2 on the Sony A7s (or any other Alpha camera). Part One: Gamma and Exposure.
Correctly exposed S-Log2 can look dark and washed out.

The post production adjustment of S-Log2 and S-log3 is very important and one of the keys to getting the very best finished images. The S-Log recording acts as a digital negative and by “processing” this digital negative in post production (normally referred to as “grading”) we manipulate the large 14 stop dynamic range of the captured image to fit within the limited display range of a Rec-709 TV in a pleasing manner. This may mean pulling up the mid range a bit, pulling down the highlights and bit and generally shifting the brightness and colour levels of different parts of the image around  (see PART 2 for more post production information).

SLog-2 and 10 bit or 8 bit data.

Originally Slog-2 was designed for use on high end digital cinema cameras such as Sony’s F65 camera. These cameras have the ability to record using 10 bit data. A 10 bit recording can have up to around 1000 shades of grey from black to white. The A7s however uses 8 bit recording which only has a maximum of 235 shades from black to white. Normally 8 bit recording is perfectly OK as most transmission and display standards are also 8 bit. Shoot with an 8 bit camera and then display that image directly via an 8 bit system and nothing is lost. However when you start to grade and manipulate the image the difference between 8 bit and 10 bit becomes more significant. If you start to shift levels around, perhaps stretching out some parts of the image then the increased tonal resolution of a 10 bit recording helps maintain the very highest image quality. Photographers that have shot using both jpeg and raw will know how much more flexibility the 12 bit (or more) raw files have compared to the 8 bit jpeg’s. However they will also know that 8 bit jpeg’s can be also adjusted, provided you don’t need to make very large adjustments.

Contrary to popular belief heavy grading of 8 bit footage does not necessarily lead to banding in footage across smooth surfaces except in extreme cases. Banding is more commonly a result of compression artefacts such as macro blocking. This is especially common with very highly compressed codecs such as AVCHD. The 50Mbps XAVC-S codec used in the Sony Alpha cameras is a very good codec, far superior to AVCHD and as a result compression artefacts are significantly reduced, so banding will be less of an issue than with other lower quality codecs. If you’re going to shoot using S-Log2, some grading will be necessary and as we only have 8 bit recordings we must take care to expose our material in such a way as to minimise how far we will need to push and pull the material.

Getting Your Exposure Right.

When S-Log2 was developed the engineers at Sony produced tables that specified the correct exposure levels for s-Log2 which are:

exposure-table1 Exposing and Using S-Log2 on the Sony A7s (or any other Alpha camera). Part One: Gamma and Exposure.As you can see the nominal “correct” exposure for S-Log2 is a lot lower than the levels used for display on a typical Rec-709 TV or monitor. This is why correctly exposed s-log2 looks dark on a conventional TV. The implication of this is that when you grade your footage in post production you will have to shift the S-log2 levels up quite a long way. This may not be ideal with an 8 bit codec, so I decided to carefully test this to determine the optimum exposure level for the A7s.

Correct Exposure.

The panel of images below is from the A7s recording S-log2 and exposed at the Sony recommended “correct” 32% middle grey level. The correct exposure was determined using a grey card and an external waveform monitor connected to the cameras HDMI output. Then the S-log2 was corrected in post production to normal Rec-709 levels using a Look Up Table (LUT – more on LUT’s in part 2). You can also see the viewfinder display from the camera. If you click on the image below you can expand it to full size. Sorry about the shadow from the laundry line, I didn’t see this when I was shooting the test shots!

Slog2-correct-exposure-panel-1024x564 Exposing and Using S-Log2 on the Sony A7s (or any other Alpha camera). Part One: Gamma and Exposure.
Correctly exposed S-Log2 from A7s.

From this you can see just how dark and low contrast looking the original correctly exposed S-log2 is and how much more vibrant the corrected Rec-709 image is. I have also indicated where on the cameras histogram middle grey and white are. Note how much space there is to the right of white on the histogram. This is where the extra highlight or over exposure range of S-log2 can be recorded. When correctly exposed S-log2 has an exposure range of 6 stops above middle grey and 8 stops under.

Over Exposing or “Pushing” S-log2.

If we deliberately raise the exposure level above the Sony recommended levels (known as pushing the exposure), assuming you grade the image to the same final levels some interesting things happen.

For each stop we raise the exposure level you will have 1 stop (which is the same as 6db) less noise. So the final images will have half as much noise for each stop up you go. This is a result of exposing the image brighter and as a result not needing to raise the levels in post as far as you would if exposed at the normal level.

You will loose one stop of over exposure headroom, but gain one stop of under exposure headroom.

Bright highlights will be moved upwards into the most compressed part of the log gamma curve. This can result in a loss of texture in highlights.

Skin tones and mid tones move closer to normal Rec-709 levels, so less manipulation is need for this part of the image in post production.

This last point is important for the A7s with it’s 8 bit codec, so this is the area I looked at most closely. What happens to skin tones and textures when we raise the exposure?

Exposing at +1, +2 and +3 Stops.

Below are another 3 panels from the A7s, shot at +1 stop, +2 stops and +3 stops. Again you can click on the images if you wish to view them full size.

Slog2-plus1-exposure-panel-1024x564 Exposing and Using S-Log2 on the Sony A7s (or any other Alpha camera). Part One: Gamma and Exposure.
A7s S-Log2 over exposed by one stop.
Slog2-plus2-exposure-panel-1024x564 Exposing and Using S-Log2 on the Sony A7s (or any other Alpha camera). Part One: Gamma and Exposure.
A7s S-Log2 over exposed by 2 stops.
Slog2-plus3-exposure-panel-1024x564 Exposing and Using S-Log2 on the Sony A7s (or any other Alpha camera). Part One: Gamma and Exposure.
A7s S-Log2 over exposed by 3 stops.

Looking at these results closely you can see that when you increase the exposure by 1 stop over the Sony specified correct level for S-log2 there is a very useful reduction in noise, not that the A7s is particularly noisy to start with, but you do get a noticeably cleaner image.

Below are 4 crops from the same images, after grading. I really recommend you view these images full size on a good quality monitor. Click on the image to view larger or full size.

A7s-over-exposure Exposing and Using S-Log2 on the Sony A7s (or any other Alpha camera). Part One: Gamma and Exposure.
Crops at different exposure of LUT corrected A7s S-log2 footage.

The noise reduction at higher exposures compared to the base exposure is very clear to see if you look at the black edge of the colour checker chart (the coloured squares), although the difference between +2 and +3 stops is very small. You can also see further into the shadows in the +3 stop image compared to the base exposure. A more subtle but important effect is that as the exposure goes up the visible texture of the wooden clothes peg decreases. The grain can be clearly seen at the base level but by +3 stops it has vanished. This is caused by the highlights creeping into the more compressed part of the log gamma curve. The same thing is happening to the skin tones in the +3 stop image, there is some reduction of the most subtle textures.

From this we can see that for mid tones and skin tones you can afford to expose between 1 and 2 stops above the Sony recommended base level. More than 2 stops over and brighter skin tones and any other brighter textures start to be lost. The noise reduction gain by shooting between one and 2 stops over is certainly beneficial. The down side to this though is that we are reducing the over amount of exposure headroom.

Slide02 Exposing and Using S-Log2 on the Sony A7s (or any other Alpha camera). Part One: Gamma and Exposure.
As you raise the exposure level you reduce the over exposure headroom.

Given everything I have seen with this 8 bit and almost every other 8 bit camera my recommendation is to shoot between the Sony recommended base S-log2 level and up to two stops over this level. I would try to avoid shooting more than 2 stops over as this is where you will start to see some loss of texture in brighter skin tones and brighter textures.  Exactly where you set your exposure will depend on the highlights in the scene. If you are shooting a very bright scene you will possibly need to shoot at the Sony recommended level to get the very best over exposure headroom. If you are able to expose higher without significantly compromising any highlights then you should aim to be up to 2 stops over base. But whatever you do never expose darker than the Sony base level, this will normally look really nasty.

Determining The Correct Exposure.

The challenge of course is determining where your exposure actually is. Fortunately as we have seen, provided you in the right ball park, S-log2 is quite forgiving, so if you are a little bit over exposed it’s probably not going to hurt your images much. If you have a waveform monitor then you can use that to set your exposure according to the table below. If you don’t have proper white or grey cards you can use a piece of normal white paper. Although slightly less accurate this will get you very close to where you want to be. Do note that white paper tends to be a little brighter than a dedicated 90% reflectivity white card. If you don’t have any white paper then you can use skin tones, again a bit less accurate but you should end up in the right zone.

A7s-exposure-levels-1024x358 Exposing and Using S-Log2 on the Sony A7s (or any other Alpha camera). Part One: Gamma and Exposure.
My suggested exposure levels for the Sony A7s. The “sweet spot” is from normal to +2 over.

If you don’t have an external waveform monitor then you do still have some good options. Sadly although the camera does have zebras, these are not terribly useful for S-log2 as the lowest the zebras can go is 70%.

Light Meter: You could use a conventional photography light meter. If you do choose to use a light meter I would recommend checking the calibration of the light meter against the camera first.

Mark 1 Eyeball: You could simply eyeball the exposure looking at the viewfinder or rear screen but this is tricky when the image is very flat.

In Camera Metering: The cameras built in metering system, like the majority of DSLR’s is calibrated for middle grey. By default the camera uses multi-point metering to measure the average brightness of several points across the scene to determine the scenes average brightness and from there set the correct base S-log2 exposure.

Auto Exposure:

When you are using S-Log2, auto exposure in most cases will be very close to the correct base exposure if you use the default Multi-Zone exposure metering. The camera will take an average exposure reading for the scene and automatically adjust the exposure to the Sony recommended 32% middle grey exposure level based on this average. In the P, A and S modes you can then use the exposure compensation dial to offset the exposure should you wish. My recommendation would be to add +1 or +2 stops via the dial. Then observe the histogram to ensure that you don’t have any significant over exposure. If you do then reduce the exposure compensation. Lots of peaks to the far right of the histogram is an indication of over exposure.

Manual Exposure And Internal Metering.

If you are exposing manually you will see a small M.M. indication at the bottom of the LCD display with a +/- number. In the eyepiece viewfinder this appears as a scale that runs from -5 to +5, in S-log2 only the -2 to +2 part of the scale is used. In both cases this is how far the camera thinks you are away from the optimum exposure. + meaning the camera is over exposed, – meaning under.

A7s-VF-MM Exposing and Using S-Log2 on the Sony A7s (or any other Alpha camera). Part One: Gamma and Exposure.
A7s Viewfinder indications in manual exposure mode showing both M.M. offset from metered exposure and histogram.

In the image above we can see the M.M. indication is +0.3, in the eyepiece you would see a small arrow one bar to the right of “0” , indicating the cameras multi zone metering thinks the shot is just a little over exposed, even though the shot has been carefully exposed using a grey card and external waveform monitor. This error is probably due to the large amount of white in the shot, white shirt, white card, test charts with a lot of brighter than grey shades.  In practice an error of 0.3 of a stop is not going to cause any real issues, so even if this was exposed by setting  the exposure so that you have “M.M. 0.0” the exposure would be accurate enough. But it shows that multi point exposure averaging is easily confused.

The scene above is a fairly normal scene, not excessively bright, not particularly dark. If shooting a snow scene for example the cameras multi point averaging would almost certainly result in an under exposed shot as the camera attempts to bring the bright snow in the scene down to the average middle grey level. If shooting a well lit face against a very dark background then the averaging might try to bring the background up and the shot may end up overexposed.

If you want really accurate exposure then you should put the cameras metering system into the spot metering mode where instead of taking an average of various points across the scene the camera will just measure the exposure at the very center of the image.

spot-metering-mode Exposing and Using S-Log2 on the Sony A7s (or any other Alpha camera). Part One: Gamma and Exposure.
A7s Spot Metering Mode.

You can then use a grey card to very accurately set the exposure. Simply place the circular shaped symbol at the center of the viewfinder display over a grey card and set the exposure so that M.M is 0.0 for the correct S-Log2 base exposure. To expose 1 stop over with a grey card, set M.M. +1.0 and two stops over M.M. +2.0 (not flashing, flashing indicates more than +2 stops).

MM-00-grey Exposing and Using S-Log2 on the Sony A7s (or any other Alpha camera). Part One: Gamma and Exposure.
Using Spot Metering to set exposure correctly for S-log2. MM 0.0.

One small issue with this is that the camera will only display a M.M. range of -2.0 to +2.0 stops. Provided you don’t want to go more than 2 stops over base then you will be fine with a grey card.

Using White Instead of Grey:

If you don’t have a grey card then you can use a 90% reflectivity white target. As white is 2 stops brighter than middle grey when S-Log2 is correctly exposed the 90% white should indicate M.M +2.0.

MM-plus2-white Exposing and Using S-Log2 on the Sony A7s (or any other Alpha camera). Part One: Gamma and Exposure.
Using spot metering to set the correct exposure for S-Log2. M.M should read M.M +2.0 for a 90% reflectivity white target.

Once you have established the correct exposure you can then open the iris by 1 or two stops to increase the exposure. Or halve the shutter speed to gain a one stop brighter exposure. Each time you halve the shutter speed your exposure becomes one stop brighter, so divide the shutter speed by 4 to gain a 2 stop increase in exposure. As always you should observe the histogram to check for any over exposure. White peaks at the far right of the histogram or disappearing completely off the right of the histogram is an indication of over-exposure. In this case reduce your exposure back down towards the base exposure level (M.M 0.0 with a a grey card).

Exposure Summary:

I recommend using an exposure between the “correct” base S-Log2 exposure level of middle grey at 32% and two stops over this. I would not recommend going more than 2 stops over over base.

In the P, A and S auto exposure modes, when using the default multi-zone metering the camera will set the base S-log2 exposure based on the average scene brightness. For most typical scenes this average should be very close to middle grey. This exposure can then be increased (brightened) by up to 2 stops using the exposure compensation dial.

In manual exposure the “M.M.” number displayed at the bottom of the viewfinder display is how far you are from the correct base S-log2 exposure. M.M. +2.0 indicates +2 stops over base. If using multi zone metering (the cameras default) this exposure will be based on the scenes average brightness.

If you set the metering to “Spot” you can use a grey card centred in the image to determine the correct base exposure and up to 2 stops of over exposure via the M.M. indication when shooting manually.

In Part 2:

In part two I will take a look at grading the S-log2 from the A7s and how to get the very best from the S-log2 images by using Look Up Tables (LUT’s).

PART 2 – How to handle the footage in post production is here.

NORTHERN LIGHTS Tours and workshops.

Don’t forget I run storm chasing and Northern Lights expeditions every year.  These are amazing expeditions by snowmobile up on to the Finnmarksvidda. We go ice fishing, dog sledding, exploring, cook a meal in a tent and enjoy traditional Norwegian saunas.

More information here.

sky-full-of-Aurora-1024x683 Exposing and Using S-Log2 on the Sony A7s (or any other Alpha camera). Part One: Gamma and Exposure.
Northern Lights over our cabins in Norway.
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10 days with the A7s. I LOVE this camera!

So I have had my A7s for 10 days now. I took it on holiday with me shooting both stills and video, getting a feel for the camera in a wide range of situations from brilliant sunshine to shooting under candlelight.

It has been an absolute delight using it, with one small caveat: No ND filters built in and boy, does this camera need ND filters! I see that there are now some lens adapters with ND faders built in from Fotodiox and HolyManta. I hope to test these soon, but these ND  adapters are dumb adapters so only for fully manual lenses. So a set of front of lens ND’s or a good ND fader is essential to get the best from the A7s.

Lens wise I don’t have the greatest range of full frame lenses. I have my Samyang 24, 35 and 85mm full frame primes which work really well with the camera and the Sony 28-70mm f3.5-f5.6 kit lens and some old f1.4 nikkors. Actually the kit lens has really surprised me, for what it is, it does give a nice image. Almost all my lenses are Canon EF mount so I have been using an adapter. The one I have is the Commlite Full frame E to EF smart adapter, which has worked perfectly (it supports a wider range of lenses than my early model metabones adapter). For some longer focal lengths I’ve been playing with the new Tamron 16-300mm APS-C lens. One side note is that if you use an APS-C lens with a 1.4x teleconverter, in most cases the image circle will then fill the full frame sensor. I will be testing this further and posting some sample images soon. This might be handy for 4K video when you really need to use the full sensor.

Anyway, back to the camera. I had forgotten how nice full frame can be to work with. For photo’s the shallow DoF is a delight. For video you have much greater control over your DoF. As the camera is 3200 ISO you can shoot in the dark with ease and get very natural looking images without having to add extra light. SLog2 is great for capturing a huge dynamic range video. Today and tomorrow I am pushing the Slog2 though some torture and exposure tests to find the exposure sweet spot for Slog2 and 8 bit recordings. I’m also developing some LUT’s to use with the camera and I’ll have a full workflow guide to slog2 on the A7s in the next couple of weeks.

I really love that this little camera can shoot video that is of really remarkably good quality. Most people don’t realise your shooting video with it. It’s really quite scary just how good the video is, it’s starts you thinking… do I need an F5 when the video from the A7s is so good? But then when I started to set up the A7s for my Slog2 torture tests and added a monitor, the battery to power the monitor, rods, matte box, external recorder etc it soon turned into a frankenstien monster of a camera rig. The F5 is so much nicer to use in this respect. For casual shooting, covert filming or as a grab camera the A7s is pretty incredible and I will use it for a lot of things, but it’s not a replacement for my F5/R5.

One very nice feature of the A7s is the silent shutter stills mode. In this mode the camera makes use of the sensors electronic shutter rather that the cameras mechanical curtain shutter. This is great for time-lapse as you won’t wear out the mechanical shutter. The only down side is that when I use a DSLR for time-lapse I often make use of the large frame size from a 24MP or more sensor to re-frame or pan and scan the shot in post. The A7s is only 12.2MP or 4,240 x 2,832 pixels so very little room for re-framing in a 4K production, although not too bad for an HD programme. I wish the vanilla A7 had this feature, it would make it a great time-lapse camera. One application I’m very excited about is using the A7s to shoot the northern lights in both time-lapse and real time next year during my Northern Lights expeditions and workshops.

Keep an eye out for my Slog2 guide in the next week or so where I’ll document my findings on how to get the very best from the A7s. It’s an amazing little camera. Can’t wait for the 4K recording options for the camera to become a reality. Maybe we will find out more at IBC.

 

What is a Gamut or Color Space and why do I need to know about it?

Well I have set myself quite a challenge here as this is a tough one to describe and explain. Not so much perhaps because it’s difficult, but just because it’s hard to visualise, as you will see.

First of all the dictionary definition of Gamut is “The complete range or scope of something”.

In video terms what it means is normally the full range of colours and brightness that can be either captured or displayed.

I’m sure you have probably heard of the specification REC-709 before. Well REC-709, short for ITU-R Recommendation, Broadcast Television, number 709. This recommendation sets out the display of colours and brightness that a television set or monitor should be able to display. Note that it is a recommendation for display devices, not for cameras, it is a “display reference” and you might hear me talking about when things are “display referenced” ie meeting these display standards or “scene referenced” which would me shooting the light and colours in a scene as they really are, rather than what they will look like on a display.

Anyway…. Perhaps you have seen a chart or diagram that looks like the one below before.

gamuts-269x300 What is a Gamut or Color Space and why do I need to know about it?
Sony colour gamuts.

Now this shows several things. The big outer oval shape is what is considered to be the equivalent to what we can see with our own eyes. Within that range are triangles that represent the boundaries of different colour gamuts or colour ranges. The grey coloured triangle for example is REC-709.

Something useful to know is that the 3 corners of each of the triangles are whats referred to as the “primaries”. You will hear this term a lot when people talk about colour spaces because if you know where the primaries (corners) are, by joining them together you can find the size of the colour space or Gamut and what the colour response will be.

Look closely at the chart. Look at the shades of red, green or blue shown at the primaries for the REC-709 triangle. Now compare these with the shades shown at the primaries for the much larger F65 and F55 primaries. Is there much difference? Well no, not really. Can you figure out why there is so little difference?

Think about it for a moment, what type of display device are you looking at this chart on? It’s most likely a computer display of some kind and the Gamut of most computer displays is the same size as that of REC-709. So given that the display device your looking at the chart on can’t actually show any of the extended colours outside of the grey triangle anyway, is it really any surprise that you can’t see much of a difference between the 709 primaries and the F65 and F55 primaries. That’s the problems with charts like this, they don’t really tell you everything  that’s going on. It does however tell us some things. Lets have a look at another chart:

Gamuts-1024x632 What is a Gamut or Color Space and why do I need to know about it?
SGamuts Compared.

This chart is similar to the first one we looked at, but without the pretty colours. Blue is bottom left, Red is to the right and green top left.

What we are interested in here is the relationship between the different colour space triangles.  Using the REC-709 triangle as our reference (as that’s the type of display most TV and video productions will be shown on) look at how S-Gamut and S-Gamut3 is much larger than 709. So S-Gamut will be able to record deeper, richer colours than 709 can ever hope to show. In addition, also note how S-Gamut isn’t just a bigger triangle, but it’s also twisted and distorted relative to 709. This is really important.

You may also want to refer to the top diagram as well as I do my best to explain this. The center of the overall gamut is white. As you draw a line out from the center towards the colour spaces primary the colour becomes more saturated (vivid). The position of the primary determines the exact hue or tone represented. Lets just consider green for the moment and lets pretend we are shooting a shot with 3 green apples. These apples have different amounts of green. The most vivid of the 3 apples has 8/10ths of what we can possibly see, the middle one 6/10ths and the least colourful one 4/10ths. The image below represents what the apples would look like to us if we saw them with our eyes.

apples1 What is a Gamut or Color Space and why do I need to know about it?
The apples as we would see them with our own eyes.

If we were shooting with a camera designed to match the 709 display specification, which is often a good idea as we want the colours to look right on the TV, the the greenest, deepest green we can capture is the 709 green primary. lets consider the 709 green primary to be 6/10ths with 10/10ths  being the greenest thing a human being can see. 6/10ths green will be recorded at our peak green recording level so that when we play back on a 709 TV it will display the greenest the most intense green that the display panel is capable of.  So if we shoot the apples with a 709 compatible camera, 6/10ths green will be recorded at 100% as this is the richest green we can record (these are not real levels, I’m just using them to illustrate the principles involved) and this below is what the apples would look like on the TV screen.

apples3 What is a Gamut or Color Space and why do I need to know about it?
6/10ths Green and above recorded at 100% (our imaginary rec-709)

So that’s rec-709, our 6/10ths green apple recorded at 100%. Everything above 6/10 will also be 100% so the 8/10th and 6/10ths green apples will look more or less the same.

What happens then if we record with a bigger Gamut. Lets say that the green primary for S-Gamut is 8/10ths of visible green. Now when recording this more vibrant 8/10ths green in S-Gamut it will be recorded at 100% because this is the most vibrant green that S-Gamut can record and everything less than 8/10 will be recorded at a lower percentage.

But what happens if we play back S-Gamut on a 709 display? Well when the 709 display sees that 100% signal it will show 6/10ths green, a paler less vibrant shade of green than the 8/10ths shade the camera captured because 6/10ths is the most vibrant green the display is capable of. All of our colours will be paler and less rich than they should be.

apples4 What is a Gamut or Color Space and why do I need to know about it?
The apples recorded using a big gamut but displayed using 709 gamut.

So that’s the first issue when shooting with a larger colour Gamut than the Gamut of the display device, the saturation will be incorrect, a dark green apple will be pale green. OK, that doesn’t sound like too big a problem, why don’t we just boost the saturation of the image in post production? Well if the display is already showing our 100% green S-Gamut signal at the maximum it can show (6/10ths for Rec-709) then boosting the saturation won’t help colours that are already at the limit of what the display can show simply because it isn’t capable of showing them any greener than they already look. Boosting the saturation will make those colours not at the limit of the display technology richer, but those already at the limit won’t get any more colourful. So as we boost the saturation any pale green apples become greener while the deep green apples stay the same so we loose colour contrast between the pale and deep green apples. The end result is an image that doesn’t really look any different that it would have done if shot in Rec-709.

apples31 What is a Gamut or Color Space and why do I need to know about it?
Saturation boosted S-Gamut looks little different to 709 original.
gamuts-269x300 What is a Gamut or Color Space and why do I need to know about it?
Sony colour gamuts.

But, it’s even worse that just a difference to the saturation. Look at the triangles again  and compare 709 with S-Gamut. Look at how much more green there is within the S-Gamut colour soace than the 709 colour space compared to red or blue.  So what do you think will happen if we try to take that S-Gamut range and squeeze it in to the 709 range? Well there will be a distinct colour shift towards green as we have a greater percentage of green in S-Gamut than we should have in Rec-709 and that will generate a noticeable colour shift and the skewing of colours.

apples5 What is a Gamut or Color Space and why do I need to know about it?
Squeezing S-Gamut into 709 will result in a colour shift.

This is where Sony have been very clever with S-Gamut3. If you do take S-Gamut and squeeze it in to 709 then you will see a colour shift (as well as the saturation shift discussed earlier). But with S-Gamut3 Sony have altered the colour sampling within the colour space so that there is a better match between 709 and S-Gamut3. This means that when you squeeze S-Gamut3 into 709 there is virtually no colour shift. However S-Gamut3 is still a very big colour space so to correctly use it in a 709 environment you really need to use a Look Up Table (LUT) to re-map it into the smaller space without an appreciable saturation loss, mapping the colours in such a way that a dark green apple will still look darker green than a light green apple but keeping within the boundaries of what a 709 display can show.

Taking this one step further, realising that there are very few, if any display devices that can actually show a gamut as large as S-Gamut or S-Gamut3, Sony have developed a smaller Gamut known as S-Gamut3.cine that is a subset of S-Gamut3.

The benefit of this smaller gamut is that the red green and blue ratios are very close to 709. If you look at the triangles you can see that S-Gamut3.cine is more or less just a larger version of the 709 triangle. This means that colours shifts are almost totally eliminated making this gammut much easier to work with in post production. It’s still a large gamut, bigger than the DCI-P3 specification for digital cinema, so it still has a bigger colour range than we can ever normally hope to see, but as it is better aligned to both P3 and rec-709 colourists will find it much easier to work with. For productions that will end up as DCI-P3 a slight saturation boost is all that will be needed in many cases.

So as you can see, having a huge Gamut may not always be beneficial as often we don’t have any way to show it and simply adding more saturation to a seemingly de-saturated big gamut image may actually reduce the colour contrast as our already fully saturated objects, limited by what a 709 display can show, can’t get any more saturated. In addition a gamut such as S-Gamut that has a very different ratio of R, G and B to that of 709 will introduce colour shifts if it isn’t correctly re-mapped. This is why Sony developed S-Gamut3.cine, a big but not excessively large colour space that lines up well with both DCI-P3 and Rec-709 and is thus easier to handle in post production.

Correct exposure levels with Sony Hypergammas and Cinegammas.

When an engineer designs a gamma curve for a camera he/she will be looking to achieve certain things. With Sony’s Hypergammas and Cinegammas one of the key aims is to capture a greater dynamic range than is possible with normal gamma curves as well as providing a pleasing highlight roll off that looks less electronic and more natural or film like.

Slide3 Correct exposure levels with Sony Hypergammas and Cinegammas.
Recording a greater dynamic range into the same sized bucket.

To achieve these things though, sometimes compromises have to be made. The problem being that our recording “bucket” where we store our picture information is the same size whether we are using a standard gamma or advanced gamma curve. If you want to squeeze more range into that same sized bucket then you need to use some form of compression. Compression almost always requires that you throw away some of your picture information and Hypergamma’s and Cinegamma’a are no different. To get the extra dynamic range, the highlights are compressed.

exposure2-300x195 Correct exposure levels with Sony Hypergammas and Cinegammas.
Compression point with Hypergamma/Cinegamma.

To get a greater dynamic range than normally provided by standard gammas the compression has to be more aggressive and start earlier. The earlier (less bright) point at which the highlight compression starts means you really need to watch your exposure. It’s ironic, but although you have a greater dynamic range i.e. the range between the darkest shadows and the brightest highlights that the camera can record is greater, your exposure latitude is actually smaller, getting your exposure just right with hypergamma’s and cinegamma’s is very important, especially with faces and skin tones. If you overexpose a face when using these advanced gammas (and S-log and S-log2 are the same) then you start to place those all important skin tone in the compressed part of the gamma curve. It might not be obvious in your footage, it might look OK. But it won’t look as good as it should and it might be hard to grade. It’s often not until you compare a correctly exposed sot with a slightly over shot that you see how the skin tones are becoming flattened out by the gamma compression.

But what exactly is the correct exposure level? Well I have always exposed Hypergammas and Cinegammas about a half to 1 stop under where I would expose with a conventional gamma curve. So if faces are sitting around 70% with a standard gamma, then with HG/CG I expose that same face at 60%. This has worked well for me although sometimes the footage might need a slight brightness or contrast tweak in post the get the very best results. On the Sony F5 and F55 cameras Sony present some extra information about the gamma curves. Hypergamma 3 is described as HG3 3259G40 and Hypergamma 4 is HG4 4609G33.
What do these numbers mean? lets look at HG3 3259G40
The first 3 numbers 325 is the dynamic range in percent compared to a standard gamma curve, so in this case we have 325% more dynamic range, roughly 2.5 stops more dynamic range. The 4th number which is either a 0 or a 9 is the maximum recording level, 0 being 100% and 9 being 109%. By the way, 109% is fine for digital broadcasting and equates to bit 255 in an 8 bit codec. 100% may be necessary for some analog broadcasters. Finally the last bit, G40 is where middle grey is supposed to sit. With a standard gamma, if you point the camera at a grey card and expose correctly middle grey will be around 45%. So as you can see these Hypergammas are designed to be exposed a little darker. Why? Simple, to keep skin tones away from the compressed part of the curve.

Here are the numbers for the 4 primary Sony Hypergammas:

HG1 3250G36, HG2 4600G30, HG3 3259G40, HG4 4609G33.

Cinegamma 1 is the same as Hypergamma 4 and Cinegamma 2 is the same as Hypergamma 2.

All of the Hypergammas and Cinegammas are designed to exposed a little lower that with a standard gamma.

Exposure levels using EI ISO and zebras with the PMW-F5 and raw.

The PMW-F5 and F55 are fantastic cameras. If you have the AXS-R5 raw recorder the dynamic range is amazing. In addition because there is no gamma applied to the raw material you can be very free with where you set middle grey. Really the key to getting good raw is simply not to over expose the highlights. Provided nothing is clipped, it should grade well. One issue though is that there is no way to show 14 stops of dynamic range in a pleasing way with current display or viewfinder technologies and at the moment the only exposure tool you have built in to the F5/F55 cameras are zebras.

My experience over many shoots with the camera is that if you set zebras to 100% and don’t use a LUT (so your monitoring using S-Log2) and expose so that your just starting to see zebra 2 (100%) on your highlights, you will in most cases have 2 stops or more of overexposure headroom in the raw material. Thats fine and quite useable, but shoot like this and the viewfinder images will look very flat and in most cases over exposed. The problem is that S-Log 2’s designed white point is only 59% and middle grey is 32%. If your exposing so your highlights are at 100%, then white is likely to be much higher than than the designed level, which also means middle grey and your entire mid range will be excessively high. This then pushes those mids into the more compressed part of the curve, squashing them all together and making the scene look extremely flat. This also has an impact on the ability to focus correctly as best focus is less obvious with a low contrast image. As a result of the over exposed look it’s often tempting to stop down a little, but this is then wasting a lot of available raw data.

So, what can you do? Well you can add a LUT. The F5 and F55 have 3 LUTS available. The LUTS are based either on REC709 (P1) or Hypergamma (P2 and P3). These will add more contrast to the VF image, but they show considerably less dynamic range than S-Log2. My experience with using these LUT’s is that on every shoot I have done so far, most of my raw material has typically had at least 3 stops of un-used headroom. Now I could simply overexpose a little to make better use of that headroom, but I hate looking into the viewfinder and seeing an overexposed image.

Why is it so important to use that extra range? It’s important because if you record at a higher level the signal to noise ratio is better and after grading you will have less noise in the finished production.

Firmware release 1.13 added a new feature to the F5 and F55, EI Gain.  EI or Exposure Index gain allows you to change the ISO of the LUT output. It has NO effect on the raw recordings, it ONLY affects the Look Up Tables. So if you have the LUT’s turned on, you can now reduce the gain on the Viewfinder, HDSDI outputs as well as the SxS recordings (see this post for more on the EI gain). By using EI gain and an ISO lower than the cameras native ISO I can reduce the brightness of the view in the viewfinder. In addition the zebras measure the signal AFTER the application of the LUT or EI gain. So if you expose using a LUT and zebra 2 just showing on your highlights and then turn on the EI gain and set it to 800 on an F5 (native 2000ISO) or 640 on an F55 (native 1250ISO) and adjust your exposure so that zebra 2 is once agin just showing you will be opening your aperture by 1.5 (F5) or 1 (F55) stop. As a result the raw recordings will be 1.5/1 stop brighter.

In order to establish for my own benefit which was the best EI gain setting to use I spent a morning trying different settings. What I wanted to find was a reliable way to expose at a good high level to minimise noise but still have a little headroom in reserve. I wanted to use a LUT so that I have a nice high contrast image to help with focus. I chose to concentrate on the P3 LUT as this uses hypergamma with a grey point at 40% so the mid range should not look underexposed and contrast would be quite normal looking.

When using EI ISO 800 and exposing the clouds in the scene so that zebras were just showing on the very brightest parts of the clouds the image below is what the scene looked like when viewed both in the viewfinder and when opened up in Resolve. Also below is the same frame from the raw footage both before and after grading. You can click on any of the images to see a larger view.

xd-norm-800-1024x311 Exposure levels using EI ISO and zebras with the PMW-F5 and raw.
P3 LUT, XDCAM recording, 800 EI ISO (PMW-F5).
raw-norm-pre-1024x325 Exposure levels using EI ISO and zebras with the PMW-F5 and raw.
Raw footage, EI 800 ISO pre-grade.
raw-norm-grade-1024x322 Exposure levels using EI ISO and zebras with the PMW-F5 and raw.
Raw, 800 ISO after grade. NO clipped highlights.

As you can see using LUT P3 and 800 EI ISO (PMW-F5) and zebra 2 just showing on the brightest parts of the clouds my raw footage is recorded at a level roughly 1.5 stops brighter than it would have been if I had not used EI gain. But even at this level there is no clipping anywhere in the scene, so I still have some extra head room. So what happens if I expose one more stop brighter?

xd-plus1-1024x316 Exposure levels using EI ISO and zebras with the PMW-F5 and raw.
The XDCAM recording, LUT P3, 800 EI, +1 stop, zebras showing over almost all clouds.
raw-+1-pre-1024x314 Exposure levels using EI ISO and zebras with the PMW-F5 and raw.
Raw clip at +1 stop prior to grade.
raw-+1-grade-1024x313 Exposure levels using EI ISO and zebras with the PMW-F5 and raw.
Raw at +1 stop after grade, no sign of any clipping.

So, as you can see above even with zebras over all of the brighter clouds and the exposure at +1 stop over where the zebras were just appearing on the brightest parts of the clouds  there was no clipping. So I still have some headroom left, so I went 1 stop brighter again. The image in the viewfinder is now seriously over exposed.

XD-+2-1024x316 Exposure levels using EI ISO and zebras with the PMW-F5 and raw.
The XDCAM recording at +2 stops, the sky and clouds look very overexposed.
raw-+2-pre-1024x318 Exposure levels using EI ISO and zebras with the PMW-F5 and raw.
Raw clip, pre grading (LUT P3, EI 800). Looking scarily over exposed.
raw-+2-grade-1024x316 Exposure levels using EI ISO and zebras with the PMW-F5 and raw.
After the grade the raw is looking much better, but there is a bit of clipping on the very brightest clouds.

The lower of the 3 images above is very telling. Now there is some clipping, you can see it on the waveform. It’s only on the very brightest clouds, but I have no reached the limit of my exposure headroom.

Based on these tests I feel very comfortable exposing my F5 in raw by using LUT P3 with EI gain at 800 and having zebra 2 starting to appear on my highlights. That would result in about 1.5 stops of headroom. If you are shooting a flat scene you could even go to 640 ISO which would give you one safe stop over the first appearance of zebra 2. On the F55 this would equate to using EI 640 with LUT P3 and having a little over 1.5 stops of headroom over the onset of zebras or EI 400 giving about 1 stop of headroom.

My recommendation having carried out these tests would be to make use of the lower EI gain settings to brighten your recorded image. This will result in cleaner, lower noise footage and also allow you to “see” a little deeper into the shadows in the grade. How low you go will depend on how much headroom you want, but even if you use 640 on the F5 or 400 on the F55 you should still have enough headroom above the onset of zebra 2 to stay out of clipping.

 

 

Tips for shooting in very cold weather.

With winter well upon us I thought it would be good to share some of my arctic shooting experience. I’ve shot in temperatures down to -40c in the arctic in winter.

Overall modern tapeless cameras do OK well in extreme cold. The most reliable cameras are larger solid state cameras. Larger cameras cool slower than small ones and larger cameras will hold on to heat generated internally better than small ones.

Condensation:

Condensation is the big deal breaker. When you take the very cold camera inside into a house/hotel/car/tent you will get condensation. If the camera is very cold this can then freeze on the body of camera including the glass of the lens. If there is condensation on the outside of the camera, there will almost certainly also be condensation inside and this can kill your camera.

To prevent or at least reduce the condensation you can place the camera in a large ziplock bag BEFORE taking it inside, take the camera inside in the bag. Then allow the camera to warm up to the ambient temperature before removing it from the bag. Peli cases are another option, but the large volume of the pelicase means there will be more moisture inside the case to condense and the insulating properties of the case mean that it could take many, many hours to warm up.

I don’t recommend storing a cold or damp camera in a Pelicase (or any other similar waterproof case) as there is nowhere for the moisture to go, so the camera will remain damp until the pelicase is opened and everything dried out properly.

Rather than moving a camera repeatedly from outside to inside and repeatedly generating risky condensation you should consider leaving the camera outside. You can leave the camera outside provided it does not get below -25c. Below -25c you risk the LCD panel freezing and cracking. LCD  panels freeze at between -30 to -40c. If you are using a camera in very cold conditions and you notice the edges of the LCD screen going blue or dark you should start thinking about warming up that LCD panel as it may be close to freezing.

LCD displays will become slow and sluggish to respond in the cold. Your pictures may look blurry and smeary because of this. It doesn’t affect the recording, only what you see on the LCD.

Very often in cold regions houses will have an unheated reception room or porch. This is a good place to store your camera rather than taking it inside into the warm. Repeatedly taking a camera from cold to warm without taking precautions against condensation will shorten the life of your camera.
If you can, leave the camera on between shots. The camera generates some heat internally and this will prevent many issues.

BATTERY LIFE:

Li-Ion batteries are effected by the cold but they are not nearly as bad as Nicads or NiMh batteries which are all but useless below freezing. li-Ion battery life gets reduced by between 25 and 50% depending on how cold it is. Down to about -10c there is only a very marginal loss of capacity. Down to -25c you will loose about 20%-30% below -25c the capacity will fall away further.

Keep your spare batteries in a pocket inside your coat or jacket until you need them. After use let the battery warm up before you charge it if you can. Charging a very cold battery will reduce the lifespan of the battery and it won’t fully charge. One top tip for shooting outside for extended periods is to get a cool box. Get some chemical hand warmers and place them in the cool box with your batteries to keep them warm. If you don’t have hand warmers you can also use a hot water bottle.

Watch your breath

If your lens has and snow or ice on it, don’t be tempted to breath or blow on the lens to blow the ice off.  Also try not to breath on the lens when cleaning it as your warm breath will condense on the cold glass and freeze.  Also try to avoid breathing out close to the viewfinder. A small soft paint brush is good for keeping your lens clean as in very cold conditions you’ll simply be able to brush and snow or ice off. Otherwise a large lens cloth.

Covers.

Conventional rain covers become brittle below about -15c and can even shatter like glass  below -20c. Special insulated cold weather covers often called “polar bears” can be used and these often have pockets inside for chemical heat packs. These are well worth getting if you are going to be doing a lot of arctic shooting and will help keep the camera warm. As an alternative wrap the camera in a scarf or cut the sleeves of an old sweater to make a tube you can slide over the camera. If you have a sewing machine you could make a simple cover out of some fleece type material.

Your lens will get cold and in some conditions you will get frost on the front element. To help combat this wrap some insulating fabric around the body of the lens. Wrist sweat bands are quite good for this or an old sock with the toes cut off.

Brittle Plastic.

Plastics get brittle at low temperatures so be very gentle with anything plastic, especially things made from very hard, cheap plastic. The plastic Sony use appears to be pretty tough even at low temps. Wires and cables may become ridged. Be gentle, bend then too much and the insulation may split.

Other considerations are tripods. If outside in very low temps for more than 30mins or so the grease in the tripod will become very thick and may even freeze, so your fluid damping will become either very stiff or freeze up all together. Contact your tripod manufacturer to see what temperatures their greases can be used over. Vinten and some of the other tripod companies can winterise the tripod and replace the normal grease with arctic grease.

Looking after yourself.

I find that the best way to operate the camera is by wearing a pair of large top quality mittens (gloves are next to useless below -15c), consider getting a pair of Army surplus arctic mittens, they are very cheap on ebay and will normally have an additional “trigger finger”. This extra finger makes it easier to press the record button and things like that.  If you can get Swedish or Finnish military winter mittens, these are amongst the best. I wear a pair of thin “thinsulate” gloves that will fit inside the mittens, i can then slip my hands in and out of the mittens to operate the camera.

I keep a chemical hand warmer inside the mittens to warm my fingers back up after using the camera. The hardest thing to keep warm is your feet. If you’ll be standing in snow or standing on ice then conventional hiking boots etc will not keep your feet warm. A Scandinavian trick if standing outside for long periods is to get some small twigs and tree branches to stand on and help insulate your feet from the cold ground. If your feet get cold then you are at risk of frostbite or frost nip. Invest in or hire some decent snow boots like Sorel’s or Baffin’s. I have an arctic clothing guide here; Arctic Clothing Guide |

Raw is raw, but not all raw is created equal.

I was looking at some test footage from several raw video cameras the other day and it became very obvious that some of the cameras were better than others and one or two had some real problems with skin tones. You would think that once you bypass all the cameras internal image processing that you should be able to get whatever colorimetry that you want from a raw camera. After all, your dealing with raw camera data. With traditional video cameras a lot of the “look” is created by the cameras color matrix, gamma curves and other internal processing, but a raw camera bypasses all of this outputting the raw sensor data. With an almost infinite amount of adjustment available in post production why is it that not all raw cameras are created equal?

For a start there are differences in sensor sensitivity and noise. This will depend on the size of the sensor, the number of pixels and the effectiveness of the on-sensor noise reduction. Many new sensors employ noise reduction at both analog and digital levels and this can be very effective at producing a cleaner image. So, clearly there are differences in the underlying electronics of different sensors but in addition there is also the quality of the color filters applied over the top of the pixels.

On a single chip camera a color filter array (CFA) is applied to the surface of the sensor. The properties of this filter array are crucial to the performance of the camera. If the filters are not selective enough there will be leakage of red light on to the green sensor pixels, green into blue etc. Designing and manufacturing such a microscopically small filter array is not easy. The filters need to be effective at blocking undesired wavelengths  while still passing enough light so as not to compromise the sensitivity of the sensor. The dyes and materials used must not age or fade and must be resistant to the heat generated by the sensor. One of the reasons why Sony’s new PMW-F55 camera is so much more expensive than the F5 is because the F55’s sensor has a higher quality color filter array that gives a larger color gamut (range) than the F5’s more conventional filter array.

The quality of the color filter array will affect the quality of the final image. If there is too much leakage between the red, green and blue channels there will be a loss of subtle color textures. Faces, skin tones and those mid range image nuances that make a great image great will suffer and no amount of post production processing will make up for the loss of verisimilitude. This is what I believe I was seeing in the comparison raw footage where a couple of the cameras just didn’t have good looking skin tones. So, just because a camera can output raw data from it’s sensor, this is not a guarantee of a superior image. It might well be raw, but because of sensor differences not all raw cameras are created equal.

XDCAM Picture Profiles and setups, also C300 coming soon.

I’ve added a new section in the xdcam-user.com forum for listing details of my various picture profiles. You will need to be a registered forum member to view or comment, but registration is free. I hope to add many profiles to this forum over the coming weeks for many of the XDCAM cameras as well as the new Canon C300 once I start to get that dialled in. I’ve started with my EX S-Log style gamma curve.

http://www.xdcam-user.com/forum3/viewtopic.php?f=41&t=194&sid=c233ea884673388efe1e1af8c2ef84c7

Canon C-Log on the C300 compared to S-Log.

First let me say that as yet I have not used C-Log in anger, only seen it at a couple of hands on demo events and in downloaded clips.

From what I’ve seen C-Log and S-Log are two quite different things. S-Log on the F3 is a true Log curve where each stop of exposure is recorded using roughly the same amount of data and the available dynamic range is about 13.5 stops. It is inevitable that when you use a true log curve like this and play it back on an uncorrected Rec-709 (standard HD gamma) monitor that it will look very flat and very washed out. This is a result of the extreme gamma miss-match across the entire recording range. If you had a monitor that could display 13.5 stops (most only manage 7) and the monitor had a built in Log curve then the pictures would look normal.

What has too be considered is that S-Log is designed to be used with 10 bit recording where each stop gets roughly 70 data bits ( this roughly means 70 shades of grey for each stop).

Now lets consider the Canon C300. It has no 10 bit out, it’s only 8 bit. Assuming Canon’s sensor can handle 13.5 stops then using 8 bit would result in only 17 bits per stop and this really is not sufficient, especially for critical areas of the image like faces and skin tones. A standard gamma, without knee, like Rec-709 will typically have a 7 stop range, this is a deliberate design decision as this yields around 34 bits per stop. As we know already if you try to do a hard grade on 8 bit material you can run in to issues with banding, posterisation and stair stepping, so reducing the bits per stop still further (for example by cramming 13.5 stops into 8 bits) is not really desirable as while it can improve dynamic range, it will introduce a whole host of other issues.

Now for some years camera sensors have been able to exceed 7 stops of dynamic range. To get around the gamma limitation of 7 stops, most good quality cameras use something called the knee. The knee takes the top 15 to 20% of the recording range to record as much as 4 to 5 stops of highlights. So in the first 0 to 80% range you have 6 stops, plus another 4 to 5 stops in the last 20%, so the overall dynamic range of the camera will be 10 to 11 stops.

How can this work and still look natural? Well our own visual system is tuned to concentrate on the mid range, faces, foliage etc and to a large degree highlights are ignored. So recording in this way, compressing the highlights mimics they way we see the world, so doesn’t actually look terribly un-natural. OK, OK, I can hear you all screaming… yes it is un-natural, it looks like video! It looks like video because the knee is either on or off, the image is either compressed very heavily or not at all, there is no middle ground. It’s also hard to grade as mid tones and highlights have different amounts of squashing which can lead to some strange results.

So the knee is a step forward. It does work quite well for many applications as it preserves those 34 bits of data for the all important mid tones and as a result the pictures look normal, yet gives a reasonable amount of over exposure performance. Next came things like cine gammas and film style gammas.

These often share a very similar gamma curve to standard gammas for the first 60-70% of the recording range, so faces, skin, flora and fauna still have plenty of data allocated to them. Above 70% the image becomes compressed, but instead of the sudden onset of compression as with a knee, the compression starts very gently and gradually increases more and more until by the time you get close to 100% the compression is very strong indeed. This tends to look a lot more natural than gamma + knee, yet can still cope with a good over exposure range, but depending on the scene it can start to look a little flat as your overall captured range is biased towards highlights, so your captured image contains more bright range than low range so will possibly (but not always) look very slightly washed out. In my opinion, if shooting with cinegammas or similar you should really be grading your material for the best results.

Anyway, back to the Canon C300. From what I can tell, C-Log is an extension of the cinegamma type of gamma curve. It appears to have more in common with cinegammas than true S-log. It looks like the compression starts at around 60% and that there is a little more gain at the bottom of the curve to lift shadows a little. This earlier start to the compression will allow for a greater dynamic range but will mean fewer bits of data for skin tones etc. The raised lower end gain means you can afford to underexpose more if you need to. As the curve is not a full log curve it will look a lot more agreeable than S-Log on an uncorrected monitor, especially as the crucial mid tone area is largely unaffected by strong compression and thus a large gamma miss-match.

For the C300 this curve makes complete sense. It looks like a good match for the cameras 8 bit recording giving a decent dynamic range improvement, largely through highlight compression (spread over more recording range than a conventional knee or cinegamma), keeping mid tones reasonably intact and a little bit of shadow lift. Keeping the mid range fairly “normal” is a wise move that will still give good grading latitude without posterisation issues on mid range natural textures.