Category Archives: PXW-FS7

Understanding Sony’s SLog3. It isn’t really noisy.

It’s been brought to my attention that there is a lot of concern about the apparent noise levels when using Sony’s new Slog3 gamma curve. The problem being that when you view the ungraded Slog3 it appears to have more noise in the shadows than Slog2. Many are concerned that this “extra” noise will end up making the final pictures nosier. The reality is that this is not the case, you won’t get any extra noise using Slog3 over Slog2. Because S-Log3 is closer to the log gamma curves used in other cameras many people find that Slog3 is generally easier to grade and work with in post production.

So what’s going on?

Slog3 mimics the Cineon Log curve, a curve that was originally designed, back in the 1980’s to match the density of film stocks. As a result the shadow and low key parts of the scene are shown and recorded at a brighter level than Slog2. S-Log2 was designed from the outset to work with electronic sensors and is optimised for the way an electronic sensor works rather than film. Because the S-Log3 shadow range has more gain than S-log2, the shadows end up a bit brighter than it perhaps they really needs to be and because of the extra gain the noise in the shadows appears to be worse. The noise level might be a bit higher but the important thing, the ratio between wanted picture information and un wanted noise is exactly the same whether in Slog2 or Slog3.

Let me explain:

The signal to noise ratio of a camera is determined predominantly by the sensor itself and how the sensor is read. This is NOT changing between gamma curves.

The other thing that effects the signal to noise ratio is the exposure level, or to be more precise the aperture and how much light falls on the sensor. This should be same for Slog2 and Slog3. So again no change there.

As these two key factors do not change when you switch between Slog2 and slog3, there is no change in the signal to noise ratio between Slog2 and Slog3. It is the ratio between wanted picture information and noise that is important. Not the noise level, but the ratio. What people see when they look at ungraded SLog3 is a higher noise level simply because ALL the signal levels are also higher, both noise and desirable image information. So the ratio between the wanted signal and the noise is actually no different for both Slog2 and Slog3.

Gamma is just gain, nothing more, nothing less, just applied by variable amounts at different levels. In the case of log, the amount of gain decreases as you go further up the curve.

Increasing or decreasing gain does NOT significantly change the signal to noise ratio of a digital camera (or any other digital system). It might make noise more visible if you are amplifying the image more than normal in an underexposure situation where you are using that extra gain to compensate for not enough light. But the ratio between the dark object and the noise does not change, it’s just that as you have made the dark object brighter by adding gain, you have also made the noise brighter by the same amount, so the noise also becomes brighter and thus more obvious.

Lets take a look at some Math. I’ll keep it very simple, I promise!

Just for a moment to keep things simple, lets say some camera has a signal to noise ratio of 3:1 (SNR is normally measured in db, but I’m going to keep things really simple here).

So, from the sensor if my picture signal is 3 then my noise will be 1.

If I apply Gamma Curve “A” which has 2x gain then my picture becomes 6 and my noise becomes 2. The SNR is 6:2 = 3:1

If I apply Gamma Curve “B” which has 3x gain then my picture becomes 9 and my noise becomes 3. The SNR is 9:3 = 3:1 so no change to the ratio, but the noise is now 3 with gamma B compared to  Gamma A where it is 2, so the gamma B image will appear at first glance to be noisier.

Now we take those imaginary clips in to post production:

In post we want to grade the shots so that we end up with the same brightness of image, so lets say our target level after grading is 12.

For the gamma “A” signal we need to add 3x gain to take 6 to 18. As a result the noise now becomes 6 (3 x 2 = 6).

For the gamma “B” signal (our noisy looking one) we need to use  less gain in post, only 2x gain, to take 9  to 18. When we apply 2x gain our noise for gamma B becomes 6 (2 x 3 = 6).

Notice anything? In both cases the noise in the final image is exactly the same, in both cases the final image level is 18 and the final noise level is 6, even though the two recordings started at different levels with one appearing noisier than the other.

OK, so that’s the theory, what about in practice?

Take a look at the images below. These are 400% crops from larger frames. Identical exposure, workflow and processing for each. You will see the original Slog2 and SLog3 plus the Slog 2 and Slog 3 after applying the LC-709 LUT to each in Sony’s raw viewer. Nothing else has been done to the clips. You can “see” more noise in the raised shadows in the untouched SLog3, but after applying the LUTs the noise levels are the same. This is because the Signal to Noise ratio of both curves is the same and after adding the LUT’s the total gain applied (camera gain + LUT gain) to get the same output levels is the same.

Slog2-400 Understanding Sony's SLog3. It isn't really noisy.
Slog3-400 Understanding Sony's SLog3. It isn't really noisy.Slog2-to-709-400 Understanding Sony's SLog3. It isn't really noisy.Slog3-to-709-400 Understanding Sony's SLog3. It isn't really noisy.

It’s interesting to note in these frame grabs that you can actually see that in fact the S-Log3 final image looks if anything a touch less noisy. The bobbles and the edge of the picture frame look better in the Slog3 in my opinion. This is probably because the S-Log3 recording uses very slightly higher levels in the shadow areas and this helps reduce compression artefacts.

The best way to alter the SNR of a typical video system (other than through electronic noise reduction) is by changing the exposure, which is why EI (Exposure Index) and exposure offsets are so important and so effective.

Slog3 has a near straight line curve above middle grey. This means that in post production it’s easier to grade as adjustments to one part of the image will have a similar effect to other parts of the image. It’s also very, very close to Cineon and to Arri Log C and in many cases LUT and grades designed for these gammas will also work pretty well with SLog3.

The down side to Slog3?

Very few really. Fewer data points are recorded for each stop in the brighter parts of the picture and highlight range compared to Slog2. This doesn’t change the dynamic range but if you are using a less than ideal 8 bit codec you may find S-Log2 less prone to banding in the sky or other gradients compared to S-Log3. With a 10 bit recording, in a decent workflow, it makes very little difference.

 

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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.

When should I use a Cinegamma or Hypergamma?

Cinegammas are designed to be graded. The shape of the curve with steadily increasing compression from around 65-70% upwards tends to lead to a flat looking image, but maximises the cameras latitude (although similar can be achieved with a standard gamma and careful knee setting). The beauty of the cinegammas is that the gentle onset of the highlight compression means that grading will be able to extract a more natural image from the highlights. Note than Cinegamma 2 is broadcast safe and has slightly reduced recording range than CG 1,3 and 4.

Standard gammas will give a more natural looking picture right up to the point where the knee kicks in. From there up the signal is heavily compressed, so trying to extract subtle textures from highlights in post is difficult. The issue with standard gammas and the knee is that the image is either heavily compressed or not, there’s no middle ground.

In a perfect world you would control your lighting (turning down the sun if necessary ;-o) so that you could use standard gamma 3 (ITU 709 standard HD gamma) with no knee. Everything would be linear and nothing blown out. This would equate to a roughly 7 stop range. This nice linear signal would grade very well and give you a fantastic result. Careful use of graduated filters or studio lighting might still allow you to do this, but the real world is rarely restricted to a 7 stop brightness range. So we must use the knee or Cinegamma to prevent our highlights from looking ugly.

If you are committed to a workflow that will include grading, then Cinegammas are best. If you use them be very careful with your exposure, you don’t want to overexpose, especially where faces are involved. getting the exposure just right with cinegammas is harder than with standard gammas. If anything err on the side of caution and come down 1/2 a stop.

If your workflow might not include grading then stick to the standard gammas. They are a little more tolerant of slight over exposure because skin and foliage won’t get compressed until it gets up to the 80% mark (depending on your knee setting). Plus the image looks nicer straight out of the camera as the cameras gamma should be a close match to the monitors gamma.