The Sony PXW-FS5 is a great little camera. It’s a camera I really enjoy shooting with as I can just grab it and go, picking up some great pictures with the minimum of effort. The built in Picture Profiles offer a wide range of different looks that can be quickly selected by pressing the P Profile button and choosing a profile. But one of the best parts is that you can tweak and adjust each profile to suit different shooting applications.
I tend to leave Picture Profile 7 alone. This is the S-Log2/S-Gamut profile that you must use when shooting raw and S-Log2 is my preferred log curve for shooting 8 bit UHD. But that leaves profiles 1 to 6 to play with and adjust, plus profiles 8 and 9 if you don’t use S-Log3. If you want to go back to the factory settings each profile can be reset individually (using “reset” within the profile settings).
Perhaps the two most challenging situations to shoot in are scenes that are high contrast and bright or low light scenes. Often you may encounter both types of scene on the same shoot, so it would be good if the pictures were at least similar. So we don’t want to use totally different color settings. But you can use different gamma settings to help better deal with the differing lighting levels and contrast ranges.
For brighter scenes I am a big fan of Sony’s “Cinegammas”. The Cinegammas differ from the standard gammas in the way they handle highlights. Basic television gamma has a very limited dynamic range, around 6 stops. Then to extend the dynamic range something called a “knee” is added to the top of the gamma curve. The point where the curve transitions from normal gamma to the knee is called the “knee point”. Everything above the knee is is compressed or squeezed. So in effect below the Knee 1 stop is record with 1 stops worth of data, but above the knee 3 or 4 stops may be recorded in the same space.
In practice this means anything brighter than the knee point will have very little contrast, when you have low contrast it is also hard to see any detail. So the highlights in the image look flat, lack texture and detail. If you have bright skin tones up in the knee they just look like blobs of color. Cotton wool clouds come out as white blobs in the sky and it is the knee that is largely responsible for the “video look”.
Sony’s Cinegammas are different. They do not have a knee. Instead of a hard knee point where you switch instantly from not compressed to compressed they have a slow and gradual transition from not compressed to very compressed. This is not unlike the way film behaves and is typically called a “highlight roll-off”. In practice because this transition is gradual it is less obvious. Because it is less obvious you can start the transition lower down the gamma curve which means you have more recording range for the highlights and can therefore increase the captured dynamic range. But to get the best looking recordings you want to keep faces and skin tones below the more aggressive parts of the roll off, so often you need to expose marginally darker than you would with conventional gamma.
If you want to use the Cinegammas and are doing anything for broadcast TV that will not be graded and the video levels corrected to the 100% maximum required for broadcast then you should only ever use Cinegamma 2. All the other Cinegammas allow recording up to 109%.
All the Cinegammas record a similar extended dynamic range, Cinegamma 2 will almost always appear a little darker as it’s recording range is shrunk to ensure it does not exceed 100%., but even though it may appear a little darker, the captured dynamic range is the same.
For brighter scenes Cinegamma 1 is my go-to gamma curve on the FS5. It captures a large dynamic range. For darker scenes I will often use Cinegamma 4 as this raises shadows and the mid range. Cinegamma 4 is also useful for shooting back lit scenes.
Cinegamma 3 is a little more contrasty than Cinegamma 1 so if you want a picture with higher contrast this is the curve you should consider.
What about color?
The standard color mode is OK, but I find it a little gaudy. If you want a more film like look then the Cinema mode works quite well to give a more de-saturated look. But my favourite color mode is the Pro color mode. It’s not as vibrant or highly saturated as the standard or ITU709 color modes but it does produce very accurate colors. It’s a bit less green that the standard color mode. If you want a more vibrant image you can increase the saturation, I find Pro Color at +14 saturation gives great color straight out of the camera.
The Color Depth control is a bit of an odd control. It works by targeting a particular color, but instead of increasing/decreasing the saturation of the color it makes the luminance level of objects that are that color brighter or darker. If you make a red car darker in brightness it makes the color appear stronger relative to the brightness. A positive setting makes the luminance darker, so the color appears stronger, a negative setting makes the luminance brighter so the color appears slightly more washed out.
First the standard look (notice the blobby, flat, no texture look to the clouds from the knee):
So, here are some suggested settings for different shooting conditions. Remember, you can mix and match the color and gamma settings, so if you like the colors from one profile you can take the color settings and use them with the contrast settings (gamma, black gamma) of another.
1: AC-GPMC – General purpose, medium contrast (good all-round profile).
Gamma: Cine3, Black Gamma Middle -7, Color Mode Pro, Saturation +16 (substitute Cine3 with Cine2 for direct to air broadcast).
2: AC-GPBT – General purpose for bright high contrast scenes.
Gamma: Cine1, Black Gamma Low -3, Color Mode Pro, Saturation +16 (substitute Cine1 with Cine2 for direct to air broadcast).
3: AC-GPGD – General purpose, looks good direct but good if going to be graded (shadows raised to help in grading)
Gamma: Cine1, Black Gamma Low +4, Color Mode Pro, Saturation 0 (substitute Cine1 with Cine2 for direct to air broadcast).
4: AC-GPLL – General purpose profile for darker scenes (raised shadows to make grading easier).
Gamma: Cine4, Black Gamma High +7, Color Mode Pro, Saturation +6 (substitute Cine4 with Cine2 for direct to air broadcast).
5: AC-EXLL – For use in very low light levels (is the equivalent to adding +6db gain, does increase noise).
Gamma: ITU709(800), Black Gamma Low +7, Color Mode Pro, Saturation 0.
6: AC-ASIA1 – Vibrant colors, slight boost to reds/blues.
Gamma: Cine3, Black Gamma Middle -7, Color Mode ITU709, Saturation +10, Color Depth R+5, G-3, B+2, C+1, M0, Y-2.
AC-FILM1 – Film like color and contrast.
Gamma Cine1, Black Gamma Middle -7, Color Mode Cinema, Saturation +8, Phase -3, Color Depth R+4, G-1, B+1, C0, M0, Y-4.
Although it’s been on the market for a while now I have not yet had a chance to write a proper review of the PXW-Z150. I’ve played with it a few times and I’ve felt it offers good value (approx £3k/$4K). As it’s starting to gain some traction amongst corporate producers and those looking for a straight forward 4K camera with lot’s of bang for the buck I though it’s time to share my thoughts.
Cameras like the Z150 are often overlooked these days as they don’t have the “cool” factor that comes with the large sensor Super 35mm cameras that are all the rage, cameras like the PXW-FS5 or FS7.
But not everyone wants shallow depth of field all of the time. In addition many people want zoom lenses that can zoom in to get a tight shot and zoom back out smoothly without a focus shift. If you add portability and ease of use into the mix then there is no Super 35mm camera that offers all of these. Want a big par focal zoom range – the lens gets big, heavy and very expensive.
This is where a one piece camera with a fixed zoom lens comes into it’s own. For a fraction of the the price of any of the 10 times or more par-focal S35m zoom lenses you can get a fully functioning camcorder. The PXW-Z150 has a 12x optical zoom that can be boosted up to 24x in HD (more on that later).
So lets take a closer look at the Z150.
From the outside the PXW-Z150 resembles many other handycam style cameras and is almost identical to the HXR-NX100. But this is from the PXW product line, I’m lead to believe that stands for “Professional XAVC Writer”. So this means it will have the XAVC codec. It’s also an XDCAM camcorder and in this case that means it also includes the MPEG2 HD codec. In addition in case you haven’t spotted it there is also a big “4K” symbol on the side.
CODECS AND RECORD FORMATS
So the camera can record UHD (3840 x 2160, the 4K standard for TV) at up to 30fps using Sony’s XAVC-L codec. This is the long GoP version of XAVC and comes in 60 and 100Mb/s versions in the Z150. It is worth considering that this codec does require a pretty good computer to work with it in post production, ideally a minimum of a 4 core i7 processor with 16GB of main ram plus a good NVIDIA or AMD graphics card with 2GB of dedicated video ram. In UHD XAVC-L is limited to 8 bit 4:2:0, this still produces a great looking image but is not considered good enough for main stream UHD broadcast.
The image below is a UHD frame grab from the Z150. Click on the image to see larger versions including the full 3840×2160 image. The grab is a jpeg so may have some compression artefacts not in the original frame.
If you are not shooting in UHD then you have lots of options. Again we have XAVC-L now at 25, 35 and 50Mb/s and up to 60fp. 35Mb/s and 50Mb/s XAVC-L is normally considered broadcast quality at 25/30fps. In HD XAVC-L is 10 bit 4:2:2.
As well as XAVC-L you also have two more 8 bit HD codecs, MPEG2HD and AVCHD. There are two versions of MPEG2HD, the regular HD version which is 4:2:0 at 35Mb/s as found in the older EX1 and EX3 camcorders as well as the 50Mb/s HD422 4:2:2 broadcast quality version as found in the PMW-200 and most of Sony broadcast camcorders. These older MPEG2 “XDCAM” codecs are still incredibly popular and accepted almost everywhere for broadcast HD. They are really easy to use and even though they are 8 bit still give great looking pictures. Finally if you just need something compact there is AVCHD, although frankly why you would want to use AVCHD when you have so many better options available I’m not sure. Perhaps those running older or consumer based edit software will benefit from the inclusion of AVCHD.
In order to be able to record all the different formats available you must use SDXC cards. These are readily available and low cost. Please remember though that SD cards are consumer media. It is normally very reliable (probably more reliable than tape used to be) but card failures can occur and a duff card could result in the loss of everything on the card. Fortunately Sony have considered this and the camera features two card slots.
The two card slots can be configured in a number of ways. To record long events you can use relay record where once the first card is full the camera will automatically switch to the second card. For security you can use simultaneous record where you record to both slots at the same time. This means you are creating an instant backup, so the failure of a single card should not be a drama. As a further option you can control the recording function of each card slot separately. You can use the record button on the hand grip to control one slot and the record button on the carry handle to control the other to give 2 independent recordings.
A further recording function is the ability to record a proxy file alongside the main recording. The proxy file can be used in a number of ways. One way is to provide an easier to handle 720p HD file for use as an edit proxy when shooting in UHD. Another is as a small compact file that can be uploaded to the internet via the cameras built in ftp function, perhaps for a breaking news story or remote editing and preview. As this is a proper video camera there are none of the overheating problems or limited record time issues that effect many DSLR type cameras.
One word of advice: Buy your cards from a reputable source. There is a lot of fake media out there that is almost indistinguishable from the real thing. The fake cards are often unreliable, so do make sure you only buy good quality genuine media from one of the main brands such as Transcend, Lexar, SanDisk etc.
1″ TYPE SENSOR.
The sensor that feeds all these different codecs is a “1 inch type” Exmor RS back illuminated CMOS sensor with 14.2 million effective pixels. What does all that mean?
“1 Inch Type” means the sensor size is bigger than the sensor on a 2/3″ broadcast camera but smaller than APS-C, Micro 4/3rds or Super 35mm (see this for more info on imperial type sensor sizes). So the depth of field will be deeper (more in focus) than a camera like Sony’s PXW-FS5 with it’s Super 35mm sensor, but shallower than most typical 2/3″ ENG broadcast shoulder cameras and other traditional handycams with 1/2″ or 1/3″ sensors.
Exmor RS is Sony’s latest generation of back illuminated sensor technology that gives better low light performance with small pixels compared to traditional front illuminated sensors. In addition RS stands for “Rear Stacked”. The stacking technology allows for a faster sensor readout among other things and this significantly reduces image skew and rolling shutter artefacts compared to the previous generation of these sensors. The faster readout also means that every pixel is used when shooting at up to 120 fps in HD using the cameras super slow motion function (note that this is 120fps interlace XAVC-L), so less aliasing and moire.
While RS does not eliminate rolling shutter artefacts from what I can see the Z150 offers a big improvement over cameras like the PXW-X70 and the A7S. You have to pan very fast before rolling shutter becomes a problem and in normal use skew and jello should not cause any significant problems.
12X OPTICAL ZOOM LENS.
Light is fed to the sensor by a 12x optical zoom lens. On the side of the camera there is a big and bold “18X“. That’s there because this camera also has Sony’s clever “Clear Image Zoom” technology. In the past if you mentioned a digital zoom it used to make people cringe as it normally meant a drop in picture quality. But Clear Image Zoom really is very clever.
First of all remember that in HD you have a UHD sensor, so you can crop into this by 2 times with virtually no loss in image quality anyway. So in HD you have an additional 2x zoom on top of the optical zoom giving a combined total of 24x. In UHD the camera uses a database of textures to determine the best way to process the image. This allows for a virtually transparent extra 1.5x electronic zoom on top of the optical one. This gives you the 18x zoom range indicated on the camera body. In use, the clear image zoom function works seamlessly with the optical zoom. So as you zoom in or out the electronic zoom takes over where the optical one finishes.
There is the very slightest of bumps in the zoom at the changeover point from optical to digital which I don’t think most audiences would spot. After shooting so much recently with Super 35mm cameras I really had forgotten just how much quicker it can be to shoot with a good par-focal zoom with a high zoom ratio (par focal – focus remains constant through the zoom range). The lens is reasonably wide at the equivalent of 29mm going all the way optically to a 348mm in full frame 35mm terms. The only downside really to the zoom is that the widest aperture ramps from f2.8 to f4.5 as you zoom in. This is one of the penalties you pay for having a larger sensor.
Another slight peculiarity of the aperture is that the minimum is f11. Most lenses go down to f16 or smaller, but this is limited to f11. I suspect this may be to prevent something called diffraction limiting. When light travels though a very small aperture it can become slightly defocussed. When you have very small pixels (like when you cram 4K’s worth of pixels onto a smallish sensor) this slight defocussing has a big impact and can lead to soft and blurry looking pictures. I suspect that Sony may be limiting the smallest aperture to f11 to prevent this and help ensure sharp pictures at all times. If you have too much light then don’t worry as you have a 4 way ND filter system where you can choose between clear, 1/4, 1/16th and 1/64 ND.
The lens has three control rings. One for aperture, one for zoom and one for focus. Unfortunately none of these have any markings as they are all electronic controls with no direct connection to the mechanics of the lens. Fortunately though the lens is quite responsive. The iris ring works well with almost no lag. The zoom ring is the weakest link as you can turn the zoom ring faster than the lens can zoom and this can result in some lag as you wait for the zoom to catch up. The zoom speed range is pretty good, using the rocker on the hand grip you can go from a very slow creeping zoom to a respectable 2.5 seconds (approx) from fully wide to 12x.
The focus ring is big and chunky, easy to find and easy to grip. While you can’t crash focus with it the manual focus, it is nice and responsive and doesn’t exhibit any nasty overshoots or other surprises. So manual focussing is nice and easy. This is assisted by a good viewfinder peaking and a focus magnification system that helps you determine the sharpest parts of the image with ease. One observation though is that if you leave the peaking on the default “White” setting it can make some scenes appear over exposed as white sparkles appear across areas of fine detail. For this reason I normally use the Red or Blue peaking colors.
INPUT AND OUTPUT CONNECTIONS
For audio there is a built in stereo mic on the front of the handle that is adequate for background and ambient sound recording. You then have the usual 2x XLR connectors with switchable phantom power on the front of the hand grip plus Sony’s MI Shoe on the top. Using the MI Shoe you can connect Sony’s UWP-D radio microphones directly to the camera via a low cost mounting adapter (SMAD-P3) eliminating the need for wires or batteries in the microphone receiver. It’s a very neat system.
To output your pictures you have an HDSDI connector on the rear of the camera for HD plus an HDMI port that can deliver UHD. There is also a legacy standard definition composite video output, this is one of the few Sony professional cameras to still have this built in. There is of course also a headphone socket on the rear panel of the camera just above the DC in socket.
POWER AND BUILD QUALITY.
The PXW-Z150 runs off readily available and incredibly common Sony NP-F series batteries. It’s a low power camera so a single battery lasts for ages. I got about 3.5 hours from one of the smaller F770 batteries. An F970 would give at least half a working day, so two of those is all that most people would need.
When I first picked the camera up it felt good. Like most modern cameras it’s constructed from a mix of plastics and alloy. The plastics appear to be of good quality and it seems to be well constructed. Perhaps not quite as high quality as the PXW-FS5 or FS7 but this is a much cheaper camera.
Buttons and switches:
There are very few switches on this camera. Just the on/off switch and switches for the audio inputs. But there are plenty of buttons including 6 user assignable buttons. For exposure control you have push buttons that select the gain, white balance and shutter settings and work in conjunction with a small up/down rocker button on the front left of the body. The rocker is used to scroll though the selections available for each of these. In practice this works quite well except that once you select one of these functions, lets say the gain, it remains selected and the rocker switch active unless you press a different function. If you press gain again to try to deselect it, gain will switch to auto and you have to press it again to go back to manual. It’s a minor thing but did result in me ending up accidentally going to auto gain or shutter when I didn’t mean to. I’m sure if you were to use the camera regularly you would soon get used to this.
Iris(aperture) is switched between auto and manual via a dedicated button as is focus. Autofocus works surprisingly well even in low light. It’s not fast but hunting is minimal once it’s focussed and it was able to track moving objects quite well.
While a one inch sensor is bigger than 2/3″ or 1/2″ it’s still significantly smaller than the Super 35mm sensors that are all the range. The Z150 has a lot of pixels squeezed onto quite a small space, so don’t expect amazing low light performance, it’s not that kind of camera. However it’s low light performance is very good for this class of compact all-in-one UHD/4K camera. For all but the most critical applications you can add 12dB of gain without any major dramas to boost the low light performance. +24dB isn’t horrendous if you really have to push the camera and the top limit of +33dB is impressive but rather noisy. In low light the lens works best when it’s wide and at f2.8. Zoom in and it drops down to f4.5 and that does drop your brightness by over a stop or the equivalent of a little over 6dB of gain (1 f-stop = 6dB = Double/half the ISO).
So picture quality… that’s a pretty important factor.
Single small sensor cameras have come a long way in recent years and the Z150 is no exception. The picture quality is pretty good for a budget camera. The smallish sensor with it’s tightly packed and very small pixels does impose some limitations on just how good it can be, especially in dynamic range and sensitivity but it does produce a nice picture for what it is.
Colours are vibrant, noise levels are low and dynamic range perfectly useable. I estimate about 10 stops of dynamic range so it’s not in the same league as the super 35mm cameras, but respectable none the less. Noise levels are low enough that you can afford to slightly under expose the camera and tweak the pictures a little in post production if you need to. This can be useful if you notice the camera is struggling with bright highlights. I used the cameras built in Histogram to help judge exposure and found that if I had bright highlights such as the bright clouds in the sky as seen in the frame grabs here, that the best results were achieved when ensuring the highlights were below the grey 100% line on the histogram. If you expose the highlights all the way to the far right of the histogram (109%) the highlight areas are flattened by the cameras knee and they can look a bit odd. I felt it was best to expose just a little lower as this gives better looking highlights (about half to one stop). If using auto exposure, including a -0.5 to -1 EV offset to the auto exposure (in the camera menu) has the same effect. Chromatic aberration is very low, probably being hidden by in camera processing. and the sharpening/detail correction well balanced. The PXW-Z150 creates good looking images for a single smaller chip sensor out of the box.
But as well as the standard look the camera does include 6 picture profiles which can be found towards the bottom of the camera menu. Each profile gives a quite different look.
As you can see each of these looks is quite different (The Z150 also has several different scene settings that can be used for shooting in full auto under differing lighting conditions, these change the way the camera works out the auto exposure levels).
The dynamic range is no different in each profile. PP2, the DSLR look adds contrast by crushing the mid range and blacks, it’s also highly saturated to give stronger colors, particularly reds. The red flower in the frame grab was not that red.
Picture Profile 3 mixes Rec709 gamma with Sony’s “Pro” color matrix. I like the Pro color settings as it gives true to life colors and it grades quite well if you want to make tweaks in post production.
Picture Profile 4 is Rec709 (ITU709) gamma and color. To me the colors are not as accurate as they could be. The flower looks a little too “electric” compared to the real life color.
The Cinematone Gammas in picture profiles 5 and 6 flatten the image a little and bring up the shadows. This can help a little if you wish to tweak or adjust the images in post production. The Cinematone gammas are not the same as the Cinegammas found in the higher dynamic range cameras like the FS5 or A7.
Personally I did not like the colors associated with the Cinematone color settings. But one of the great things about the Picture Profiles is you can mix and match the various gamma curves and color matrix settings to create your own looks and styles. The “Pro” color matrix offers some very accurate colors and I quite like the look that you get when you combine Cinematone 2 gamma with the Pro color matrix. If you find the colors a little flat you can boost the saturation level a bit, I found that setting the saturation to +15 gave a great look straight from the camera. Don’t be afraid to go into the Picture Profile settings and experiment with different combinations of Gamma curve and Color matrix. Just don’t turn up the Saturation too high, I would not recommend going above +20.
One small annoyance I found with the PXW-Z150 was that the only menu button is up on the top of the hand grip. As I like to fiddle around with the Picture Profile settings I did find it a little awkward to access the menu controls on the very top of the camera, especially if it was at shoulder height or above on a tripod. You can’t see them up there!
Like most modern cameras the PXW-Z150 has a full set of WiFi features including the ability to transfer files wirelessly via ftp to a remote server, to stream live or control the camera from a tablet or mobile phone. A future firmware update will add Sony’s QoS (Quality Of Service) streaming error correction that promises much improved image quality over poor network connections when streaming to a Sony QoS server. To remotely control the camera you need to install Content Browser Mobile on your Android or iOS device.
SUPER SLOW MOTION
One more trick that the PXW-Z150 has is the ability to shoot continuously at up to 120fps (100fps when the camera is set to 50i area). The image is full HD but more highly compressed than the regular HD recordings, plus it’s interlaced, not progressive. In addition the inevitable faster shutter speeds mean that you do need plenty of light to get the very best results. I could definitely see a small drop in image quality when shooting at 100 or 120 fps, but the footage is perfectly useable and it is great to be able to slow down motion by 4 or 5 times. You do need to be a little careful if using the interlaced footage within a progressive production as very fast moving objects that travel through the frame may exhibit the combing artefact common in regular interlace material when show progressively. To get the full 5x slow down the camera needs to be set to 60i area to allow the selection of 120fps.
The PXW-Z150 is a compact jack of all trades camera that’s easy to work with, has a great zoom range and delivers a respectable looking image. The largeish 1″ sensor gives a greater degree of control over the depth of field than you will have with a camera with a 1/2″ or 1/3″ sensor. But it’s isn’t going to give you that super shallow film look unless you are using longer focal lengths.
I think the Z150 will find a home in many corporate and industrial production applications. The ability to shoot in 4K gives the flexibility to crop int the image to re-frame shots for HD productions. And the price is good too, you get a lot of camera for the money.
The new Sony A6300 is making quite a stir. This compact interchangeable lens camera has an amazing feature set that is very similar to the features found on it’s bigger brothers the A7sII and A7RII.
As a video camera it’s also capable recording using the XAVC-S codec in both HD and UHD(4K). It can even shoot at 120fps in HD. It also has picture profiles so you can tailor the look of the pictures or to suit different shooting conditions. The Cinegammas are very useful for challenging lighting conditions as they offer an improved highlight roll-off. As well as the Cinegammas the camera also has the S-Log2 and S-Log3 log gamma curves as well as S-Gamut, S-Gamut3 and S-Gamut3.cine.
Log gamma curves are very different to conventional gamma curves. Conventional gamma curves (like rec-709 or Cinegamma) are designed to produce a pleasing on screen image without any post production work (although the cinegammas do typically benefit with some tweaking in post). To do this conventional gammas keep the mid-range contrast compatible with conventional TV’s and monitors, so the picture has natural contrast when viewed on a TV. Then to help deal with bright highlights conventional gammas use some kind of highlight roll off or knee to increase the brightness range the camera can capture without effecting the mid range. Unfortunately this means that the highlights are somewhat compromised, looking very flat, lacking contrast and this is often what gives video the “video look”. In addition it also means that if you are over exposed when you shoot, the picture will look bad and no amount of post production correction will ever make it look good. Most TV camera operators will be very familiar with the phrase “protect your highlights”, meaning don’t over expose, if anything under expose a tiny bit to keep the highlights looking good.
Log gamma curves such as S-Log2 and S-Log3 are very different. They extended the dynamic range that the camera can capture. To do this they no longer try to be directly compatible with conventional TV’s and monitors and just focus on capturing the biggest possible range. The pictures will be made compatible with the TV or monitor via adjustments made during editing or in post production. So working with S-log2 and S-Log3 is a two step process – shooting and grading (grading is the term used for adjusting the look of an image in post production).
Because log gamma no longer needs to have a contrast range that matches the display range, more dynamic range can be squeezed into a conventional recording codec. It also means that there is no longer a need to use any highlight roll off or knee, so there is a lot more picture information in the highlights and brighter parts of the image. As a result exposing log gamma extra brightly is not normally a problem and in many cases brings lot of advantages. Log gamma curves do have a shadow roll off that mimics the real world shadow roll off. As a result log gammas really don’t like being under exposed, instead they prefer to be over exposed. So unlike conventional gamma where we “protect the highlights” with log gamma you need to “protect the shadows”. Under exposed log looks bad. It will lack color and it will be noisy and grainy.
For most camera operators it’s quite disconcerting to start shooting very slightly over exposed as it goes against everything you’ve learnt about shooting with a conventional video camera. But trust me, shooting 1 to 2 stops brighter than the recommended levels given by Sony on the A6300 (and any other Sony Log camera) will normally bring the best results.
The very same techniques can be used with the A6300, A7SII and A7RII. The A6300 etc also have S-Log3, but as these are 8 bit cameras (even when using an external recorder) I would still recommend that you use S-Log2. Besides, viewing and monitoring S-Log3 is tough as the pictures look even flatter than S-Log3.
If you follow the link below you will find a set of LUT’s (Look Up Tables) that can be applied to A6300 footage in post production to give different looks. There are some film-look LUT’s and 709 (normal TV look) LUT’s and in each case there are LUT’s for normal exposure as well as footage exposed 1 stop and 2 stops brighter. If a LUT name includes “1OVER” this means that the LUT is designed to work with footage that has been exposed 1 stop brighter than the levels given by Sony. My recommendation is to shoot at between 1 and 2 stops bright. For both S-Log2 and S-Log3 this would mean setting zebras to 70% and exposing a piece of white paper so that zebras are just starting to appear on the white paper.
If you find these LUT’s useful please consider buying me a coffee or a beer. I’m not paid to write these articles. For the LUT set I would appreciate a Cocktail, but am happy with whatever you feel is appropriate or affordable.
The new Sony PXW-X200 is externally very similar to the old PMW-200, but under the hood it is a very different camera. For a start it has new and much improved sensors and processing. That combined with 10 bit 422 XAVC means that there is a noticeable improvement in image quality, in particular noise levels. As a result the pictures from the X200 actually grade really well.
However for the best results when grading or for general purpose shooting I feel you can benefit from a few simple changes to the cameras picture profiles. Out of the factory the camera uses Rec-709 gamma with a knee. This gives a reasonable picture but the highlights can look rather crushed with some neon colours. I feel that the X200 really benefits from the use of a Hypergamma gamma curve. Below are some settings that you can change in the Picture Profiles for better image quality, change ONLY the settings listed:
General Purpose Profile for day to day shooting (NOT Broadcast Safe, 109% peak white):
Here are a couple of high dynamic range WYSIWYG LUTs to play with. These are for the F5/F55/FS7. The camera should be set to SGamut3.cine/S-log3 and the EI should be set to the base EI (2000EI F5/F55 and 1250 EI on the F55).
WYS-ACALW1 will give almost the full dynamic range of the camera with lots of highlight roll off. It’s created to capture an extremely large dynamic range to help cope with very bright scenes such as sunny exteriors. Skin tones should be around 55-65% for the best results so zebras set to around 60%.
WYS-ACHGC1 will give a 12.5 stop dynamic range. It has more contrast than ALW1 but a bit less dynamic range. The colour palette is based on a Canon type look. Skin tones should be around 60-70% so zebras set around 65%.
These LUT’s are primarily designed for the PMW-F5 and PXW-FS7 but they should also work with the PMW-F55 and A7s. You need to shoot in SGamut/S-Log2.
There are two types of LUT. The AC-Canon-Log versions will output Canon C-Log with Canon wide range colorspace while the AC-Canon-Look versions output using Canons wide dynamic range gamma. The C-Log versions should be a close match to a C300 shooting C-Log but the footage will need some grading as it is still log. The Canon Look versions will have better contrast and need less grading but have less dynamic range.
I don’t have a C300 to hand to test these, so I am not sure how close they are and it will vary a little depending on whether you use an FS7, A7s or F5/F55.
Click on the links below to download the LUT sets. PLEASE DO NOT HOST THESE ELSEWHERE OR DISTRIBUTE THESE ELSEWHERE OR VIA ANY MEANS OTHER THAN A LINK TO THIS PAGE.
Quite a lot of people like to use S-Log2 or S-Log3 in custom mode. I’m not a fan of this method myself, I prefer to use CineEI, but for some people using S-Log2 or S-Log3 in custom works for them. If you use S-Log2/3 in custom mode then you are working with 709 color space, so if you want to use a LUT in post you need a LUT designed for this combination. So I have created two sets, one set for S-Log2 and one set for S-Log3. The LUT’s include over and under exposure compensation and you can download them here.
NORMAL: Indicates correct Slog2 exposure, middle grey at 32% and white at 59%, for SLog3 use middle grey 41%, white 61%.
1OVER etc indicates that the LUT will compensate for footage one stop over exposed.
If you are exposing the Slog2 so that skin tones are in the 60-70% region you will most likely need to use the 2 or 3OVER LUT’s.
Click on the links below to download the LUT sets. PLEASE DO NOT HOST THESE ELSEWHERE OR DISTRIBUTE THESE ELSEWHERE OR VIA ANY MEANS OTHER THAN A LINK TO THIS PAGE.
One of the great features of the PXW-FS7 is the ability to be able to change the look of the images when shooting in Custom Mode. You can change many settings including the gamma curve, matrix and sharpness setting. The gamma settings change the contrast, the matrix the color and the detail and aperture settings change how sharp the pictures look.
Once you’ve made some changes you can save these settings as a Scene File using the File menu on an SD card.
I am a big fan of Sony’s Hypergammas. There are 6 in the FS7. Hypergamma 3 is very good for getting a nicer highlight roll off when shooting in lower light situations. Hypergamma 4 is good for brighter scenes and Hypergammas 7 and 8 really extends the cameras dynamic range and handles high contrast scenes very well, but can look a little flat so will need some tweaking in post production. In fact all the hypergammas need a bit of a tweak in post as to get the very best from them you should expose your shots about 1 stop darker to keep skin tones etc out of the upper compressed part of the curve and then bring the brightness back up again in post.
Anyway here are some scene files for you to download and install in the camera.
AC-NEUTRAL-HG3 This is for flatter scenes, it provides a natural look with some yellow/green removed to provide a more neutral look.
AC-NEUTRAL-HG4 This is for brighter or high contrast scenes, it provides a natural look with some yellow/green removed to provide a more neutral look.
AC-FILMLIKE1 A high dynamic range film like look.
AC-FILMLIKE2 A high dynamic range film like look with an increased blue and red response with decreased yellow/green. A little more block-buster like.
AC-VIBRANT-HG3 A vivid matrix with good dynamic range. Good for punchy direct to air images where strong colours are wanted.
AC FS7 Scene Files, set of 5.
If you find these scene files useful, please consider buying me a beer or a coffee. All donations are really appreciated and allow me to spend more time on the blog creating new guides and scene files etc.
Here are two sets of LUT’s for use in post production with the PXW-FS7, PMW-F5 and PMW-F55.
These LUT’s are based around the Sony 709(800) LUT and the Sony LC-709TypeA LUT (Arri Alexa look). But in addition to the base LUT designed for when you shoot at the native ISO there are LUTs for when you shoot at a lower or higher EI.
When you shoot at a high or low EI the resulting footage will be either under or over exposed when you add the standard LUT. These LUT’s include compensation for the under or overexposure giving the best possible translation from SGamut3.cine/S-log3 to rec-709 or the Alexa look and result in pleasing skin tones and a nice mid range with minimal additional grading effort.
If you find these LUT’s useful please consider buying me a coffee or beer.
It’s very easy to create your own User3D LUT for the Sony PXW-FS7 using DaVinci Resolve or just about any grading software with LUT export capability. The LUT should be a 17x17x17 or 33x33x33 .cube LUT (this is what Resolve creates by default).
Simply shoot a correctly exposed Slog3 clip at the native ISO. You must use the same Gamut as you intend to use in any other productions that will use this LUT, I recommend SGamut3.cine.
Import the clip in to Resolve and grade it as you wish the final image to look. A very good way to do this is to include a MacBeth chart or DSC Labs OneShot or CDM chart within the test shot. Then use Resolves excellent chart matching tool to get create a starting point for the grade. The big benefit of this approach is that Resolve will provide a very good gamma correction moving your footage from Slog3 to Rec-709. Once you have used the chart to move you into the correct gamma range just tweak and fine tune the image to get your desired look. Then once your happy with your look, right click on the clip in the timeline and “Export LUT”. Resolve will then create a .cube LUT.
Then place the .cube LUT file created by the grading software on an SD card in the PMWF55_F5 folder. You may need to create the following folder structure on the SD card, so first you have a PRIVATE folder, in that there is a SONY folder and so on.
Put the SD card in the camera, then go to the File menu and go to “Monitor 3D LUT” and select “Load SD Card”. The camera will offer you a 1 to 4 destination memory selection, choose 1,2,3 or 4, this is the location where the LUT will be saved. You should then be presented with a list of all the LUT’s on the SD card. Select your chosen LUT to save it from the SD card to the camera.
Once loaded in to the camera when you choose 3D User LUT’s you can select between user LUT memory 1,2,3 or 4. Your LUT will be in the memory you selected when you copied the LUT from the SD card to the camera.
NOTE: If you use a Mac to copy the LUT to the SD card the Mac will place some junk files on the SD card with almost exactly the same name as the LUT. The camera will see this junk file and display it in the list of LUT files. The junk file will have a “._” before the LUT name. Don’t try to load these junk files by mistake, they won’t work. Make sure you scroll down the LUT list to the real LUT file when you try to load the LUT’s in to the camera.
Camera setup, reviews, tutorials and information for pro camcorder users from Alister Chapman.