There has been a lot of discussion recently and few videos posted that perhaps give the impression that if you shoot with S-Log2 on an FS5 and compare it to raw shot on the FS5 there is very little difference.
Many of the points raised in the videos are correct. ProRes raw won’t give you any more dynamic range. It won’t improve the cameras low light performance. There are features such as automatic lens aberration correction applied when shooting internally which isn’t applied when shooting raw. Plus it’s true that shooting ProRes raw requires an external recorder that makes the diminutive little FS5 much more bulky.
So why in that case shoot ProRes Raw?
Frankly, if all you are doing is producing videos that will be compressed to within an inch of their life for YouTube, S-Log2 can do an excellent job when exposed well, it can be graded and can produce a nice image.
But if you are trying to produce the highest quality images possible then well shot ProRes raw will give you more data to work with in post production with fewer compression artefacts than the internal 8 bit UHD XAVC.
I was looking at some shots that I did in preparation for my recent webinar on ProRes raw earlier today and at first glance there isn’t perhaps much difference between the UHD 8 bit XAVC S-Log2 files and the ProRes raw files that were shot within seconds of each other. But look more closely and there are some important differences, especially if skin tones are important too you.
Skin tones sit half way between middle grey and white and typically span around 2 to 3 stops. So with S-Log 2 and an 8 bit recording a face would span around 24 to 34 IRE and have a somewhere between 24 and 35 code values – Yes, that’s right, maybe as few as 24 shades in each of the R, G and B channels. If you apply a basic LUT to this and then view it on a typical 8 bit monitor it will probably look OK.
But compare that to 12 bit linear raw recording and the same face with 2 to 3 stops across it will have anywhere up to 10 to 20 times as many code values ( somewhere around 250 – 500 code values depending on exactly how it’s exposed) . Apply the same LUT as for the S-Log2 and on the surface it looks pretty much the same – or does it?
Look closely and you will see more texture in the 12 bit raw. If you are lucky enough to have a 10 bit monitor the differences are even more apparent. Sure, it isn’t an in-your-face night and day difference but the 12 bit skin tones look less like plastic and much more real, they just look nicer, especially if it’s someone with a good complexion.
In addition looking at my test material I am also seeing some mpeg compression artefacts on the skin tones in the 8 bit XAVC that has a smoothing effect on the skin tones, reducing some of the subtle textures and adding to the slightly un-real, video look.
The other deal with a lack of code values and H624 compression is banding. Take 8 bit S-Log2 and start boosting the contrast in a sky scene, perhaps to bring out some cloud details and you will start to see banding and stair stepping if you are not very careful. You will also see it across wall and other textureless surfaces. You can even see this on your grading suite waveform scopes in many cases. You won’t get this with well exposed 12 bit linear raw (for any normal grading at least).
None of these are huge deals perhaps. But what is it that makes a great picture? Take Sony’s Venice or the Arri Alexa as examples. We know these to be great cameras that produce excellent images. But what is it that makes the images so good? The short answer is that it is a combination of a wide range of factors, each done as well as is possible. Good DR, good colour, good skin tones etc. So what you want to record is whatever the sensor in your camera can deliver as well as you can. 8 bit UHD compressed to only 100Mb/s is not really that great. 12 bit raw will give you more textures in the mid range and highlights. It does have some limitations in the shadows, but that is easily overcome with a nice bright exposure and printing down in post.
And it’s not just about image quality.
Don’t forget that ProRes Raw makes shooting at 4K DCI possible. If you hope to ever release your work for cinema display, perhaps on the festival circuit, you are going to be much better off shooting in the cinema DCI 4K standard rather than the UHD TV standard. It also allows you to shoot 60fps in 4K (I’m in the middle of a very big 4K 60p project right now). Want to shoot even faster – well with ProRes Raw you can, you can shoot at up to 120fps in 4K. So there are many other benefits to the raw option on the FS5 and recording to ProRes raw on a Shogun Inferno.
There is also the acceptability of 8 bit UHD. No broadcaster that I know of will ever consider 8 bit UHD unless there is absolutely no other way to get the material. You are far more likely to be able to get them to accept 12 bit raw.
Future proofing is another consideration. I am sure that ProRes raw decoders will improve and support in other applications will eventually come. By going back to your raw sensor data with better software you may be able to gain better image quality from your footage in the future. With Log you are already somewhat limited as the bulk of the image processing has already been done and is baked into the footage.
It’s late on Friday afternoon here in the UK and I’ve promised to spend some time with the family this evening. So no videos today. But next week I’ll post some of the examples I’ve been looking at so that you can see where ProRes raw elevates the image quality possible from the FS5.