Tag Archives: exposure

ISO and EI – using the right terms makes what you are doing easier to understand.

ISO and EI are different things and have different meanings. I find that it really helps understand what you are doing if you use the terms correctly and understand exactly what each really means.

ISO is the measured sensitivity of film stock. There is no actual direct equivalent for electronic cameras as the camera manufacturer is free to determine what they believe is an acceptable noise level. So one camera with an ISO of 1000 may be a lot more or less sensitive than another camera rated at 1000 ISO, it all depends on how much noise the manufacturer things is acceptable for that particular camera.

Broadly speaking on an electronic camera ISO is the number you would enter in to a light meter to achieve the a normally exposed image. It is the nearest equivalent to a sensitivity rating, it isn’t an actual sensitivity rating, but it’s what you need to enter into a light meter if you want to set the exposure that way.

EI is the Exposure Index. For film this is the manufacturers recommended best setting for your light meter to get the best results following the standard developing process for the chosen film stock. It is often different from the films true sensitivity rating. For example Kodak 500T is a 500 ISO film stock that has an EI of 350 when shooting under tungsten light. In almost all situations you would use the EI and not the ISO.

On an electronic camera EI normally refers to an exposure rating that you have chosen to give the camera to get the optimum results for the type of scene you are shooting. ISO may give the median/average/typical exposure for the camera but often rating the camera at a different ISO can give better results depending on your preferences for noise or highlight/shadow range etc. If you find exposing a bit brighter helps your images then you are rating the camera slower (treating it as though it’s less sensitive) and you would enter your new lower sensitivity rating into your light meter and this would be the EI.

Keeping EI and ISO as two different things (because they are) helps you to understand what your camera is doing. ISO is the base or manufacturer sensitivity rating and in most (but not all) log or raw cameras you cannot change this.

EI is the equivalent sensitivity number that you may choose to use to offset the exposure away from the manufacturers rating.

If you freely interchange ISO and EI it’s very confusing for people as they don’t know whether you are referring to the base sensitivity rating or a sensitivity rating that is not the base sensitivity but actually some kind of offset.

If you have a camera with an ISO rating of 2000 and you say “I’m shooting at 800 EI” then it’s clear that you are using a 1.3 stop exposure offset. But if you just say “I’m shooting at 800 ISO” it is less clear as to exactly what you are doing. Have you somehow changed the cameras base sensitivity or are you using an offset? While the numbers used by EI and ISO are the same, the meaning of the terms ISO and EI are importantly different.

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Noise, ISO, Gain, S-Log2 v S-Log3 and exposure.

Even though I have written about these many times before the message still just doesn’t seem to be getting through to people.

Since the dawn of photography and video the only way to really change the signal to noise ratio and ultimately how noisy the pictures are is by changing how much light you put onto the sensor.

Gain, gamma, log, raw, etc etc only have a minimal effect on the signal to noise ratio. Modern cameras do admittedly employ a lot of noise reduction processes to help combat high noise levels, but these come at a price. Typically they soften the image or introduce artefacts such as banding, smear or edge tearing. So you always want to start off with the best possible image from the sensor with the least possible noise and the only way to achieve that is through good exposure – putting the optimum amount of light onto the sensor.

ISO is so confusing:

But just to confuse things the use of ISO to rate an electronic cameras sensitivity has become normal. But the problem is that most people have no clue about what this really means. On an electronic camera ISO is NOT a sensitivity measurement, it is nothing more than a number that you can put into an external light meter to allow you to use that light meter to obtain settings for the shutter speed and aperture that will give you the camera manufacturers suggest optimum exposure. That’s it – and that is very different to sensitivity.

Lets take Sony’s FS7 as an example (most other cameras behave in a very similar way).

If you set the FS7 up at 0dB gain, rec-709, it will have an exposure rating of 800 ISO. Use a light meter to expose with the meters ISO dial set to 800. Lets say the light meter says set the aperture to f8. When you do this the image is correctly exposed, looks good (well as good as 709 gets at least) and for most people has a perfectly acceptable amount of noise.

Now switch the camera to S-Log2 or S-Log3. With the camera still set to 0dB the ISO rating changes to 2000 which give the impression that the camera may have become more sensitive. But did we change the sensor? No.  Have we added any more gain? No, we have not, the camera is still at 0dB. But if you now expose at the recommended levels, after you have done your grading and you grade to levels similar to 709 the pictures will look quite a lot noisier than pictures shot using Rec-709.

So what’s going on?

If you now go back to the light meter to expose the very same scene, you turn the ISO dial on the light meter from 800 to 2000 ISO and the light meter will tell you to now set the aperture to f13 (approx). So starting at the f8 you had for 800 ISO, you close the aperture on the camera by 1.3 stops to f13 and you will have the “correct” exposure.

BUT: now you are putting 1.3 stops less light on to the sensor so the signal coming from the sensor is reduced by 9dB and as a result the sensor noise that is always there and never really changes is much more noticeable. As a result compared to 709 the graded S-Log looks noisy and it looks noisier by the equivalent of 9dB. This is not because you have changed the cameras sensitivity or changed because you have changed the amount of camera gain but because compared to when you shoot in 709 the sensor is being under exposed and as a result it is outputting a signal 9dB lower. So in post production when you grade or add a LUT you have to add 9dB of gain to get the same brightness as the original direct rec-709 recording and as well as making the desirable image brighter it also makes the noise 9dB higher (unless you do some very fancy noise reduction work in post).

So what do you do?

It’s common simply to open the aperture back up again, typically by 1.5 stops so that after post production grading the S-log looks no more noisy than the 709 from the FS7 – Because in reality the FS7’s sensor works best for most people when rated at the equivalent of 800 ISO rather than 2000 – probably because it’s real sensitivity is 800 ISO.

When you think about it, when you shoot with Rec-709 or some other gamma that won’t be graded it’s important that it looks good right out of the camera. So the camera manufacturer will ensure that the rec-709 noise and grain v sensitivity settings are optimum – so this is probably the optimum ISO rating for the camera in terms of noise, grain and sensitivity.

So don’t be fooled into thinking that the FS7 is more sensitive when shooting with log, because it isn’t. The only reason the ISO rating goes up as it does is so that if you were using a light meter it would make you put less light onto the sensor which then allows the sensor to handle a brighter highlight range. But of course if you put less light onto the sensor the sensor won’t be able to see so far into the shadows and the picture may be noisy which limits still further the use of any shadow information. So it’s a trade-off, more highlights but less shadows and more noise. But the sensitivity is actually the same. Its’s an exposure change not a sensitivity change.

So then we get into the S-Log2 or S-Log3 debate.

First of all lets just be absolutely clear that both have exactly the same highlight and shadow ranges. Both go to +6 stops and -8 stops, there is no difference in that regard. Period.

And lets also be very clear that both have exactly the same signal to noise ratios. S-log3 is NOT noisier than S-log2. S-log 3 records some of the mid range using higher code values than S-Log2 and before you grade it that can sometimes make it appear like it’s noisier, but the reality is, it is not noisier.  Just like the differing ISO ratings for different gamma curves, this isn’t a sensitivity change, it’s just different code values being used. See this article if you want the hard proof: http://www.xdcam-user.com/2014/03/understanding-sonys-slog3-it-isnt-really-noisy/

Don’t forget when you shoot with log you will be grading the image. So you will be adjusting the brightness of the image. If you grade S-Log2 and S-Log3 to the same brightness levels the cumulative gain (the gain added in camera and the gain added in post) ends up the same. So it doesn’t matter which you use in low light the final image, assuming a like for like grade will have the same amount of noise.

For 8 bit records S-Log2 has different benefits.

S-Log2 was designed from the outset for recording 14 stops with an electronic video camera. So it makes use of the cameras full recording range. S-Log3 is based on an old film log curve (cineon) designed to transfer 16 stops or more to a digital intermediate. So when the camera only has a 14 stop sensor you waste a large part of the available recording range. On a 10 bit camera this doesn’t make much difference. But on a 8 bit camera where you are already very limited with the number of tonal values you can record it isn’t ideal and as a result S-Log2 is often a better choice.

But if I shoot raw it’s all going to be so much better – isn’t it?

Yes, no, maybe…. For a start there are lot’s of different types of raw. There is linear raw, log raw, 10 bit log raw, 12 bit linear, 16 bit linear and they are all quite different.

But they are all limited by what the sensor can see and how noisy the sensor is. So raw won’t give you less noise (it might give different looking noise). Raw won’t give you a bigger dynamic range so it won’t allow you to capture deeper or brighter highlights.

But what raw does normally is to give you more data and normally less compression than the cameras internal recordings. In the case of Sony’s FS5 the internal UHD recordings are 8 bit and highly compressed while the raw output is 12 bit, that’s a 4 fold increase in the amount of tonal values. You can record the 12bit raw using uncompressed cDNG or Apples new ProResRaw codec which doesn’t introduce any appreciable compression artefacts and as a result the footage is much more flexible in post production. Go up to the Sony Venice, F5 or F55 cameras and you have 16 bit raw and X-OCN (which behaves exactly like raw) which has an absolutely incredible range of tonal values and is a real pleasure to work with in post production. But even with the Venice camera the raw does not have more dynamic range than the log. However because there are far more tonal values in the raw and X-OCN you can do more with it and it will hold up much better to aggressive grading.

It’s all about how you expose.

At the end of the day with all of these camera and formats how you expose is the limiting factor. A badly exposed Sony Venice probably won’t end up looking anywhere near as good as a well exposed FS7. A badly exposed FS7 won’t look as good as a well exposed FS5. No camera looks good when it isn’t exposed well.

Exposure isn’t brightness. You can add gain to make a picture brighter, you can also change the gamma curve to change how bright it is.  But these are not exposure changes. Exposure is all about putting the optimum amount of light onto the sensor. Enough light to produce a signal from the sensor that will overcome the sensors noise. But also not so much light that the sensor overloads. That’s what good exposure is. Fiddling around with gamma curves and gain settings will only every make a relatively small difference to noise levels compared to good exposure. There’s just no substitute for faster lenses, reflectors or actually adding light if you want clean images.

And don’t be fooled by ISO ratings. They don’t tell you how noisy the picture is going to be, they don’t tell you what the sensitivity is or even if it’s actually changing. All it tells you is what to set a light meter to.

Log and Raw Don’t have highlight a highlight roll off.

This just keeps coming up over and over. Almost all log gamma curves and the majority of raw recording formats don’t have a highlight roll-off. Any roll off that you might see is probably in the LUT’s that you are using.

The whole point of log and raw is to capture as much information about the scene that you are shooing as you can. Log normally achieves this by recording every stop above middle grey with a constant amount of data, so even the very brightest stop has the same amount of recording data as the ones below it – there is no roll off.

In conventional limited range recordings such as Rec-709, hypergamma, cinegamma etc, highlight roll-offs work by reducing the contrast in the highlights to make the amount of data needed to record the very brightest stops much smaller than used for the rest of the image. This allows 2 or 3 stops to be squeezed into a very small recording range, keeping most of the recording data available for a nice bright high contrast image. The reduction in contrast in the extreme highlights helps hide any highlight handling problems and makes it appear as though the sensors clipping point is reach in a more pleasing soft manner.

But you don’t want this in a log or raw recording as it makes grading much harder as the footage will contain different contrast ranges, each needing it’s own grading adjustments. Also by reducing contrast in the highlights you are reducing the data. It would be very difficult to un-pick a highlight roll off and if you did want to expand the data back out you will get issues such as banding.

S-log-levels Log and Raw Don't have highlight a highlight roll off.
Chart showing S-Log2 and S-Log3 plotted against f-stops and code values. Note how little data there is for each of the darker stops, the best data is above middle grey and there is no highlight roll-off. Note that current sensor only go to +6 stops over middle grey so S-Log2 and S-Log record to different peak levels.

S-Log2 and S-Log3 like almost all log gammas have no highlight roll-off. The only roll off is from middle grey and down. So if you underexpose you will start to roll away the data in your scenes mid range and that’s not good. Expose for the mid range, this is the most important part of any image. If your highlights are a bit clipped don’t worry about this too much. In post production you can add a roll off in the grade that will make any clipped highlights roll away gently. Adding a bit of highlight diffusion in post will also nicely mask any clipped highlights and make them look natural.

Firmware 4.30/1.20 for the PXW-FS7 and PXW-FS7M2 Released. New ISO change in Cine-EI added.

Sony have just released a firmware update for the PXW-FS7 and PXW-FS7 II cameras. This is a minor update with only one new feature being added which is the ability to alter the recorded ISO when shooting in the Cine-EI mode.

FS7: https://pro.sony/ue_US/support/software/pxw-fs7-software-v4-30

FS7 II: https://pro.sony/ue_US/support/software/pxw-fs7m2-v120

When the camera is set to CineEI, this new function is turned on and off in the menu under System – Base Settings – Rec/Out EI Applied.

What does it do?

When shooting normally using Cine EI, assuming that no LUT is applied to SDI1/Rec the camera always records at it’s base sensitivity (2000 ISO exposure rating) with no added gain. This is done to ensure that the cameras full dynamic range is always available and that the full recording range of either S-Log2 or S-Log3 is always available.

Then the EI system is used to apply a LUT just to the viewfinder or SDI 2 for monitoring. The gain of the LUT can then be changed to provide a brighter or darker viewfinder/monitor image. For example setting the EI to 1000 EI would make the viewfinder image darker than the base setting of 2000EI by 1 stop.

VF-side-by-side Firmware 4.30/1.20 for the PXW-FS7 and PXW-FS7M2 Released. New ISO change in Cine-EI added.
2000EI and 1000EI as seen in the viewfinder with NO exposure change (image from PMW-F5, but the FS7 is more or less the same).

Because you are viewing this darker image you would then open the cameras aperture by 1 stop to compensate. Opening the aperture up results in a brighter recording. A brighter recording, achieved by putting more light onto the sensor will have less noise than a darker exposure, so the end result is brighter recorded images with less noise.

This process is often referred to as “rating” the camera and it is in many cases preferable to “rate” the FS7 around a stop slower (Viewfinder is darker, less sensitive, so that means you end up opening up the aperture) than the base 2000 ISO rating to gain a cleaner image that typically gives much greater flexibility in post production. So many users will set the EI on an FS7 to 1000 or 800 (It’s no co-incidence that I find  get the sweet spot to be 800EI which happens to match the rating that Sony give the FS7 when shooting Rec-709).

Because in the normal EI mode there is no change to the cameras actual recording gain (the recordings take place at the equivalent of 2000 ISO) there is no change to the dynamic range. The camera will always capture 14 stops no matter what you set the EI to. However if you open the aperture by an extra stop (selecting 1000 EI, which results in a 1 stop darker viewfinder image, so to compensate you open up 1 stop) you move the mid point of the exposure up 1 stop. This means you will reduce the over exposure headroom by 1 stop but at the same time you gain one stop of under exposure range. You will see 1 stop further into the shadows, plus there will be less noise, so the shadow range becomes much more useable.

Conventional EI mode and Post Production.

In post production these brightly exposed images will need some degree of adjustment. If you are doing a virgin grade from scratch then you don’t really need to do anything extra or different, you will just grade it to taste.

If you are using a LUT you will need to either use an exposure compensated LUT (I always provide these in any of my free LUT sets) or you will need to correct the exposure before applying the LUT. If you apply a standard LUT and then try to correct the exposure the results will often not be satisfactory as the LUT determines many things such as where any highlight roll-off occurs. Correcting after this can result in washed out of flat looking skin tones. So really you need to make the exposure correction to the material before it is passed to the LUT.

No loss of dynamic range with conventional EI.

It’s worth noting that even though the levels are reduced to “normal” levels when applying an exposure compensated LUT or through grading this should not reduce the dynamic range. You do not just shift the range down (which would hard clip the blacks and cause a loss of DR at the low end). What you are typically doing is reducing the gain to bring the levels down and this allows the information in the new extended shadow range to be retained, so nothing is lost and your footage will still have 14 stops of DR along with nice clean shadows and mid tones.

Is this all too difficult?

However, some people find that the need to correct the exposure prior to adding the LUT difficult or time consuming (I don’t know why, they just do. It takes  no longer to add a compensated LUT than a normal LUT). Or some people find it difficult to get a good looking image from  brightly exposed footage (probably because they are grading after the LUT has been applied). For these reasons Sony have added the ability to bake the EI change directly into the recording by shifting the gain of the recordings to match the selected EI.

Rec/Out EI Applied:

So now if you enable Rec/Out EI Applied any change you make to the cameras EI settings will now also be applied as a gain change to the recordings. If you set the EI to 1000, then the recordings will take place at 1000 ISO and not 2000 ISO. This means that you do not have to make any exposure corrections in post production, just apply a standard LUT.

You will loose some of your dynamic range:

The down side to this is that you are now changing the gain of the camera. Changing the gain away from 0dB will reduce the dynamic range and affect the recording range. So, for example if you wish to shoot at 1000 EI have Rec/Out EI Applied you will be recording with -6dB gain and an effective ISO of 1000. You will have 1 stop less of shadow range as the cameras effective sensitivity is being reduced by 1 stop but the sensors clip/overload point remains the same. So when you open the aperture to compensate for the lower sensitivity you will have the same shadow range as base, but loose one stop off the top. The images will have less noise, but there will be no additional shadow information and a reduction in highlight range by 1 stop, the DR will be 13 stops.

Another side effect of this is that the peak recording level is also reduced. This is because the cameras clipping point is determined by the sensor. This sensor clip point is normally mapped to the peak recording level and the cameras noise floor is mapped to the black level (you can’t see things that are darker than the sensors noise floor no matter what level of gain you use as the noise will always be higher than the object brightness).

Slide2-1 Firmware 4.30/1.20 for the PXW-FS7 and PXW-FS7M2 Released. New ISO change in Cine-EI added.If you reduce the gain of the signal this level must decrease as a result. This means that S-Log3 which normally gets to around ~94% will now only reach ~85%, the change to S-Log2 is even greater (S-Log3’s peak recording level will reduce by 8.9% for every stop down you go, S-Log2 will reduce by 12% for each stop you go down ).

Slide6-1 Firmware 4.30/1.20 for the PXW-FS7 and PXW-FS7M2 Released. New ISO change in Cine-EI added.

 

Raising the EI/ISO will also reduce the dynamic range as the gain is applied after the sensor. So the sensors clip point remains the same, so the brightest highlight it handles remains fixed. Adding gain after this simply means the recordings will clip earlier, but you will get a brighter mid range, brighter (but not more) shadows and a noisier picture.

Slide4-1 Firmware 4.30/1.20 for the PXW-FS7 and PXW-FS7M2 Released. New ISO change in Cine-EI added.

 

What happens in post with Rec/Out EI Applied?

In post production these range and peak level changes mean that while a standard LUT will result in a correct looking mid range (because middle grey and skin tones will be at “normal” levels) there may be some problems with highlights never reaching 100% in the case of a low EI/ISO. Or being excessively clipped in the case of a high EI/ISO.  Remember LUT’s are designed to work over very specific ranges. So if the input to the LUT doesn’t reach the peak level the LUT is expecting then the output from the LUT will also be reduced. So often there will still be the need to do some additional grading of highlights prior to the application of the LUT, or the need to use LUT’s designed specifically for each ISO rating (and the design of these LUT’s is more complex than a simple exposure offset).

Is it really easier?

So while this new feature will simplify the workflow for some situations where an alternate ISO/EI has been used – because exposure correction in post production won’t be needed. It may actually make things more difficult if you have bright highlights or need to be sure that your finished video meets expected standards where highlights are at 100%. You will still need to do some grading.

I don’t recommend that you use it.

Personally I do not recommend that you use this new feature. There are plenty of exposure compensated LUT’s available online (I have lots here). Tweaking the exposure of log footage in post production isn’t that difficult, especially if you use a color managed workflow. My guess is that this is aimed at FCP-X users where FCP-X applies a default LUT as standard. In this instance footage shoot with an offset exposure will look over/under exposed while footage shoot with the EI/ISO Applied will look normal (except for the highlights). So on the face of things the workflow may appear simpler. But you are loosing dynamic range and surely the primary reason for shooting with log is to maximise the dynamic range and gain the greatest possible post production flexibility.  This new feature reduces dynamic range and as a result reduces post production flexibility.

Of course just because I don’t recommend it’s use, it doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t use it if it works for you, just make sure you fully understand what it is doing.

Beware the LC709 LUT double exposure offset.

The use o f the LC709 Type A LUT in Sony’s Cinealta cameras such as the PXW-FS7 or PMW-F55 is very common. This LUT is popular because it was designed to mimic the Arri cameras when in their Rec-709 mode. But before rushing out to use this LUT and any of the other LC709 series of LUT’s there are some things to consider.

The Arri cameras are rarely used in Rec-709 mode for anything other than quick turn around TV. You certainly wouldn’t normally record this for any feature or drama productions. It isn’t the “Arri Look” The Arri look normally comes as a result of shooting using Arri’s LogC and then grading that to get the look you want. The reason it exists is to provide a viewable image on set. It has more contrast than LogC and uses Rec 709 color primaries so the colors look right, but it isn’t Rec-709. It squeezes almost all of the cameras capture range into a something that can be viewed on a 709 monitor so it looks quite flat.

Because a very large dynamic range is being squeezed into a range suitable to be viewed on a regular, standard dynamic range monitor the white level is much reduced compared to regular Rec-709. In fact, white (such as a white piece of paper) should be exposed at around 70%. Skin tones should be exposed at around 55-60%.

If you are shooting S-Log on a Sony camera and using this LUT to monitor, if you were to expose using conventional levels, white at 85-90% skin tones at 65-70%, then you will be offsetting your exposure by around +1.5 stops. On it’s own this isn’t typically going to be a problem. In fact I often come across people that tell me that they always shoot at the cameras native EI using this LUT and get great, low noise pictures. When I dig a little deeper I often find that they are exposing white at 85% via the LC709 LUT. So in reality they are actually shooting with an exposure the equivalent of +1 to +1.5 stops over the base level.

Where you can really run into problems is when you have already added an exposure offset. Perhaps you are shooting on an FS7 where the native ISO is 2000 ISO and using an EI of 800. This is a little over a +1 stop exposure offset. Then if you use one of the LC709 LUT’s and expose the LUT so white is at 90% and skin tones at 70% you are adding another +1.5 stops to the exposure, so your total exposure offset is approaching 3 stops. This large an offset is rarely necessary and can be tricky to deal with in post. It’s also going to impact your highlight range.

So just be aware that different LUT’s require different white and grey levels and make sure you are exposing the LUT at it’s correct level so that you are not adding an additional offset to your desired exposure.

Using LUT’s for exposure – choosing the right LUT.

If using a LUT to judge the exposure of a camera shooting log or raw it’s really important that you fully understand how that LUT works.

When a LUT is created it will expect a specific input range and convert that input range to a very specific output range. If you change the input range then the output will range will be different and it may not be correct. As an example a LUT designed and created for use with S-Log2 should not be used with S-Log3 material as the the higher middle grey level used by S-Log3 would mean that the mid range of the LUT’s output would be much brighter than it should be.

Another consideration comes when you start offsetting your exposure levels, perhaps to achieve a brighter log exposure so that after grading the footage will have less noise.

Lets look at a version of Sony’s 709(800) LUT designed to be used with S-Log3 for a moment. This LUT expects middle grey to come in at 41% and it will output middle grey at 43%. It will expect a white card to be at 61% and it will output that same shade of white at a little over 85%. Anything on the S-Log3 side brighter than 61% (white) is considered a highlight and the LUT will compress the highlight range (almost 4 stops) into the output range between 85% and 109% resulting in flat looking highlights. This is all perfectly fine if you expose at the levels suggested by Sony. But what happens if you do expose brighter and try to use the same LUT either in camera or in post production?

Well if you expose 1.5 stops brighter on the log side middle grey becomes around 54% and white becomes around 74%. Skin tones which sit half way between middle grey and white will be around 64% on the LUT’s input. That’s going to cause a problem! The LUT considers anything brighter than 61% on it’s input to be a highlight and it will compresses anything brighter than 61%. As a result on the output of your LUT your skin tones will not only be bright, but they will be compressed and flat looking. This makes them hard to grade. This is why if you are shooting a bit brighter it is much, much easier to grade your footage if your LUT’s have offsets to allow for this over exposure.

If the camera has an EI mode (like the FS7, F5, F55 etc) the EI mode offsets the LUT’s input so you don’t see this problem in camera but there are other problems you can encounter if you are not careful like unintentional over exposure when using the Sony LC709 series of LUTs.

Sony’s  709(800) LUT closely matches the gamma of most normal monitors and viewfinders, so 709(800) will deliver the correct contrast ie. contrast that matches the scene you are shooting plus it will give conventional TV brightness levels when viewed on standard monitors or viewfinders.

If you use any of the LC709 LUT’s you will have a miss-match between the LUT’s gamma and the monitors gamma so the images will show lower contrast and the levels will be lower than conventional TV levels when exposed correctly. LC709 stands for low contrast gamma with 709 color primaries, it is not 709 gamma!

Sony’s LC709 Type A LUT is very popular as it mimics the way an Arri Alexa might look. That’s fine but you also need to be aware that the correct exposure levels for this non-standard LC gamma are middle grey at around 41% and white at 70%.

An easy trap to fall into is to set the camera to a low EI to gain a brighter log exposure and then to use one of the LC709 LUT’s and try to eyeball the exposure. Because the LC709 LUT’s are darker and flatter it’s harder to eyeball the exposure and often people will expose them as you would regular 709. This then results in a double over exposure. Bright because of the intentional use of the lower EI but even brighter because the LUT has been exposed at or close to conventional 709 brightness. If you were to mistakenly expose the LC709TypeA LUT with skin tones at 70%, white at 90% etc then that will add almost 2 stops to the log exposure on top of any EI offset.

Above middle grey with 709(800) a 1 stop exposure change results in an a 20% change in brightness, with LC709TypeA the same exposure change only gives a just over 10% change, as a result over or under exposure is much less obvious and harder to measure or judge by eye with LC709. The cameras default zebra settings for example have a 10% window. So with LC709 you could easily be a whole stop out, while with 709(800) only half a stop.

Personally when shooting I don’t really care too much about how the image looks in terms of brightness and contrast. I’m more interested in using the built in LUT’s to ensure my exposure is where I want it to be. So for exposure assessment I prefer to use the LUT that is going to show the biggest change when my exposure is not where it should be. For the “look” I will feed a separate monitor and apply any stylised looks there. To understand how my highlights and shadows, above and below the LUT’s range are being captured I use the Hi/Low Key function.

If you are someone that creates your own LUT’s an important consideration is to ensure that if you are shooting test shots, then grading these test shots to produce a LUT it’s really, really important that the test shots are very accurately exposed.

You have 2 choices here. You can either expose at the levels recommended by Sony and then use EI to add any offsets or you can offset the exposure in camera and not use EI but instead rely on the offset that will end up in the LUT. What is never a good idea is to add an EI offset to a LUT that was also offset.

What does ISO mean with todays cameras?

Once upon a time the meaning of ISO was quite clear. It was a standardised sensitivity rating of the film stock you were using. If you wanted more sensitivity, you used film with a higher ISO rating. But today the meaning of ISO is less clear and we can’t swap our sensor out for more or less sensitive ones. So what does it mean?

ISO is short for International Standards Organisation. And they specify many, many different standards for many different things. For example ISO 3166 is for country codes, ISO 50001 is for energy management.

But in our world of film and TV there are two ISO standards that we have blended into one and we just call it “ISO”.

ISO 5800:2001 is the system used to determine the sensitivity of color negative film found by plotting the density of the film against exposure to light.

ISO 12232:2006 specifies the method for assigning and reporting ISO speed ratings, ISO speed latitude ratings, standard output sensitivity values, and recommended exposure index values, for digital still cameras.

Note a key difference: ISO 5800 is the measurement of the actual sensitivity to light of film.  ISO 12232 is a standardised way to report the speed rating, it is not a direct sensitivity measurement.

Within the digital camera ISO rating system there are 5 different standards that a camera manufacturer can use when obtaining the ISO rating of a camera. The most commonly used method is the Recommended Exposure Index (REI) method, which allows the manufacturer to specify a camera model’s EI or base ISO arbitrarily based on what the manufacturer believes produces a satisfactory image. So it’s not really a measure of the cameras sensitivity, but a rating that if used with a standard external calibrated light meter to set the exposure will give a satisfactory looking image. This is very different to a sensitivity measurement and variations in the opinion as to what is a satisfactory image will vary from person to person. So there is a lot of scope for movement as to how an electronic camera might be rated.

As you cannot change the sensor in a digital camera, you cannot change the cameras efficiency at converting light into electrons (which is largely determined by the materials used and the physical construction). So you cannot change the actual sensitivity of the camera to light. But we have all seen how the ISO number of most digital cameras can normally be increased (and sometimes lowered) from the base ISO number.

Raising and lowering the ISO in an electronic camera is normally done by adjusting the amplification of the signal coming from the sensor, typically referred to as “gain” in the camera. It’s not actually a physical change in the cameras sensitivity to light, it like turning up the volume on a radio to make the music louder. Dual ISO cameras that claim not to add gain when switching between ISO’s typically do this by adjusting the way the signal from the sensor is converted from an analog signal to a digital one. While it is true that this is different to a gain shift it does typically alter the noise levels as to make the picture brighter you need to sample the sensors output lower down and closer to the noise floor. Once again though it is not an actual sensitivity change, it does not alter the sensors sensitivity to light, you are just picking a different part of it’s output range.

Noise and Signal To Noise Ratio.

Most of the noise in the pictures we shoot comes from the sensor and the level of this noise coming from the sensor is largely unchanged no matter what you do (some dual ISO cameras use variations in the way the sensor signal is sampled to shift the noise floor up and down a bit). So the biggest influence on the signal to noise ratio is the amount of light you put on the sensor. More light = More signal. The noise remains the same but the signal is bigger so you get a better signal to noise ratio, up to the point where the sensor overloads.

But what about low light?

To obtain a brighter image when there the light levels are low and the picture coming from the sensor looks dark the signal coming from the sensor is boosted or amplified (gain is added). This amplification makes both the desirable signal bigger but also the noise bigger. If we make the desirable picture 2 times brighter we also make the noise 2 x bigger. As a result the picture will be more noisy and grainy than one where we had enough light to get the brightness we want.

The signal to noise ratio deteriorates because the added amplification means the recording will clip more readily. Something that is close to the recordings clip point may be sent above the clip point by adding gain, so the range you can record reduces while the noise gets bigger. However the optimum exposure is now achieved with less light so the equivalent ISO number is increased. If you were using a light meter you would increase the ISO setting on the light meter to get the correct exposure. But the camera isn’t more sensitive, it’s just that the optimum amount of light for the “best” or “correct” exposure is reduced due to the added amplification.

So with an electronic camera, ISO is a rating that will give you the correct brightness of recording for the amount of light and the amount of gain that you have. This is different to sensitivity. Obviously the two are related, but they are not quite the same thing.

Getting rid of noise:

To combat the inevitable noise increase as you add gain/amplification most modern cameras use electronic noise reduction which is applied more and more aggressively as you increase the gain. At low levels this goes largely un-noticed. But as you start to add more gain and thus and more noise reduction you will start to degrade the image. It may become softer, it may become smeary. You may start to see banding ghosting or other artefacts.

Often as you increase the gain you may only see a very small increase in noise as the noise reduction does a very good job of hiding the noise. But for every bit of noise thats reduced there will be another artefact replacing it.

Technically the signal to noise ratio is improved by the use of noise reduction, but this typically comes at a price and NR can be very problematic if you later want to grade or adjust the footage as often you won’t see the artefacts until after the corrections or adjustments have been made. So be very careful when adding gain. It’s never good to have extra gain.

Why are Sony’s ISO’s different between standard gammas and log?

With Sony’s log capable cameras (and most other manufacturers) when you switch between the standard gamma curves and log gamma there is a change in the cameras ISO rating. For example the FS7 is rated at 800 ISO in rec709 but rated at 2000 ISO in log. Why does this change occur and how does it effect the pictures you shoot?

As 709 etc has a limited DR (between around 6 and 10 stops depending on the knee settings) while the sensor itself has a 14 stop range, you only need to take a small part of the sensors full range to produce that smaller range 709 or hypergamma image. That gives the camera manufacturer some freedom to pick the sweetest part of the sensors range. his also gives some leeway as to where you place the base ISO.

I suspect Sony chose 800 ISO for the FS7 and F5 etc as that’s the sensors sweet spot, I certainly don’t think it was an accidental choice.

What is ISO on an electronic camera? ISO is the equivalent sensitivity rating. It isn’t a measure of the cameras actual sensitivity, it is the ISO rating you need to enter into a light meter if you were using an external light meter to get the correct exposure settings. It is the equivalent sensitivity. Remember we can’t change the sensor in these cameras so we can’t actually change the cameras real sensitivity, all we can do is use different amounts of gain or signal amplification to make the pictures brighter or darker.

When you go switch the camera to log you have no choice other than to take everything the sensor offers. It’s a 14 stop sensor and if you want to record 14 stops, then you have to take 100% of the sensors output. The camera manufacturer then chooses what they believe is the best exposure mid point point where they feel there is an acceptable compromise between noise, highlight and lowlight response. From that the manufacture will get an ISO equivalent exposure rating.

If you have an F5, FS7 or other Sony log camera, look at what happens when you switch from rec709 to S-Log2 but you keep your exposure constant.

Middle grey stays more or less where it is, the highlights come down. White will drop from 90% to around 73%. But the ISO rating given by the camera increases from 800ISO to 2000ISO. This increased ISO number implies that the sensor became more sensitive – This is not the case and a little missleading. If you set the camera up to display gain in dB and switch between rec709 (std gamma) and S-Log the camera stays at 0dB, this should be telling you that there is no change to the cameras gain, no change to it’s sensitivity. Yet the ISO rating changes – why?

The only reason the ISO number increases is to force us to underexpose the sensor by 1.3 stops (relative to standard gammas such as rec709 and almost every other gamma) so we can squeeze a bit more out of the highlights. If you were using an external light meter to set your exposure if you change the ISO setting on the light meter from 800 ISO to 2000 ISO  the light meter will tell you to close the aperture by 1.3 stops. So that’s what we do on the camera, we close the aperture down a bit to gain some extra highlight range.

But all this comes at the expense of the shadows and mid range. Because you are putting less light on the sensor if you use 2000 ISO as your base setting the shadows and mids are now not as good as they would be  in 709 or with the other standard gammas.

This is part of the reason why I recommend that you shoot with log between 1 and 2 stops brighter than the base levels given by Sony. If you shoot 1 stop brighter that is the equivalent to shooting at 1000 ISO and this is closer to the 800 ISO that Sony rate the camera at in standard gamma.  Shooting that bit brighter gives you a much better mid range that grades much better.

 

Why is exposing log brightly beneficial?

I have been asked whether you should still expose log a bit brighter than the recommended base levels on the Sony PXW-FS5 now that Sony have released new firmware that gives it a slightly lower base ISO. In this article I take a look at why it might be a good idea to expose log (with any camera) a bit brighter than perhaps the manufacturer recommends.

There are a couple of reasons to expose log nice and bright, not just noise. Exposing log brighter makes no difference to the dynamic range. That’s determined by the sensor and the gain point at which the sensor is working. You want the camera to be at it’s native sensitivity or 0dB gain to get that maximum dynamic range.

Exposing brighter or darker doesn’t change the dynamic range but it does move the mid point of the exposure range up and down.  Exposing brighter increases the under exposure range but decreases the over exposure range. Exposing darker decreases the under exposure range but increases the over exposure range.

Something that’s important when thinking about dynamic range and big dynamic ranges in particular is that dynamic range isn’t just about the highlights it’s also about the shadows, it isn’t just over exposure, it’s under exposure too, it’s RANGE.

So why is a little bit of extra light often beneficial? You might call it “over exposure” but that’s not a term I like to use as it implies “too much exposure”. I prefer to use “brighter exposure”.

It’s actually quite simple, it’s about putting a bit more light on to the sensor. Most sensors perform better when you put a little extra light on them. One thing you can be absolutely sure of – if you don’t put enough light on the sensor you won’t get the best pictures.

Slide01 Why is exposing log brightly beneficial?

Put more light on to the sensor and the shadows come up out of the sensors noise floor. So you will see further into the shadows. I’ve had people comment that “why would I ever want to use the shadows, they are always noisy and grainy”? But that’s the whole point – expose a bit brighter and the shadows will be much less noisy, they will come up out of the noise. Expose 1 stop brighter and you halve the shadow noise (for the same shadows at the previous exposure).  Shadows are are only ever noise ridden if you have under exposed them.

This is particularly relevant in controlled lighting. Say you light a scene for 9 stops. So you have 9 stops of dynamic range but a 14 stop sensor. Open up the aperture, put more light on the sensor, you get a better signal to noise ratio, less noisy shadows but no compromise of any type to the highlights because if the scene is 9 stops and you have 14 to play with, you can bring the exposure up by a couple of stops comfortably within the 14 stop capture range.

S-log-levels Why is exposing log brightly beneficial?
Chart showing S-Log2 and S-Log3 plotted against f-stops and code values. Note how little data there is for each of the darker stops, the best data is above middle grey. Note that current sensor only go to +6 stops ove middle grey so S-Log2 and S-Log record to different peak levels.

Look at the above diagram of Sony’s S-Log2 and S-Log3 curves. The vertical 0 line in the middle is middle grey. Note how above middle grey the log curves are more or less straight lines. That’s because above the nominal middle grey exposure level each stop is recorded with the same amount of data, this you get a straight line when you plot the curve against exposure stops. So that means that it makes very little difference where you expose the brighter parts of the image. Expose skin tones at stop + 1 or stop +3 and they will have a very similar amount of code values (I’m not considering the way dynamic range expands in the scene you shoot as you increase the light in the scene in this discussion). So it makes little difference whether you expose those skin tones at stop +1 or +3, after grading they will look the same.

Looking at the S-Log curve plots again note what happens below the “0” middle grey line. The curves roll off into the shadows. Each stop you go down has less data than the one before, roughly half as much. This mimics the way the light in a real scene behaves, but it also means there is less data for each stop. This is one of the key reasons why you never, ever want to be under exposed as if you are underexposed you mid range ends up in this roll off and will lack data making it not only noisy but also hard to grade as it will lack contrast and tonal information.

Open up by 1 additional stop and each of those darker stops is raised higher up the recording curve by one stop and every stop that was previously below middle grey doubles the amount of tonal values compared to before, so that’s 8 stops that will have 2x more data than before. This gives you a nice fat (lots of data) mid range that grades much better, not just because it has less noise but because you have a lot more data where you really need it – in the mid range.

Note: Skin tones can cover a wide exposure range, but typically the mid point is around 1 to 1.5 stops above middle grey. In a high contrast lighting situation skin tones will start just under middle grey and extend to about 2 stops over. If you accidentally under expose by 1 stop or perhaps don’t have enough light for the correct exposure you will seriously degrade the quality of your skin tones as half of your skin tones will be well below middle grey and in the data roll-off.

Now of course you do have to remember that if your scene does have a very large dynamic range opening up an extra stop might mean that some of the very brightest highlights might end up clipped. But I’d happily give up a couple of specular highlights for a richer more detailed mid range because when it comes to highlights – A: you can’t show them properly anyway because we don’t have 14 stop TV screens and B: because highlights are the least important part of our visual range.

A further consideration when we think about the highlights is that with log there is no highlight roll-off. Most conventional gamma curves incorporate a highlight roll-off to help increase the highlight range. These traditional highlight roll-offs reduce the contrast in the highlights as the levels are squeezed together and as a result the highlights contain very little tonal information. So even after grading they never look good, no matter what you do. But log has no highlight roll-off. So even the very brightest stop, the one right on the edge of clipping contains just as much tonal information as each of the other brighter than middle grey stops. As a result there is an amazingly large amount of detail than can be pulled out of these very bright stops, much more than you would ever be able to pull from most conventional gammas.

Compare log to standard gammas for a moment. Log has a shadow roll-off but no highlight roll-off. Most standard gammas have a strong highlight roll-off. Log is the opposite of standard gammas. With standard gammas, because of the highlight roll-off, we normally avoid over exposure because it doesn’t look good. With Log we need to avoid under exposure because of the shadow roll-off, it is the opposite to shooting with standard gammas.

As a result I strongly recommend you never, ever under expose log. I normally like to shoot log between 1 and 2 stops brighter than the manufacturers base recommendation.

Next week: Why is a Sony camera like the FS7,F5 800 ISO with standard gamma but 2000 ISO in log and how does that impact the image?

 

Beware Exposing To The Right With Log.

That may seem like quite a sensational headline – beware exposing to the right with log – but let me explain.

First of all, I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t expose to the right, all I am saying is beware – understand the implications.

First of all what is normally meant by exposing to the right? Well it’s a term that comes from the world of photography where you would use the cameras histogram to measure the exposure levels. Exposing to the right would normally mean setting the shutter speed and aperture so that the levels shown on the histogram are as far to the right as you can get them without going beyond the right side of the histogram. This would ensure a nice bright exposure with lots of light falling on the sensor, something that is normally highly desirable as you get a nice low noise picture once you have adjusted and processed it in your photo editing software.

You can expose to the right with a video camera too. However when shooting with Rec-709 or conventional gammas this can often result in nasty looking highlights thanks to the default knee settings, so it’s not normally a good idea for 709 and standard gammas.

With log or raw as there is no highlight roll off you can expose to the right and it should give you a nice bright exposure… or will it?????

The problem with exposing to the right is that you are exposing for the highlights in the scene. If shooting a low contrast or low dynamic range scene this isn’t going to cause any problems as exposing to the right will mean that everything in the scene is nice and bright.

But if shooting a high dynamic range scene, say an outdoor scene with bright clouds in the sky but large areas of shadow, the exposure will be optimised for the highlights. The mid range and shadows may end up too dark. On a sunny day if shooting a person with their back to the sun the sky could easily be 6 or 7 stops brighter than the skin tones. If you expose for the sky/highlights the skin tones will be 1 or 2 stops darker than the basic exposure level recommended for most  log curves.

(S-log2/3 has 14 stops. At the base exposure you have 6 stops above middle grey and 8 below. Skin tones are normally between 1 and 2 stops above middle grey. So if the sky/highlights are 6 stops above the skin tones, then exposing for the highlights will put the skin tones where middle grey should be, which is 1 stop under exposed and 2 stops below where I would normally like to see skin tones when shooting with log or raw).

The first thing a viewer will notice when they look at a scene with faces or people will be the skin tones. If these have been under exposed they will be grainy and less than ideal. The viewer will notice noise and grain and poor shadows long before they look at the brightest highlights. Shooting log and protecting the highlights or exposing to the right will often compromise the all important mid tones because you are exposing for the highlights, not the midrange. In addition exposing for highlights with a high dynamic range scene can often push the shadows down in level and they will end up noisy and grainy. The biggest issue with exposing to the right is that it’s extremely difficult to estimate how many stops there are between your mid tones and the highlights, so you never know quite where your mid tones are falling.

(Midtones – generally a white piece of paper or a 90% reflectivity white card would be considered to be the top end of the mid tones. Go down about 2.5 stops from white and you hit middle grey  (18% grey card). This range between middle grey and white is where skin tones, plants, most animals etc will be and it probably the most important part of most images).

An important consideration with log and raw is that there is no highlight roll off. Standard gammas (with the default knee found on almost every camera) , cinegammas, hypergammas etc all roll off the highlights. That is to say that as you approach the peak recording level the contrast is reduced as the highlights are squeezed together to try to extend the dynamic range. This reduction in contrast means that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to recover any nice, useable picture information out of anything close to the peak recording level. As a result with conventional gammas we tend to avoid over exposure at all costs as it looks nasty. This highlight roll off is one of the things that gives video the video look.

Log and raw don’t have this same kind of highlight roll off. The image gets brighter and brighter until it clips. With log the stop immediately below clipping contains just as much picture information as any other stop brighter than middle grey. With linear raw the stop just below clipping has more information than any other stop. As a result in post production there is a very large amount of data that can be pulled out of these highlights, even if they are a little clipped! So don’t worry about a few clipped highlights when shooting log. The other thing to remember is there is no TV or monitor that can show these highlights as they really are, so they will never look perfect anyway.

Another thing that happens when exposing to the right is that grading becomes harder than it needs to be. Because the separation between the mid tones and highlights will vary greatly depending on things like whether you are shooting into or away from the sun, when you expose to the right you mid tone brightness will be up and down all over the place. So in post production as well as adding the look that you want to your footage, you are also going to have to spend a lot of time matching the mid range exposure to balance skin tones etc from shot to shot.

Rather than exposing to the right what I recommend is exposing for the mid range. After all this is the important part of the image. To do this you need to use a diffuse reflective shade. The most commonly used shades are a 90% white card and/or an 18% reflectivity grey card – middle grey. Get the mid range right and in most cases the highlights will take care of themselves. Getting the mid range right might mean exposing the mid range  brighter than the recommended levels. But it’s the mid range we need to measure, not the highlights, this is the important part of the image.

90% white is an incredibly important level in the world of film and video. A typical piece of office paper reflects about 92-94% of the light falling on it. Office paper often uses brighteners and special chemicals to make it look bright and white. This white is the brightest diffuse surface you will likely ever see.  Anything brighter than this is normally going to be an actual source of light. The sky perhaps or a direct bounced reflection off a shiny, reflective surface such as the bodywork of a car. So anything brighter than 90% white would normally be considered to be a highlight and to us humans, highlights are visually less important than the mid range. This is why the knee on most video cameras kicks in at around 90%. Anything brighter than 90% is a highlight so the knee only effects highlights and leaves the all important mid range alone.

Middle grey is also very important because it’s a shade of grey that to most people looks to be half way between black and white. Skin tones fall roughly half way between middle grey and white. In addition if you average all the brightness levels within a typical scene the end result is typically very close to middle grey.  Light meters are calibrated to middle grey. The relationship between middle grey and white is fixed. White reflects 90%, middle grey 18%, no matter how bright the actual light source. So whether you are indoors, outside. Whether it’s sunny or overcast, white and middle grey will always be close to 2.5 stops apart. They are extremely useful fixed reference levels.

There are many ways to measure the brightness of a white or grey card. My preferred method is with a waveform display. But you could also use zebras (use a narrow zebra window if you can).  You can also use false colour. Unfortunately it’s very difficult to use a histogram to measure the brightness of a specific target. The histogram is a great measuring tool for photography, but less than ideal for video. If you can’t get a white/grey card out in front of the camera you could consider using a light meter. It’s also worth noting that skin tones sit just a little over half way between middle grey and white, so if you have no other reference you could simply place your skin tones a touch brighter than half way between the values you are targetting for middle grey and white.

Just to be clear: I do still recommend exposing Sony’s S-log2, S-log3 and raw between 1 and 2 stops brighter than the Sony base levels. But the key take-away is that it’s the mid range you need to measure and expose at this level. Exposing to the right using a histogram or waveform and just looking at the peaks and brightest parts of the image does not tell you what is happening in he mid range. Measure the mid range, not the peak brightness.