Tag Archives: picture profile

Using an FS5 to shoot in low light – what can I do?

The PXW-FS5 is a pretty good camera overall. Compared to cameras from 6 or 7 years ago it’s actually pretty sensitive. The exposure rating of 800 ISO for the standard rec-709 picture profile tells us that it is a little more than twice as sensitive as most old school shoulder cams. But it also suggests that it is only around half as sensitive as the king of low light, the Sony A7S. The A7S is so sensitive because it’s sensor is 1.5x bigger than the sensor in the FS5 and as a result the pixels in the A7S are almost twice the size, so are able to capture more light.

So what can you do if shooting in low light? 

The most important thing to do is to make the optical system as efficient as possible. You want to capture as much of the available light as you can and squeeze it down onto the FS5’s sensor. If you take a fast full frame lens and use it in conjunction with a Speed Booster type adapter you will end up with similar performance to using the same lens, without the speed booster on an A7S.

This is because the lens has a fixed light gathering capability. Use it on an A7S and all of the captured light is passed to all of those big pixels on the sensor. The light is split evenly across 4K’s worth of pixels.

Use it on an FS5 with a speedbooster and the same thing happens, all of the light is compressed down, which makes it brighter and all of this now brighter light falls on 4K’s worth of pixels. The smaller pixels are about half as sensitive, but now the light is twice as bright, so the end result is similar.

metabones_mb_spom_m43_bm3_speed_booster_ultra_0_71x_1259766-1024x1024 Using an FS5 to shoot in low light - what can I do?
A speedbooster adapter such as the Metabones makes a huge difference in low light. But you MUST use a full frame lens.

The biggest performance gains are to be had from using a very fast lens and then making sure all the light from the lens is used, none wasted. Anything slower than f2.8 will be a waste. If you are thinking of using the Sony f4 lens for very low light… well frankly you may as well not bother. The lens is THE most important factor in low light. When I go up to Norway to shoot the Aurora I use f1.4 and f1.8 lenses.

What about Picture Profiles?

The standard picture profile isn’t a bad choice for low light but you might want to look at using cinegamma 3. Although with a low light, low contrast scene none of the picture profiles will be significantly different from the others with the exception of PP2, PP7, PP8 or PP9. None of the profiles make the camera more sensitive, the sensitivity is governed by the sensor itself and all the profiles do is alter the way gain is distributed across the image.

PP2 will crush your shadows giving less to work with in post. The log curves in PP7,8,9 will roll off the darkest parts of the image, again giving you less in post. So I would probably avoid these.

For color I suggest using the Pro colour matrix. This works well for most situations and it will help limit the noise levels as it keeps the saturation fairly low keeping the noisy blue channel in check.

Gain or ISO?

I recommend you set the camera to gain rather than ISO as the ISO’s for each each gamma curve are different, so it can be difficult to understand how much gain is being added, especially if you are switching between gamma curves. Use gain and you will have a good idea of the noise levels as every time you add +6dB the image becomes one stop brighter and you double the noise in the image, +12 dB is 2 stops brighter and 4x noisier than 0dB etc. ISO is an exposure rating, it is not a sensitivity measurement. But don’t use too much gain or too high an ISO as this will affect you ability to use some of the very good post production noise reduction tools that are available.

Noise and Noise Reduction.

If shooting in very low light then you are quite probably going to want to use some noise reduction tools in post production. “Neat Video” works very well at cleaning up a noisy image as do the various NR tools in the paid versions of DaVinci Resolve.  These post production  tools work best when the noise is clean. By that I mean well defined. When using any of the 709 or Cinegamma curves a bit of gain can be used, but I wouldn’t go above 12dB as above this the NR starts to introduce a lot of smear and this than makes it hard for any post production NR processes like Neat Video to do a decent job without the image turning into a blurry mess. So don’t go crazy with the gain or use very high ISO’s as the post production NR won’t work as well on footage that already has a lot of in camera NR applied.

And if you can add a little light-

If you are adding any light use a daylight balanced light where you can. Video cameras are least sensitive in the blue channel. If you use a tungsten light which is predominantly warm/red to get a good white balance you have to increase the gain of the cameras least sensitive and as a result most noisy blue channel. This will add more noise than if you use a daylight balance light as for daylight you need less gain in the noisy blue channel.

There is no miracle cure for shooting in very low light levels. But with the right lens and a speedbooster the FS5 can do a very good job. But just in case yo haven’t worked it out already, I’ll say it one more time: The lens is the most important bit! Beyond this your next step would be adding an image intensifier for that green night vision look.


Picture Profiles for the PXW-FS5.

Caption Picture Profiles for the PXW-FS5.
PXW-FS5 Picture Profiles

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.

cinegammas-1024x768 Picture Profiles for the PXW-FS5.

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.

For standard gammas it is typical to set the cameras zebras to 70% and have zebras just starting to appear on skin tones. With the Cinegammas I recommend reducing the zebras to 60%. See this article for more info on the correct exposure http://www.xdcam-user.com/2013/07/correct-exposure-levels-with-sony-hypergammas-and-cinegammas/

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):

standard-1024x576 Picture Profiles for the PXW-FS5.
PXW-FS5 Standard Settings

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).

ACGPMC-1024x576 Picture Profiles for the PXW-FS5.
Alister’s PXW-FS5 Profile AC-GPMC

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).

ACGPBT-1024x576 Picture Profiles for the PXW-FS5.
Alister’s PXW-FS5 Profile AC-GPBT

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).

ACGPGD-1024x576 Picture Profiles for the PXW-FS5.
Alister’s PXW-FS5 profile AC-GPGD

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).

ACGPLL-1024x576 Picture Profiles for the PXW-FS5.
Alister’s PXW-FS5 Picture Profile AC-GPLL

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.

ACEXLL-1024x576 Picture Profiles for the PXW-FS5.
Alister’s PXW-FS5 Picture Profile for very low light AC-EXLL

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.

ACASIA-1024x576 Picture Profiles for the PXW-FS5.
Alister’s PXW-FS5 Picture Profile AC-ASIA1. Vibrant vivid colors.

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.

ACFILM-1024x576 Picture Profiles for the PXW-FS5.
Alister’s PXW-FS5 Picture Profile AC-FILM1, a film-like profile.



PXW-FS5 Tutorial Videos.

I was asked to prepare two tutorial videos on the PXW-FS5 for Sony. The first video covers the advanced features of the camera including super slow mo and the variable ND filter. The second video gives an overview of the picture profile settings with some suggestions for which to use and when, including the correct exposure for S-Lo2 and S-Log3.

There should be some downloadable PDF guides to go with these videos coming shortly.