Unfortunately every now and again a new term or buzzword comes along that gets taken as a holy grail term. Two that come to mind right now are log and raw. Neither log, nor raw, are magic bullet solutions that guarantee the best performance. Used incorrectly or inappropriately both can result in inferior results. In addition there are many flavours of log and raw each with very different performance ranges.
A particular point in case is the 12 bit raw available from several of Sony’s mid range large sensor cameras, the FS700, FS7 and FS5.
Raw can be either log or linear. This particular flavour of raw is encoded using linear data. If it is linear then each successively brighter stop of exposure should be recorded with twice as many code values or shades as the previous stop. This accurately replicates the change in the light in the scene you are shooting. If you make the scene twice as bright, you need to record it with twice as much data. Every time you go up a stop in exposure you are doubling the light in the scene. 12 bit linear raw is actually very rare, especially from a camera with a high dynamic range. To my knowledge, Sony are the only company that offer 14 stops of dynamic range using 12 bit linear data.
There’s actually a very good reason for this: Strictly speaking, it’s impossible! Here’s why: For each stop we go up in exposure we need twice as many code values. With 12 bit data there are a maximum of 4096 code values, this is not enough to record 14 stops.
If stop 1 uses 1 code value, stop 2 will use 2, stop 3 will use 4, stop 4 will use 8 and so on.
As you can see from the above if we only have 12 bit data and as a result 4096 code values to play with, we can only record an absolute maximum of 12 stops of dynamic range using linear data. To get even 12 stops we must record the first couple of stops with an extremely small amount of tonal information. This is why most 14 stop raw cameras use 16 bit data for linear or use log encoded raw data for 12 bit, where each stop above middle grey (around stop +8) is recorded with the same amount of data.
So how are Sony doing it on the FS5, FS7 etc? I suspect (I’m pretty damn certain in fact) that Sony use something called floating point math. In essence what they do is take the linear data coming off the sensor and round the values recorded to the nearest 4 or 8. So, stop +14 is now only recorded with 2,048 values, stop +13 with 512 values etc. This is fine for the brighter stops where there are hundreds or even thousands of values, it has no significant impact on the brighter parts of the final image. But in the darker parts of the image it does have an impact as for example stop +5 which starts off with 16 values ends up only being recorded with 4 values and each stop below this only has 1 or two discreet levels. This results in blocky and often noisy looking shadow areas – a common complaint with 12 bit linear raw. I don’t know for a fact that this is what they are doing. But if you look at what they need to do, the options available and you look at the end results for 12 bit raw, this certainly appears to be the case.
Meanwhile a camera like the FS7 which can record 10 bit log will retain the full data range in the shadows because if you use log encoding, the brighter stops are each recorded with the same amount of data. With S-Log2 and 10 bit XAVC-I the FS7 uses approx 650 code values to record the 6 brightest stops in it’s capture range reserving approx 250 code values for the 8 darkest stops. Compare this to the linear example above and in fact what you will see is that 10 bit S-Log2 has as much data as you would expect to find in a straight 16 bit linear recording below middle grey (S-Log 3 actually reserves slightly more data for the shadows). BUT that’s for 16 bit. Sony’s 12 bit raw is squeezing 14 stops into what should be an impossibly small number of code values, so in practice what I have found is that 10 bit S-log has noticeably more data in the shadows than 12 bit raw.
In the highlights 12 bit linear raw will have more data than 10 bit S-log2 and S-Log3 and this is borne out in practice where a brightly exposed raw image will give amazing results with beautiful highlights and mid range. But if your 12 bit raw is dark or underexposed it is not going to perform as well as you might expect. For dark and low key scenes 10 bit S-Log is most likely going to give a noticeably better image. (Note: 8 bit S-log2/3 as you would have from an FS5 in UHD only has a quarter of the data that 10 bit has. The FS5 records the first 8 stops in 8 bit S-log 2 with approx 64 code values, S-Log3 is only marginally better at approx 80 code values. 12 bit linear outperforms 8 bit log across the entire range).
Sony’s F5 and F55 cameras record to the R5 and R7 recorders using 16 bit linear data. 16 bit data is enough for 14 stops. But I believe that Sony still use floating point math for 16 bit recording. This time instead of using the floating point math to make room for an otherwise impossible dynamic range they use it to take a little bit of data from the brightest stop to give extra code values in the shadows. When you have 16,384 code values to play with you can afford to do that. This then adds a lot of extra tonal values and shades to the shadows compared to 10 bit log and as a result 16 bit linear raw will outperform 10 bit log across the entire exposure range by a fairly large margin.
So there you have it. I know it’s hugely confusing sometimes. Not all types of raw are created equal. It’s really important to understand this stuff if you’re buying a camera. Just because it has raw it doesn’t necessarily mean an automatic improvement in image quality in every shooting situation. Log can be just as good or possibly even better in some situations, raw better in others. There are reasons why cameras like the F5/R5 cost more than a FS5/Shogun/Odyssey.
I’ve written about this many times before, but still it comes up again and again. Which is better? Which should I use? I hear all kinds of crazy comments and a lot of incorrect information, so first of all lets dispel a few myths:
S-Log2 captures more dynamic range than S-Log3, it goes to a higher level on the waveform.
S-Log2 and S-Log3 both currently record exactly the same dynamic range as this is limited by the sensors that Sony are using. The S-log3 curve could be used in a future camera to capture up to 16 stops, but that camera does not exist at the time of writing. As the S-Log3 curve is designed to go beyond 14 stops, stop No. 14 is recorded at a lower level to allow space for up to 2 more stops. S-Log2 is a 14 stop maximum curve, so the peak level is much higher. In Sonys current camera range the limit is 14 stops whether it’s S-Log2 or S-Log3. The chart that Sony provide showing both S-Log2 and S-Log3 is a little confusing as it shows the entire gamma curve rather than what the camera can actually “see”. In their current implementations both curves stop at +6 stops over middle grey, both capture the same dynamic range, there is no difference.
S-Log2 is brighter than S-Log3 so it must be capturing highlights better.
No, not really, see above. Playback and on screen brightness comes from the levels chosen to record something at and is dependant on the shape and range of the gamma curve. But the actual captured range is dependant on what the sensor can cope with. As we are not changing the sensor, the captured dynamic range, brightness range and shadow range does not change between S-Log2 and S-log3, both of which take the entire sensor range (they just store that same range using slightly different levels). After applying a LUT or other conversion to your normal viewing gamma both S-Log2 and S-log3 will have the same brightness, same highlight and same shadow range.
S-Log3 has noisy shadows.
No, not really. Shadows appear noisy with S-Log3 as the shadow part of the curve is stored using higher code values compared to S-Log2. So when you view S-Log3 uncorrected the shadows are raised and stretched on your conventional monitor and this gives the impression of a noisy picture. In reality once you restore the levels to normal there is no additional noise. See this article for a full explanation.
S-Log3 is newer than S-Log2 so it must be better.
Newer, perhaps not. Better, no not really. S-Log3 is based on the industry standard Cineon log gamma curve. This curve was developed in the late 1980’s to allow the digitising of film using 10 bit data. So S-Log3 matches a curve designed to work with negative film and is capable of storing more than the 14 stops that the current cameras sensors can see. In effect it is an old log gamma curve. As it is a curve designed for more than 14 stops, when used in a 14 stop camera some of the available recording data is empty and wasted.
S-Log2 was specifically designed by Sony to work with an electronic sensor with 14 stops of dynamic range and is optimised to match the performance characteristics of video sensors. By using a 14 stop curve with a 14 stop camera almost every bit of available data is utilised, there is no wastage.
BUT THERE ARE SOME OTHER FACTORS WE NEED TO CONSIDER.
S-Log2 and S-Gamut:
As well as the gamma curve we also have different Gamuts or color ranges. S-Log2 was originally designed for the F65 camera. The F65 sensor can capture a huge color range beyond the range that most conventional video sensors can see. So as well as S-Log2 Sony introduced S-Gamut which was matched to the very wide color range of the F65 sensor. S-Log2 is designed to be used with S-Gamut. But many of the cameras we use, like the FS7, F5, FS5 cannot see this color range (Sony’s F55 can). In addition this very large color range can be a little tricky to deal with in post production. Add to this the fact that S-Log2 is quite different to the quite common Cineon gamma curve and as a result behaves differently in post. The end result was that there were a number of complaints and comments that Sony’s S-log2 material was difficult to grade.
S-Log3 and S-Gamut3.
Because some people were struggling a bit with S-Gamut and S-Log2 in post production (Resolve and many of the other tools we have today were not as well developed 4 years ago), Sony introduced S-Gamut3 and S-log3 as well as a further Gamut called S–Gamut3.cine. S-Log3 was based on Cineon as that’s what people were familiar with. Arri’s Log-C is also based on Cineon as are many other log curves. This makes it a more “familiar” grading experience for many colorists. In addition Sony created a modified version of the super large S-Gamut to make it easier to grade. S-Gamut3 is just as big as S-Gamut but some tweaks inside make it easier to grade (fewer color shifts). At the same time Sony realised that most users were producing content for TV, the web or digital cinema that had little use for the huge color range of S-Gamut/S-Gamut3. So S-Gamut3.cine was developed as a smaller, more manageable version of S-Gamut3 and it incorporated a few tweaks to the color science to provide colors closer to those used by other manufacturers. S-Gamut3.cine is also a better match for cameras with sensors that cannot see the full S-Gamut range (like the FS5, FS7, F5, A7).
The end result is that in general most people prefer or find it easier to grade S-Log3/S-Gamut3.cine material than S-Log2/S-Gamut. Plus you can often use LUT’s designed for Log-C or Cineon with S-log3 material (this isn’t optimum, but it can work).
Getting the data from camera to post.
In terms of getting the data from your cameras sensor in to post production S-Log2 is the better choice. It is optimised for the way an electronic sensor works. S-log3 is essentially a curve designed for negative film applications, not video and no matter how you look at it, these are electronic video cameras. However if you are recording 10 bit or greater you have a lot of data whichever curve you use, so in practice it will be rare to see any difference in the final result.
So use the curve you find easiest to work with. It is true that S-Log 3 allocates a little more data to the shadows and less to the highlights than S-Log2, but don’t confuse data and code values with more range. S-Log3 has a few extra code values in it’s darkest stops, S-log2 has a few extra in the bright stops, but the dynamic range, highlight and shadow handling is governed by the sensor not the gamma curve. Overall S-Log3 has fewer code values than S-Log2, S-Log2 makes better use of the data available, but with 10 bit this really isn’t going to make a huge difference.
8 Bit Recording.
But if you are only recording with an 8 bit codec you are already at a disadvantage. When recording 8 bit you really need to maximise the way what little data you have is used. For that reason I will always recommend that S-Log2 is used when recording 8 bit on a camera like the FS5 in UHD or A7s or similar (FS5 is 10 bit in HD). By using S-Log2 you are using as many of the limited code values available as you can. This doesn’t mean you can’t use S-log3, it just wouldn’t be my choice.
The end result should be the same.
At the end of the day, if you were to use matching LUTs, S-log2 and S-log3 material should look more or less exactly the same after grading or application of the LUT, no matter what the scene you are shooting. If they do look significantly different then you are doing something wrong. So your choice of curve, other than for 8 bit recordings will most likely come down to ease of use rather than anything else.
If your camera doesn’t have LUT’s then S-Log2 can be easier to work with as it is more contrasty. This makes it a bit easier to focus and also makes it easier to gauge exposure. If your camera has LUT’s and you use them, then you may decide to use S-Log3 simply because you should find it a little easier to work with in post. Either way both curves capture the same range of picture information and both should give more or less the same end result.
There may be some very, very subtle differences due to the small differences in data distribution, but often these will be hard to really see in the final image.
UPDATE: It appears that Adobe may have now addressed this. Luma and YC scopes now show the same levels, not different ones and the scaling of S-Log XAVC. signals now appears to be correct.
This came up as the result of a discussion on the FS5 shooters group on Facebook. An FS5 user shooting S-log2 was very confused by what he was seeing on the scopes in Adobe Premiere. Having looked into this further myself, I’m not surprised he was confused because it’s also confused me as there is some very strange behaviour with S-Log2 XAVC material.
First: BE WARNED THE “LUMA” SCOPE APPEARS TO BE A RELATIVE LUMINANCE SCOPE AND NOT A “LUMA” SCOPE.
THIS IS THE “LUMA” Scope, I suggest you don’t use it! Look at the scale on the left side of the scope, it appears to be a % scale, not unlike the % scale we are all used to working with in the video world. In the video world 100% would be the maximum limit for broadcast TV, 90% would be white and the absoulte maximum recording level would be 109%. These % (IRE) levels have very specific data or code values. For luma, 100IRE has a code value of 940 in 10 bit or 235 in 8 bit. Then look at the scale on the right side of the luma scope. This appears to be an 8 bit code value scale, after all it has those key values of 128, 255 etc.
Now look again at the above screen grab of the lumetri luma scope in Premiere 2017 – V11. On the left is what appears to be that familiar % scale. But go to 100% and follow the line across to where the code values are. It appears that on these scopes 100% means code value 255, this is not what anyone working in broadcast or TV would expect because normally code value 255 means 109.5%.
I suggest you use the YC waveform display instead.
The YC waveform shown on the above screen capture is of an S-Log2 frame. If you go by the % scale it suggests that this recording has a peak level of only 98% when in fact the recording actually goes to 107%.
But here’s where it gets even stranger. Look at the below screen capture of another waveform display.
So what is going on here? The above is a screen grab of Cinegamma 1 recorded in UHD using 8 bit XAVC-L. It goes all the way up to 109% which is the correct peak level for Cinegamma 1. So why does the S-Log2 recording only reach 98% but the Cinegamma recording, recorded moments later using the same codec reach 109%. This is a value 10% higher than S-Log2 and I know that the Cinegammas cannot record at a level 10% greater than S-Log2 (the true difference is only about 2%).
Lets now compare the difference between how Premiere and Resolve handle these clips. The screen grab below shows the S-Log2 and Cinegamma 1 recordings side by side as handled in Adobe Premiere. On the left is the S-Log2, right Cinegamma1. Look at the very large difference in the peak recording levels. I do not expect to see this, there should only be a very small difference.
Now lets look at exactly the same clips in DaVinci Resolve. Note how much smaller the difference in the peak levels is. This is what I would expect to see as S-Log2 gets to around 107% and Cinegamma 1 reaches 109%, only a very small difference. Resolve is handling the files correctly, Premiere is not. For reference to convert 8 bit code values to 10 bit just multiply the 8 bit value by 4. So 100IRE which is CV235 in 8 bit is CV940 in 10 bit.
So, until I get to the bottom of this all I can say is be very, very careful and don’t use the “Luma” scope, use the YC scope if you want to know your code values. It also appears that Premiere scales the code values of S-Log recordings differently to normal gammas.
Additionally: Record exactly the same S-Log2 or S-Log3 image using XAVC internally in the camera and at the same time record a ProRes version on an external recorder. Bring both of these clips, which are actually recorded using exactly the same levels into Premiere and Premiere handles them differently. The XAVC squashed into a reduced range while the ProRes fills the larger range.
This has huge implications if you use LUT’s!!!!
The same LUT will result in a very different looking image from the XAVC and PRoRes material. There should not be a difference, but there is and it’s big. So this isn’t just a scopes issue, it’s an internal signal handling issue.
I’ve always preferred doing my color grading in a dedicated grading package with external scopes. It’s stuff like this that reminds me of why I prefer to work that way. I always end up with a better end result when I grade in Resolve compared to Premiere/Lumetri.
As I learn more about this I will post a new article. Use the subscribe button on the left to subscribe to the blog to be notified of new posts.
Here’s a little experiment for you to try if you have a PMW-F5, PMW-F55 or PMW-FS7. It should help you understand a few key things about the way these cameras behave, notably:
1: Why ISO does not actually reflect the sensitivity of the camera.
2: Why it is beneficial to expose S-Log2 or S-Log3 brighter than the Sony recommended levels.
3: How to get the best possible S-Log footage.
4: Why S-log may be a poor choice for low light.
Ideally you will want to use an external waveform monitor connected to the cameras SDI output, but it is possible to use the built in waveform display.
Start with the camera in Custom mode. Choose “STD” gamma and Rec-709. Set the gain/ISO settings so that the camera is showing ISO.
Set the ISO to the base ISO (800 ISO on F5/FS7, 500 ISO on F55).
Expose a 90% white card so that white is 90% on the waveform display. This doesn’t need to be 100% accurate, you can use a piece of paper if you don’t have a proper white card. Don’t change the ISO/Gain, light the white card if you need to. Make a note of the aperture.
Now change the gamma selection to S-Log2, do not change the exposure.
Note how white now drops down to about 70% and also note that the ISO becomes 2000 ISO on an F5 or FS7 and 1250 ISO on an F55.
Think about this for a moment: If the ISO has gone up, how can white and the bulk of my image become darker?
Now switch the camera to show dB gain instead of ISO, the gain should be showing 0dB. Repeat the above switching from Standard 709 gamma to S-Log2 and note that the gain remains at 0dB for both rec-709 and S-Log2.
Think about this: The gain is the same for both 709 and S-log2 but the S-Log2 image is darker. As the gain is NOT changing then the sensitivity is not actually changing, so why does the ISO change?
If you were to use a light meter and start off with the light meter set to 800 (500) ISO the light meter would tell you to set the aperture to whatever it is you currently have to give the correct exposure in rec-709 with white at 90%. If you had a light meter and you change the ISO setting on the light meter from 800(500)ISO to 2000(1250) ISO the light meter will tell you to close the aperture by 1.3 stops.
So, on your camera, while it is set to S-Log2 close the aperture from it’s original setting by 1.3 stops. Now you will find that white will be at the recording levels given by Sony for S-Log2 which is 59% for white and 32% for middle grey.
So what have we learnt from this? The gain is the same for both standard gamma and S-Log2, even though the ISO changes from 800(500) to 2000(1250) ISO. So the sensitivity and amount of noise coming from the sensor is the same in both cases. But the indicated ISO changes so that if you are using an external light meter, when you switch to S-Log the higher indicated ISO will make the light meter tell you to close the aperture. This means there is less light falling on the sensor. This means that the recorded image will have a worse signal to noise ratio (noise remains the same, but signal is smaller).
To solution of course to this poorer signal to noise ratio is simply to open the aperture back up again by 1.3 stops. When shooting S-Log2 or S-Log3 using the CineEI mode I always recommend using 800EI on an F5 or FS7 or 640EI on an F55. This means your aperture becomes the same as it would be when shooting in vanilla Rec-709, the end result is the same, improved, signal to noise ratio. If you are not using CineEI or LUT’s, then expose white at 70%.
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.
Damn, I just purchased a Sony A6000 to take to Norway next week and this pops up. It’s the latest camera in the compact camera range from Sony that started with the NEX-5 and NEX-3, great little cameras that take great photos and have been timelapse work-horses for me.
The A6300 specs are beyond impressive. It has a new 25MP sensor with an improved type of construction that improves sensitivity. It’s only APS-C so I’m not expecting A7 MK2 performance, but it should do very well when the light levels are low.
One of the headline features for me though is it’s ability to shoot 4K XAVC-S that is originated from a 6K image coming off the sensor. On top of that this truly pocket sized camera has what appear to be the full compliment of cinegammas as well as S-log2 and S-log3. Now before everyone gets too excited, do remember that XAVC-S is 8 bit whether in HD or SD, but even so this is an amazing feature set for this kind of camera.
If that isn’t enough it can even shoot in HD at upto 120fps!
The price? Well the body only is $999 USD. It’s E-Mount so as usual you can put all kinds of lenses on it from Sony power zooms to PL mount primes and everything in between. For more information on what on paper at least appears to be a remarkable little camera click here.
This document has been prepared independently of Sony. It is based on my own findings having used the camera and tested various exposure levels and methods. LUT’s to accompany this article can be found here.
If you find this useful please consider buying me a coffee or a beer. I’m not paid to write these articles.
One of the really nice features of the Sony A7s is the ability to use different gamma curves and in particular the Sony S-Log2 gamma curve.
What are gamma curves?
All conventional cameras use gamma curves. The gamma curve is there to make the images captured easier to manage by making the file size smaller than it would be without a gamma curve. When TV was first developed the gamma curve in the camera made the signal small enough to be broadcast by a transmitter and then the gamma curve in the TV set (which is the inverse of the one in the camera) expanded the signal back to a normal viewing range. The current standard for broadcast TV is called “Recommendation BT-709”, often shortened to Rec-709. This gamma curve is based on standards developed over 60 years ago and camera technology has advanced a lot since then! Even so, almost every TV and monitor made today is made to the Rec-709 standard or something very similar. Many modern cameras can capture a brightness range, also known as dynamic range, that far exceed the Rec-709 standard.
The limitations of standard gammas.
As gamma effects the dark to light range of the image, it also effects the contrast of the image. Normal television gamma has a limited dynamic range (about 6 to 7 stops) and as a result also has a limited contrast range.
Normally the gamma curve used in the camera is designed to match the gamma curve used by the TV or monitor. This way the contrast range of the camera and the contrast range of the display will be matched. So the contrast on the TV screen will match the contrast of the scene being filmed and the picture will look “normal”. However the limited dynamic range may mean that very bright or very dark objects cannot be accurately reproduced as these may exceed the gammas dynamic range.
The over exposure typical of a restricted range gamma such as Rec-709 is commonly seen as bright clouds in the sky becoming white over exposed blobs or bright areas on faces becoming areas of flat white. Objects in shade or shadow areas of the scene are simply too dark to be seen. But between the overexposed areas and any under exposure the contrast looks natural and true to life.
Log gamma, such as Sony’s S-Log2, allows the camera to capture a much greater brightness range or dynamic range than is possible when shooting with conventional television gamma. Dynamic range is the range from light to dark that the camera can capture or the range that the monitor or TV can display within one image. It is the range from the deepest blacks to the brightest whites that can be captured or shown at the same time.
There are some things that need to be considered before you get too excited about the possibility of capturing this much greater dynamic range. The primary one being that if the camera is set to S-log2 and the TV or monitor is a normal Rec-709 TV (as most are) then there is no way the TV can correctly display the image being captured, the TV just doesn’t have the range to show everything that the camera with it’s high range log gamma can capture accurately.
Fixed Recording Range For Both Standard and Log Gamma.
The signal range and signal levels used to record a video signal are normally described in percent. Where black is 0% and the brightest thing that can be recorded is normally recorded at 100% to 109%. Most modern video cameras actually record the brightest objects at 109%. The important thing to remember though is that the recording range is fixed. Even when you change gamma curve the camera is still constrained by the zero to 109% recording range. The recording range does not change whether you are recording Rec-709 or S-log2. So log gamma’s like S-Log2 must squeeze a much bigger signal range into the same recording range as used by conventional Rec-709 recordings.
In order to record using S-log2 with the A7s you need to use a picture profile. The picture profiles give you several recording gamma options. For S-log2 you should use Picture Profile 7 which is already set up for S-log2 and S-Gamut by default (for information on gamuts see this article). In addition you should ALWAYS use the cameras native ISO which is 3200 ISO and it is normally preferable to use a preset white balance. Using any other ISO with S-log2 will not allow you to get the full benefit of the full 14 stops of dynamic range that S-log2 can deliver.
Grey Cards and White Cards.
Before I go further let me introduce you to grey and white cards in case you have not come across them before. Don’t panic you don’t have to own one, although I would recommend getting a grey card such as the Lastolite EzyBalance if you don’t have one. But it is useful to understand what they are.
The 90% White Card.
The 90% white card is a card or chart that reflects 90% of the light falling on it. This will be a card that looks very similar in brightness to a piece of ordinary white paper, it should be pure white, some printer papers are bleached or coloured very slightly blue to make them appear “brilliant white” (as you will see later in many cases it is possible to use an ordinary piece of white paper in place of a 90% white card for exposure).
The Grey Card.
The 18% grey card, also often called “middle grey” card, is a card that reflects 18% of the light falling on it. Obviously it will appear much darker than the white card. Visually to us humans an 18% grey card appears to be half way between white and black, hence it’s other name, “middle grey”.
Middle grey is important because the average brightness level of most typical scenes tends to be around the middle grey brightness value. Another key thing about middle grey is that because it falls in the middle of our exposure range it makes it a very handy reference level when measuring exposure as it is less likely to be effected by highlight compression than a 90% white card.
Exposing White and Middle Grey.
Coming back to Rec-709 and conventional TV’s and monitors. If we want a piece of white paper to look bright and white on a TV we would record it and then show it at somewhere around 85% to 95% of the screens full brightness range. This doesn’t leave much room for things brighter than a white piece of paper! Things like clouds in the sky, a shiny car, a bright window or a direct light source such as a lamp or other light. In order to make it possible for S-log2 to record a much greater dynamic range the recording level for white and mid tones is shifted down. Instead of recording white at 85%-95%, when using S-log2 it is recommended by Sony that white is recorded at just 59%. Middle grey moves down too, instead of being recorded at 41%-42% (the normal level for Rec-709) it’s recorded at just 32%. By recording everything lower this means that there is a lot of extra space above white to record all those bright highlights in any scene that would be impossible to record with conventional gammas.
As S-Log2 normally shifts a lot of the recording levels downwards, if we show a scene shot with S-Log2 that has been exposed correctly on a conventional Rec-709 TV or monitor it will look dark due to the lower recording levels. In addition it will look flat with very low contrast as we are now squeezing a much bigger dynamic range into the limited Rec-709 display range.
This on screen reduction in contrast and the darker levels are actually perfectly normal when shooting using log gamma, this is how it is supposed to look on a normal monitor or TV. So don’t be alarmed if when shooting using S-Log2 your images look a little darker and flatter than perhaps you are used to when shooting with a standard gamma. You will adjust the S-Log2 footage in post production to restore the brightness and contrast later.
The post production adjustment of S-Log2 is very important and one of the keys to getting the very best finished images. The S-Log2 recording acts as a digital negative and by “processing” this digital negative in post production (normally referred to as “grading”) we manipulate the large 14 stop dynamic range of the captured image to fit within the limited display range of a Rec-709 TV in a pleasing manner. This may mean pulling up the mid range a bit, pulling down the highlights and bit and generally shifting the brightness and colour levels of different parts of the image around (see PART 2 for more post production information).
SLog-2 and 10 bit or 8 bit data.
Originally Slog-2 was designed for use on high end digital cinema cameras such as Sony’s F65 camera. These cameras have the ability to record using 10 bit data. A 10 bit recording can have up to around 1000 shades of grey from black to white. The A7s however uses 8 bit recording which only has a maximum of 235 shades from black to white. Normally 8 bit recording is perfectly OK as most transmission and display standards are also 8 bit. Shoot with an 8 bit camera and then display that image directly via an 8 bit system and nothing is lost. However when you start to grade and manipulate the image the difference between 8 bit and 10 bit becomes more significant. If you start to shift levels around, perhaps stretching out some parts of the image then the increased tonal resolution of a 10 bit recording helps maintain the very highest image quality. Photographers that have shot using both jpeg and raw will know how much more flexibility the 12 bit (or more) raw files have compared to the 8 bit jpeg’s. However they will also know that 8 bit jpeg’s can be also adjusted, provided you don’t need to make very large adjustments.
Contrary to popular belief heavy grading 8 bit footage does not necessarily lead to banding in footage across smooth surfaces except in extreme cases. Banding is more commonly a result of compression artefacts such as macro blocking. This is especially common with very highly compressed codecs such as AVCHD. The 50Mbps XAVC-S codec used in the A7s is a very good codec, far superior to AVCHD and as a result compression artefacts are significantly reduced, so banding will be less of an issue than with other lower quality codecs. If your going to shoot using S-Log2, some grading will be necessary and as we only have 8 bit recordings we must take care to expose our material in such a way as to minimise how far we will need to push and pull the material.
Getting Your Exposure Right.
When S-Log2 was developed the engineers at Sony produced tables that specified the correct exposure levels for s-Log2 which are:
As you can see the nominal “correct” exposure for S-Log2 is a lot lower than the levels used for display on a typical Rec-709 TV or monitor. This is why correctly exposed s-log2 looks dark on a conventional TV. The implication of this is that when you grade your footage in post production you will have to shift the S-log2 levels up quite a long way. This may not be ideal with an 8 bit codec, so I decided to carefully test this to determine the optimum exposure level for the A7s.
The panel of images below is from the A7s recording S-log2 and exposed at the Sony recommended “correct” 32% middle grey level. The correct exposure was determined using a grey card and an external waveform monitor connected to the cameras HDMI output. Then the S-log2 was corrected in post production to normal Rec-709 levels using a Look Up Table (LUT – more on LUT’s in part 2). You can also see the viewfinder display from the camera. If you click on the image below you can expand it to full size. Sorry about the shadow from the laundry line, I didn’t see this when I was shooting the test shots!
From this you can see just how dark and low contrast looking the original correctly exposed S-log2 is and how much more vibrant the corrected Rec-709 image is. I have also indicated where on the cameras histogram middle grey and white are. Note how much space there is to the right of white on the histogram. This is where the extra highlight or over exposure range of S-log2 can be recorded. When correctly exposed S-log2 has an exposure range of 6 stops above middle grey and 8 stops under.
Over Exposing or “Pushing” S-log2.
If we deliberately raise the exposure level above the Sony recommended levels (known as pushing the exposure), assuming you grade the image to the same final levels some interesting things happen.
For each stop we raise the exposure level you will have 1 stop (which is the same as 6db) less noise. So the final images will have half as much noise for each stop up you go. This is a result of exposing the image brighter and as a result not needing to raise the levels in post as far as you would if exposed at the normal level.
You will loose one stop of over exposure headroom, but gain one stop of under exposure headroom.
Bright highlights will be moved upwards into the most compressed part of the log gamma curve. This can result in a loss of texture in highlights.
Skin tones and mid tones move closer to normal Rec-709 levels, so less manipulation is need for this part of the image in post production.
This last point is important for the A7s with it’s 8 bit codec, so this is the area I looked at most closely. What happens to skin tones and textures when we raise the exposure?
Exposing at +1, +2 and +3 Stops.
Below are another 3 panels from the A7s, shot at +1 stop, +2 stops and +3 stops. Again you can click on the images if you wish to view them full size.
Looking at these results closely you can see that when you increase the exposure by 1 stop over the Sony specified correct level for S-log2 there is a very useful reduction in noise, not that the A7s is particularly noisy to start with, but you do get a noticeably cleaner image.
Below are 4 crops from the same images, after grading. I really recommend you view these images full size on a good quality monitor. Click on the image to view larger or full size.
The noise reduction at higher exposures compared to the base exposure is very clear to see if you look at the black edge of the colour checker chart (the coloured squares), although the difference between +2 and +3 stops is very small. You can also see further into the shadows in the +3 stop image compared to the base exposure. A more subtle but important effect is that as the exposure goes up the visible texture of the wooden clothes peg decreases. The grain can be clearly seen at the base level but by +3 stops it has vanished. This is caused by the highlights creeping into the more compressed part of the log gamma curve. The same thing is happening to the skin tones in the +3 stop image, there is some reduction of the most subtle textures.
From this we can see that for mid tones and skin tones you can afford to expose between 1 and 2 stops above the Sony recommended base level. More than 2 stops over and brighter skin tones and any other brighter textures start to be lost. The noise reduction gain by shooting between one and 2 stops over is certainly beneficial. The down side to this though is that we are reducing the over amount of exposure headroom.
Given everything I have seen with this 8 bit camera my recommendation is to shoot between the Sony recommended base S-log2 level and up to two stops over this level. I would try to avoid shooting more than 2 stops over as this is where you will start to see some loss of texture in brighter skin tones and brighter textures. Exactly where you set your exposure will depend on the highlights in the scene. If you are shooting a very bright scene you will possibly need to shoot at the Sony recommended level to get the very best over exposure headroom. If you are able to expose higher without compromising any highlights then you should aim to be up to 2 stops over base.
Determining The Correct Exposure.
The challenge of course is determining where your exposure actually is. Fortunately as we have seen, provided you in the right ball park, S-log2 is quite forgiving, so if you are a little bit over exposed it’s probably not going to hurt your images much. If you have a waveform monitor then you can use that to set your exposure according to the table below. If you don’t have proper white or grey cards you can use a piece of normal white paper. Although slightly less accurate this will get you very close to where you want to be. Do note that white paper tends to be a little brighter than a dedicated 90% reflectivity white card. If you don’t have any white paper then you can use skin tones, again a bit less accurate but you should end up in the right zone.
If you don’t have an external waveform monitor then you do still have some good options. Sadly although the camera does have zebras, these are not terribly useful for S-log2 as the lowest the zebras can go is 70%.
Light Meter: You could use a conventional photography light meter. If you do choose to use a light meter I would recommend checking the calibration of the light meter against the camera first.
Mark 1 Eyeball: You could simply eyeball the exposure looking at the viewfinder or rear screen but this is tricky when the image is very flat.
In Camera Metering: The cameras built in metering system, like the majority of DSLR’s is calibrated for middle grey. By default the camera uses multi-point metering to measure the average brightness of several points across the scene to determine the scenes average brightness and from there set the correct base S-log2 exposure.
When you are using S-Log2, auto exposure in most cases will be very close to the correct base exposure if you use the default Multi-Zone exposure metering. The camera will take an average exposure reading for the scene and automatically adjust the exposure to the Sony recommended 32% middle grey exposure level based on this average. In the P, A and S modes you can then use the exposure compensation dial to offset the exposure should you wish. My recommendation would be to add +1 or +2 stops via the dial. Then observe the histogram to ensure that you don’t have any significant over exposure. If you do then reduce the exposure compensation. Lots of peaks to the far right of the histogram is an indication of over exposure.
Manual Exposure And Internal Metering.
If you are exposing manually you will see a small M.M. indication at the bottom of the LCD display with a +/- number. In the eyepiece viewfinder this appears as a scale that runs from -5 to +5, in S-log2 only the -2 to +2 part of the scale is used. In both cases this is how far the camera thinks you are away from the optimum exposure. + meaning the camera is over exposed, – meaning under.
In the image above we can see the M.M. indication is +0.3, in the eyepiece you would see a small arrow one bar to the right of “0” , indicating the cameras multi zone metering thinks the shot is just a little over exposed, even though the shot has been carefully exposed using a grey card and external waveform monitor. This error is probably due to the large amount of white in the shot, white shirt, white card, test charts with a lot of brighter than grey shades. In practice an error of 0.3 of a stop is not going to cause any real issues, so even if this was exposed by setting the exposure so that you have “M.M. 0.0” the exposure would be accurate enough. But it shows that multi point exposure averaging is easily confused.
The scene above is a fairly normal scene, not excessively bright, not particularly dark. If shooting a snow scene for example the cameras multi point averaging would almost certainly result in an under exposed shot as the camera attempts to bring the bright snow in the scene down to the average middle grey level. If shooting a well lit face against a very dark background then the averaging might try to bring the background up and the shot may end up overexposed.
If you want really accurate exposure then you should put the cameras metering system into the spot metering mode where instead of taking an average of various points across the scene the camera will just measure the exposure at the very center of the image.
You can then use a grey card to very accurately set the exposure. Simply place the circular shaped symbol at the center of the viewfinder display over a grey card and set the exposure so that M.M is 0.0 for the correct S-Log2 base exposure. To expose 1 stop over with a grey card, set M.M. +1.0 and two stops over M.M. +2.0 (not flashing, flashing indicates more than +2 stops).
One small issue with this is that the camera will only display a M.M. range of -2.0 to +2.0 stops. Provided you don’t want to go more than 2 stops over base then you will be fine with a grey card.
Using White Instead of Grey:
If you don’t have a grey card then you can use a 90% reflectivity white target. As white is 2 stops brighter than middle grey when S-Log2 is correctly exposed the 90% white should indicate M.M +2.0.
Once you have established the correct exposure you can then open the iris by 1 or two stops to increase the exposure. Or halve the shutter speed to gain a one stop brighter exposure. Each time you halve the shutter speed your exposure becomes one stop brighter, so divide the shutter speed by 4 to gain a 2 stop increase in exposure. As always you should observe the histogram to check for any over exposure. White peaks at the far right of the histogram or disappearing completely off the right of the histogram is an indication of over-exposure. In this case reduce your exposure back down towards the base exposure level (M.M 0.0 with a a grey card).
I recommend using an exposure between the “correct” base S-Log2 exposure level of middle grey at 32% and two stops over this. I would not recommend going more than 2 stops over over base.
In the P, A and S auto exposure modes, when using the default multi-zone metering the camera will set the base S-log2 exposure based on the average scene brightness. For most typical scenes this average should be very close to middle grey. This exposure can then be increased (brightened) by up to 2 stops using the exposure compensation dial.
In manual exposure the “M.M.” number displayed at the bottom of the viewfinder display is how far you are from the correct base S-log2 exposure. M.M. +2.0 indicates +2 stops over base. If using multi zone metering (the cameras default) this exposure will be based on the scenes average brightness.
If you set the metering to “Spot” you can use a grey card centred in the image to determine the correct base exposure and up to 2 stops of over exposure via the M.M. indication when shooting manually.
In Part 2:
In part two I will take a look at grading the S-log2 from the A7s and how to get the very best from the S-log2 images by using Look Up Tables (LUT’s).
I welcome feedback on my articles. If you have any feedback please let me know. I will make this available as a PDF for download once part 2 is completed.
NORTHERN LIGHTS 2016.
Don’t forget I run storm chasing and Northern Lights expeditions every year. I still have some places on the second Northern Lights tour in Feb 2016. These are amazing expeditions by snowmobile up on to the Finnmarksvidda. We go ice fishing, dog sledding, exploring, cook a meal in a tent and enjoy traditional Norwegian saunas.
I’ve been doing a lot of work on shooting SLog-2 with the A7s. I realised almost straight away that a set of LUT’s for this camera would really help speed up my grading and testing. In addition as the camera is only 8 bit I have found that I am actually getting the best results from the Slog-2 if I over expose it just a little bit, depending of course on the scene. So I created a set of LUT’s that includes compensation for shooting at the nominal correct exposure as well as either 1 or 2 stops over exposed. In all there are 20 LUT’s in two sets. One is Rec-709 based LUT’s and the other Filmic LUT’s to act as starting points for further grading.
I am in the process of creating the complete workflow and SLog-2 guide for the A7s which I should be publishing later next week which will have much more information on how to use these LUT’s. But in the mean time here are the LUT’s if anyone want’s to play (and I would like feedback on what you think of them).
The LUT naming goes something like this:
AC A7S 709(800) ZERO
AC (That’s me!). A7S (The Camera).
709(800) = Output gamma or style. ZERO = Exposure off set.
The exposure offset refers to the number of stops the footage is over exposed by relative to the normal SLog2 exposure level of Middle Grey at 32% and 90% white at 59%. ZERO menas no exposure offset. 1STOP would be used when the SLog2 was exposed 1STOP over and in this case the LUT then shifts the exposure back down 1 stop to compensate.
709 = Vanilla Rec-709, very contrasty, but limited highlight response and hard clip of over exposure.
709(800) = Rec-709 gamma with 800% (high) dynamic range. Will be slightly low contrast but deals much better with over exposure or bright highlights than vanilla 709.
Film-Like1 = An extended range gamma with highlight roll off (+400% range), slightly de-saturated, slightly more film like color (small red/yellow removed).
Filmic2 = Extended range low contrast gamma with very good over exposure handling. Slightly de-saturated. Good grading start point.
Filmic3 = Similar to Filmic2 but a little more contrast at the expense of a little less highlight roll off.
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.
First of all. You can use either, LUT’s or Looks. But there is a quite marked difference in the way they behave, especially if you use EI gain.
At the native ISO there is little to choose between them. But just to confirm my earlier suspicions about the way the 3D LOOK’s behave I ran a quick test.
I found that when you lower the EI gain, below native, the output level of the LOOK lowers, so that depending on the EI, the clipping, peak level and middle grey values are different. For example on my PMW-F5 at 500 EI the LC709TypeA LUT has a peak output (clipping) level of just 90% while at 2000 ISO it’s 98%. This also means that middle grey of the LOOK will shift down slightly as you lower the EI. This means that for consistent exposure at different low EI’s you may need to offset your exposure very slightly. It also means that at Native EI if the waveform shows peak levels at 90% you are not overexposed or clipped, but at low EI’s 90% will mean clipped Slog, so beware of this peak level offset.
When you raise the EI of the LOOKS, the input clipping point of the Look profile changes. For each stop of EI you add the LOOK will clip one stop earlier than the underlying Slog. For example set the LC709TypeA LUT to 8000 ISO (on my PMW-F5) and the LOOK itself hard clips 2 stops before the actual SLog3 clips. So your LOOK will make it appear that your Slog is clipped up to 2 stops before it actually is and the dynamic range and contrast range of the LOOK varies depending on the EI, so again beware.
So, the Looks may give the impression that the Slog is clipped if you use a high ISO and will give the impression that you are not using your full available range at a low ISO. I suspect this is a limitation of 3D LUT tables which only work over a fixed 0 to1 input and output range.
What about the 1D LUT’s? Well the LUT’s don’t cover the full range of the Slog curves so you will never see all of your dynamic range at once. However I feel their behaviour at low and high EI’s is a little bit more intuitive than the level shifts and early clipping of the LOOKs.
The 1D LUT’s will always go to 109%. So there are no middle grey shifts for the LUT, no need to compensate at any ISO. In addition if you see any clipping below 109% then it means your SLog is clipping, for example if you set the camera to 500 ISO (on an F5), when you see the 709(800) LUT clipping at 105% it’s because the Slog is also clipping.
At High ISO’s you won’t see the top end of the SLog’s exposure range anyway because the LUT’s range is less than Slog’s range, but the LUT itself does not clip, instead highlights just go up above 109% and this is in my opinion more intuitive behaviour than the clipped LOOK’s that don’t ever quite reach 100% and clip at lower than 100% even when the Slog itself isn’t clipped.
At the end of the day use the ones that work best for you, just be aware of the limitations of both and that the LUT’s and LOOKs behave very differently. I suggest you test and try both before making any firm decisions.
Personally I prefer to use the 709(800) LUT for exposure as the restricted range matches that of most consumer TV’s etc so I feel this gives me a better idea of how the image may end up looking on a consumers TV. Also I find my Slog exposure more accurate as the LUT’s restricted range means you are more likely to expose within finer limits. In addition as noted above I fell the LUT’s behaviour is more predictable and intuitive at high and low EI’s than the LOOK’s.
In addition the higher contrast makes focus easier. I will often switch in and out of the LUT to look at how the Log is coping with any over exposure. This is my personal preference, but I do also use other LUT’s and Looks in particular the 709TypeA from time to time.
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