Tag Archives: science

Do the images from my Sony camera have to look the way they do?

— And why do Sony cameras look the way they do?

It all about the color science.

“Color Science” is one of those currently in fashion phrases that gets thrown around all over the place today. First of all – what the heck is color science anyway? Simply put it’s how the camera sees the colors in a scene, mixes them together, records them – and then how your editing or grading software interprets what is in the recording and finally how the TV or other display device turns the digital values it receives back into a color image. It’s a combination of optical filters such as the low pass filter, color filters, sensor properties, how the sensor is read out and how the signals are electronically processed both in the camera, by your edit/grading system and by the display device. It is no one single thing, and it’s important to understand that your edit process also contributes to the overall color science.

Color Science is something we have been doing since the very first color cameras, it’s not anything new. However us end users now have a much greater ability to modify that color science thanks to better post production tools and in camera adjustments such as picture profiles or scene files.

Recently, Sony cameras have sometimes been seen by some as having less advanced or poor color science compared to cameras from some other manufacturers. Is this really the case? For Sony part of the color science issue is that historically Sony have deliberately designed their newest cameras to match previous generations of cameras so that a large organisation with multiple cameras can use new cameras without having them look radically different to their old ones. It has always been like this and all the manufacturers do this, Panasonic cameras have a certain look as do Canon etc. New and old Panasonics tend to look the same as do old and new Canon’s, but the Canon’s look different to the Panasonics which look different to the Sony’s.

Sony have a very long heritage in broadcast TV and that’s how their cameras look out of the box, like Rec-709 TV cameras with colors that are similar to the tube cameras they were producing 20 years ago. Sony’s broadcast color science is really very accurate – point one at a test chart such as a Chroma DuMonde and you’ll see highly repeatable, consistent and accurate color reproduction with all the vectors on a vector scope falling exactly where they should, including the skin tone line.

On the one hand this is great if you are that big multi-camera business wanting to add new cameras to old ones without problems, where you want your latest ENG or self-shooters cameras to have the same colors as your perhaps older studio cameras so that any video inserts into a studio show cut in and out smoothly with a consistent look.

But on the other hand it’s not so good if you are a one man band shooter that wants something that looks different. Plus accurate is not always “pretty” and you can’t get away from the fact that the pictures look like Rec-709 television pictures in a new world of digital cinematography where TV is perhaps seen as bad and the holy grail is now a very different kind of look that is more stylised and much less true to life.

So Sony have been a bit stuck. The standard look you get when you apply any of the standard off-the shelf S-Log3 or S-Log2 LUT’s will by design be based on the Sony color science of old, so you get the Sony look. Most edit and grading applications are using transforms for S-Log2/3 based on Sony’s old standard Rec-709 look to maintain this consistency of look. This isn’t a mistake. It’s by design, it’s a Sony camera so it’s supposed to look like other Sony cameras, not different.

But for many this isn’t what they want. They want a camera that looks different, perhaps the “film look” – whatever that is?

Recently we have seen two new cameras from Sony that out of the box look very different from all the others. Sony’s high end Venice camera and the lower cost FS5 MKII. The FS5 MKII in particular proves that it’s possible to have a very different look with Sony’s existing colour filters and sensors. The FS5 MK II has exactly the same sensor with exactly the same electronics as the MK I. The only difference is in the way the RGB data from the sensor is being processed and mixed together (determined by the different firmware in the Mk1 and mk2) to create the final output.

The sensors Sony manufacture and use are very good at capturing color. Sony sensors are found in cameras from many different manufacturers. The recording systems in the Sony cameras do a fine job of recording those colors as data within the files the camera records as data with different code values representing what the sensor saw. Take that data into almost any half decent grading software and you can change the way it looks by modifying the data values. In post production I can turn almost any color I want into any other color. It’s really up to us as to how we translate the code values in the files into the colors we see on the screen, especially when recording using Log or raw. A 3D LUT can change tones and hues very easily by shifting and modifying the code values. So really there is no reason why you have to have the Sony 709 look.

My Venice emulation LUT’s will make S-Log3 from an FS5 or FS7 look quite different to the old Sony Broadcast look. I also have LUT’s for Sony cameras that emulate different Fuji and Kodak film stocks, apply one of these and it really looks nothing like a Sony broadcast camera. Another alternative is to use a color managed workflow such as ACES which will attempt to make just about every camera on the market look the same applying the ACES film style look and highlight roll-off.

We have seen it time and time again where Sony footage has been graded well and it then becomes all but impossible to identify what camera shot it. If you have Netflix take a look at “The Crown” shot on Sony’s F55 (which has the same default Sony look as the FS5 MK1, FS7 etc). Most people find it hard to believe the Crown was shot with a Sony because it has not even the slightest hint of the old Sony broadcast look.

If you use default settings, standard LUT’s etc it will look like a Sony, it’s supposed to! But you have the freedom to choose from a vast range of alternative looks or better still create your own looks and styles with your own grading choices.

But for many this can prove tricky as often they will start with a standard Sony LUT or standard Sony transform. So the image they start with has the old Sony look. When you start to grade or adjust this it can sometimes look wrong because you have perhaps become used to the original Sony image and then anything else just doesn’t seem right, because it’s not what you are used to. In addition if you add a LUT and then grade, elements of the LUT’s look may be hard to remove, things like the highlight roll off will be hard baked into the material, so you need to do need to think carefully about how you use LUT’s. So try to break away from standard LUT’s. Try ACES or try some other starting point for your grade.

Going forward I think it is likely that we will see the new Venice look become standard across all of the Cinema style cameras from Sony, but it will take time for this to trickle down into all the grading and editing software that currently uses transforms for s-Log2/3 that are based on the old Sony Rec-709 broadcast look. But if you grade your footage for yourself you can create just about any look you want.

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PXW-FS5 II Secret Sauce and Venice Colour Science.

At NAB 2018 a very hot topic is the launch of the FS5 II. The FS5 II is an update on the existing FS5 that includes the FS Raw output option and the HFR option as standard. So out of the box this means that this camera will be a great match to an Atomos Inferno to take advantage of the new Apple ProRes Raw codec.

Just like the FS5 the FS5 II can shoot using a range of different gamma curves including Rec-709, HLG, S-Log2  and S-Log3. So  for those more involved projects where image control is paramount you can shoot in log (or raw)  then take the footage into your favourite grading software and create whatever look you wish. You can tweak and tune your skin tones, play with the highlight roll off and create that Hollywood blockbuster look – with both the FS5 and the FS5 II. There is no change to this other than the addition of FS-Raw as standard on the FS5 II.

The big change, is to the cameras default colour science.

FS5II-1-1024x564 PXW-FS5 II Secret Sauce and Venice Colour Science.
New color science from the Sony PXW-FS5 II

Ever since I started shooting on Sony cameras, which was a very long time ago, they have always looked a certain way. If you point a Sony camera at a Rec-709 test chart you will find that the colours are actually quite accurate, the color patches on the chart lining up with the target boxes on a vector scope. All Sony cameras look this way so that if you use several different cameras on the same project they should at least look very similar, even if one of those cameras is a few years old.  But this look and standard was establish many years ago when camera and TV technology was nowhere near as advanced as it is today.

in addition, sometimes accurate isn’t pretty. Television display technology has come a long way in recent years. Digital broadcasting combined with good quality LCD and OLED displays now mean that we are able to see a wider range of colours and a larger dynamic range. Viewers expectations are changing, we all want prettier images.

When Sony launched the high end Venice digital cinema camera a bold step was taken, which was to break away from the standard Sony look and instead develop a new, modern, “pretty” look. A lot of research was done with both cinematographers and viewers trying to figure out what makes a pretty picture. Over several months I’ve watched Pablo, Sony’s colourist at the Digital Motion Picture Center at Pinewood studios develop new LUT’s with this new look for the Venice camera. It hasn’t been easy, but it looks really nice and is quite a departure from that standard Sony look.

The FS5 II includes many aspects of this new look. It isn’t just a change to the colours it is also a change to the default gamma curve that introduces a silky smooth highlight roll off that extends the dynamic range well beyond that normally possible with a conventional Rec-709 gamma curve. A lot of time was spent looking at how this new gamma behaves when shooting people and faces. In particular those troublesome highlights that you get on a nose or cheek that’s catching the light. You know – those pesky highlights that just don’t normally look nice on a video camera.

So as well as rolling off the brightness of these highlights in a smooth way, the color also subtly washes out to prevent the highlight color bloom that can be a video give away. This isn’t easy to do. Any colorist will tell you that getting bright skin tone highlights to look nice is tough. You bring down the brightness and it looks wrong because you loose too much contrast. De-saturate too much and it looks wrong as it just becomes a white blob. Finding the right balance of extended dynamic range with good contrast, plus a pleasing roll-off without a complete white-out is difficult enough to do in a grading suite where you can tweak and tune the settings for each shot. Coming up with a profile that will work over a vast range of shooting scenarios with no adjustment is even tougher. But it looks to me as though the engineers at Sony have really done a very nice job in the FS5 II.

Going forwards from here I would expect to see, or at least like to see, most of Sony’s future cameras have this new colour science. But this is a big step for Sony to break away from decades of one look and every camera looking more or less the same.  But do remember this change is primarily to the default, “standard” gamma look. It does not effect the FS5 II’s log or raw recordings. There is also going to have to be a set of LUT’s to go with this new color science so that those shooting with with a mix of the baked in look and S-log or raw can make all the footage match. In addition users of other S-Log cameras will want to be able to make their cameras match. I see no reason why this won’t be possible via a LUT or set of LUT’s, within the limitations of each cameras sensor technology.

There has been a lot of people that seem unhappy with the FS5 II. I think many people want a Sony Venice for the price of an FS5. Let’s be realistic, that isn’t going to happen. 10 bit recording in UHD would be nice, but that would need higher bit rates to avoid motion artefacts which would then need faster and more expensive media. If you want higher image quality in UHD or 4K DCI do consider an Atomos recorder and the new ProRes Raw codec. The files are barely any bigger than ProRes HQ, but offer 12 bit quality.

Given that the price of the FS5 II is going to be pretty much the same or maybe even a little lower than the regular FS5 (before you even add any options), I am not sure why so many people are complaining. The FS5-II takes a great little camera, makes it even better and costs even less.