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.
2 thoughts on “Why are Sony’s ISO’s different between standard gammas and log?”
Thanks for another informative article Alister. Would you ever consider doing a comparison of exposure technique between Sony cameras in particular FS7 and Red/Arri cameras shooting Log?
When I shoot with both Arri and Red cameras I normally treat them pretty much the same and rate them 1 stop lower than base for all the same reasons.