What Benefits Do I Gain By Using CineEI?

This is a question that comes up a lot. Especially from those migrating to a camera with a CineEI mode from a camera without one. It perhaps isn’t obvious why you would want to use a shooting mode that has no way of adding gain to the recordings.

If using the CineEI mode shooting S-log3 at the base ISO, with no offsets or anything else then there is very little difference between what you record in Custom mode at the base ISO and CineEI at the base EI.

But we have to think about what the CineEI mode is all about. It’s all about image quality. You would normally chose  to shoot S-Log3 when you want to get the highest possible quality image and CineEI is all about quality.

The CineEI mode allows you to view via your footage via a LUT so that you can get an appreciation of how the footage will look after grading. Also when monitoring and exposing via the LUT because the dynamic range of the LUT is narrower, your exposure will be more accurate  and consistent because bad exposure looks more obviously bad. This makes grading easier. One of the keys to easy grading is consistent footage, footage where the exposure is shifting or the colours changing (don’t use ATW with Log!!) can be very hard to grade.

Then once you are comfortable exposing via a LUT you can start to think about using EI offsets to make the LUT brighter or darker. When the LUT is darker you open the aperture or reduce the ND to return the LUT to a normal looking image and vice versa with a brighter LUT.  This then changes the brightness of the S-log3 recordings and you use this offsetting process  to shift the highlight/shadow range as well as noise levels to suit the types of scenes you are shooting. Using a low EI (which makes the LUT darker) plus correct LUT exposure  (the darker LUT will make you open the aperture to compensate) will result in a brighter recording which will improve the shadow details and textures that are recorded and thus can be seen in the shadow areas. At the same time however that brighter exposure will reduce the highlight range by a similar amount to the increase in the shadow range. And no matter what the offset, you always record at the cameras full dynamic range.

I think what people misunderstand about CineEI is that it’s there to allow you to get the best possible, highly controlled images from the camera. Getting the best out of any camera requires appropriate and sufficient light levels. CineEI is not designed or intended to be a replacement for adding gain or shooting at high recording ISOs where the images will be already compromised by noise and lowered dynamic range.
 
CineEI exists so that when you have enough light to really make the camera perform well you can make those decisions over noise v highlights v shadows to get the absolute best “negative” with consistent and accurate exposure to take into post production. It is also the only possible way you can shoot when using raw as raw recordings are straight from the sensor and never have extra gain added in camera.
 
Getting that noise/shadow/highlight balance exactly right, along with good exposure is far more important than the use of external recorders or fatter codecs. You will only ever really benefit fully from higher quality codecs if what you are recording is as good as it can be to start with. The limits as to what you can do in post production are tied to image noise no matter what codec or recording format you use. So get that bit right and everything else gets much easier and the end result much better. And that’s what CineEI gives you great control over.
 
When using CineEI or S-Log3 in general you need to stop thinking “video camera – slap in a load if gain if its dark” and think “film camera – if its too dark I need more light”. The whole point of using log is to get the best possible image quality, not shooting with insufficient light and a load of gain and noise. It requires a different approach and completely different way of thinking, much more in line with the way someone shooting on film would work.

What surprises me is the eagerness to adopt shutter angles and ISO ratings for electronic video cameras because they sound cool but less desire to adopt a film style approach to exposure based on getting the very best from the sensor.  In reality a video sensor is the equivalent of a single sensitivity film stock. When a camera has dual ISO then it is like having a camera that takes two different film stocks.  Adding gain or raising the ISO away from the base sensitivity in custom mode is a big compromise that can never be undone. It adds noise and decreases the dynamic range. Sometimes it is necessary, but don’t confuse that necessity with getting the very best that you can from the camera.

For more information on CineEI see:

Using CineEI with the FX6  
 
 

14 thoughts on “What Benefits Do I Gain By Using CineEI?”

  1. Thanks Alistair. Great to have some further clarification on this for those of us for whom it’s somewhat confusing/counter-intuitive relative to what we already know. I’ve decided not to use Cine EI for the moment, because until I’ve fully got my head around it it seems like it might be an impediment during shoots. So I’ll be studying up your posts and videos on it.

    In the meantime, my plan is to use SGC3/Slog3 in custom mode. Am I correct in thinking that if I set my base setting to custom, and select any of the empty (no LUT) base looks that fall under the preset 4 (S-Cinetone, etc), then I’m capturing SGC3/SLog3 (with no MLUT possible-this is why the screen reads “No LUT” ?) as well as outputting that via HDMI to my Ninja V for monitoring, where I then can apply an MLUT. Does this make sense? Seems to be working well so far, just checking on my logic/workflow.

    Any idea why under custom mode does Sony force you to bake in a LUT if selected and not have the option of an MLUT?!

    1. The use of LUT’s in custom mode to provide different looks is clever and opens up the possibility of have a multitude of internal looks rather than being tied to built in presets.

      You are correct that when you chose No LUT you are recording S-Log3 and SGamut3.cine. In addition for good grading performance and to reduce banding in any footage, when shooting with S-Log3 you should also turn off the noise reduction.

      One issue with LUT’s is that to work correctly for monitoring the LUT must match the record range. But as soon as you change the recording ISO you change the dynamic range that is recorded as well as the recording range. So for LUT’s to work correctly in custom mode a different LUT would be required for every possible ISO and I very much doubt there is enough memory space in the camera for this.

      1. Many thanks for your response. Regarding “One issue with LUT’s is that to work correctly for monitoring the LUT must match the record range” are you basically recommending not using the workflow I’ve outlined and using Cine EI? I do realise that this is the optimal solution and will move towards it!

        In the meantime, is there a sort of all-rounder LUT I can load into my Ninja V that will give me a decent sense of things regardless of ISO?

        I’ve been using the SL3SG3Ctos709 LUT downloaded from the Sony website and it seems to give me a fairly accurate representation of what’s going on; although I haven’t veered from 800 ISO much if at all.

  2. Hello,

    I noticed on FS7 that CINE EI could be “pushed” when recording by increasing gain thanks to the “Shockless Gain” function.
    Of course images are more “grainy” than it should be with base Iso.
    Sometimes I should prefer using higher sensivity in CINE EI (with more grain) rather than filming in Custom mode .
    It seems that this ability has disappeared in FX9.
    “Shockless Gain” function is there … but I didn’t found the way allowing to record Slog 3 in CINE EI with higher sensivity (pushing gain by 6 to 10 db) as it was possible with the older (but still excellent) FS7.
    Question : with the FX9 is there the ability to increase gain in CINE EI / Slog3 ?
    If the answer is “not” …. why ? and when will it be implemented ?

    Best !

    1. The FS7 has that awful baked in EI mode that allows you to simultaneously reduce the dynamic range and restrict the recording range when shooting log. It’s a terrible way to use log. Hopefully this won’t come to the FX9 as it truly defeats the whole point of S-log3. S-Cinetone will give you a much better grading starting point than S-Log3 + gain + reduced recording range.

  3. Hi Alister, great article as always!
    Something I don’t quite understand is why using a darker lut and a lower EI rating.
    If I lower the EI (let’s say 200EI instead of 800EI), the image gets darker. To overcome this, I normally add light, open the aperture or lower the ND. The recording is still made in the native ISO, so I get a 2 stop overexposed image. If I use the darker -2 lut, the image would become even darker, so I’ll get a 4 stop overexposed image if exposed “correctly “, no? So my question is – why not to use the normal lut and gain benefit of the 2 brighter stops, and loose less dynamic range in the highlights?
    Thanks!
    Ziv

    1. Offset LUTs would be used in post production or with a monitor that is taking an S-Log feed and doesn’t have the EI offset. You don’t normally use offset LUTs in the camera.

  4. I am always looking for “reference” points delivered by the cameras’ monitors : Zebras and Waveforms.
    … but I am still uncertain.

    1) Would you please remind us what is the signal measured by Zebras in CINE EI and Custom mode ?
    In CINE EI do zebras always represent the luminance of Slog3 ?
    In CUSTOM Mode do zebras represent the luminance of the Lut applied ?
    … or …
    Do Zebras represent the signal routed to some SDI port ? (SDI 1 ? SDI 2 ?)

    2) Is it the same zebras source for all three cameras : FX9 – FX6 – FS7 ?

  5. Hey,

    I’m fairly new to the camera world, converting from Canon – and now use the FX9.
    If a client is wanting me to shoot in Linear REC709 is it better to shoot custom (SDR / HDR ) with s709 – or CineEI and burn in the 709 ?

    Thanks

    1. The closest to linear is STD5 gamma in SDR mode. Rec-709 isn’t linear, it is power law gamma.

  6. I saw your article on SONYCINE (march-8-21) :

    “How To Correctly Expose S-Log3 – a7S III / FX3 / FX6 / FX9”

    So I understand that Zebras and Waveforms are synchronised and represent both the same signal routed to SDI/HDMI ports.

    Am I right ?

    Question : what are zebras values for S-CINETONE ( Black – Grey – White and Clipping point) ?

    Thank you

  7. Finally,

    “what is the signal luminance represented by zebras ?”

    On the FX9, that’s easy : the name of zebra’s source (slog3 or Lut) is always written on the screen just below the gamma indicator.

    So, there is not any confusion at all.

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