CineEI is different to conventional Shooting and you will need to think differently.
Shooting using CineEI is a very different process to conventional shooting. The first thing to understand about CineEI and Log is that the number one objective is to get the best possible image quality with the greatest possible dynamic range and this can only be achieved by recording at the cameras base sensitivity. If you add in camera gain you add noise and reduce the dynamic range that can be recorded, so ideally you always need to record at the cameras base sensitivity for the best possible captured image.
Sony call their system CineEI. On an Arri camera the only way to shoot log or raw is using Exposure Indexes and it’s the same with Red, Canon and almost every other digital cinema camera when shooting log. You always record at the cameras base sensitivity because this will deliver the greatest dynamic range.
A key part of any log workflow is the post production. Without a really good post production workflow you will never see the best possible results from shooting Log. An important part of the post production workflow will be correcting for any exposure offsets used when shooting. If something has been exposed very brightly, then in post you will bring that exposure down to a normal level. Bringing the levels down in post will decrease noise. The flip side to this is that if the exposure is very dark then you will need to raise the levels in post and this will make then more noisy
Exposure and Light Levels.
It is assumed that when using CineEI and shooting with log that you will control the light levels in your shots and use levels suitable for the recording ISO (base ISO) of the camera using combinations of aperture, ND and shutter speed, again it’s all about getting the best possible image quality. If lighting a scene you will light for the base ISO of the camera you are using.
Here’s the bit that’s different:
Changing the EI (Exposure Index) allows you to tailor where the middle of your exposure range is. It allows you to alter the balance between more highlight range with less shadows or less highlight range with more shadow information in the captured image. On a bright high contrast exterior you might want more highlight range, while for a dark moody night scene you might want more shadow range. Exposing brighter puts more light on to the sensor. More light on the sensor will extend the shadow range but decrease the highlight range. Exposing darker will decrease the shadow range but also allow brighter highlights to be captured without clipping.
IMPORTANT: EI is NOT the same as ISO.
ISO is a measure of a film stock or camera sensors SENSITIVITY to light. It is the measure of how strongly the cameras sensor responds to light.
Exposure Index is a camera setting that determines how bright the image will become for a given EXPOSURE. While it is related to sensitivity it is NOT the same thing and should always be kept distinct from sensitivity.
ISO= Sensitivity and a measure of the sensors response to light.
EI = Exposure Index – how bright the image seen in the viewfinder will be.
The important bit to understand is that EI is an exposure rating, not a sensitivity rating. The EI is the number you would put into a light meter for the optimum EXPOSURE for the type of scene you are shooting. The EI that you use depends on your desired shadow and highlight ranges as well as how much noise you feel is acceptable.
What Actually happens when I change the EI value on a Sony camera?
On a Sony camera the only things that change when you alter the EI value are the brightness of any Look Up Tables (LUTs) being used, the EI value indicated in the viewfinder and the EI value recorded in the metadata that is attached to your clip.
Importantly – To actually see a change in the viewfinder image or the image on an external monitor you must be viewing your images via a LUT as the EI changes the LUT brightness, changing the EI does not on it’s own change the way the S-Log3 is recorded or the sensitivity of the camera. If you are not viewing via a LUT you won’t see any changes when you change the EI values, so for CineEI to work, you must be monitoring via a LUT.
Raising and Lowering the EI value:
When you raise the EI value the LUT will become brighter. When you lower the EI value the LUT will become darker.
If we were to take a camera with a base ISO of 800 then a nominal “normal” exposure would result from using 800 EI. When the base ISO value and the EI value are matched, then we can expect to get a “normal” exposure.
Let’s now look at what happens when we use EI values higher or lower than the base ISO value.
(Note: One extra stop of exposure is the equivalent of doubling the ISO or EI. One less stop of exposure is the equivalent of halving the ISO or EI. So if double 800 EI so you get to 1600 EI this would be considered 1 stop higher. If you double 1600 EI so you are at 3200 EI this is one further stop higher. So 800 EI to 3200 EI is 2 stops higher)
If you were to use a higher EI, let’s say 3200 EI, two stops higher than the base 800 EI, then the LUT will become 2 stops brighter.
If you were using a light meter you would enter 3200 into the light meter.
When looking at this now 2 stops brighter viewfinder image you would be inclined to close the aperture by 2 stops (or add ND/shorter shutter) to bring the brightness of the viewfinder image back to normal. The light meter would also recommend an exposure that is 2 stops darker.
Because the recording sensitivity or base ISO remains the same no matter what the EI, the fact that you have reduced your exposure by 2 stops means that the sensor is now receiving 2 stops less light, however the recording sensitivity has not changed.
Shooting like this, using a higher EI than the base ISO will result in less light hitting the sensor which will result in images with less shadow range and more noise but at the same time a greater highlight range.
A very important thing to consider here is that this is not what you normally want when shooting darker scenes, you normally want less noise, more shadow range. So with CineEI, you would normally try to shoot a darker, moody scene with an EI lower than the base ISO.
This goes completely against most peoples conventional exposure thinking.
For a darker scene or a scene with large shadow areas you actually want to use a low EI value. So if the base ISO is 800 then you might want to consider using 400 EI. 400 EI will make the LUT 1 stop darker. Enter 400 EI into a light meter and compared to 800 the light meter will recommend an exposure that is 1 stop brighter. When seeing an image in the viewfinder that is 1 stop darker you will be inclined to open the aperture or reduce the ND to bring the brightness back to a normal level.
This now brighter exposure means you are putting more light on to the sensor, more light on the sensor means less noise in the final image and an increased shadow range. But, that comes at the loss of some of the highlight range.
Need to think differently.
The CineEI mode and log are not the same as conventional “what you see is what you get” shooting methods. CineEI requires a completely different approach if you really want to achieve the best possible results.
If you find the images are too dark when the EI value matches the recording base ISO, then you need to open the aperture, add light or use a faster lens. Raising the EI to compensate for a dark scene is likely to create more problems than it will fix. It might brighten the image in the viewfinder, making you think all is OK, but on your small viewfinder screen you won’t see the extra noise and grain that will be in the final images once you have raised your levels in post production. Using a higher EI and not paying attention could result in you stopping down a touch to protect some blown out highlight or to tweak the exposure when this is probably the last thing you actually want to do.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I have seen people cranking up the EI to a high value thinking this is how you should shoot a darker scene only to discover they can’t then make it look good in post production. The CineEI mode on these cameras is deliberately kept separate from the conventional “custom” or “SDR” mode to help people understand that this is something different. And it really does need to be treated differently and you really do need to re-learn how you think about exposure.
For dark scenes you almost never want to use an EI value higher than the base ISO value and often it is better it use a lower EI value as this will help ensure you expose any shadow areas sufficiently brightly.
The CineEI mode in some regards emulates how you would shoot with a film camera. You have a single film stock with a fixed sensitivity (the base ISO). Then you have the option to expose that stock brighter (using a lower EI) for less grain, more shadow detail, less highlight range or expose darker (using a higher EI) more grain, less shadow detail, more highlight range. Just as you would do with a film camera.
Sony’s CineEI mode is not significantly different from the way you shoot log or raw with an Arri camera. Nor is it significantly different to how you shoot raw on a Red camera – the camera shoots at a fixed sensitivity and any changes to the ISO value you make in camera are only actually changing the monitoring brightness and the clips metadata.
Exposing more brightly on purpose to achieve a better end result is not “over exposure”. It is simply brighter exposure. Over exposure is generally considered to be a mistake or undesirable, but exposing more brightly on purpose is not a mistake.