I get asked a lot about settings for shooting in low light with the EX1 and EX3. To be honest there is not much that will make a big difference that can be done, beyond adding in camera gain. There are a few tweaks you can make to the picture profiles that will help minimise noise levels and give a slightly brighter picture without resorting to overall gain and I’ll go through those here.
Gamma: By using a brighter or higher gain gamma curve you can get a slightly brighter image without an across the board gain increase. Do however consider though that gamma does add gain so a brighter gamma curve has more gain and thus more noise than a darker gamma curve. Where you light range is limited or controlled then I recommend using Standard Gamma 2 with the black gamma set to +40. Raising the black gamma helps lift shadow and dark areas of the image. For scenes with bright highlights then it’s useful to have some extra dynamic range and in this case I would choose cinegamma 4, again with the black gamma raised, this time to +50.
If you are happy with turning detail off altogether then this may be a wise choice as it will prevent any noise from being enhanced. If not in order to keep the appearance of noise to a minimum I would decrease the detail level to -10. As we are shooting in low light then I will assume there are a lot of dark areas in the image. To keep noise less visible in low contrast areas I would set the crisping to +50. This will slightly soften the image but help control noise.
There are two principle forms of noise, chroma noise and luma noise. There’s not much we can do about luma noise other than controlling detail enhancement as above, but if we reduce the image colour saturation we can reduce the chroma noise. Better still using the low key sat function we can just reduce the chroma (colour) level in low key parts of the shot. So for my low light profile I would set Low Key Sat to somewhere around -50.
So by changing the gamma we can increase the sensitivity a little, turning off the detail correction or using crispening we can ensure that the visibility of any noise is as minimised and the Low Key Sat function will keep the noise to a manageable level.
These setting won’t turn your EX1 or EX3 into a mega low light monster, but they will give a small boost to the low light performance before you have to resort to adding gain. Talking of gain, do make sure you read this to understand what gain is doing.
EX1/EX3 Picture Profile suggestions for low light:
Gamma Standard 2, Black Gamma +40 OR Cinegamma 4, Black Gamma +50
Detail OFF or Detail Level -10, Crispening +50
Low Key Sat -50
Black level -3 (restores black to zero)
Note: There is something up with the frame grabs. For some reason they are very dark. I’ll look into this in the morning and get some more accurate grabs online.
First of all let me say thanks to Ben Allan on CML list for getting me thinking about this. He has already started experimenting with creating a log style Picture Profile for the EX1. All the setting you’ll find here are my own work and based on tests done with real scenes and some dodgy home made latitude test charts
Ben’s musings on CML made me consider what S-Log is. In essence it is nothing more than a clever gamma curve that allows you to capture a greater dynamic range than is normally possible with conventional gamma curves. The reason why the standard gamma dynamic range is normally constrained is in part simply because if you record too large a dynamic range and then show it on a conventional monitor or TV, it simply does not look right. So to make it look right it must be graded in post production. In order to do a significant grade in post, the quality of the recording has to be good enough to withstand a fair bit of pulling and pushing. As a result 10 bit recording is recommended (however it is still possible to work with lot with top quality low noise 8 bit recordings, not that I would recommend this). Anyway as both the standard PMW-F3 and EX1/EX3 have 10 bit outputs I decided to see if it was possible to come up with a picture profile that would mimic a Log curve and then see if it actually brings any real world advantage.
First up I experimented with the F3. I already have the S-Log option, so this gave me a benchmark to work against. To mimic S-Log you need to increase the gamma gain at the lower end of the curve, you can do this with the Black Gamma function. I know that with S-Log the cameras native ISO is 800 as this is the sensitivity at which maximum dynamic range can be realised with the F3′s sensor. So I started my experiments at 800iso. I could bring up the shadow detail with the Black Gamma but I notice that I appeared to be trading off some highlight handling for shadow information, so while the images kind of looked like S-Log, they did not really gain any latitude.
During this process I realised that my mid range sensitivity was now a lot higher than with genuine S-Log, so I decreased the camera gain so I was now at 400iso and started tweaking again. Now with Black Gamma all the way up at +99 I was seeing around 1 stop further into the shadows, with no impact on highlight handling.
When I tested my new Picture Profile on a real scene, exposing as you would S-Log with mid grey at 38% I was very pleased to find some very similar images that do grade quite well. As well as the Gamma tweaks I also incorporated a few other changes into the profile to increase the overall grade-ability.
There is a definite improvement in shadow reproduction. It’s not as good as real S-Log, but it does give a very useful improvement for those without S-Log. One interesting point is that the exposure between the two log frame grabs posted here is not changed, so even though the camera is set at 400iso, when the picture profile is applied the camera behaves more like an 800iso camera and exposure should be set accordingly. I think my PP (which you can download at the bottom of the page) brings a little under a one stop improvement in DR, real S-Log is about 2 stops.
If you click on the image captures you can view them full frame. When you compare the AC-Log and Cinegamma 4 images you should be able to see more shadow detail in the tree on the right of frame with the AC-Log yet the sky is further from clipping as well.
So what about the EX1 and EX3, can the same be done for them? Well this is much more of a challenge as the EX cameras are much noisier. Simply bringing up the Black Gamma does help you see into the shadows a bit better but it comes at the cost of a lot of extra noise and really makes it un gradable. Normally I don’t recommend using negative gain as it can reduce the dynamic range of the camera. But I figured if I use negative gain and then increase the gamma gain that should cancel out any dynamic range loss. To then avoid the usual -3db reduction in highlight performance I adjusted the overall gamma gain to return the peak output level to 109IRE. After a bit of fiddling around with my test charts and waveform monitors I could see that it was possible to gain a small amount of dynamic range, a little under 1 stop, however there is an overall increase in the noise level of about +4db. Now that doesn’t sound too terrible, but to gain the extra stop of DR you have to under expose compared to standard gamma’s, typically with S-Log you would put mid grey at 38% (use the centre spot meter on the EX1/EX3 and a grey card). This works reasonable well with this fake log picture profile. The problem however is that when grading you may find that you have to add still further gain to bring skin tones to a normal level and this will accentuate the noise. You could use something like the Neat Video plugging to reduce the noise and in this case I think this sudo Log picture profile could be handy in tricky lighting situations. The EX1R Log picture profile, to work correctly MUST be used in conjunction with -3db gain, any other gain setting and you will loose dynamic range. Again like real S-Log, 10 bit external recording is desirable, but why not play with the picture profile and try it for yourself. It is a bit experimental, I’m not convinced that the extra stop of DR is worth the noise penalty on the EX1R, but then I’m spoilt as I have an S-Log F3.
I have uploaded both the F3 and EX1R picture profiles into a single zip file that you can download below. You will need to have an account on xdcam-user.com to download them, or register for a new account first. Un-zip the package and copy the SONY folder to the root of an SxS card, so you should have both a BPAV folder and a SONY folder in the root directory. The cameras will need the latest firmware versions to load the single profile directly. In the Picture Profile menu choose an empty PP and then in the bottom PP menu chose “load”.
Download F3 and EX1R Log Picture Profiles
F3 and EX1R Log like profiles
Sony have released a firmware update for the EX1R. This includes a couple of minor bug fixes and introduces forward planning metadata capabilities to the EX1R. The PDW-700/F800 XDCAM HD camcorders have had forward planning metadata for some time now and the F3′s new firmware also allows for it’s use. It’s designed to allow the user the ability to upload clip naming data and other data to the camera quickly and easily prior to shooting by copying the metadata to an SxS card.
User-specified characters can be displayed (MP4/AVI).
Shooting with planning metadata is possible. • Planning metadata can be read from recording media inserted into a memory card slot. • The planning metadata to be read can be selected.
• Clip names based on names defined in planning metadata can be specified.
• Clip names can be specified in languages other than English.
• More shot marks can be added.
• Shot mark names can be specified in languages other than English.
• Shooting information can be reflected in planning metadata.
• Information contained in planning metadata can be viewed.
Picture cache recording
When recording was performed in picture cache mode (picture cache time: 13 to 15 seconds) with i.LINK output, the cache data in memory was sometimes not recorded. That problem was corrected.
Click Here to go to the download page. There are also minor updates for the EX1 and EX3 released June 11th 2011 with some extra SxS card compatibility added.
These are the picture profiles that I am currently tending to favour for the EX1, EX1R and EX3. Please remember that picture profiles are entirely subjective. These settings work for me, that doesn’t mean they are perfect or for everyone. I like the images the cameras produce when I use these profiles. Please feel free to adapt them or modify them any way you choose. They work on any of the current EX cameras.
Vivid – Designed to help match the EX to a PDW-700. Gives vivid colours with a small shift away from yellow.
Matrix – Cinema, Matrix Level +60
R-G +8, R-B +10, G-R 0, G-B +15, B-R +5, B-G +6
Detail Level -10 Frequency +20, Crispening -40 (if using gain use crispening +14)
Gamma Cinegamma 1
Black level -3, Black Gamma -35
Low Key Saturation -10
Natural C4 – Designed to give a neutral, natural looking image.
Matrix – Cinema, Matrix Level +35
Detail level -7, Frequency +30, Crispening -40 (if using gain use crispening +20)
Black Level -3, Low key Saturation -15
AC Punch – Gives a very high contrast, bold look.
Matric – Cinema, level +40
Gamma Standard 2, Knee level 80, Slope 0
R-G 0, R-B +1, G-R +12, G-B +2, B-R +11, B-G 0
Detail Level -10, Frequency +30, Crispening -45
Black Level -4, Black Gamma -20.
AC Good to Grade – a general purpose setup to give good grading possibilities.
Matrix – Cinema, Level +25
Gamma Cinegamma 1 (Do not use -3db gain)
Detail Level -7, Frequency +45, Crispening -45 (use +35 if using gain)
Black Level -3.
AC-SD Camera look. To mimic an older SD camcorder based on a DSR400, good for HD to SD conversion.
Matrix – Cinema, Level +15
Detail Level +20, Detail Frequency -35, White Limit +35, Black limit +45
Knee, Manual, Level 90, Slope 0.
Gamma Standard 2, Gamma Level +5
Black Gamma -10
Black Level -10
Enjoy! Any feedback or suggestions welcome. Let me know of any profiles that you come up with that may be of interest to others.
Here is a roughly done (sorry) comparison of the aliasing from an EX1R at the bottom and my F3 at the top. The F3 had a Nikon 18-135mm zoom, both cameras were set to default settings, 25P. The F3 clearly shows a lot more chroma aliasing appearing as coloured moire rings in both the horizontal, vertical and diagonal axis. The EX1R is not alias free. The chroma aliasing from the F3 is not entirely unexpected as it has a bayer sensor and there is always a trade off between luma resolution and chroma resolution and the point where you set the optical low pass filter. Frankly I find this performance a little disappointing. More real world test are needed to see how much of a problem this is (or is not). To put it in to some perspective the F35 aliases pretty badly too, but that camera is well known for producing beautiful images. I hope I’m being over critical of this particular aspect of the F3′s performance, because in every other respect I think the camera is fantastic.
UPDATE: I’ve taken a look at the MTF curves for the F3 and they are quite revealing showing that an OLPF is in use which is giving an MTF50 of around 800 LW/PH V and 950 LW/PH H. This is not quite as high as an EX1 and are quite reasonable figures for a 1920×1080 camcorder. This suggests that the aliasing is largely limited to the chroma sampling of the sensor. As this is a bayer (or similar) type sensor the chroma is sampled at a reduced rate compare to luma, which is why coloured moire is not entirely unusual.
Tests performed with a Tokina ATX-Pro 28-70mm lens at 25P
Feeling a bit better about my F3 now
I had one of Juice Designs base plates on my EX1 and it was fantastic. It never came off the camera and gave me the confidence that any loads exerted on the base of the camera were spread over the entire EX1 base rather than the weedy single 1/4″ screw hole on the bottom of the EX1. When the EX1R arrived things were somewhat improved as now instead of one weedy 1/4″ thread there are two weedy 1/4″ threads. Great you think, two is better than one, but the little postage stamp sized plate that has the tripod mounting holes is attached to the EX’s chassis by 4 teeny tiny screws. These have a tendency to work loose over time and can break quite easily if over stressed. If you really load up the tripod mount you can fracture the casting or worse still the chassis of the camera. If all that isn’t bad enough the other issue I have with my EX1R in particular is that the tripod mount casting is very slightly proud of the base of the camera, so when its on a tripod (or my 3D rig) it wobbles about quite a bit as there is only about 1 square inch of metal in contact with the tripod. Clearly none of these are desirable and that’s where the Juice designs base plates come to the rescue. The EX1 version is attached to the base of the camera in four places. The obvious 2 are the normal pair of 1/4″ tripod threads. The other two are a couple of small screws that normally hold some of the plastic camera body parts on to the chassis. By spreading any loads across much more of the base of the camera the tripod to camera interface will be much stronger. In addition the camera is now rock solid on my tripod and 3D rig. If anyone is thinking of using an EX1 or EX1R on a 3D rig a base plate like this is not an option, it is absolutely essential!
The base plate is machined from a single piece of aluminium and anodised black. It is clearly a well though out design with nice curves that make follow the contours of the camera, indeed it looks like it really is park of the camera. It even has small recesses in it to clear some of the lumps and bumps that are on the base of the EX1R. At the rear of the base plate there is a small cut out area that allows you to add an optional bolt on accessory arm or “wing”. You can use the arm to attach devices such as the NanoFlash or Radio Mic receiver. The arm is supplied with a cold shoe mount which can be attached in a variety of positions making it very flexible indeed.
It took just minutes to fit the plate. It comes with all the screws that you need plus a couple of allen keys. You will need a small jewellers screwdriver to remove two small screws from the base of the EX1R. This is a high quality product that should help protect you investment and make the camera more stable, so highly recommended. See Juice Designs web site for more information.
I have been doing a lot of research into the best gammas to use on the EX’s for different lighting situations. The cinegammas are designed for shooting footage that will be graded, the images they produce are not entirely natural looking, however they do maximise dynamic range by compressing highlights and at the same time allocating a large part of the recorded signal range to mid tones and shadow detail. This is why shadows can look washed out or milky. However this also gives you more to play with in the grade.
Cinegamma 1 is tailored for shooting bright scenes or scenes where there will be large areas of highlights. CG1 is tailored for maximum highlight handling with lower shadow dynamic range compared to CG3 and CG4.?Cinegamma 2 is essentially the same as CG1, except the overall level is reduced making it broadcast safe at 0db. Cinegammas 1,3 and 4 all record up to 109% at 0db and 104% at -3db.?Cinegamma 3 has strong highlight compression but the compression starts later than CG1 so it’s not as compressed as CG1. Midtones and shadows are stretched more than CG1. This gives more dynamic range to mid tones and shadows compared to CG1 at the expense of some highlight handling.?Cinegamma 4 is similar to CG3 but with the mid tones lifted still further so that it gives a brighter looking picture overall.
My preference is to use CG1 for outdoor, brightly lit scenes or scenes where highlight handling is critical. Then I use CG3 for indoor and scenes on dull days where extreme highlight handling is less critical, but shadow detail becomes more important. What I have also found is that when shooting interviews the cinegammas work best when they are slightly under exposed compared to standard gammas and then graded in post. If using cinegammas I tend to expose skin tones at around 60%.
Cinegamma 1 on the EX is the same as Hypergamma HG4 on the PDW-700, F900R etc and cineegamma 2 is the same as Hypergamma HG2. With CG1/HG4 : 460% D-range is compressed to 109%.
If you set zebra 1 to 60 and then set zebra 2 to 90, then go back to zebra 1 you will find that the displayed value of zebra 1 will now be 90, however provided you don’t make any changes to zebra 1 if you go down to BOTH zebra 1 will work at 60 and zebra 2 at 90.
The thing is that going back to Zebra 1 (or zebra 2) and make any changes you select selects Zebra 1 (or 2) only, ie a single zebra and in doing so sets the level to the last level set. It’s only by going to BOTH that you enable both zebras together.
So to set two indendent zebras first set zebra 1 to your required level, then set zebra 2 to your required level, final scroll down to both and select. Now you zebras will be working at the independent levels you set, even though this may not appear to be the case in the menu.
It’s not the most logical way to lay out the menu as it does not show you both settings together at any point, hence the understandable confusion, but you will find that both zebras will work at the independent levels you set.
Most Recent Posts
- Super Slow Motion 480fps Lightning.
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- alisterchapman on 50 Megabits for the masses, the new Sony PMW-200.
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- alisterchapman on Uncompressed 240 fps possible with FS700 and Convergent Design Gemini. Tested!
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