Filmmaking

Why I Ditched S-Log

Alright guys, today I want to talk about why I ditched shooting in S-Log on my Sony cameras, and my new favorite picture profile. 

When I switched over to Sony from Panasonic, FilmConvert was already a big part of my color grading workflow. If you’re not familiar with it, FilmConvert is a plug-in that allows you to emulate a bunch of different film stocks and grain, and they have profiles for different cameras. 

So, for instance, you could tell FilmConvert that you’re shooting on a Panasonic GH4 in Cinelike-D or V-log, or a Canon 5D, or even an ARRI or a Red, or whatever, and then tell it, this is the film stock I want to emulate, and FilmConvert knows what to do with the color conversion. So, in a way, it’s sort of a LUT, but its end goal is film emulation as opposed to a heavy “look.”

Well, for the Sony a7S II, the majority of the options inside FilmConvert were either for footage shot using S-Log 2 or 3, or Cine1. So, while everyone else was shooting Cine4 on the a7S II, because I wanted to continue using FilmConvert, I started with Cine1.

And while I enjoy Cine1, eventually my curiosity surrounding S-Log3 got the best of me, and that became my go-to gamma. At first, I loved the flexibility in post that S-Log provided, the ability to subtly adjust the highlights and shadows with much more control than I ever got out of my GH4 in Cinelike-D or Cine1 on my Sony, and I could really give the footage any look I wanted.

But, because you have to overexpose S-Log3 by one or two stops in order to avoid noisy shadows and to get the maximum possible dynamic range retention, I found myself having trouble when I wanted to intentionally underexpose an image, like, say a dress shot, or a shot of the bride having her makeup applied.

So, finally, long story short: starting with Cine1 Pro, to S-Log3, I’ve finally landed on my favorite Sony Picture Profile for shooting weddings and that is, you guessed it, Cine4.

Why do I like Cine4? Well, for one, I’ve changed my color grading workflow a bit, and have started using Denver Riddle’s excellent Color Finale plug-in more and more, and I’ll post a separate video on that in the future.

But Cine4 is great because it’s not as high-contrast as Cine1, but it’s also not crazy flat like S-Log. So you really get the best of both worlds.

S-Log does definitely allow you to retain a greater dynamic range, but, it seems like to really take full advantage of S-Log, or any Log format for that matter, it should really be on a professional set. And weddings are obviously not professional movie sets.

For me, I would need to bring a large monitor, with vectorscopes and waveform monitors that I could read, in order to know exactly what my exposure is. And yes, I am aware that Gamma Display Assist exists, and it definitely does help, but for me, S-Log made it very difficult to actually “feel” what I was shooting. 

And if I wanted to intentionally under- or over-expose an image, it was virtually impossible for me to do that in a run and gun scenario, as shooting weddings can so often be. 

So, I’m not saying it’s impossible, and there are definitely people out there who are way better than me at exposing for S-Log than I, but for me, and my workflow, I am willing to give up a little bit of that dynamic range retention, and work a little harder to get it as close as possible in camera, and shoot in Cine4, and not have to do so much work in post, color correcting and then grading to achieve the look I want.

Plus, not shooting in S-Log comes with a few perks like, my minimum ISO doesn’t have to be 1600 on my a7S II, or 800 on my a6500, I can go as low as 200 on Cine4, so I’m not relying on ND filters as much when shooting outside or in bright conditions.

So, if you guys want to know my go to Picture Profile, I’m using PP5, changing the gamma to Cine4 as I mentioned earlier, changing the Color Mode to S-Gamut3.Cine as that is supposed to be Sony’s most advanced color space, and the only other adjustment I’ve made is to the amount of “Detail,” I have dialed that down from 0 to negative 7.

And “Detail,” you can think of that like bringing an image into Photoshop and adding in sharpening. And you don’t really want to bake that into your footage, because we can easily add sharpening in in post anyway. 

And, if you’re curious about learning more about what all of the different Picture Profiles do to your image, there is a really helpful guide out there written by Sony, which you can check out here.

But that’s what works for me guys! Let me know your favorite Picture Profile settings and if you’ve found any tweaks or changes that you really like.

Is S-Log Really Worth It?

There are a lot of opinions out there about S-Log3: people who say S-Log3 is too noisy, especially in low light. People who say the image is too flat and milky or there isn’t enough contrast; I can’t see if my white balance is correct when I’m shooting; it’s not really worth it since the a7S II is an only 8-bits instead of 10, and as a result you get horrible color banding; Sony only added it to the Alpha line as a marketing ploy, etc. etc.

So today I wanted to share with you my experience with shooting S-Log3, and then we’ll take a look at some test footage I shot, and then some actual wedding footage I shot using S-Log3.

So, when I first started shooting on my a7s II, I did a little bit of research, and the picture profile I ended up shooting in was Cine 1 with a color mode of Pro.

Now, a lot of you guys out there will probably be saying, “Why wouldn’t you shoot in Cine4? It’s clearly the best.” 

And the reason I went for Cine 1 instead of Cine 4 was because of my color grading workflow. I’m a big fan of color grading with FilmConvert inside of Final Cut Pro X, and FilmConvert has color profiles for the Sony a7s II with Cine1 Pro. That gave me a really good image in-camera that if I wasn’t able to grade it at all, still looked great, wasn’t too flat, but also gave me the ability to add some grading and achieve a more cinematic “look” if I wanted.

But I always felt I was missing that really beautiful Sony “look” that I was seeing in so many other videos and wedding films. And I always knew S-Log3 was out there, but I had heard so much negative stuff about it, that I was never really too keen to try it. But, eventually, my curiosity got the best of me and I decided to head out to the Waterway in Houston, TX and get some test footage.

But before we get to that, let’s talk about what a log format is.

In a nutshell, recording using a log picture profile or curve preserves more of your image’s dynamic range and tonality by redistributing the digital exposure value representations over the entire value set using a preset logarithmic function.

Wait, what?

So, simply put, a log format is just a certain set of math applied to your image, or more specifically to the tonality curve of your image, when you shoot, with the goal of preserving a greater dynamic range than a normal or “linear” color mode. When cameras starting becoming capable of capturing a greater dynamic range than televisions (or computer screens) were capable of displaying, formats such as Log formats began to emerge in order to give the post-production colorist more control over the exposure after the footage was shot, instead of just sticking with the exact same dynamic range of the TV the footage would be displayed on.

Log is short for logarithm and S-Log is Sony’s log format, hence the “S,” If you have a DJI drone like the Phantom 3 or Phantom 4, or the Mavic Pro, or another DJI product like the Osmo, you may notice the ability to shoot in D-LOG, which is DJI’s LOG format. Panasonic has their own log format called V-Log, and so on. Different companies all have their own take on what they believe to be the best log curve to maximize dynamic range for their cameras and their sensors.

Now, all that being said, shooting in log formats can give you more dynamic range, but color correcting is going to become a must if you want to have any footage that’s usable whatsoever. Log footage, straight out of the camera, is incredibly low-contrast and unsaturated, almost black and white.

So, if you’re just looking to run and gun, shoot something and have it look reasonably nice right out of the camera, shooting in a log format is not going to be for you.

But, if you’re reasonably comfortable with color grading your footage, shooting in log can give you a lot more options in post, and end up producing some beautiful images. 

So you may be wondering to yourself, “So Steve, if log formats are so incredible, why do people talk so much shit on S-Log3?” Well, one answer to that is this: your color format, like S-Log3, may be fantastic as far as retaining dynamic range, but ultimately it’s going to be limited by other things like your camera’s bit depth and codec. The Sony a7S II, being an 8-bit camera, doesn’t have as many colors available to it as a 10-bit camera, like for instance, the Sony FS5. So if you grade it heavily, you might get some color banding. 

Or people say S-Log3 is way too noisy, and that’s because when it comes to S-Log3, the trick to properly exposing is to actually overexpose by two stops, to allow the logarithm to work its magic and capture as much dynamic range as possible. (Pro tip: on the Sony a7S II, the light meter tops out at 2 stops overexposed, so a good practice is to keep the exposure about +1.7 to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck).

Another thing worth noting is that if you’re shooting in S-Log3, your minimum ISO is going to be 1600 and your camera will not let you select anything lower than that. That means if you’re shooting outside in bright conditions, you’re almost definitely going to want to use an ND filter, but that’s something we’ll cover in another video.

Another pro-tip for shooting S-Log on your Sony camera is using the Gamma Display Assist function. Since the image can be so flat, so low-contrast and under saturated, it can be hard to judge things like your white balance or even your exposure. Turning on the Gamma Display Assist  function can be a huge help as it shows you what your log image would look like in a Rec.709 color space, which is ultimately what you’ll be doing when you color correct it in post.

So what's the verdict? For me, my workflow, my color grading process, S-Log3 gives me the most flexibility in post. Does it get a little noisy sometimes? Yes. Do I get some color banding sometimes? Yes. Is it within an acceptable range of image quality? For me, the answer is yes. The Sony a7s II is a powerhouse of a camera, especially in something so small, and to be able to achieve such a cinematic look, for me, I can deal with the banding and the little bit of noise from time to time. And, if whatever camera comes next from Sony, be it an a9S or an a7s III, if we can get 10-bit color depth, shooting in S-Log will be even better. So there you have it!

As always, if you guys have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below!

The Greatest Lens I Ever Bought

Alright guys, so today I want to dish on the greatest lens I ever bought. No, it’s not the most expensive lens I’ve ever purchased, nor is it the sharpest lens I’ve ever purchased, but for the money, I can honestly say it is the greatest lens I’ve added to my kit.

What lens is it, you may be asking? It is the Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM AKA the “nifty fifty.”

Why is this the greatest lens I’ve ever purchased? A couple of reasons. It comes down to value and it comes down to focal length. 

First, let’s talk about value. You can pick up this lens new for only $125.00, and the image quality, for that price, is insane.

So if  you spent a ton of money upgrading your camera body, and don’t have much of a budget left to get a really high-end piece of glass, like an L-series Canon lens, or a G Master Sony lens, this little guy is a great alternative.

Now let’s talk about the other reason why this is such a great lens, and that’s the focal length.

If you’re just starting out in photography or videography, this lens is probably one of the first things you want to pick up, for a couple of reasons. 

The 50mm focal length is the closest thing to what the human eye sees in terms of field of view. (For the geeks out there, it's actually somewhere in the 35mm and 50mm range.) So if you’re just starting out, learning how to shoot at 50mm can be really helpful. If you need something to be larger or smaller in your composition, you have to physically move your body and get closer or further away. So, once you master shooting at 50mm, then you can move on to other things like wide angles or telephoto angles and learn how those things can affect your image and your composition and so on.

Another reason this lens should be on of the first things you pick up is its shallow depth of field. You may hear that discussed a lot in photography forums and guides, and essentially what it is referring to is how how blurry is your background. The “faster” the lens is, or, in other words, how much light can this lens gather and let in, affects how blurry the background can be. So if you have a lens with a “low” f-stop rating, in this case f/1.8, which is relatively low, you can really blur out that background, and that can make for more epic and cinematic shots. If you just bought your first DSLR and you’ve got the kit lens that came with it, chances are it’s more in the f/3.5 or slower range, so something at 1.8 is going to make a big difference when it comes to depth of field.

The final point I want to make about why this should be one of the first lenses you purchase if you’re just getting started in photography or videography, is that a 50mm focal length is very versatile. Wide angles (anything less than 35mm) are great for landscape photos, but you probably wouldn’t want to use them on portrait shots, because they could give you some unwanted distortion. Telephoto angles are great for getting up close to some wildlife without being too close physically, but you probably woulnd’t want to use them for some street photography when you’re maybe trying to be somewhat incognito.

So a 50mm focal length is a great choice for not only portraits, but street and landscape photography. On top of that, the Nifty 50 is lightweight and fairly fast at focusing. Not in my case because I’m using it on a Sony a7s II with an adapter, but if you’re on a Canon, it’ll be super quick.

So that’s it, but just a fair warning, the nifty fifty is a bit of a gateway drug to wanting some higher end, more expensive zooms and primes! As always, if you guys have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below!