Tag Archives: profile

Choosing the right gamma curve.

One of the most common questions I get asked is “which gamma curve should I use?”.

Well it’s not an easy one to answer because it will depend on many things. There is no one-fits-all gamma curve. Different gamma curves offer different contrast and dynamic ranges.

So why not just use the gamma curve with the greatest dynamic range, maybe log? Log and S-Log are also gamma curves but even if you have Log or S-Log it’s not always going to be the best gamma to use. You see the problem is this: You have a limited size recording bucket into which you must fit all your data. Your data bucket, codec or recording medium will also effect your gamma choice.

If your shooting and recording with an 8 bit camera, anything that uses AVCHD or Mpeg 2 (including XDCAM), then you have 235 bits of data to record your signal. A 10 bit camera or 10 bit external recorder does a bit better with around 940 bits of data, but even so, it’s a limited size data bucket. The more dynamic range you try to record, the less data you will be using to record each stop. Lets take an 8 bit camera for example, try to record 8 stops and that’s about 30 bits per stop. Try to extend that dynamic range out to 11 stops and now you only have about 21 bits per stop. It’s not quite as simple as this as the more advanced gamma curves like hypergammas, cinegammas and S-Log all allocate more data to the mid range and less to highlights, but the greater the dynamic range you try to capture, the less recorded information there will be for each stop.

In a perfect world you would choose the gamma you use to match each scene you shoot. If shooting in a studio where you can control the lighting then it makes a lot of sense to use a standard gamma (no knee or knee off) with a range of up to 7 stops and then light your scene to suit. That way you are maximising the data per stop. Not only will this look good straight out of the camera, but it will also grade well provided your not over exposed.

However the real world is not always contained in a 7 stop range, so you often need to use a gamma with a greater dynamic range. If your going direct to air or will not be grading then the first consideration will be a standard gamma (Rec709 for HD) with a knee. The knee adds compression to just the highlights and extends the over-exposure range by up to 2 or 3 stops depending on the dynamic range of the camera. The problem with the knee is that because it’s either on or off, compressed or not compressed it can look quite electronic and it’s one of the dead giveaways of video over film.

If you don’t like the look of the knee yet still need a greater dynamic range, then there are the various extended range gammas like Cinegamma, Hypergamma or Cinestyle. These extend the dynamic range by compressing highlights, but unlike the knee, the amount of compression starts gradually and get progressively greater. This tends to look more film like than the on/off knee as it tends to roll off highlights much more gently. But, to get this gentle roll-off the compression starts lower in the exposure range so you have to be very careful not to over expose your mid-range as this can push faces and skin tones etc into the compressed part of the curve and things won’t look good. Another consideration is that as you are now moving away from the gamma used for display in most TV’s and monitors the pictures will be a little flat so a slight grade often helps with these extended gammas.

Finally we come to log gammas like S-Log, C-Log etc. These are a long way from display gamma, so will need to be graded to like right. In addition they are adding a lot of compression (log compression) to the image so exposure becomes super critical. Normally you’ll find the specified recording levels for middle grey and white to be much lower with log gammas than conventional gammas. White with S-Log for example should only be exposed at 68%. The reason for this is the extreme amount of mid to highlight compression, so your mid range needs to be recorded lower to keep it out of the heavily compressed part of the log gamma curve. Skin tones with log are often in the 40 – 50% range compared to the 60-70% range commonly used with standard gammas.  Log curves do normally provide the very best dynamic range (apart from raw), but they will need grading and ideally you want to grade log footage in a dedicated grading package that supports log corrections. If you grade log in your edit suite using linear (normal gamma) effects your end results won’t be as good as they could be. The other thing with log is now your recording anything up to 13 or 14 stops of dynamic range. With an 8 bit codec that’s only 17 – 18 bits per stop, which really isn’t a lot, so for log really you want to be recording with a very high quality 10 bit codec and possibly an external recorder. Remember with a standard gamma your over 30 bits per stop, now were looking at almost half that with log!

Shooting flat: There is a lot of talk about shooting flat. Some of this comes from people that have seen high dynamic range images from cameras with S-Log or similar which do look very flat. You see, the bigger the captured dynamic range the flatter the images will look. Consider this: On a TV, with a camera with a 6 stop range, the brightest thing the camera can capture will appear as white and the darkest as black. There will be 5 stops between white and black. Now shoot the same scene with a camera with a 12 stop range and show it on the same TV. Again the brightest is white and black is black, but the original 6 stops that the first camera was able to capture are now only being shown using half of the available brightness range of the TV as the new camera is capturing 12 stops in total, so the first 6 stops will now have only half the maximum display contrast. The pictures would look flatter. If a camera truly has greater dynamic range then in general you will get a flatter looking image, but it’s also possible to get a flat looking picture by raising the black level or reducing the white level. In this case the picture looks flat, but in reality has no more dynamic range than the original. Be very careful of modified gammas said to give a flat look and greater dynamic range from cameras that otherwise don’t have great DR. Often these flat gammas don’t increase the true dynamic range, they just make a flat picture with raised blacks which results in less data being assigned to the mid range and as a result less pleasing finished images.

So the key points to consider are:

Where you can control your lighting, consider using standard gamma.

The bigger the dynamic range you try to capture, the less information per stop you will be recording.

The further you deviate from standard gamma, the more likely the need to grade the footage.

The bigger the dynamic range, the more compressed the gamma curve, the more critical accurate mid range exposure becomes.

Flat isn’t always better.

Picture Profiles to match PMW-F3 and NEX-FS700


After my recent side by side look at the F3 and FS700 and seeing how different the two cameras look, I decided to try to match them a bit better. There will be many shoots where I will use them both together so getting them to look the same is important. I thought this would be a relatively straight forward task, simply dial in the FS700 to match the F3.

Well it wasn’t simple and it ended up taking me several hours to get to the point where I couldn’t get them any closer. The main issues are that the F3, like most of the XDCAM cameras has a yellow colour cast that’s hard to completely remove and the FS700 has quite a blue image and only very limited matrix controls. Initially I started to try to match the FS700 to a standard F3. While I could get the FS700 closer to the F3, I just couldn’t get a near match let alone a complete match. So back to the drawing board.

For my second attempt I decided first to work on getting rid of the yellow/orange cast to the F3 pictures by adjusting the F3’s matrix, at the same time creating a neutral look picture profile with good dynamic range, but one that could be used without grading. This took some extensive matrix tweaks. You will find the full details of my new “STD-REAL” picture profile in the forum by clicking here.

So once I had a neutral starting point on the F3 I then turned to the FS700 which I think is very blue. The matrix settings on the FS700 are quite limited so I wasn’t able to get an exact match to the F3, however the setting I came up with get them close enough for most jobs, it’s not perfect but it will do. I’m quite happy with my new FS700 settings and I think with this profile it produces a very nice image. You can find the full profile settings in the forum by clicking here. Remember you need to use the matching F3 profile in the F3 for the best match. If you want the maximum dynamic range then instead of Cinegamma 1 you should use Cinegamma 4 with the black gamma set to zero. My STD REAL profile for the FS700 is closer to a standard F3 than the default FS700 settings.

Low Light Picture Profile for EX1/EX3

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)


S-Log on a non S-Log PMW-F3 and Log on an EX1/EX3

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.

Genuine S-Log, mid grey @38%

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.

AC-Log v1. Very similar to S-Log, same exposure as S-Log

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.

CineGamma 4, mid-grey at 38%

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”.

[downloads_box title=”F3 and EX1R Log Picture Profiles”]
F3 and EX1R Log like profiles

Picture Profiles – Scene Files – Crispeneing. How to clean up your image.

I promised I would re-visit some of my Picture Profile stuff. I thought I would start with this one as it is one of the least well understood settings. It’s effects are quite subtle, but it can mean the difference between a noisy picture and a clean image, but also between a sharp image and a soft image, in particular in areas of subtle detail or low contrast detail such as foliage, grass and textures.

Crispening is a part of the detail correction circuit. It does not in itself, as it’s name suggests (at least on an EX of F3) make the image “crisper”. What it does is control the contrast range over which the detail circuit operates. Basically it sets the threshold at which detail correction is applied to the image, which in turn can make the image look a little sharper or less sharp. The apparent sharpness itself is controlled by the Detail Level and Frequency controls.

Why is this useful? Well it allows the user to choose whether to opt for a cleaner looking image or a sharper looking image. An important consideration is that this adjustment does not change the actual resolution of the image or the noise level of the camera, but it does make subtle details in the image more or less enhanced and as noise is also a subtle, even if unwanted detail within the image it will also make noise more or less enhanced, thus more or less visible.

Imaginary waveform showing real picture information plus noise.

In the first illustration I have drawn an imaginary video waveform signal coming from the camera that contains a mixture of noise and both subtle and more obvious picture information. The bigger the up/down change in the waveform the more obvious the change in brightness (and thus contrast) on the monitor or TV would be. Throughout the image there is some noise. I have indicated the noise level for the camera with a pair of red lines. The EX1 and EX3 is a moderately noisy camera, not the worst, nor the best for an HD camera, but pretty good in it’s price range. So if we can do something to make the noise less obvious that would be desirable in many cases. Crispening can help us do that. Crispening ONLY has an effect when you are applying detail correction to the image. It sets the threshold at which detail correction is applied. The default setting on an EX is zero.

Crispening threshold set to -60 indicated by green lines.If we reduce the crispening setting, lets say to -60, it REDUCES the threshold at which detail is applied which generally makes the pictures look sharper. Looking at the second and third illustrations you can see how if you reduce the threshold too much then detail correction will be applied to even the most subtle changes in the image, including the image noise. The little black spikes I have added to the diagram illustrate the way the detail “enhancement” will be added to both noise and subtle contrast changes as well as larger contrast changes.

Black spikes represent detail correction being added to real picture information and noise when crisping set to -60.

This will make the pictures look more noisy, but… and this is important… it will also help bring out subtle low contrast textures in foliage, skin, fabrics etc. A area where perhaps the EX1 and EX3 don’t do terribly well.

If you want a clean image however where noise is less visible, then raising the crispening level to a high positive value, lets say +60 will increase the threshold at which detail correction is added, so signal changes will need to be bigger before detail correction is applied.

Much higher crisping threshold when set to +60

With a high positive number the image will look cleaner and less noisy, but you will loose some enhancement in textures and low contrast areas as these will no longer have detail correction applied to them. This can lead to a slightly muddy or textureless look to tress, grass, skin and fabric.

The real problem areas are the subtle textures and low contrast areas (circled in orange) where the true image detail is barely above the noise level. It’s very difficult to bring these out without increasing the appearance of noise. With Crispening at +60 detail correction is only applied to larger brightness or contrast changes within the image, so noise becomes less obvious.Unfortunately there is no clear answer to how to set the crispening level as it will depend on what you are shooting and how much noise you can tolerate. I tend to have crisping set between +10 and +30 for most things as I do tend to do a fair amount of grading work on my footage. When you grade noise is often the limiting factor as to how far you can push the image, so I like to keep noise under control as much as possible. For green screen and chroma key work I push crispening up to +40 to +60 as this helps me get a cleaner key, especially around subtle edges and hair.

Problem areas circled, subtle textures get lost if detail level set too high, although image looks much cleaner.

If I am shooting exteriors and scenics with lots of foliage, grass etc then I will sometimes go down to -30 as this helps bring out the subtle textures in the leaves and plants, but this can make noise a little more pronounced, so it’s a trade off. And that’s what Crispening is all about, trading off subtle textures and detail against more visible noise. Ultimately only you can make the choice as to which is more important, but the Crispening level control gives you that choice.

EX1 and EX3 Picture Profiles.

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.


PMW-F3 Picture Profiles. First Batch.

OK here we go. Here are some notes from testing my PMW-F3. First thing is… aliasing… a zone plate looks pretty bad with a fair amount of aliasing. I had heard rumours of this from others with pre-production units, but in the field I had not seen anything that would worry me. While the zone plate is not pretty, real world aliasing looks acceptable. I usually use brickwork and roof tiles to test for moire and these look clean on my F3. I think a fine patterned shirt could cause concern and I need to look into this further. I am surprised that there is not more about this on the web!

Excessive detail correction does increase the aliasing, however turning detail and aperture off does not reduce the aliasing significantly. Keep the detail level below -15 to avoid increasing the strength of the aliases. Above -15 the aliasing artefacts are more noticeable. Detail “Off” appears to be the same as Detail -25. Below -25 the image softens, below -45 very noticeably and there are some strange increases in aliasing below -50. For the moment I will be using detail at -17 or off.

The aperture setting can be used to add a little sharpness to the image to compensate for not using detail or a low detail setting. Aperture does not increase the appearance of the aliasing artefacts as strongly as the detail correction. I like the added crispness I can get with Aperture set to +30 combined with detail at -17. I would strongly recommend against using a raised aperture setting if you have detail higher than -15 as this will add sharpness to any detail corrected aliases and lead to twittering edges on horizontal and vertical lines.

Colours have that usual Sony look. Not bad and pretty natural looking, but for me a little on the green side. For a more natural 1:1 look I quite like these Matrix settings:
R-G +10, R-B +4, G-R 0, G-B +14, B-R +3, B-G -3, Std Matrix.

For a more Canon like look with Rec-709 Matrix I came up with these:
R-G -2, R-B +9, G-R -11, G-B +2, B-R -16, B-G -10, Std Matrix, level +14, Blk Gamma -20

For use with Cinegamma 1 I use the above with Matrix Level +25, Blk Gamma -36. Highlights are a little washy, but as with any Cinegamma the best results are obtained by grading in post production.

Brewing up a scene file: Black Gamma

In the posts above I looked at how the gamma curves effect the contrast range within the picture and highlight handling. I also noted that while I like the latitude (range) offered by using the Hypergammas that they produce a very flat looking picture. One of the adjustments that you can make to the Gamma curves is the Black Gamma. Adjusting the Black Gamma stretches or compresses the bottom part of the gamma curve, this makes the darker parts of the picture darker (negative setting) or brighter (positive setting). When setting the Black Gamma you will find 4 different ranges to choose from. Low, Low-Mid, Hi-Mid and High. These settings determine the range over which the black gamma works. Low only effects the darkest 10% of the image, L-Mid the bottom 20%(approx), H-Mid the lowest 30%(approx) and Hi the lower 35% (approx). So if you just want to make your deep shadows and blacks darker you would use Low. If you want to make the overall image more contrasty you would use H-Mid or Hi. I like to give my images a bit more impact so I often use H-Mid at -30. If the pictures are to be graded I would not use any negative black gamma.

Brewing up a Scene File: Gamma and Knee

Before anyone complains that I have missed stuff out or that some technical detail is not quite right, one of the things I’m trying to do here is simplify the hows and why’s to try and make it easier for the less technical people out there. Lets face it this is an art form, not a science (well actually a bit of both really).

So what is a gamma curve anyway? Well the good old fashioned cathode ray tube television was a very non-linear device. You put 1 unit of power in and get one unit of light out. You put 2 units in and get 1.5 units out, put 3 in and get 2 out… and so on. So in order to get a natural picture the output of the camera also has to be modified to compensate for this. This compensation is the gamma curve, an artificial modification of the output signal from the camera to make it match TV’s and monitors around the world. See Wikipedia for a fuller explaination:   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamma_correction

So, all video cameras will have a gamma curve, whether you can adjust it or not is another matter. Certainly most pro level cameras allow you some form of gamma adjustment.

The PMW-350 has 6 standard gamma curves, these are all pretty similar, they have to be otherwise the pictures wouldn’t look right, but small changes in the curve effect the relationship between dark and bright parts of the pictures. Todays modern cameras have a far greater dynamic range (range of dark to bright) than older cameras. This means that the full dynamic range of the sensor no longer fits within the gamma curves used for TV’s and monitors. In broadcast television any signal that goes over 100% gets clipped off and is discarded, so the cameras entire brightness range has to be squeezed into 0 to 100%. The PMW-350 sensors are capable of far more than this (at least 600%) so what can you do?

The older and simpler solution is called the “Knee”. The knee works because in most cases the brightest parts of a scene contains little detail and is generally ignored by our brains. We humans tend to focus on mid-tone faces, animals and plants rather than the bright sky. Because of this you can compress the highlights (bright) parts of the picture quite heavily without it looking hugely un-natural (most of the time at least). What the knee does is takes a standard gamma curve and up near it’s top, bends it over. This has the effect of compressing the brighter parts of the image, squashing a broad range of highlights (clouds for example) into a narrow range of brightness. While this works fairly well, it does tend to look rather “electronic” as the picture is either natural (below the knee) or compressed (above the knee).

The answer to this electronic video look is to replace the hard knee with gentle bend to the gamma curve. This bend starts some way down the gamma curve, very gentle at first but getting harder and harder as you go up the gamma curve. This has the effect of compressing the image gently at first with the compression getting stronger and stronger as you go up the curve. This looks a lot more natural than a hard knee and is far closer to the way film handles highlights. The downside is that because the compression starts earlier a wider tonal range is compressed. This makes the pictures look flat and uninteresting. You have to watch exposure on faces as these can creep into the compressed part of the curve. The plus point is that it’s possible to squeeze large amounts of latitude into the 100% video range. This video can then be worked on in post production by the editor or colorist who can pull out the tonal range that best suits the production.

These compressed gamma curves are given different names on different products. Panasonic call them “Film Rec”, on the EX1 they are “Cinegammas” on the PMW-350 they are “Hypergammas”. The 350 has four Hypergammas. The first is 3250. this takes a brightness range the equivalent to 325% and compresses it down to 100%. HG 4600 takes 460% and squeezes that down to 100%. Both of these Hypergammas are “broadcast safe” and the recordings made with them can be broadcast straight from the camera without any issues. The next Hypergamma is 3259. This takes a 325% range and squeezes this down to a 109% range, likewise 4609 takes 460% down to 109%. But why 109%? well the extra 9% gives you almost 10% more data to work with in post production compared to broadcast safe 100%. It also gives you the peak white level you need for display on the internet. Of course if you are doing a broadcast show you will need to ensure that the video levels in the finished programme don’t exceed 100%.

My preferred gamma is Hypergamma 4 (4609) as this gives the maximum dynamic range and gives a natural look, however the pictures can look a little flat so if I’m going direct from the camera to finished video without grading I use either a standard gamma or use the Black Gamma function to modify the curve. I’ll explain the Black Gamma in my next post.

There are 6 standard gammas to choose from. I like to stick with gamma 5 which is the ITU-709 HD standard gamma. To increase the dynamic range I use the Knee. The default knee point setting is 90, this is a reasonable setting, but if your shooting with clipping set to 100% you are not getting all the cameras latitude (the Knee at 90 works very well with clipping at 108%). Lowering the knee down to 83 gives you almost another stop of latitude, but you have to be careful as skin tones and faces can creep up towards 83%. It’s very noticeable if skin becomes compressed so you need to watch your exposure. This is also true of the Hypergammas and with them you may need to underexpose faces very slightly. The other option is to set the knee point to 88 and then also adjust the knee slope. The slope is the compression amount. A positive value is more compressed, negative less compressed. With the knee at 88 and slope set to +20 you get good latitude, albeit with quite highly compressed highlights.

If you want to play with the gammas and knee and see how they work one method you can use is to use a paint package on your PC (such as photoshop) to create a full screen left to right graduated image going from Black to white. Then shoot this with the camera (slightly out of focus) while making adjustments to the curves or knee and record the results along with a vocal description of each setting. Import the clips into your favorite editing package and use the waveform monitor or scopes you should be able to see a reasonable representation of the shape of the gamma curve and knee.

So my Gamma Choices are:

For material that will be post produced: Hypergamma 4609 (HG4)

For material that will be used straight from the camera: Standard Gamma 5 Knee at 90 with clip at 108% for non broadcast or Knee at 88 with slope +20 with white clip at 100% for direct to broadcast.