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Shooting with Digital Latitude: S-Log, Log-C & LUTs

Posted by Brad Spinsby on July 2, 2012

Camera manufacturers have recently glommed onto the term “Cinema Quality” to describe their cameras. Although “Cinema Quality” accurately describes a camera’s shallow depth of field, large sensors, and ability to use interchangeable lenses, there is actually a more accurate way to accomplish a digital image like film. A look into the digital cinema camera menu may give you the “Cinema Quality” look desired. S-Log, or Sony Log, is an option in Sony CineAlta cameras like the PMW-F3, F23, F35 and F65. The Arri Alexa allows you to shoot in S-Log or Log-C mode to capture a cinema quality image and accomplish negative film quality latitude. S-Log and Log-C mode captures an image with the greatest amount of range in tonal reproduction and the lowest noise floor and highest ceiling. What this means is you can shoot an image using S-Log or Log-C and have the greatest amount of flexibility when entering the digital intermediate phase of post-production.

Since HD became popular, many cameras and codecs have tried to digitally emulate film. Using S-Log or Log-C shooting RAW files using 4:4:4 compression creates a digital image that emulates the latitude of negative film. The image of negative film without color correction looks flat with only midtone colors and little black and white within it. This is what the image will look like with S-Log or Log-C applied because the greatest amount of tonal information is in the midtone range of an image. That is where a Look Up Tables, or LUTs, come into play. An LUT is a digital process, either in the camera, in a mobile recording device, or in a digital intermediate phase that creates a desired image using different exposures charts and digital knees. Like an ENG or prosumer camera’s scene file, a LUT can change the look of an image instantaneously. However, scene files will embed into the image, and LUT acts as an overlay to an image where the raw S-Log/Log-C is recorded and not the altered imaged.

Many Hollywood DPs have said that when shooting digital you want to shoot the cleanest image, and let the digital intermediate phase create the look for the project. For a high-end corporate or commercial production that same process can apply and be beneficial to your client. By shooting with S-Log or Log-C you can shoot an image that can be manipulated in color correction phase in a vast array of ways. You will get better color space, a great range of tonal reproduction, and have the maximum amount of creative control of the image. But when the client looks over your shoulder on set at the monitor and sees a flat image with a bunch of midtones, instead of explaining to them the concept of S-Log or Log-C you can say, “This is what we are shooting so we can have the widest range of exposures, “and then using your in-camera LUT, “This is what the image will look like later.” The in-camera LUT will create an image closer to that of the client’s final vision. The client or producer may not thank you on the spot, but when they get into the color correction phase of their project and change their mind regarding how a scene will look, they will think that process is easy because you captured you image using S-Log or Log-C.

Shooting with Log-C or S-Log is not for every project. But, often you are shooting high-end productions in an ENG world and need to capture a look for a client or producer without knowing what that look might be. In today’s video production world flexibility can make a DP shine and Log-C and S-Log gives your image that.

As a Chicago video production crew, have you shot any projects using S-Log or Log-C and have a LUT you like to use for specific situations? Share with us your shooting experience.

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