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Filming with log: Are you making yourself work too much?

This is a situation where log can be useful. Or is it?
4 minute read
This is a situation where log can be useful. Or is it?

Replay: Are you using log as a crutch or as a tool? Here the case is put forward for giving those standard picture profiles another chance.                                            

Log modes on cameras are now totally ubiquitous, but while they do offer tangible advantages in the right situation, they don't need to be used all the time.

You see it everywhere, from YouTube to articles; they all say that you need to shoot using log to get the very best from your camera. But do you genuinely need to do this all the time?

Logarithmic functions on cameras were designed to capture the maximum dynamic range that the sensor was capable of, as well as colour information, and cramming it all into a smaller 'container' without having to record raw.

Log works best if it is recorded with 10-bit colour precision. Effectively log is a form of compression. Depending on the camera, it is a way of recording, for example, 15-stops of dynamic range into a 5-stop recording 'bucket'. It works by assigning the most bits to areas of the picture that our eyes perceive the most.

But although log allows you to effectively create a 'compressed' digital negative without resorting to raw, it still involves a colour correction process to make it watchable on most monitors. Of course, these days, things have been complicated by the introduction of HDR. If you are going to be sending out your finished edit to a range of different devices consisting of both HDR and SDR, you may need to record log or even raw. You could, of course, record your footage in HLG, too.

Even so, the vast majority of people are still working in SDR environments. With this in mind, why is there such a focus on log recording, despite the extra work it entails?

Part of the reason is to be seen to be a 'real' filmmaker. It's complete nonsense, of course. Making something using log does not make you a filmmaker. But it can make people 'feel' like they are making their low budget corporate video using the same methods as the production crew of the latest James Bond movie.

Let's be honest: many people film in log and then download a LUT that they like and slap it on in Resolve. This isn't grading, and it isn't using log to its best advantage.

Remember, sourcing your footage in log modes records all of your camera sensor's dynamic range. So unless you are going to be segregating different parts of the image with power windows and selective gamma adjustments to highlights and shadows etc., then just putting a LUT on the image defies the point of log in the first place.

As you might imagine, it takes a lot of time to go through each individual shot, finely adjusting these aspects of the image. Sometimes only to get a result you would have been okay with if you had just shot using the camera's standard profile in the first place. Then the time you are spending grading, and most likely not getting paid for, could be spent making the edit better or focussing on better sound design etc.

But what about the highlights?!

Mention filming using a standard colour profile rather than log to a lot of people, and you'll get cries of horror as they think that all their highlights will be blown out. A fair number of people out there equate standard profiles on modern cameras to the dirty old camcorders of the past. Remember those? When you went to film your Uncle at a family gathering against a window, and all you saw was a silhouette in front of blazing white light?!

Well, are you a professional or an amateur? Aside from the rather obvious fact that modern cameras, even budget ones, are far better than any cheap Hi-8 camcorder from 1995, have you considered using skill instead of relying on log as a crutch?

You see, if you use a standard picture profile on your camera, you do need to exercise slightly more care and attention. But in this case, the word 'careful' is more a euphemism for 'being more skilful'. So yes, you might actually have to think about where the light is in relation to your subject, and yes, you might have to give more thought to what's most important in your composition. And yes, you will have to make an actual real-world decision about your final exposure right there whilst using the camera—none of this wishy-washy non-committal approach to cinematography.

And that's the other big difference between Roger Deakins shooting raw or log and you shooting raw or log for a dental surgery website video. Whereas Roger Deakins will know precisely what he's got in mind when he uses log modes and isn't just sitting there thinking to himself that he'll wing it as he goes along in grading, it's probably a firm bet that you, yes you sat there reading this, will take a look decision in post. In fact, you'll probably try out any number of flavours of film emulation or LUTs until you find the one you like before hitting the render button.

Okay, I grant you I made a bit of a generalisation there. Much of RedShark's readership is made up of highly knowledgeable professionals. However, my point still stands that many video makers out there will be using log as a crutch or way of delaying decisions until editing rather than as a real tool.

And that's a shame because by having to make decisions as you shoot, you are building your skill level, you'll be much more confident in your decision-making abilities, as well as in your skill of getting great shots right there and then, in the moment. Your knowledge of light will increase, and you will drastically speed up your post workflow.

Log has its place. However, cameras now have some great standard profiles built-in, with some outstanding colour science. Gone are the days of standard profiles looking like cheesy camcorder videos. Now you can use them and be confident of having great colour straight out of the box, and in many cases, the dynamic range isn't restricted in the same way it once was with harsh highlight clipping and crushed blacks. And you can still colour correct standard profile footage or add a look to it. So it's time we got over hangups that are really based upon a preconditioned bias against old technology.

Tags: Production