03 Jul 2019

Baking the look in-camera enhances your camera skills

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Hold on there cowboy! Step away from the log option!

With the talk on pretty much any camera forum you care to mention focussed on either log shooting, or filming with some flavour of raw, you could be forgiven for thinking that it's the only way to shoot. At least if you are new to video and haven't been around the block a few times.

But for all the talk about log and grading there really does need to be some perspective on things. Log and raw shooting is generally considered for when the absolute highest quality is required. It's for, primarily, when you have time to go through a grading process in postproduction.

The word 'grading' is important here. When I talk about grading I'm not referring to doing a white balance or slight exposure correction. Neither am I referring to slapping on a pre-made LUT and hitting 'render'.

Grading is generally a creative process, and an involved one at that. Particularly if you are going for an extreme look you need all the picture information for both dynamic range and colour gamut that you can obtain. If your production will be displayed on a large screen then this, too, will require higher quality shooting.

Basic colour correction, on the other hand, is slightly different. Yes, I know some out there will say it's the same thing, but it isn't really when you get to the nitty gritty. If you record to, say, AVCHD, a highly compressed format, you will still be able to perform some pretty good white balance and exposure correction, within reason of course. Record to a format like ProRes or DNxHD and you could push things quite a way, even if you shoot Rec.709 or some other manufacturer specific colour and gamma setting.

But if you are working to low budgets or you are a one-person-band there is no reason to make work for yourself. The faster you can complete a video, the quicker you can invoice for the job and move on. Shooting log, no matter which way you swing it, slows things down. And if all you are doing is slapping on a LUT that you could record in-camera, there really is no point.

Baking in a look to the recording is wrongly quite often seen as being 'risky'. There's almost a FOMO style attitude to the idea of doing it. What happens if I want to change anything in post?! I'll be stuck! All the dynamic range will thrown away in the recording!

It's time to calm down

Modern cameras record a large amount of dynamic range, and in-camera LUTs have come a long way, and you can obtain some really nice ones, such as the Natural LUT by filmmaker Matteo Bertoli, which I'll be reviewing soon. These give a great look right out of the box, and retain a large amount of dynamic range. The highlights roll off nicely and colours look great.

If you record footage and bake in such a look, what will you really lose? Unless you had a very specific look in mind and time to grade the answer is 'not a lot'. But even if you did want to change anything you could still do so.

Pros and cons of shooting with a baked in look vs log

Every shooting situation will be different, so here are some pros and cons of shooting using each method.

Baking in the look

Pros

  • Picture looks great right out of the camera
  • Saves huge amounts of time in post
  • Enhances your shooting skills by forcing you to make more choices during the shoot

Cons

  • Not as much freedom for an extreme grade in post
  • You live with your choices more so during shooting (but you *can* still change things quite a bit)

Using log

Pros

  • Captures the full dynamic range of the sensor
  • Allows more extreme grading (*if* you are using at least a 10-bit format)
  • Ideal for when the absolute highest quality and creative decision making is required

Cons

  • Takes a load more time in post
  • Potentially more processing overhead resulting in slower renders
  • Sometimes not great for low light shooting
  • Needs a lot of care if shooting with an 8-bit format

Conclusion

There is quite a bit of satisfaction to be gained from knowing that you are able to make choices as a shooter rather than deferring a lot of decisions until later. There is a phenomenon that is well known in marketing. If a person has too many choices available to them, they find it difficult to come to any decision at all.

If you shoot log without something specific in mind to do with it, other than simply bringing back the contrast and saturation so it can be viewed on a Rec.709 monitor, you are opening yourself up to a decision making process that can slow things down even more.

I accept that it is comforting sometimes to try and defer look based decisions until post, but you actually deskill yourself as a camera op. Your exposure decisions are reduced to protecting either highlights or shadows rather than making a proper subject relevance based decision there and then.

Film stock often gets bandied about as a holy grail of dynamic range. But in fact positive stocks such as Velvia were very highly restricted in the range it could capture. A creative exposure decision would have to be made without seeing the result until it had been developed.

I'm not for a moment suggesting going back to that (although I would recommend you get hold of a stills film camera and practice with such stocks if you can), but that baking in a look makes you much better as a decision maker, which is better in turn for your over all skillset. Try it, and you might even feel you have been freed from some shackles.


Simon Wyndham

Simon Wyndham is Deputy Editor of RedShark News, a professional cameraman and video producer of 20 odd years. With a background in indy feature making, he has been writing camera reviews and tech articles for as long as he can remember. When he isn't producing bread and butter corporate videos he can be found hucking the gnar on rivers whitewater kayaking and adventure sports filming.

Website: www.5ep.co.uk

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