DSLR Cinema, Cinema Raw, and Cinematic Journalism

by Kurt Lancaster

Using CineStyle for “Grand Canyon Winter” with the Canon 5D Mark II

Shooting in the winter with a DSLR can be a bit tricky due to the high chance of getting blow-out in the exposure. DSLRs—although great in low light situations—are notorious for easily blowing out the highlights. Hollywood cinematographer Shane Hurlbut, ASC, says that you need to treat the exposure range as if you were shooting on reversal film stock. Not much room in the exposure range to play with.

When Hurlbut first used the Canon, he said, “I treated the 5D like I was exposing reversal film stock, you had to get it close to what your final product would be.” (http://www.hurlbutvisuals.com/blog/2010/03/30/color-correction-put-your-best-foot-forward/).

What was used:
Camera: Canon 5D Mark II
ISO: 160
Shutter: 1/40
Lens: Zeiss Contax 50mm f/1.8
Aperture: f/8
Filter: Tiffen HT Ultra Clear (55mm)
ND filter: Light Craft Workshop ND fader (55mm)
Zacuto Z-Finder Pro
Picture Style: Technicolor’s CineStyle
Editing, color grading, and sound: Final Cut Pro X
Music: http://incompetech.com/

Shooting recently in the Grand Canyon after a snowstorm gave me a chance to find ways in overcoming the limitation of the DSLR exposure range.

The two things I did:

  • Advice 1:  Use a neutral density filter. I chose Light Craft Workshop’s nd variable fader, mounted on my Zeiss Contax 50mm f/1.4 lens. When you want shallow depth of field and want to maintain an open aperture, then the ND filter is the way to go. Otherwise, you can use a high shutter speed, but when working with a film-like look for video, then keeping the shutter speed at 1/40 or 1/50 is preferred.

Working in collaboration with Canon, Technicolor scientists spent twelve months developing a picture style designed for filmmakers planning to engage in postproduction color grading—the process of not only of fixing color in post—but for digging out the widest range of exposure possible in Canon EOS cameras.

According to Technicolor, CineStyle “… optimizes the dynamic range in the image by leveraging the capabilities of the Canon imaging chipset” (http://www.technicolor.com/en/hi/cinema/filmmaking/digital-printer-lights/cinestyle). It does this by using a log color space rather than linear. Linear provides for an equal distribution of data bit information; logarithmic information allows for bits to be distributed into the darks and highlights in order to provide more detail in these areas. Qvo-Labs claims that the log 8-bit color space (found in Canon DSLR’s video mode) can reach a “close equivalent” of 12 bits! (See Qvo-Labs detailed explanation:
http://www.qvolabs.com/Digital_Images_ColorSpace_Log_vs_Linear.html)

Shane Hurlbut agrees. With the new “color science behind” the CineStyle, Hurlbut says he is “finding much cleaner results in the post color correction process.” (http://www.hurlbutvisuals.com/blog/2011/05/08/technicolors-new-picture-style-cine-style/)

For this project, I also wanted to bring motion to the shots. Cinematic motion is like poetry in the film world, so I used my Kessler Crane Pocket Dolly Traveler mounted to a Manfrotto 501HDV head (and Cullman carbon fiber sticks). See Figure 1.

Figure 4.10_Grand Canyon setup

Fig. 1. Setting up a push-in shot at the Grand Canyon with the Canon 5D Mark II and the Kessler Crane Pocket Dolly, Manfrotto 501HDV head, and Cullman tripod. (Photo by Stephanie Petrie.)

The wind was strong shooting the windchill down to the low teens. Dressing warmly is key. Several shots I had to get down on my knees, which got my legs wet. Should have brought ski pants.

Once the footage was shot, with a side stop at El Tovar to eat lunch, I dumped the footage onto my MacBook Pro (quad core with 8GB of RAM) and external G-Tech mini hard drive (FireWire 800, 7200 rpm, 750 GB).

However, unlike shooting with one of Canon’s Picture Styles, where you do not need to do any work in post, the CineStylerequires you to do postproduction work, otherwise the image looks washed out and flat. It holds extra data in the bit-space, but you won’t see it until you go into postproduction. See Figure 1 below for the flat look of CineStyle.

Figure-4.11_Grand-Canyon-Uncorrected Fig. 2. This original image comes across flat in the raw CineStyle picture style.

The next image, Figure 3, reveals the color and contrast range after applying color grading techniques in Final Cut X.

Figure-4.12_Grand-Canyon-Corrected Fig. 3. This screen grab reveals the depth of the range of color and exposure after color correction was applied.

I attained this look by adjusting the highlights, midtones, and shadow levels. Above the line increases the value, while moving the circle below the line decreases values. I adjust the midtones down to help remove the wash in the CineStyle image, making the overall image darker, and increased the highlights to make the image brighter.

Figure-4.14_Grand-Canyon-plugin Fig. 4. The adjustment tools in Final Cut X, providing the tools needed to remove the wash of the CineStyle, digging out the data for the high dynamic range of the image.

Pomfort (http://pomfort.com/plugins/dslrlog2video-tryandbuy.html) sells an S-curve look up table (LUT) that automatically makes these adjustments for you, but at $179 it’s a bit pricey, so I adjusted by eye. It looks like the price is now $29, it may be worth investing!

This blog was originally posted:  http://masteringphoto.com/shooting-%E2%80%9Cgrand-canyon-winter%E2%80%9D-with-the-canon-5d-mark-ii-and-editing-with-final-cut-x-2/

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Kurt Lancaster, PhD, is the author of DSLR Cinema: Crafting the Film Look with Video, Focal Press, 2011 andVideo Journalism for the Web: A Practical Introduction to Multimedia Storytelling, Routledge, 2012. He teaches digital filmmaking and multimedia journalism at Northern Arizona University’s School of Communication.

 

Category: Articles, Films
  • eco_bach says:

    When using Cinestyle important to not judge exposure soley thru LiveView, tendency is to underexpose since the image looks light and washed out. Instead, take a still, view the histogram and adjust the exposure to the right without clipping highlights. Adjusting exposure down slightly is better in post than the alternative to avoid noise artifacts. Even better use a light meter for your first exposure and then check against the histogram. As an alternative to Cinestyle, try Cinegrey, which I think is a better alternative than simply shooting neutral with contrast dialed down.

    January 22, 2012 at 11:50 pm
  • Kurt Lancaster says:

    Great points! The exposure was dark due to the variable ND filter being set too far. It’s been fixed in post!

    January 23, 2012 at 6:02 am
  • David says:

    Hi Kurt, the Pomfort DSLR Log2Video at http://pomfort.com/plugins/dslrlog2video.html seems to be just 29 USD or 19 EUR… maybe worth investing in at that price?

    February 8, 2012 at 2:36 pm
  • eco_bach says:

    One more point. This is one type of high contrast scene where I WOULD enable highlite tone priority

    April 1, 2012 at 12:37 pm

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