Are you making yourself work too much?

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.                                            

Should you be shooting log gamma
This is a situation where log can be useful. Or can it?

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

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

Logarithmic functions on cameras were designed as a way of capturing 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. It is a way of recording, depending on the camera, 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 the majority of 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 that consist of both HDR and SDR you may well need to record log or even raw. You could of course record your footage in HLG, too.

Even still, 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 nonsense of course. Making something with 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, a huge number of people film in log and then simply just 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 records all of your camera sensor’s dynamic range. 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 that you would have been fine with if you had just shot using the camera’s standard profile. Then the time that 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. There’s a fair portion of people out there who equate standard profiles on modern cameras to 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 be more careful. But in this case the word ‘careful’ is more a euphenism for ‘being more skilful’. 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 over 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 exactly what he’s got in mind 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 make a look decision in post. Possibly trying 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, but my point still stands that a sizeable number of 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 really good colour science. Gone are the days of standard profiles looking like cheesy camcorder video. Now you can use them and be confident of having really nice 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. It’s time we got over hangups that are really based upon preconditioned bias against old technology.