CINESTYLE? WHAT’S THAT?
About 9 months ago, Technicolor, a worldwide technology leader in the media and entertainment sector, released a camera profile for the Canon 5Dmk II Canon DSLR camera called “CineStyle“. It was specifically designed for the 5Dmk II, but compatible with other Canon DSLRs and happened to be a real game-changer for the indie filmmaking industry. Within days it was an instant hit with well respected filmmakers like Vincent Laforet, who blogged about it vouching for its usefulness.
Knowing nothing about Technicolor, or much about picture profiles on Canon DSLRs for that matter, I spent a few days reading blog posts and media hype. In short, CineStyle attempts to give filmmakers a greater dynamic range (the area between over and underexposure in an image) of the captured content – a problem we as indie filmmakers were already trying to combat by using the “superflat profile”, which is essentially setting a custom profile up on your Canon DSLR, with the following adjustments:
- Sharpness: 0
- Contrast: -4
- Saturation: -2
- Color Tone: 0
Film bloggers started posting comparative frame-grabs using both the “CineStyle” & “SuperFlat” profiles. What transgressed was a floury of evidence showing a huge improvement in the dynamic range of the images the CineStyle profile was capturing over those filmed with the SuperFlat profile – specifically in the shadows. If you look at Vincent’s post, you’ll see what I mean.
So it was clear to me that there was more dynamic range in the images, but what was Technicolor doing to get that range?
When the Technicolor CineStyle is selected in the camera it puts the standard H.264 REC709 color space into a log color space. Video images are then recorded in log space.
Obviously that was gibberish the first time I read that, but I quickly learned that REC709 is simply the standard colour space for high-definition television content, while the Log colour space produces a much flatter, muddier image – and thus a greater dynamic range, and an image that is better prepped for editing / colour grading.
ADOPTING THE CINESTYLE PROFILE
With all that in mind, it seemed pretty logical to start shooting my content using the CineStyle profile too, so I headed on over to the Technicolor website and downloaded the profile.
Setup was pretty easy – all you have to do is download the profile file, install the Canon Utility software that came with your camera, and install the profile using that. If that sounds scary, just watch this tutorial for a step-by-step guide.
THE ISO-NOISE STORY
I read somewhere in a Technicolor guide that they recommend using ISO multiples of 160 for the best noise-free images. It made me wonder obviously, whether the CineStyle profile was sacrificing image quality (in this case noise) for dynamic range.
So I decided to conduct a little test – something that I wasn’t expecting to post online, until of course I was so astonished at my findings…
The test consisted of my Canon 60D, running the CineStyle profile, shooting at 1/50 shutter, 24fps, using a Canon 16-35mm L f/2.8 lens, with the lens cap on. Yip, with the lens cap on. My idea was to start filming at ISO 100, and then every 5 seconds, ramp up to the next ISO level, all the way through to ISO 6400.
The idea was that once I had that footage, I’d be able to edit it, by boosting “curves” such that I could make out noise throughout the ISO range.
Technicolor was completely right on this one. As I watched ISO 100 jump to ISO 125, I could see the noise increase, but what I wasn’t expecting was to see the noise virtually disappear when I cranked it up ISO 160. At this point it might be easier if you just see for yourself – And I’d recommend making it full screen, watching in HD, and turning “scaling” to off.
Almost 64,000 views later, my test shows that ISO multiples of 160 produce the least noise. In fact ISO 640 is basically comparable to ISO 100.
On the flipside, ISO multiples of 125 are ISO’s you definitely want to avoid.
You can see in the picture below how the ISO noise increases at different ISO levels.
People have asked me in the hundreds why this is. Well, simply put, from what I understand, Canon’s native ISO’s are multiples of 100 (not 160 as you might have thought), and that the ISO’s in between are created by applying negative or positive gain. In this case, ISO 160 is achieved by applying negative gain to the native ISO of 200. ISO 250 in this instance is the result of ISO 200 having a positive gain applied to it.
So the conclusion is that ISO multiples of 160 are best, 100 are okay, and 125 are bad. Simple as that right? Nope, not really.
You might have thought – before reading the last sentence of the previous paragraph – that all you have to do is install CineStyle and that’s that, but sadly I need to explain a little more to you.
You see, not everyone thinks CineStyle is the holy grail, and not everyone agrees with the multiples of 160 results. Why not? Well, for starters, lets tackle the latter first.
- Argument 1 – MULTIPLES OF 160 vs 100
The problem with “lab” tests, is that they’re just that – “lab” tests. In a closed environment, they work well to provide us with data that we can make conclusions from, but in the real-world, things may affect the results differently. Of course there’s a huge chance that this test holds true in the field as it does in the lab, but some people have suggested that since a negative gain is applied to ISO 200, that in so doing, a part of the highlights are clipped to bring the exposure down and as a result, you actually lose dynamic range.
Not a great thing if we’re trying to increase dynamic range by using this profile. But while it is theoretically possible that you may lose a fraction of dynamic range, I haven’t been able to physically see this in real-world shooting.
Nevertheless, if you did feel that you wouldn’t like to take the chance of losing dynamic range, then your only alternative is to shoot at ISO multiples of 100, running the risk of course, of exposing your footage to higher quantities of noise. Noise of course, can also be removed by applying a de-noiser to your footage, but I’ve found that de-noisers can actually make your footage look worse.
Furthermore, it’s our jobs as filmmakers, to ensure our shots have the best dynamic range in them – usually adjusted by artificial lighting or time of day.
Then again, once you apply the LUT-plugin (which gives your footage an S-curve grading), most of the noise is crushed into the shadows, so it isn’t as noticeable anyway.
So whether you prefer to shoot at multiples of 160 or 100, one thing remains true: don’t shoot at multiples of 125!
- Argument 2 – CINESTYLE PRODUCES MORE NOISE THAN SUPERFLAT
This is another area of contention. A few people, including a friend of mine, Salomon Ligthelm conducted his own small test where he felt there was more noise in his pictures than if he used his tried and tested SuperFlat profile.
The raw [not RAW] Cinestyle image is VERY flat – ugly flat to be honest – but somehow I still like it – feels quite vintage! But it seems to have a bit more noise than the normal Picture Profiles – I might be wrong.
I thought about this for a while. It made me wonder what exactly was happening in the camera that might be creating greater noise, or at least giving the perception of more noise. I switched between profiles on my camera a couple times and one thing I noticed very clearly, was the difference in the gamma or brightness between the two profiles. What if there wasn’t actually more noise, but rather more noise was being displayed simply due to a boost in brightness or gamma?
So I conducted a second test. This time I took my previous footage from the video above, as well as new footage under the same settings and conditions, using the SuperFlat profile, and put them side by side. I applied the same curves as before to make the noise more visible to our eyes, but I could see practically no noise in the SuperFlat profile. It made me think that perhaps people were right, and that there was just more noise going on with CineStyle.
The thing is, I could clearly see though, that the CineStyle footage was much brighter, or at least had a different gamma to that of the Flat footage. Of course that’s completely logical since we know the Cinestyle profile gives a much greater latitude in the shadows. So I played with the brightness and contrast of the SuperFlat footage to try and visually match the brightness and contrast of the CineStyle footage.
After a short amount of time, I found that if I increased brightness by 18.4% and contrast by 2%, I could practically replicate the noise of the CineStyle image on the left. This lead me to conclude that the CineStyle profile isn’t creating more noise, it’s simply displaying more noise – since shadow brightness is boosted by around 20%.
If you watch this video below, you can see what I’m talking about. Notice that the top left is CineStyle, top right is SuperFlat (I called it Neutral Flat here), and the black area below those two is the SuperFlat footage without the 18.4% brightness and 2% contrast increase.
It’s no wonder people think there’s more noise in the image. One thing that did stand out however, was that if the total area of the image were brightened by almost 20%, highlights should clip more, and yet when we look at Vincent Laforet’s tests, the highlights are almost handled better than the SuperFlat profile. Perhaps CineStyle has a way of only applying a boost to the shadow areas. That is a question we’ll have to ask them.
Obviously though, once you apply the S-Curve via the LUT-plugin, it darkens plenty of the image and the noise along with it.
But if you’re someone who hates noise, you’ll have to decided for yourself with real-world tests on this one.
A CINESTYLE EXAMPLE
I thought it might be nice to show you an example of what CineStyle is capable of – watch the short video below to see it in action.
I’m sure Technicolor will update their CineStyle profile at some stage. Whether it’ll only be with the release of a new DSLR like the anticipated 5Dmk III, or possibly with their new CineLights software, I can’t say. Either way, the CineLights software looks rather rad:
To me, there’s no doubt that CineStyle gives you more options when it comes to colour correcting and grading in post, and that if you’d prefer to keep noise low, you’ll want to shoot at ISO multiples of 160.
If you’re on the dark side and believe that you lose dynamic range shooting at multiples of 160, or that there’s simply more noise using this profile, then you should just stick to SuperFlat I guess.