NEX 5N ‘easter egg’ found to increase video quality

17

Occasionally you stumble on something completely unexpected.

It’s great when this happens. The 5Ds and 7Ds, workhorses of the DSLR world, have nothing more to give; the lure and mystique of those early days in 2009 have all but vanished. The Sony NEX 5N however is different. A tempting new mistress who has yet to remove her makeup and demand you clean crusty left-over fries from the oven. I’ve only had the camera a few days I am still discovering new things about operating it and optimising the image. Usually the obvious stuff hits you first and then the smaller incidental bits. Well, I thought I’d try out the Sunset picture profile and I’m glad I did.

What a difference!!

One of the biggest flaws in DSLR codecs all but gone, in one fell swoop of the finger.

Until now DSLR image processors and codecs have been incredibly poor at rendering a smooth gradation of shades over flat areas with little detail.

We have tended to get banding and rough step-changes between different tones rather than a smooth gradient. We’ve had blockiness, poor colour rendition, plastic skin tones and blue skies that look like a huge hole in the ozone layer has just opened up.

Usually you can also see the effect on painted walls, on shadows and in low contrast areas, especially if there is a slight vignette and light fall off from the lens wide open. It’s particularly bad in motion since the banding pattern can hang statically over the image moving underneath it in such an unnatural and electronic manner, forget moire – this is the least cinematic property of DSLRs by a long shot and it is one of the reasons we have 10bit 4-4-4 colour on more expensive digital cinema cameras instead of 8bit.

The 5N’s Sunset picture profile is designed to give smooth gradated tones to mimic the look of 10bit on an 8bit codec.

This is the first time such a DSLR picture profile has been made this way and the results are stunning. Yes it is a consumer feature, for tourists to shoot nicer skies. And yes as you’d expect it does give a image and accentuate scarlets but you can compensate this with a cooler white balance or in your grading. I actually prefer a warmer image for 80% of what I do anyway.

The effect is stark with colour and tonal range both getting a nice boost. It even improves aliasing on hard edges of colour which was one of the weak points of the 5N, it’s nice to see it reduced.

On the left is the Standard picture profile and on the right is Sunset. Note that the orange glow of the desk light is how one’s eye actually sees it and the Standard mode gives you that clinical scientifically ‘correct’ white balance that I hate, which ignores the colour temperature of your various light sources completely. Sony and Panasonic have always been bad for this, Canon much better.

As you can see the difference in the smoothness of gradation and in the overall image is clear to see. All the blockiness on the projected blue image has gone, and it also fixes a major 5N flaw visible on the blue projection which is best illustrated in the video above rather than with words… you will know when you see it!

NEX 5N standard versus sunset

With the transition from a very cold light source to a very warm one, it is done far more smoothly and more naturally on the Sunset frame grab. Look also to the purple gradation behind the lamp on the Sunset profile shot, and how much more natural that is to the harsher one with Standard profile. In Standard the gradation has banding to the right and a harsh step between the blown out area of light to the right and the blue screen.

Both stills above are 1:1 crops from the AVCHD 25p FX mode.

The aliasing on the edge of the projection top and middle is also reduced with sunset, and it appears as a hard light blue line with all the other picture profiles.

The picture profile can be further optimised, with contrast lowered to improve shadow details and for further smooth gradation, sharpness reduced to further help aliasing and colour can be dialled down if it’s too strong for the scene. But I haven’t done enough experimentation here to see to what extent these further settings change the image for the better.

My next step is to dial down the warmness of the image for general use on a wide range of scenes, and when I finalise these settings I’ll do a blog on it.

By no means is this final – I need to shoot more with Sunset mode and see whether there are unforeseen side effects and to see just how far the warmness of the image can be reeled back in for situations where it isn’t preferable. It certainly appears a lot more cinematic and it fixes so much about the image. Colours are vivid and natural. If it works in all situations it will be staying as my default picture profile on the 5N for quite some time to come.

Disclaimer: It is necessary to compensate for the extreme warmth of this picture profile by adjusting white balance manually.

Recommended NEX 5N picture profile settings coming soon.

NEX 5N manual white balance

Share.

About Author

British filmmaker and editor of EOSHD, Andrew works in Berlin on his own self funded filmmaking and video projects.

17 Comments

  1. Just for the sake of amusement have you tried the same scene using the GH2? The local Sony store has a 5n in stock and I’m going to go try it out in a couple of days (and may even take the GH2 with me just, well, just because).

  2. William De Young on

    Wow that was a big different! Nice ester egg you found there. But my question is, how does picture setting works? You still have 24fps/25fps or whatever and manual control and everything? it’s just a setting for WB right? (or kind of that)

  3. Picture profile is a preset in the Brightness / Color menu and you select it there. White balance is separate and you can customise that in manual white balance mode. Time to get your 5N manual out :)

  4. GH2 lenses – sort of but not really – no aperture control and infinity focus is off on my adapter. Don’t recommend it. Most vignette as well.

    EF lenses – again, sort of – no aperture control on most of them. Until the Birger adapter comes out or an alternative, it is similar situation to the GH2 right now.

    FD and c-mount lenses are fine but most c-mount lenses will vignette.

  5. All of this info may just prove to be just as important for the VG20 as well, so this is very interesting. I really have my eye on the VG20 and 5N as a duo.

  6. Hey

    All very interesting, I am confused on a higher level :0)

    Now this about how good these cams are at graduations is very interesting to me and something i have not thougt about before. I am in the market for a “dslr” og mirrorless for under water filming. Now I was about to go for the GH2 but then all these Sony cam comes along.

    Now with UW filming you automatically have a lot of smooth graduations, the background almost always turns into such a scenario and I wonder if the GH2 can handle this ? I would use the hack once its ripe, and thought that the higher bitrate migt accomodate smoother graduations ?

    Its such a difficult choise. I guess the GH3 must be coming soon as well, but it seems that the GH2 will be a strong contender for some time to come, especially because of the hack community. Any thoughts on this ? I know you cant run around givin everyone advice but its rare with shooters that has so much practical experience with these platforms :0)

    Best wishes

    Jakob

  7. Very exciting – can’t wait to see what you find after more testing. My department is buying me some new tools (toys!) and I am trying to choose between the 5n and the gh2. I make dance films, so I’m caught between the slo-mo and softer sony image and the straight up incredible resolution of the gh2 ala Vitaliy. My concern with the 5n is, of course, the aliasing and compression noise. If this setting could alleviate some of those issues, it brings it closer in the running to the gh2. Otherwise, given that I have to choose only one of them (life’s rough that way ; ) as of now it’s probably going to be the gh2. Particularly after seeing the anamorphic gh2 footage you/Andrew have up – amazing! Andrew – or anyone – have any advice for me?

  8. Well I got to try a 5n out at the Sony store today and did in fact try the sunset mode. And by gosh you’re right, it does seem to filter out posterization. It also seems to smooth out what I thought was just noise in very dark areas due to shooting indoors. I also tried the “soft key” filter (or whatever it’s called), it was certainly muted and neutral but noisier in the shadows than sunset. Resolution in video mode was a tad better than I had expected.

    What struck me in the store was how much more comfortable I felt operating the SLT-a35 and found the menu organization on the 5n to be slightly disfunctional and a bit overwhelming. But when I brought the card back home tonight there was no doubt the 5n has the better sensor. I really wish Sony would release an SLT with the 5n’s sensor.

    Also got a very quick spin of your Hx9v, an impressive little camera that delivers everything it can and then some given its teeny tiny sensor. Resolution in video mode is high, at least as good as the NEX-5n, though noise suppression takes its toll in areas of low contrast

Leave A Reply