Since the issue of black levels in LOG mode on the Leica SL was raised on EOSHD, Leica have reached out to me. Here I can reveal Leica are working hard on video related refinements.
Last week in Berlin, product manager Steffen invited me to see the new firmware in action.
At our meeting last week I recorded a few test clips via 10bit HDMI to my Odyssey 7Q+. Later I gave feedback to Steffen after putting the clips through Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve.
As well as trying out the new firmware, we exchanged some ideas and Steffen demoed a few more capabilities of the Leica SL for filmmakers – a high quality Super 35mm 1080p mode and very quick, direct control of mic gain (which I didn’t spot in my first brief hands-on with the camera).
The LOG profile refinements are not the only improvements Leica are working on for video shooters. Compatibility of the record-trigger via HDMI to Convergent Design’s Odyssey range is being worked on at both sides.
Leica are of course a photography company but are very serious about making the Leica SL work for filmmakers and professional photographers whose clients also want high quality video on the same shoot.
I also had a few future firmware suggestions for Steffen! Such as –
- A view assist when shooting LOG using the SL’s EVF or built in display
- An advanced view assist which loads a display LUT from the SD card
- Internal LOG recording with a lighter LOG profile suited to 8bit (like Canon LOG on the 1D C)
Steffen also demoed the SL’s WiFi control and monitoring interface. This is excellent. The camera sends a very high quality feed to the iPhone and the app offers remote control of the camera, through a very good user interface in keeping with the minimalist design of the SL itself. We talked about possible accessories such as a USB wireless follow focus, driving the lens via the silent AF motors.
Of course, none of these ideas are guaranteed to make it to the camera – but Leica has shown a lot of effort in delivering the already extensive video functionality so far on the SL.
Steffen particularly likes his idea of a hot-shoe clamp for the iPhone when it is used as a wireless monitor. This really appeals to me too, as the SL does not have an articulated screen. Although the HDMI output is full sized for connecting a display, the less consumer cables on a pro shoot, the better.
So what about the new and improved LOG profile?
On the first version of the firmware, blacks in LOG mode seemed to start at 100 on the 0-255 RGB luma range, meaning the grade had to take into account an extremely high black level by flattening off the bottom of the luma curve almost to the half-way-point of the luma range and then quickly ramping up. This was quite unlike how any other LOG-shooting camera on the market is graded.
The new V1.2 firmware update fixes this issue, which for me is a big improvement, but in my opinion still not 100% of the way there yet. I think in lowering the black level from 100 to 0 on the 8bit 0-255 scale (and similarly in 10bit, although the range goes 0-1024) the profile now crushes the blacks more than other established LOG profiles such as Canon LOG and S-LOG. My advice to Leica is to get the LOG profile as close to Canon LOG as possible. The black level shouldn’t be at 100 on the 8bit luma range but neither should they crush to absolute zero. Then we can use our existing LUT packs, established grading workflows and effortlessly work with 4K footage from the SL without having to account for major differences to other cameras on the same shoot.
The 4K image I can safely say looks beautiful. I might get an SL body to review after the Christmas break as up until now I have only had two brief encounters with it.
We also exchanged idea for future firmware updates. I suggested it might be interesting for Leica to do a LUT based view-assist in-camera which could read 3D LUT (.cube) files from a LUT folder on the memory card and apply these in realtime to the internal display. The built in EVF is particularly fantastic for shooting video through, but both the cinematographer and clients on set would obviously prefer to see the contrast of the scene and not the flatness of the LOG profile.
One of the beautiful things about the Leica SL is the ergonomic philosophy of simplicity and small size, especially versus a big cinema camera. Adding a large HDMI monitor 4K or 10bit 4K recorder is a great option for some shoots, but on others (especially handheld) a big rig compromises the minimalist Leica ergonomics and the lovely balance of the camera.
The Leica SL feels particularly well balanced with Leica R lenses via an adapter, which are a sweet spot in size between the small M mount lenses and the very large native SL mount 24-90mm zoom released with the camera. My own favourite R lenses which offer good value for money used, are the 35mm F2.0 and 90mm F2.0.
Although the camera has a full sized HDMI port so the cable feels more secure than in a micro port like that found on the Sony A7S II, I still dislike having a loose cable hanging out the side. Leica could maybe look into making a cable clamp like the one which ships with the Sony A7S II.
It’s great Leica are actively working on various video related improvements. I think the new firmware update for the Leica SL is a continuation of this process but not the end, there’s still a bit of further work to do to bring the profile in-line with established film industry LOG curves (like Sony’s S-LOG).
One thing is for sure – Leica are 100% serious about video on the SL.