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The Skin Tone Holy Grail


fuzzynormal
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Let's get a few things straight.

In narrative film, your actors and actresses are generally wearing makeup. Even if it doesn't look like it, 99% of the time they have makeup on. This makes the skin tone 'issue' much less of an issue, because your actors skin will look perfect from the get-go. In addition, you test your camera or film stock and your art department can find how far they need to push the make-up, or what they need to do to get the skin looking perfect.

RED has had notoriously sub-par skin tones, especially compared to the Alexa. Yet, there are many incredible looking films shot on RED. Skin tone is not the be-all end-all for a camera. I like to look at colour as a whole, and how gradeable it is. There's no point having great skin tone, if all the other colours in the shot are awful.

RED Dragon is 100x better when it comes to skin tone.

Personally, I hate Canon's skin tone, and find the Canon colour in general tends to be way too warm and way too oversaturated.

Every camera behaves differently to colour - IMO it's more important to be aware of colour differences and be able to compensate for them if you don't have the luxury of choosing a camera on a per project basis.

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EOSHD Pro Color 5 for Sony cameras EOSHD Z LOG for Nikon CamerasEOSHD C-LOG and Film Profiles for All Canon DSLRs

IMO it's more important to be aware of colour differences and be able to compensate for them if you don't have the luxury of choosing a camera on a per project basis.

​I think this has always been my intuition as well, which is why I was curious why there's so much on-line hang-wringing about skin-tone and posed the question to begin with.

Ultimately, I'm of the mind to chalk it it to gear-heads being gear-heads.  I see the same rabbit hole attitudes in the automotive forums I visit.  Dudes are spending their money of stuff so they'll overanalyze and focus their attention on intricate of details of the thing they just bought rather than have a holistic outlook.  Fretting about how to wring .2 more horsepower out of their latest carburetor rather than, you know, actually learning how to drive fast around a corner.

That narrow focus does work on large collaborative things where one is required to specialize, but might be counter-productive on things less so.  I say this because I'm just as guilty of gear fetish as anyone.

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Let's get a few things straight.

In narrative film, your actors and actresses are generally wearing makeup. Even if it doesn't look like it, 99% of the time they have makeup on. This makes the skin tone 'issue' much less of an issue, because your actors skin will look perfect from the get-go. In addition, you test your camera or film stock and your art department can find how far they need to push the make-up, or what they need to do to get the skin looking perfect.

RED has had notoriously sub-par skin tones, especially compared to the Alexa. Yet, there are many incredible looking films shot on RED. Skin tone is not the be-all end-all for a camera. I like to look at colour as a whole, and how gradeable it is. There's no point having great skin tone, if all the other colours in the shot are awful.

RED Dragon is 100x better when it comes to skin tone.

Personally, I hate Canon's skin tone, and find the Canon colour in general tends to be way too warm and way too oversaturated.

​Film didn't come off to well vs the C500 in this shot though did it... http://www.hurlbutvisuals.com/blog/2014/02/canon-c500-vs-film-camera-test/

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I still think for us jack-of-all-trades (masters of none) shooting with >$1k cams, it's okay to put accurate skin tone a bit down on the list of priorities.  If we're close, that's fine.

Should we put skin tone above production design, writing, directing, or editing for example?  

I'd rather take an opportunity to implement an incredible story in a slightly technical flawed way than to implement a flawed idea in a technically incredible way.  That's just my approach at the level I'm at.  As mentioned, some folks have the luxury or inclination to focus on the intricacies. 

You know that ridiculous saying, "It's above my pay grade?"  Well...

You asked why we make a big deal of skin tones. We've taken the time told to break it down for you. Now you seem dismiss it as a luxury too rich for your blood. Not sure why you brought the subject up the first place unless it was to tell us why it doesn't matter to you. Of course writing and directing should take a front seat - at any budget. Not a groundbreaking discovery, but you asked a tech question, hence tech answers. People with 1k + cameras usually won't have the budget to consider complex production design but next to writing / directing your one of strongest cards is how you capture a human face. And there are many a cheap camera in the DSLR / Mirrorless market that can capture great skin tones - if you take the time to figure it out. A little applied knowledge is not above anyone's pay grade. So do we care about seeking the "Holy Grail" of flesh tones? If so, ask away. I've gotten great advice on this forum on how to unlock the A7s color profile.

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Most people online are looking to learn something new. At one point I focussed on resolution and detail, then sound, lighting, story and script writing, legal/IP, editing/post, advertising, etc.

This thread is titled,"The Skin Tone Holy Grail". It implies learning about what are great skin tones and how to achieve them.

While it is reasonable to point out that certain cameras have better or worse skin tones, the spirit of the thread is to learn 1) what are great skin tones and 2) how to achieve them for various cameras and conditions.

Many posts are argumentative for the sake of argument and ego and don't contribute anything significant to learning how to achieve great skin tones.

To be more productive, this forum could use moderation. That would start with no more antagonistc posts by the site owner, who leads by example, and by said site owner to maintain etiquette and politely keep threads on topic when they dissolve into unproductive arguments.

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Let's get a few things straight.

In narrative film, your actors and actresses are generally wearing makeup. Even if it doesn't look like it, 99% of the time they have makeup on. This makes the skin tone 'issue' much less of an issue, because your actors skin will look perfect from the get-go. In addition, you test your camera or film stock and your art department can find how far they need to push the make-up, or what they need to do to get the skin looking perfect.

RED has had notoriously sub-par skin tones, especially compared to the Alexa. Yet, there are many incredible looking films shot on RED. Skin tone is not the be-all end-all for a camera. I like to look at colour as a whole, and how gradeable it is. There's no point having great skin tone, if all the other colours in the shot are awful.

RED Dragon is 100x better when it comes to skin tone.

Personally, I hate Canon's skin tone, and find the Canon colour in general tends to be way too warm and way too oversaturated.

Every camera behaves differently to colour - IMO it's more important to be aware of colour differences and be able to compensate for them if you don't have the luxury of choosing a camera on a per project basis.

​It's a big deal in narrative. Even with make up, we still need an accurate chip. So when we dial in the face our backgrounds aren't AWOL. I work mostly episodic TV. We have ridiculously tight turn around times. They like cameras that have less fiddling and grade time in post (saves them $$). It's the reason why Alexa and C300's have been dominating TV.  I I'd say they comprise 80 percent of my work and it's not because of the resolution. I've been on many a shoot for broadcast where they use 5D's because they love the colors. Granted, you're right about Canon being saturated and warm, but post finds it easier to dial down a richer signal than boost a thin one. 

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When I hear people bash the Sony sensors I tend to wonder exactly what glass they're using or what they are (or are not) doing to their image in post.

​Glass is often overlooked in the whole skin game. I did an ABC tests with Cooke S4's, Zeiss Super speeds and Xenars. The Xenars were dead to me skin wise. Almost corpse like compared to the Cookes and Zeiss. Was once doing an interview style shoot with Canon Zooms and Leica R glass. Once we put on the R Glass it was night and day. The skin tone was better in every respect. The director didn't want to see the Canon glass for the rest of the day.

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The director didn't want to see the Canon glass for the rest of the day.

​Which is strange, isn't it? Canon (and Nikon) are used for stills / portraiture in almost every professional environment out there. I would assume their colour science to be top notch also in film making? While we are at it: I learned that Nikon is not really used for filmmaking (yet) but how do you like the colours from their new cameras (D750, D810) out of the box? I'm asking because I know a few photogs who like these recent advances very much, being more brownish/pleasing in beauty shots with less post work than before - compared i.e. to the D800.

Kind regards, Martin

P.S. My first post here although I've been reading for a while. Sorry if my questions may be dumb at the beginning but I'm coming from stills photography and only recently discovered filmmaking for myself. Having a Nikon-past of more than 20 years, I have recently bought an LX100 for my first steps and find the Panasonic colours... uhm, well... sub-par for people/portraiture, sort of. I also have a Sony RX100 II and find even their rendition much more to my liking.  

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You asked why we make a big deal of skin tones. We've taken the time told to break it down for you. Now you seem dismiss it as a luxury too rich for your blood.

Well, to be honest, I didn't really understand why it's so highly pursued.  That's my question asked in the context of my OP, as an admittedly bottom-level guy in video production.  And, indeed, the cameras that most shooters seem to favor for superior skin tones are too rich for my blood, no question.
But the insight of why it matters to some is welcomed and appreciated.  

JCS' feedback made a lot of sense.

I think my "Holy Grail" metaphor was rather inelegant.  I've always applied it to mean extremely holy, perhaps the most holy of all. And like all truly holy objects, it most likely doesn't exist.  So, a pursuit for something unobtainable.  And (this was my train of thought) if you can't really achieve it, then low-end video plebes like me might not want to make it such a huge priority for buying a camera.

For some, the best color possible matters a lot and makes perfect sense.  But, I'm just saying, for me, I can roll with limitations and try to make it work.  And, yeah, my experience has also been that glass is a bigger culprit than a sensor. 

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Personally I'd say that skin tone matter most when you're in a controlled environment. On a set with tons of lighting, you definitely need to nail those skin tones. 

But its also a matter of personal style. Which do you film more ? Characters, people, animals, sunsets ? 

I also agree than on most dslrs dialing the contrast / saturation too low will kill your skin tones. 

Don't have a preference though when it comes to that, although I do appreciate the Alexa - but in this kind of budget I would expect a camera that excels in this field !

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​Which is strange, isn't it? Canon (and Nikon) are used for stills / portraiture in almost every professional environment out there. I would assume their colour science to be top notch also in film making? While we are at it: I learned that Nikon is not really used for filmmaking (yet) but how do you like the colours from their new cameras (D750, D810) out of the box? I'm asking because I know a few photogs who like these recent advances very much, being more brownish/pleasing in beauty shots with less post work than before - compared i.e. to the D800.

Kind regards, Martin

P.S. My first post here although I've been reading for a while. Sorry if my questions may be dumb at the beginning but I'm coming from stills photography and only recently discovered filmmaking for myself. Having a Nikon-past of more than 20 years, I have recently bought an LX100 for my first steps and find the Panasonic colours... uhm, well... sub-par for people/portraiture, sort of. I also have a Sony RX100 II and find even their rendition much more to my liking.  

​Make no mistake, I love my Canon Zooms. But compared to Leica R primes, the Leicas are in a different league IQ wise. But I was a controlled situation (we had time to change lenses). They're definitely not for doc / run & gun world. I'm a big fan of Nikon AIS glass. I feel they have the "magic" especially their 85, 105, 135 and 180. Mechanics are rock solid.

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After shooting and editing extensively with the 5D3 (H.264 + RAW), Sony FS700, GH4, and A7S, based not only on my personal opinion, but on feedback from actors/models/clients, cameras which produce better skin tones are preferred. I found this out by shooting the same scenes with multiple cameras and reviewing the results with others. Doing research online I found that skin tones were the single most important element for cameras used to make money. Resolution, frame rates, viewfinders, ergonomics, etc., are all very important too, but skin tones are number one. Skin tones affect emotion, and emotion is used to tell a story or sell a product.

What cameras provide the best skin tones? ARRI and Canon. What cameras are used the most professionally? ARRI and Canon. What cameras are used the most in Oscar winning films (last few years)? ARRI. What DSLR was used most in feature films? Canon (5D, 7D, 1D): http://shotonwhat.com/?s=5D. Why did the C100/C300 far outsell/outrent the FS700, even though the FS700 has way more features (and can even look full frame with a SpeedBooster)? C100/C300 produce better skin tones with less effort. 

In the end, it's possible to get similar, sometimes even better (rare/unusual lighting conditions) skin tones from the GH4 and A7S vs. the 5D3, however on average, the 5D3 requires a lot less time and work.

How do we know when skin tones are better, when it's so subjective? Shoot the same scene with multiple cameras then show the results to multiple people for feedback. Some DPs do a ton of testing to figure this out before shooting a feature: http://www.hurlbutvisuals.com/blog/2013/10/arri-alexa-vs-canon-c500/

​here is very nice skin tones with old tech...

 

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