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Capturing the best A7s skin tones


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I'm sorry to return to what is an old topic by now, but I'm wondering what people's thoughts are on this subject.

My own feeling is that I'm moving more and more away from S-Log and even the cine picture profiles and more towards capturing a rich colour palate in camera at the time of shooting.

Capturing in a flat or LOG profile in this camera seems to lead to milky, chalky kind of flat colour both in skin and in general. Now granted, that is also due to a lack of grading expertise, but I see this in so many videos and in my own work. I feel that the punchy rich colours that people love about the NX1 for example are possible in the A7s, but perhaps not in the profiles we've all been concentrating on.

Take for example Brandon Li's film Gateway to the Ganges - https://vimeo.com/116044343

i don't see any S-Log footage coming anywhere near that. 

While I appreciate the looks you can get from the S-Log footage, what i really find myself responding to these days is richness and depth of colours rather than the desaturated low contrast look which is so en vogue.

My current go-to profile has been Kholi's cine2 picture profile, but even that seems to lack that immediacy that says to the brain "This is real" that's hard to bring back in during grading.

Maybe I'm just doing it wrong.

 

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I've posted a thread about this topic some time ago.  Everything about the a7s is amazing to me except it's color rendition and how efficiently it deals with white balance.  I keep telling myself it's user error/experience, but the more videos I watch, I'm let to assume otherwise, and it's just made up for with decent grades to the footage to counteract any of the usual color quirks from the camera.

Take a look at these tests of the a7s against the NX1 done by Andrew, which has been claimed to have excellent colors right out of the camera: 

1) https://vimeo.com/115669917
2) https://vimeo.com/115647045

Of course, it depends on the look you're going for in your footage, but in terms of ONLY color accuracy, the NX1 is miles ahead.  Of course, the a7s is flatter and has better highlight rolloff.  But it seems to have an ugly yellow/magenta bias that pollutes other colors.  This is why it's quite difficult to get accurate skintones out of the camera, slog or cine profiles.

As someone once described before, the a7s looks like film stock.  I'd agree.  The sensor produces a beautiful image that the filmmaking community seems to love.  But personally speaking, I might not always want the film stock look.  I'd rather start with an accurate "close-to-real-life" representation of colors right out of camera, not an image that looks strange and works well with LUTs, but is difficult to get back to a natural look if needed.

So, like a cinematographer is supposed to do, its time to do extensive camera tests in various conditions and locations.  The following is a link I'm sure you've come across already; it's a popular compilation of popular camera picture profile settings for the a7s.  Test extensively, figure out what brings you closest to accurate/lush/natural colors, then compensate the rest with quick grades.

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1rGxsgFMLk-oATs-05iN6fzb-uGkcgvLBIgJo_2GWvB8/edit?pli=1&hc_location=ufi#gid=0

Best of luck.  I plan to buy back an a7s soon and do the same myself, hopefully.  It really is a fantastic, special camera, and it's very possible to get accurate colors.  It's just a question of consistency, considering how the auto white balance/set white balance tools and features are literally the worst I've used on any modern DSLR/mirrorless camera.

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austinchimp, I have the a7s since a couple of months and I am still on a path to get decent skin tones while having accurate colors. Trust me, I tested all those profile guides that I found on the net.

s-log is at the moment no option to me since I want to have ISO 100 and i did not start using ND filters yet. Anyways, you might give those settings a go:

Take PP2 as a base (with default values of course) and change the following:

gamma: cine4

color mode: pro

color phase: +5

 

These settings work amazingly well for me, here is one quick example:

new_york.thumb.jpg.3ec457d82bd34ed6b0ff5

Another very important aspect I found out is setting the white balance manually to appropriate kelvin values. You can look them up using Google if you are not familiar with them. Interestingly, I found myself nearly always using 5600k during daylight circumstances, no matter whether it is shady or bright sun (even with snow!). Only on tungsten light or halogen, I change the white balance to about 3900k and within the above mentioned color profile, i change color phase to +2 (i use PP3 for that to change it more quickly), otherwise the image is very yellowish.

 

You could give those settings a try. I would love to hear from you if it helped a bit since I am sure that this journey is not done yet.

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Set your white balance properly.

And - seriously don't shoot Slog if you can't grade it. You're not forced to shoot it - you don't have to shoot it, it's a neat little extra feature the camera has.

So don't shoot it if you can't grade it. I just got back from a shoot which was quick turnaround (so no time to grade) - and I shot with Picture Profile off. The footage looks great - the colours are nice, skin tones are fine.

Experiment with what works for you and your project(s).

When the Alexa came out, people either got their footage graded, or they shot REC709. There were plenty of TV shows at the start shooting REC709 in order for an easier and quicker post/grade process when they first switched to the Alexa.

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Everything about the a7s is amazing to me except it's color rendition and how efficiently it deals with white balance.  I keep telling myself it's user error/experience, but the more videos I watch, I'm let to assume otherwise...........

 

​A7s produces beautiful log images which you can basically color/grade how you choose too. The first step is taking that log image and converting to REC 709, then you color to taste...... From my experience Sony A7s produces amazing colors and grades wonderfully, you just really have to spend some time with it and understand how it works. Here's a before/after picture of an unreleased Music Video (Artist: Gyptian) I worked on. Graded in RESOLVE and Tweaked in FINAL CUT

 

Screen_Shot_2015-04-18_at_11.55.37_AM.th

Screen_Shot_2015-04-18_at_12.03.46_PM.th

Screen_Shot_2015-04-18_at_12.30.40_PM.th

Screen_Shot_2015-04-08_at_11.54.42_AM.th

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wow@j.f.r., what were your camera settings? colors look AMAZING!!

​S-LOG mode standard settings

 

Graded in Resolve and Tweaked in Final Cut

 

1) DaVinci Resolve first node adjust exposure (highlights / lows / contrast)

2) 2nd node applied LUT ( I believe it was Kodak or similar, I have a whole bunch) 

3) Tweaked in Final Cut (contrast) + fine adjustments to color in Colorista. I noticed A7s image has more green than normal so you simply bring it down judging by your waveforms and level them out & I like to push the blue (for skies , water, etc)

 

It's a pretty long process it seems, but I think the final image is worth it.... I'm used to working with RED LOG files all of the time (work) and the Sony A7s holds up incredibly well in comparison. The main advantage of RED files though is being able to adjust white balance / iso / etc. as the camera shoots RAW, something A7s to my understanding is not capable of. 

Thanks

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I started creating a tutorial for good skin tones on the A7S- higher priority projects have taken my time. There a many ways to get good skin tones on the A7S- creating custom profiles can help, though stock PP6 can work very well as is. Slog2 gamma with Pro or Cinema also works well. It is possible to get good skin tones with the A7S using Resolve and no LUTs at all: everything from scratch (scopes are indeed helpful). Casey posted some test images shot in Slog2 on dvxuser. Here is the thread: http://www.dvxuser.com/V6/showthread.php?334239-a7s-skin-tones-slog2-vs-pp-off-(shogun-4k) (IIRC, account login required to view images). Here are the stock Slog2+Sgamut images:

timeline1.00_00_20_02.Still006.thumb.jpgtimeline1.00_00_22_05.Still007.thumb.jpg

Here are my grades (no LUTs- just the basic tools in Resolve):

RH2_R_1.1a.thumb.jpg.66df90379eb08d1ce65

More blue to separate the foreground actor from the background, also changes the mood:

RH2_R_1.1_blue.thumb.jpg.542fde7f038cccdRH2a.thumb.jpg.5bdb43546c01ef5e4fab3c40a

Casey's PP Off shot:

timeline1.00_00_14_07.Still005.thumb.jpg

I prefer graded Slog2+Sgamut vs. PP Off. I use mostly tweaked Slog2 + Pro color and CINE1/CINE2/CINE4 + Pro or Cinema (tweaked).

Casey also created some useful Stock PP7 (Slog2+SGamut) LUTS: http://www.dvxuser.com/V6/showthread.php?334831-a7s-slog2-3d-luts (based on the F65/55 LUTs).

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I started creating a tutorial for good skin tones on the A7S- higher priority projects have taken my time. There a many ways to get good skin tones on the A7S- creating custom profiles can help, though stock PP6 can work very well as is. Slog2 gamma with Pro or Cinema also works well. It is possible to get good skin tones with the A7S using Resolve and no LUTs at all: everything from scratch (scopes are indeed helpful). Casey posted some test images shot in Slog2 on dvxuser. Here is the thread: http://www.dvxuser.com/V6/showthread.php?334239-a7s-skin-tones-slog2-vs-pp-off-(shogun-4k) (IIRC, account login required to view images). Here are the stock Slog2+Sgamut images:

timeline1.00_00_20_02.Still006.thumb.jpgtimeline1.00_00_22_05.Still007.thumb.jpg

Here are my grades (no LUTs- just the basic tools in Resolve):

RH2_R_1.1a.thumb.jpg.66df90379eb08d1ce65

More blue to separate the foreground actor from the background, also changes the mood:

RH2_R_1.1_blue.thumb.jpg.542fde7f038cccdRH2a.thumb.jpg.5bdb43546c01ef5e4fab3c40a

Casey's PP Off shot:

timeline1.00_00_14_07.Still005.thumb.jpg

I prefer graded Slog2+Sgamut vs. PP Off. I use mostly tweaked Slog2 + Pro color and CINE1/CINE2/CINE4 + Pro or Cinema (tweaked).

Casey also created some useful Stock PP7 (Slog2+SGamut) LUTS: http://www.dvxuser.com/V6/showthread.php?334831-a7s-slog2-3d-luts (based on the F65/55 LUTs).

Look great ics, but also there's nothing wrong with luts, many professional colorist use them, have used them and connote to use them on films. Not implying that you said they were, just clarifying since one can get the impression that you can do this from scratch and luts are not needed. Certain luts though simply cannot be replicated through simply curves and colors from my understanding as they truly use film emulsion.

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Great colours J.F.R. That's the kind of look I'd love to learn to produce reliably.

Well this thread pretty much shows me that it's not the camera, it's my grading ability that needs to improve!

I do think the fact that visually exposing the camera in S-Log is tricky adds to the problems many people encounter as well. Seems like a lot of skin is poorly exposed (often over exposed in my opinion) often leading to pale washed out skin and weirdness.

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​S-LOG mode standard settings

 

Graded in Resolve and Tweaked in Final Cut

 

1) DaVinci Resolve first node adjust exposure (highlights / lows / contrast)

2) 2nd node applied LUT ( I believe it was Kodak or similar, I have a whole bunch) 

3) Tweaked in Final Cut (contrast) + fine adjustments to color in Colorista. I noticed A7s image has more green than normal so you simply bring it down judging by your waveforms and level them out & I like to push the blue (for skies , water, etc)

 

It's a pretty long process it seems, but I think the final image is worth it.... I'm used to working with RED LOG files all of the time (work) and the Sony A7s holds up incredibly well in comparison. The main advantage of RED files though is being able to adjust white balance / iso / etc. as the camera shoots RAW, something A7s to my understanding is not capable of. 

Thanks

​Which Kodak (and other) LUTs are you using?

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A LUT, by definition, is a 'look up table' that simply maps a certain set of values to another set of values. Therefore, you should correct your Slog footage to get it within the parameters the LUT is looking for, before applying your LUT.

If you put overexposed, or underexposed footage through a LUT - it's not going to give you the results you desire because all a LUT does is map one value to another. That's why you can put the same LUT on two different sets of footage and they can look wildly different - and why some people can get amazing looks from certain LUTs and others can't

I keep saying it, but colouring and grading is not really something you can learn in 5 minutes

Doing the tutorials and reading the blogs can help - but you can't really blame the camera for something you don't understand.

It's possible to get great looking footage with even the most rudimentary knowledge of colour - but you do need to have knowledge and practise. The A7s still gives pretty damn stellar results, even with Picture Profile off - so my suggestion is learn the camera and find the settings that work best for you (i.e. do your best with what you can do and what you do know - even if that's PP off or REC709), and continually challenge yourself to get better at it - or work with a professional colourist to find the best Slog settings they can work with to give you a proper grade.

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I started creating a tutorial for good skin tones on the A7S- higher priority projects have taken my time. There a many ways to get good skin tones on the A7S- creating custom profiles can help, though stock PP6 can work very well as is. Slog2 gamma with Pro or Cinema also works well. It is possible to get good skin tones with the A7S using Resolve and no LUTs at all: everything from scratch (scopes are indeed helpful). Casey posted some test images shot in Slog2 on dvxuser. Here is the thread: http://www.dvxuser.com/V6/showthread.php?334239-a7s-skin-tones-slog2-vs-pp-off-(shogun-4k) (IIRC, account login required to view images). Here are the stock Slog2+Sgamut images:

​These look nice, but the model, amount of make-up, and the lighting make a huge difference… The amazing thing about the Canon 5d, etc, is the how the skin seems to always look, in just about any setting.

Locking a nice WB and exposure obviously helps tremendously. 

jcs, do you own the pocket camera? That colors that camera is capable of producing with proper grading is just amazing.

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Look great ics, but also there's nothing wrong with luts, many professional colorist use them, have used them and connote to use them on films. Not implying that you said they were, just clarifying since one can get the impression that you can do this from scratch and luts are not needed. Certain luts though simply cannot be replicated through simply curves and colors from my understanding as they truly use film emulsion.

​Thanks j.f.r. Right- LUTs can work great too, and I used the F55/F65 LUT for the closeup/sip shot, processed 100% in Photoshop (I don't grade video that way, however Photoshop is a nice tool for figuring out color in stills). "Curve" filters/effects in NLEs are 1D-LUTs, color lift/gain/offset are linear transforms, and gamma is a simple non-linear transform (an exponential function). All work separately on color channels (except, for example, effects like a color mixer). A 3D LUT is a non-linear 3-D transform which can map colors from any color channel to any another (typically fractionally). This is very powerful, though if changing a specific color, say green into red, intermediate colors will likely be changed in unwanted ways (the cube lattice will be highly distorted).

The combination of a bunch of 1D planar transforms, e.g. curves, along with linear and nonlinear transforms, e.g. lift/gain/offset/gamma, can all be combined into a single 3D transform- the 3D LUT. Resolve and other tools can output the current grade as a single 3D LUT (not including qualifiers, blurs, noise reduction, etc.). The more nodes in the 3D LUT, the more accurate the final transform, but takes more memory on disk and at run time. LUT size won't make a difference for runtime performance.

PP Off is a specific Picture Profile: selects the current Creative Style: Std, Vivid, Neutral, Portrait, etc.. Each has its own gamma curve, color mode, and all the other settings, you just can't tweak or edit them other than contrast, saturation, sharpness.

White balance many times needs a custom grid adjustment after the main color temperature is set.

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​These look nice, but the model, amount of make-up, and the lighting make a huge difference… The amazing thing about the Canon 5d, etc, is the how the skin seems to always look, in just about any setting.

Locking a nice WB and exposure obviously helps tremendously. 

jcs, do you own the pocket camera? That colors that camera is capable of producing with proper grading is just amazing.

​Thanks Ben. I don't own a BM Pocket, however I have a couple 5D3's. For RAW stills, the 5D3 is far better than the A7S RAW stills (JPGs too for that matter). Interestingly, once WB is carefully set, and exposure is carefully set, the A7S's video color looks better than the RAW & JPG still color. That said, the 5D3 does indeed hold better color through over and under exposure, and the white balance isn't as tricky: set Incandescent WB and PP Neutral/Faithful etc., and you'll get a pretty good image. For RAW, only exposure is critical (final WB set in ACR).

What makes the A7S worth shooting with over the 5D3, even in RAW (ignoring the extra post work), is Sony autofocus and IS. There's no autofocus on the 5D3 for video, and the IS is not as strong and is tuned for stills. The 50Mbps A7S files are tiny and still look great. Using the 5D3 to take reference RAW stills can really help with color grading the A7S in post: the Canon stills provide a good target reference for color. With or without 5D3 color refs, once figured out, the A7S provides really nice color, which grades well in post and can provide a very filmic look.

When I first started using the A7S, I stuck with stock PP6, then later a tweaked PP7 (changed Color Mode: Sgamut to Pro) for one scene (shot at the Salton Sea):

http://brightland.com/w/delta/

Stock PP6 (eyes are contacts + Premiere CC masked effects):

Stock PP6, lit by tricky unknown parking lot light source (sodium?). Shot with Canon 50mm F1.4 at F2.0 and gen 1 MB SpeedBooster (crop mode to reduce RS, SB keeps noise similar to FF mode). All other A7S shots with Sony SELP18200 (FS700 kit lens):

PP7 with Pro Color Mode: background video shot at the Salton Sea (Actor is GH4 4K, Natural PP, greenscreen in studio):

GoPro Hero 3, ProTune color mode. Getting nice skintones underwater was tricky. Note that white isn't white anymore- now magenta tinted (dress; didn't do masked/tracked grading just for face, which would have allowed keeping the dress white):

A7S RAW stills processed in ACR: http://brightland.com/w/delta-bts

 

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​Thanks j.f.r. Right- LUTs can work great too, and I used the F55/F65 LUT for the closeup/sip shot, processed 100% in Photoshop (I don't grade video that way, however Photoshop is a nice tool for figuring out color in stills). "Curve" filters/effects in NLEs are 1D-LUTs, color lift/gain/offset are linear transforms, and gamma is a simple non-linear transform (an exponential function). All work separately on color channels (except, for example, effects like a color mixer). A 3D LUT is a non-linear 3-D transform which can map colors from any color channel to any another (typically fractionally). This is very powerful, though if changing a specific color, say green into red, intermediate colors will likely be changed in unwanted ways (the cube lattice will be highly distorted).

The combination of a bunch of 1D planar transforms, e.g. curves, along with linear and nonlinear transforms, e.g. lift/gain/offset/gamma, can all be combined into a single 3D transform- the 3D LUT. Resolve and other tools can output the current grade as a single 3D LUT (not including qualifiers, blurs, noise reduction, etc.). The more nodes in the 3D LUT, the more accurate the final transform, but takes more memory on disk and at run time. LUT size won't make a difference for runtime performance.

PP Off is a specific Picture Profile: selects the current Creative Style: Std, Vivid, Neutral, Portrait, etc.. Each has its own gamma curve, color mode, and all the other settings, you just can't tweak or edit them other than contrast, saturation, sharpness.

White balance many times needs a custom grid adjustment after the main color temperature is set.

​I don't really understand your post regarding what 3D Luts are.......... I don't think anyone questioned that or even asked, I simply stated you could achieve great skin tones on Sony A7s and my process of doing so....

Peace

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​I don't really understand your post regarding what 3D Luts are.......... I don't think anyone questioned that or even asked, I simply stated you could achieve great skin tones on Sony A7s and my process of doing so....

Peace

​Hey j.f.r- after the first comment, the reply was generalized for topics in the thread discussion.

Regarding the 3D LUT details- pretty much any non-discontinuous 3D LUT can be replicated manually in tools such as Resolve. 3D LUTs are kind of mysterious, as we cannot really see or understand what they are doing, other than testing them via trial and error. Tools which visualize what a 3D LUT does would be helpful (beyond a rendered thumbnail)- perhaps showing the 3D cube and rendered slices, in the same way we can see what other common tools are doing, such as curves, WB, 3-way CC, etc. A highly compressed and/or distorted 3D cube would show us we'd need to be very careful when using it, etc.

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