Make Your Footage Look Better With One Simple Adjustment

In an earlier post I wrote about proper exposure and the recommended IRE levels for different cameras, including Arri, Canon C300, Canon 5D Mark III, and the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. In this post I want to write about my experiences while working with the Panasonic AF-100. 

Late last summer I took the AF-100 and the 5D Mark III into the studio to see if I could create a picture profile that most closely matched with the picture profile I was already using on the 5D. Rather than recap that test, let me just point you to this blog post I wrote after finishing the test.

Although initially pleased with the picture profile I created, the more I shot with it, the more I felt like something wasn't quite right. Whenever I would grade footage from the AF-100, I found that I couldn't hold the highlights as much as I wanted. It was very easy to overexpose a shot. I needed more gradual roll-off into the highlights.

In my earlier test, I started with a picture profile published by Abel Cine. So, I went back to the well once again to see what I could find. I dialed in a profile setting labeled RANGE. I also dialed in another profile setting I found in another forum, and labeled it FLAT. I took the camera outside and shot three quick tests, using the three different picture profile settings.

When reviewing the footage, I found that each profile gave me good dynamic range, but the RANGE profile in particular stood out to me because there seemed to be a more gradual roll-off into the highlights. But finding a picture profile I was happy with was only part of the equation.

Usually I keep my zebras at 75%, allowing only slight striping to occur on the cheekbones and nose of my subject. However, I've learned that 75 IRE is too high when shooting with the AF-100. Blooming can occur very quickly, which presents difficulty when trying to grade the footage in post. See the below frame grab as an example:

I shot this last November. It has not been color corrected or graded, so you're looking at the original flat image straight off the SD card. Notice the nose and cheekbones of the guy on the right. They are blooming and look a little too hot, meaning that these highlights will be tough to control in the grade. Compare him to the guy on the left, who looks more properly exposed. These are midtones and highlights that I can work with in the grade.

Now look at the waveform of the same shot:

The guy on the left is hitting right around 50 IRE, while the guy on the right is hitting around 75 IRE.

After looking at this particular shot, I decided to bring my zebra levels down to 60% so I can better monitor the exposure of my midtones.

If you have any tips or suggestions, please leave them in the Comments field. I'm also interested to know what picture profile you use when shooting with the AF-100.