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Sunday, May 1, 2011

••◊ Technicolor Picture Style for the 5D mark II, First Impressions

On Friday night I downloaded the new Technicolor picture style for the Canon 5D mark II.  Being familiar with picture style editing for the Canon SLR's I had some ideas on what to expect.  I typically use Faithful, Sharpness=0, Contrast=-2, and Saturation=-1, which gives me a fairly faithful color reproduction, but definitely leaves something to be desired as far as exposure latitude.  A custom picture style won't really extend the exposure latitude of the camera.  That's locked by the image pipe firmware and isnt' tweakable as far as I can tell.  However you can increase the amount of shadow detail by decreasing the contrast via a tone curve adjustment.  See my numerous previous posts about that topic for more information.

So...what can they adjust?  Technicolor can choose a color profile, for which the two viable selections are "Neutral" and "Faithful."  They can suggest sharpness, contrast, and saturation settings (Technicolor suggests 0,-4,-2).  They can also flatten the the tone curve to capture more gradations of highlight and shadow detail as well as tweaking the hue, saturation, and lightness.

In order to test this profile I adjusted the white balance to 5500K so the white balance remains consistent throughout the test.  I also metered the scene using my light meter to determine the correct exposure and used manual exposure mode on the camera to lock down any exposure differences due to the picture style.  Below are the comparisons between the Cinestyle picture style, two built-in pictures styles, and a custom-Faithful picture style I developed for better color accuracy (no tone curve adjustment).

When I first saw this profile I thought the color reproduction was better than the built-in profiles, but after inspecting it on a color calibrated monitor I have to say that the "faithful" and "custom" (based on Faithful) picture styles do much better at doing what their name claims.  I know the picture looks quite simple, but actually there is a lot going on here.  First, the top of the stairs basically goes into shadow so I had to adjust the tone curves of the three other profiles to match the shadow detail of the Cinestyle pictures style.  Noise was popping out all over the place on the built in profiles, whereas the noise wasn't that bad on the Cinestyle picture.  That might have been due to the under-saturated nature of Cinestyle.  However...there is a caveat.  If you look at the wall and under-ceiling on the left the Cinestyle picture has less difference in saturation between the wall (should be pink-ish) and the ceiling (eggshell white).  When I tried to color correct the Cinestyle saturation color gradients popped out everywhere and the ceiling essentially turned the same color as the wall.  The Faithful and Neutral picture styles had the correct amount of color difference.  So it does look like you make gains on shadow noise by under-saturating color reproduction, but lose on color correction in mid-tones.  The hues represented in these pictures are close to representative of skin tones, so I might expect similar results with people in the picture.  A quick vectorscope plot showed the wall near the skin tone line.

Another aspect of the technicolor profile is that they give you a tone curve to apply in post.  The question is mainly how to do this with the Adobe tools.  The first thing I did was to copy their data and plot the tone curve in Excel.  From the text file you might notice that they crush the shadows and clip the highlights a bit, which was unexpected for a profile that is supposed to help maintain better post processing.

The next step is to make a custom curve in Photoshop that reproduces the look-up-table (LUT) tone curve that Technicolor specifies.  You can save this curve out as a "*.acv" file and open it up in Adobe After Effects using the "Curves" effect.  Pretty easy, really...swear.

The last picture shows the difference between the Faithful (default tone curve) picture style and the Cinestyle with the tone curve effect applied with the Technicolor specified curve.  Faithful might win a little in shadow detail but this a tweaked curve so really it's not a choice of one being better than the other.  Rather, it's just an evaluation of Technicolor's tone curve using a standard reference for comparison.  Without the tone curve applied the Cinestyle picture style clearly has more noise-free detail at the top of the stair case.

So...does it super charge the 5D mark II and make it "better?"  I'm not sure I would say that, however knowing the pictures style's limitations this might be a useful tool to have in my back pocket.  The Technicolor picture style was really meant to allow higher end productions to put 5D footage though a standard color correction process along side with higher end digital (Red, Alexa) footage according to the Technicolor rep.  That's not likely to happen in my case, however when some tech tweaker-boy shows up on set claiming that this is the only way to go I can at least discuss the matter with some intelligence.

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