How to tweak picture profiles, a walkthrough

Every picture profile has settings that you can tweak to taste. In this lesson we’ll go through each setting.

These settings are buried inside the Picture Profile menu:

MainMenu

The right side is just one menu, scrolled down. Each picture profile can be tweaked to taste, and the camera remembers your choices. On more than one occasion, I’ve played with something and forgot to change it later!

Therefore, once you decide what picture profiles you want (you only have a choice of seven slots from PP1 to PP7), the first thing to do is Reset them:

Reset

From this point on, you can start tweaking settings.

Important: Always tweak picture profiles on a calibrated HDTV Rec. 709 monitor, otherwise you won’t get what you see. If you don’t have access to a monitor, leave everything at its defaults.

Note: Since we’ve covered Gamma and Color space (mode), we’ll skip it.

Black level

The Black level can go from -15 to +15. The default is 0.

BlackLevel

What does it do, really? An example should help. Here’s what Cine 1 (Cinema color space/mode) looks like in its default state:

Blacklevel0

Now here’s Black level at -15:

Blacklevelm15

Finally, here’s Black level at +15:

Blacklevel15

Black level lowers the overall black level, the effect is of crushing or flattening the blacks. -15 lowers it by 15 IRE and +15 raises it by 15 IRE. The main thing is you have no control over how the blacks are crushed or flattened – so you either like the look or you don’t.

Note: Black Level is disabled for S-Log2 and Rec. 709 800%

Black Gamma

Black gamma has two choices, Range and Level:

BlackGamma

This works like the ‘Curves’ feature in color grading applications, and you can tweak which range you want to operate in – except in this case the range is limited to the shadow region, from which you select wide, middle or narrow.

Once you select that, you shift the level. It goes from -7 to +7, with Middle/Level 0 being the default. Here’s how it works. Default view:

Blackgamma0

Here’s +7:

Blackgamma7

Here’s -7:

Blackgammam7

So, rather than shift the black level, the level stays the same, but you’re shifting the gamma only in the shadow region.

Together with Black level and Black gamma, you can completely control the shadow region in your image in-camera. And this is preferable to doing it in post because I believe (I could be wrong!) the processing happens before compression.

Knee

If we can manipulate the shadows we should also be able to manipulate the highlights, right? That’s what Knee does:

Knee

Knee comes in two flavors – Auto and Manual. By default, everything’s in Auto, and unless you’re stuck in a situation you can’t fix, I highly recommend you let this remain as-is. Knee only works in Manual shooting mode.

Under Auto, you can select the Max Point (IRE) where the highlight will clip. The value ranges from 90%-100%, which is within the broadcast range. The scene I shot doesn’t have any clipping highlights, so the following doesn’t show much. Let’s start with Auto, High Sensitivity, 90%:

KneeAutoHigh90

Next, Auto, High Sensitivity, 100%:KneeAutoHigh100

Next, Auto, Mid Sensitivity, 90%:KneeAutoMid90

Next, Auto, Mid Sensitivity, 100%:

KneeAutoMid100

In Manual Mode, you have a greater range for Point, from 75% to 105%. It helps to go to 105% for a little more highlight detail. To go with this, you can also control the Slope (another word for ‘highlight gamma’) from -5 to +5.

This is 75% point, Slope 0:

KneeManual75Slope0

This is 75% point, Slope +5: KneeManual75Slope5

This is 75% point, Slope -5:KneeManual75Slopem5

Too bad my scene doesn’t even go above 75 IRE!

Either way, I recommend you leave Knee in Auto at all times, unless you have a strong and valid reason not to. If Knee is set to Auto at 100%, that’s pretty much as the profiles are designed to be.

Notes: Knee only works in Manual Mode, and there’s a weird quirk:

If you set [Slope] to +5 in [Manual Set], [Knee] is set to [Off].

Saturation

This one’s simple, it changes the saturation. You can go from-32 to +32:

Saturation

Here are the results. First, Saturation at 0:

Saturation0

Saturation at +32:

Saturation32

Saturation at -32:

Saturationm32

The camera doesn’t go all the way, either way. I suggest you leave this setting at its default value, which is 0, unless you have a strong reason to change it.

Color Phase

The Color Phase lets you go from -7 to +7:

ColorDepthPhase

What does it do? Here’s Color Phase at -7:

ColorPhase7

Here’s Color Phase at -7:

ColorPhasem7

Wow, there’s an obvious shift in colors, but not the blacks and whites.

What has changed? The Hue has shifted. The best place to notice this is a Vectorscope:

VectorscopeTweaking

The white and black points stay the same, while the hues pivot (rotate) around. Now think of the potential. If you want to tweak skin tones a bit (11 o’clock is the skin tone line) you can do that to make it look just right.

Of course, you can’t go haywire because it also shifts the other hues as well. For more control, we have the next option.

Color Depth

As shown above. Color depth allows you to change seven colors – R (Red), G (Green), B (Blue), C (Cyan), M (Magenta), and Y (Yellow) individually. You can go from -7 to +7 on each.

R +7

R7

R -7

RM7

G +7

G7

G -7

GM7

B +7

B7

B -7

BM7

C +7

C7

C -7

CM7

M +7

M7

M -7

MM7

Y +7

Y7

Y -7

YM7

According to Sony:

This function is more effective for chromatic colors and less effective for achromatic colors. The color looks deeper as you increase the setting value towards the positive side, and lighter as you decrease the value towards the negative side. This function is effective even if you set [Color Mode] to [Black & White].

This is really powerful stuff. You can tweak the colors (hue) while not touching the ‘levels’. Achromatic means Black, Grey and White. Chromatic is everything else. So, if you shift the hue with Color Phase to get skin tones right, you can use Color Depth to tweak the rest of the colors to taste.

You can also use it for Green Screen or Blue Screen work. However, these need to be tweaked on a case-by-case, scene-by-scene basis. Otherwise they all stay at their defaults.

Detail

Detail changes the perception of sharpness, but doesn’t sharpen directly like an app does. The levels go from -7 to +7:

Detail

Within it, you also have a second complexity level called Adjust, which I won’t touch. However, Sony does try to explain what they are for:

Adjust: The following parameters can be selected manually.Mode: Selects auto/manual setting. (Auto (automatic optimization) / Manual (The details are set manually.))
V/H Balance: Sets the vertical (V) and horizontal (H) balance of DETAIL. (-2 (off to the vertical (V) side) to +2 (off to the horizontal (H) side))
B/W Balance: Selects the balance of the lower DETAIL (B) and the upper DETAIL (W). (Type1 (off to the lower DETAIL (B) side) to Type5 (off to the upper DETAIL (W) side))
Limit: Sets the limit level of [Detail]. (0 (Low limit level: likely to be limited) to 7 (High limit level: unlikely to be limited))
Crispning: Sets the crispening level. (0 (shallow crispening level) to 7 (deep crispening level))
Hi-Light Detail: Sets the [Detail] level in the high intensity areas. (0 to 4)

The only setting I change is Detail. By default, Detail is -7 in S-Log2, while in others it’s 0. I always use -7. It delivers the most pleasing image, and I can always sharpen in post if I want to.

I highly recommend -7 across the board.

Copy

The last thing is Copy. Once you save a particular setting, you can copy it to another profile so you don’t have to do everything from scratch:

Copy

That’s it!

FAQs

These are important topics raised by subscribers that shed more light on this lesson.

Q. Can you mix and match color spaces. I’ve heard this xxxx use Pro space with the Cine profile.

A. Okay, this answer is going to be a bit long-winded, but please bear with me.

First of all, I want you to know that I have actually written an image processing algorithm (a rudimentary version of Photoshop, if you will) back when I was in college (2000). So, I understand the math and science behind this way more than the average blogger or user.

Knowing what I know, you need to follow Sony’s instructions on matching color spaces with their respective gammas. They are designed to go together, and if you change it (I don’t care what other bloggers or users say) you are asking for unpredictable results. It might look good in certain conditions, but it won’t hold in all conditions. All other picture profile settings are irrelevant if you neglect this basic marriage that Sony engineers have designed.

The ‘sweet-spot window’ for all profiles is very small (that’s how they have designed the camera so it won’t compete with the F5 or F55).

I know shooters with high-end broadcast cameras who get their footage rejected because they neglected to study their footage using the proper tools. Trust me when I say, it is in your best interest to shoot with the default settings and grade in post – especially with the A7s.

Q. If you were to tweak the picture profiles, how far would you push the settings? E.g., would you push saturation to +32?

A. I wouldn’t push the settings too far. Unless you have a broadcast monitor and scopes with you, it would be hard to know what you’re doing.

Secondly, broadcast monitors don’t display images in the Cinema, Hypergamma or S-Gamut color spaces.

Here are some notes:

  • I would not change the Knee.
  • I would also not increase the saturation beyond 3 or 4.
  • I would not change the Color Phase or Depth at all without the use of a true broadcast monitor in the field.

Q. Which is the best picture profile?

A. There is no picture profile setting that works well in all scenarios…unless it’s S-Log2 in its default settings.

Click on the link below to the next lesson or head over to the main menu (above). If you need help with something, feel free to send me an email. I’ll try to get back to you as soon as possible.