Picture Profiles and S-Log
One of the most appealing things for videographers about the Sony A7S II is the inclusion of the Sony Picture Profiles. These profiles have found their way in to a number of Sony cameras this year, including the A7R II, the RX100 IV and the RX10 II, and of course the FS5.
There are a 9 default profiles that come preset in the camera, but each one can be customised, and there is a lot that you can do. The Black Level, Gamma curve, Black Gamma, Kmee, Colour Mode, Saturation, Colour Phase, Colour Depth and Detail can all be adjusted to your own personal taste. However the great thing about the Picture Profiles is the ability to transfer the profiles between cameras. If you are using two different Sony cameras then the profiles enable you to get as close as possible to matching the footage that the camera produce, obviously within the constraints of what each camera is capable of recording.
For those wanting to spend as little time editing and colour grading as possible, the Picture Profiles can again come in very useful. The settings on offer allow for the footage straight from the camera to look as refined as possible.
If you are a sucker for spending hours colour grading, then there are the S-Log 2 and now S-Log 3 Gamma modes. These two modes make the most of the dynamic range that the sensor can produce. Basically they pull back the highlight areas and brighten the shadows with the aim of getting as much of what the sensor is capable of recording within what the camera is capable of outputting.
Of the two mode S-Log3 produces the flattest images, offering the most detail for post-production colouring. However, there are some caveats. You really have to know how to expose the footage when shooting in these modes. The trick is to expose as brightly as possible. Remember that you are trying to record as much detail as possible, so as counterintuitive as it may be, you need to push the image until the highlights are just clipping. This will ensure that you have as much detail in the shadows as possible.
As you are shooting S-Log footage at ISO 1600 there can be some noise, particularly in the shadow areas. Obviously the shadows will be far brighter than needed, so the idea is that by darkening them back down you will lose at lot of the noise. And remember, the footage that is recorded to the card is 8-bit 4:2:0 footage, so you are cramming a lot of detail in to that compression. Ideally the S-Log modes should be used in conjunction with the 4:2:2 HDMI output, where the footage can be saved to an external recorder, such as the Atmos Shogun, and saved as ProRes 4:2:2 HQ, or a similar quality compressor.
In summary, having a Log gamma mode is great, but it should be seen as a bonus for those who want to take their filmmaking to the next level, or those who are using the A7S II to accompany another camera. Like most Log modes it can take a lot of work to get the footage looking good, and ideally an external recorder to make the most of what the Sony A7S II can offer. Having played around with the Picture Profile settings though, S-Log 2 and S-Log 3 aren’t the be all and end all, and there are some other equally important settings that can allow you to get a great compromise between maximising the dynamic range of the sensor, and getting great looking footage straight from the camera. There is plenty to play around with and fine tune, and I suggest anybody buying the camera does just that.