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Red Giant Color Suite, with Magic Bullet Looks 2.5 and Colorista II

  • Sony Alpha a7S Compact Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera
    Sony Alpha a7S Compact Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera
  • Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4KBODY 16.05MP Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera with 4K Cinematic Video (Body Only)
    Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4KBODY 16.05MP Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera with 4K Cinematic Video (Body Only)
  • TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder
    TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder
  • The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    by Stu Maschwitz

5D Movies Aren't a Player, They Just Crush a Lot

UPDATE: This article contains some out-of-date information. See follow-ups here and here.

Here’s something I wish I had when I did my test shoot with the Canon 5D Mark II: advanced Picture Styles that help reduce the movie mode’s nasty crushed blacks.

The precipitous drop to detail-free (and therefore easy-to-compress) black that characterizes the 5D’s movies is one of the agonizing limitations of the camera that can actually be fixed now. As commenters on my previous post noted, Canon SLRs come with software called Picture Style Editor, and with it you can do even more than you can with the camera’s menus to create customized “Picture Styles,” which are color correction presets that affect JPEGs and, yes, movies created in the camera.

Ben Syverson, creator of DV Garage’s DV Matte and co-creator of Conduit, offered to share his presets with us. Ben describes the process of creating and using these Picture Styles:

The first image was shot with the default “Standard” picture style. All were shot with the same exposure settings.

I’ve attached three Picture Styles. They all feature a sort of secondary color correction to target the blacks and bring them up a little bit. The video mode seems to take the current picture style and then crush the blacks, so this is an attempt to compensate for that a little.

Flat +10

This style creates a slight reverse S-curve to bring down contrast. This should be good as a general purpose picture style.

Flat +20

This style creates a stronger reverse S-curve to combat higher contrast situations. Use with caution, because it can flatten out midtones too much.

High Gamma 5.0

I’m still playing with this one, but it’s an attempt to mimic the look and feel of overexposed color negative film. Compensate for its higher gamma by moving the exposure compensation to around -1.

You upload these to the camera via a sort of weird dance in Canon EOS Utility.

Thanks Ben! Remember, underexposing means capturing more dynamic range. Using a boosted gamma to allow some underexposure is a practice that dates back to the very first digital cinema discoveries.

Aaron also posted a link to some presets created by James Miller, who discusses them here on Here’s a frame from one of his sample clips shot with the default Picture Style, “Standard”:

And here’s the same scene using his Flat 1 preset:

By crushing less in camera you expand your dynamic range, capture more shadow detail, and give yourself much more room for color correction in post. When I shot my tests, I used the flattest Custom Picture Style I could create with the in-camera controls, but you have much more control with Canon’s desktop software.

This is a separate issue from the one facing Final Cut Studio users, who have noticed that Final Cut Pro treats the 5D’s H.264 movies as if they were 16–235 rather than 0–255 (a problem that actually affected the OG 5D short, Reverie). That means Final Cut is actually crushing your blacks and whites more than they already were! There’s a discussion about this on DVinfo as well, although the way I choose to deal with this is a) edit with proxies (there’s no advantage to cutting at 5D movies 1080p, only pain and slowness) and b) use Final Cut to create EDLs, not pixels (in other words, online in After Effects).

UPDATE: The above paragraph is 100% bollocks, see the following post.

And of course not one bit of this matters a bit until Canon comes through with a firmware update that allows manual exposure control and 24p recording. When they do, I’ll order my 5D Mark II and post some Picture Styles of my own.

Reader Comments (12)

Great stuff! We've added this to the 5D wiki at We've got more 5D reviews/still/video samples than anywhere else on the planet.

January 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMitch

So I get that it doesn't matter to you yet but this is GOLD for the rest of us! Thanks so much for the recommendations. I'm going to look further into the offline/online with after effects! Thanks again as always! Remember the Super Bowl is broadcasted at 30p (well 29.97) K, I'll shut up now as I know you don't care :)

January 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commentertylerginter

Underexposing? I'm sure you meant overexposing (as in expose to the right & bring it back later)

January 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJernej

Best title of the year, haha.

January 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJeremiah

Great write up, I still think the 5D is very much capable of making quality movies. As is now, no real need for a firmware update.

Check this out:

filmed on a 5d of course

January 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterE.

You don't happen to have some secret recipe for getting full range in AE from this footage do you? So far I get approximately the same results there as I do in Final Cut. Color is the only place I've been able to recover detail in highlights/shadows.

January 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEvan Donn

"Final Cut Pro treats the 5D's H.264 movies as if they were 16–235 rather than 0–255 "

So Final Cut is putting these into NTSC "safe", or is the 5D doing it? Does the problem show up in other software like Premiere or Vegas?

January 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTrimbo

Is there a posibility to do a "log" capture of the chip then? Giving a "milky white" h.264 compressed quicktime.

And will this actually help anything?

Reading Stu´s earlier posts on log/linear made me think that you could spread out the information across the lineat format in a more effective way??

Or am I totally off on this?

January 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChristian

The NLE trunction appears to be AVC decoder issue, as not all decoders are doing it. I have just posted blog entry on my investigation into this

David Newman
CTO, CineForm

January 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

if you recover the cliped whites and black in Apple's color you don't need any custom picture style. Camera Standard with Sat -1 and sharpness set to 2 works fine.

January 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterurmel

Hm, urmel, you seem to be correct. Damn.

January 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStu

Very interesting.

January 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJack Cabbage
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Sorry, comments are disabled temporarily while I tweak some stuff.
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