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Testing Your Camera’s Latitude

Recently we reviewed how to find the power of your sensor in the darkness of a lens cap, as well as injecting skin tones into your test. In part three, we will test your camera’s latitude. This is one of the most important tests that you can perform because over exposing is a very subjective and personal artistic choice. This test will show you how far you can push the over and under exposing of your camera and what looks good to your eye. I suggest throwing the vector scopes, histograms and the wave forms away. You need to train your eye and not use those devices as crutches.

 

Taking Your Image to Extremes

Let’s begin with over exposing. This test shows you how it handles the highlights. Set up your grey card and color chart on the same focal plan as your model. Frame a shot that is a medium size frame so that the charts are just in the left and right sides of the frame. There are many ways to light this test. We used a very frontal light source that was very bright so we could start at a high f-stop and then work our way down in 1/3 stop increments.

 

Key frontal

Bright frontal lighting for over exposure test

Bright frontal lighting for over exposure test

 
We stayed at the native ISO of the Canon 1DC, which was 400 ISO. This gives you the most dynamic range. We opened the lens up a 1/3 stop each time we rolled. 1/3 increments is essential. 1/2 stop increments was the standard with film stocks, but with digital, 1/3 of a stop feels more like a 1/2 stop on film. Take this test as far as you can.

 

Shane measuring for 1/3 increments with Actress/Model: Eli Jane. Derek Johnson and Derek Edwards assisting.

Shane measuring for 1/3 increments with Actress/Model: Eli Jane. Derek Johnson and Derek Edwards assisting.

Camera set-up for our tests with Mike Svitak, Derek Edwards and Kevin Anderson

Camera set-up for our tests with Mike Svitak, Derek Edwards and Kevin Anderson

Over exposure test increasing by 1/3 increments

Over exposure test increasing by 1/3 increments

2 OE +1 1-3- 2 1-3

OE +2 2-3 2-3

OE +4-5

OE +5 1-3 +6

 
*Disclosure: We wanted to see if we could bring the image back from overexposure by compensating with color correction at stops +1 2/3 and again at +3.

 

Taking Your Image into Muddy Waters

Our second direction is to under expose the sensor. This shows you immediately how far you can take the shadows. Set up your grey card and color chart on the same focal plan as your model. Frame a shot that is a medium size frame so that the charts are just in the left and right sides of the frame. We used the same frontal light source and started the under exposing process by going down in 1/3 stop increments again. Immediately you can see that the 1DC really needs light. With the 5D sensor, we needed to starve it of light to get it to look filmic. With the 1DC, it reacted much like film. This camera loves light. I would always over expose my negative a 1/2 of a stop across the board. The 1DC reacted the same way. As you go down, you can quickly see you enter muddy waters. The image starts to fall apart and get very muddy, loses snap, vitality.

 

Using frontal light again for our under exposure test with charts at focal plane

Using frontal light again for our under exposure test with charts at focal plane

Under exposure test decreasing by 1/3 increments

Under exposure test decreasing by 1/3 increments

UE -1 1-3- 2

 UE -2 2-3  3 2-3

UE -4 -5

-5 1-3 5 2-3


 
*Disclosure: We wanted to see if we could bring the image back from under exposure by compensating with color correction at stops -1 and again at -3. This shows that the camera really needs light and reacts more like film.

 

Testing the Downside

When I do these latitude tests, I also like to see how the fill levels react to a model’s face. This is so important. One person’s moody fill level is another person’s flat fill level.

I set the model up with a side light so that I can really see when that detail on the shadow side looks the best. When I was lighting Eli, I loved the look on her face at -2 2/3 stops down. For a guy, I would probably be around -3 1/3 stops down. For intense mood, I thought -4 stops looked bangin’ as well.

 

fill 2 23 key 1 2

fill 3 13 key 13

fill 4 key 1 3

 
You can start your test with the key and fill at the same level so that your model’s face is flat as a brick. Then decrease your fill in 1/3 stop increments again. Take it as far as you can go.

 

Diagram-Fill

 
In a future post, we will discuss when you take your camera on location and see how your storyteller performs in different lighting conditions.

Watch these videos in 1080p on Vimeo.

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Author: Shane

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31 Comments

  1. Thanks Shane! Just about to start a 4 month Doc out here in Israel. I’ll have to test some of this stuff out. Any suggestions on an affordable light kit that can be used for interviews and also dramatic lighting – you know an all-arounder?! I was thinking a 3 piece Arri Fresnel . . . what would you suggest?

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    • I’ve added a Lowell Tota light to our Arri kit that I put through a Chimera for a key light. It frees up the Arri’s for background or back light and it’s small and fits in the same kit.

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  2. Along with your other posts on lighting you reference the beard board. What are the advantages of using the beard board over just a plain bounce card and can it be purchased online?

    Post a Reply
    • Drew Ruggles. Foamcore will give a sheen to the bounce, and Bead board has a softer look. You can buy Bead board at Home Depot too.Thanks for the comment and support.

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  3. Holy Hurlbut Batman this blog is an overload of constant & useful information!

    Thank you Shane!
    No words can express my thanks
    So I’m out with a simple “Thank you”

    Post a Reply
    • Darryl Gregory. Thanks so much for the kind words and support.

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    • Per Sjoborg. That looks like a great kit. I would add some Kino Flo technology, the Kino LFo 200 or 400 Diva lights. Its a great soft source, use the Dedo’s as Edge lights, hard lights, and background highlights. Then use the Kino’s for fill or Key. Thanks for the comment and support.

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  4. Dear Shane,
    I have Eos 1DX. With idea that Eos 1DC and Eos 1DX share same chip, can I assume that my camera have also native ISO 400? I know that assuming is not recommended, how I can determine base ISO for Eos 1DX in neutral picture stile and where is sweet spot for maximum latitude and minimum noise?
    Thank you for sharing all this information it is real treasure for me and many other DSLR cinematographers.

    Post a Reply
    • Nenad Mladenovic. Thanks so much for the kind words and support. The 1DX and 1DC do have the same chip. The best way to find the sweet spot is with testing like this. Take a look at the examples here, and the 1DX should react similarly.

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  5. Love and appreciate all that I learn from you guys.

    Technically speaking, i do feel a little out of my league though…Do you guys mind if someone asks a fairly basic question that I am sure most of you know? Didn’t want to waste anyones time…

    Thx in advance.

    Post a Reply
    • vid noob. Thanks for the comment and support. Ask away, and I can try and answer it for you.

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  6. Dear Shane Thanks for sharing your experience with the 1DC. I tested it last month in regards to my next project and felt the same with lighting. I am starting a shoot which will take me to various locations throughout the scandinavian regions where I won’t be able to always bring lights, both for the intimacy purpose of the film and also due to a small team and lower budget. The film is aim for theatrical though… Any advice on that? Thanks again. Cheers.Pierre

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    • Pierre Deschamps. Thanks for the comment and support. Could you get a bit more on what you’re looking for and what your budget is? Will oyu have power for the lighting or looking for something portable?

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  7. Shane, how did you establish your baseline exposure? You mentioned not using waveforms, etc. Did you just “eyeball” judge the grey card and flesh tone for a “normal” look? Also, the over/under stops that you chose to color correct – were those the extremes that you felt could be corrected and still look OK? Could you have gone further over or under with some correction and still get an acceptable or useable image? Obviously, this is subjective and everyone must decide their own “pain” threshold.

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    • Randolph Sellars. The exposure was dialed in by using a light meter, and dialing it in a bit by eye. I chose those exposures to see how far I could push the digital negative and bring it back. Some worked and others didn’t, it was all apart of the test. Also all of these tests we’re processed into DI and put on a 40′ screen, which was the best reference.

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      • Thanks Shane. Great post BTW! I’m looking forward to running my own tests. My local rental house recently got the camera so I’ve only had a chance to play with it a little. So far, I like it. What’s your feeling about the variable data rate of 500 Mbps? Where do you think it averages at? How did the image compare on the big screen to the 5D Mark II or Mark III?

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  8. Great test, love the BFL.

    DId you happen to note the foot candles (forgive me, old school) and if camera ISO was rated as “advertised”? Did a test on the Blackmagic camera the other day, quick calculations indicated some bragging of about +2 stops.

    Cheers

    BD

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    • Bob Demers. I don’t have the exact foot candles noted, but I will say that the 400 ISO rating was correct for the best dynamic range.

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  9. Why is it that the still above labelled +2 shares the same overexposure characteristics as the one labelled +1?

    Seems strange that the +1 1/3 looks hotter than the +2.

    Is this because you hit a native ISO? Or is the +2 still frame not actually +2?

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    • Sam. All of the exposures were shot at the Native ISO of 400 ISO. +2 was color corrected to compensate for the over exposure.

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      • Ah Yes, had I thought about it, obviously the ISO is a constant. So the 2 stops over is CC’d, just not labelled as such.

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        • Awesome post by the way!

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  10. Hi Shane,
    Thank you so much for this post, your research and insight is so helpful!
    Say, are these tests done at 1080p All-I mode or at 4K mode, or perhaps something else?
    With gratitude, Tyler

    Post a Reply
    • Tyler Stableford. Thanks for the kind words and support. These tests were shot at 4K.

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  11. Thank you for showing us your test-results.

    I`m really interested in this native ISO 400 thing. Is this only true for Canon Log/ the 1D C? Is there also a native ISO with the most dynamic range on the other Canon DSLRs (5D Mark II + III, 7D)? Because i always thought the latitude on the Canon DSLRs stays somewhat constant over all ISOs.

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    • Fabio Seyding. Yes on DSLR’s the latitude does stay consistent when you’re dealing with specific picture styles. But with the Canon Log 400 ISO is its native, just like the C500′s native is 850, just like the Arri Alexa’s is 800. Native being the ISO which will give you the most dynamic range. Thanks for the comment and support.

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  12. After reading only a small number of your posts in the grand scheme of things, I’ve notice something about your style (which sorry, is now more than likely going to show up in my style). While everyone else out on the net says to do stuff like use a CTO key light on the face and fill shadows with CTB, it all looks so unnatural and even a bit jarring because they push those temperatures very far apart where as you’re running a setup with like a quarter CTB on the fill (or so it seems).
    Sorry for the rant, but to me if there’s one thing you’ve taught me it’s that a)you don’t need to conform and b)whacky styles should be for moments when you need THAT style. I just see so many people that after they figure out how to pull of some “hollywood style”, they use it for everything. Like when people shoot clips of their friends at high school football games in 2.35. Who does that haha?

    Thank you, this is my enlightenment for the day.

    Post a Reply
    • Stuart Wurtman, I appreciate the rant. Thanks for sharing all of this. Yes be subtle. not over powering with color temps. Thanks for the kind words

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  13. Hi Shane.
    From a tiny pocket out in the regions of New Zealand, the generosity of film makers (like yourself) is incredibly important as there is no film industry as such to go and mingle with… I really am reliant on people (like yourself) being prepared to share their experience and knowledge.
    A big huge CHEERS from Whangarei, New zealand!!!

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    • Dennis Murphy, right back at you Dennis.you are very welcome and thank you for those wonderful words.

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