Four years after Sony introduced Custom and CineEI mode on the PMW-F5 & PMW-F55, which also made it’s way over to the PXW-FS7, there seems to still be a lot of confusion around Custom vs CineEI mode on these camera’s. Note: these issues don’t exist on the FS5 however, as there is no CineEI mode on the PXW-FS5 but it turns out the operating mode of the FS5 is actually a little more flexible than it’s siblings.
I’ve heard many say that custom mode shoots cleaner slog footage than CineEI mode, and that the dynamic range of color is also better in custom mode. I assure you 100% neither of these two statements are true, and the latter statement actually makes no sense at all.
To really understand this subject you must first separate gamma and color space and think of them as entirely different – because in fact they are! Here’s a great way to think of the two: gamma is luminance, and color space is chrominance. Hence why you’ve probably heard of sgamut/slog or sgamut3.cine/slog3 etc.. these simply refer to the specific combination of Sony gamma curve and Sony color space.
If you shoot in Sony RAW you can actually achieve slog2 with sgamut3.cine in post which is not possible on any Sony camera internally!
Professional Sony cameras prior to the PMW-F5 and PMW-F55 offered hyper/cinegammas, slog1 gamma, and could work in sgamut color space. This was the case with many previous Sony CineAlta digital cameras including the F23, F35 and later the F3. When the F5 and F55 PMW cameras first shipped in March of 2013 they were equipped with hypergammas, slog2 gamma and also capable of sgamut color space.
Upon firmware release version 3.0 for the F5/F55 (December 26th 2013) the slog3 gamma curve was added along with a new color space sgamut3.cine. By the time the FS7 was first released in September 2014 it had inherited a lot of the DNA from the F5/F55 cameras right down from the menu operation to the modes of operation (custom and CineEI modes) and color space.
In custom mode you can white balance the camera, access menu paint options, there are no MLUTs available (for example if you are recording with log based gammas slog2 or slog3), and you can only record using sgamut color space. In CineEI mode you have access to MLUTs, can use the newer color space (sgamut3 and sgamut3.cine) but you must work with three white balance presets as there is no white balance or dial-in temperature capability. Also because it is a “cine” mode the camera always records at the native ISO of the camera (ISO 2000 for the FS7 and F5, 1250 ISO on the F55). Adjusting the ISO in CineEI mode only affects your viewfinder and monitor out hence allowing you to work easier when intentionally overexposing or underexposing.
So if you want to shoot fast turn around footage with a baked in look AND you want to capture it using Sony’s newer sgamut3 color space – you can not do it.
So if you want to shoot fast turn around footage with a baked in look AND you want to capture it using Sony’s newer sgamut3 color space – you can not do it. You have no white balance options, and you’d have to record in slog which means later in post it has to be “normalized” or colored.
Some work arounds involve baking in a MLUT at the time of recording or simply throwing the same MLUT on the footage in post so that the original footage is preserved without any LUT baking. I have used this method of baking in a LUT many times and so long as you are close to your white balance it works ok, but the footage will usually need a bit of color tweaking later on to look it’s best. I have typically used the ARRI Alexa clone LUT LC709A with good success and wrote about that experience here in this article called f55-matches-arri-alexas-color.
If you’re interested in a more in-depth look at Custom mode vs CineEI mode and how the F55 can actually simulate sgamut3.cine in custom mode, DVINFO.net published an article I wrote which includes frame grabs of ungraded x rite color chart tests I shot in all the various combinations of camera operating mode, gamma and color space. These charts are also available for download in the DPX format. You can head over to DVINFO.net and read that article here.
Many people report CineEI mode is noisier than Custom mode so advise others if they want cleaner images they should shoot in custom mode. The exact same level of noise and internal gain applied is the same between the two modes when comparing the identical gamma curve – the difference however is that in CineEI mode the NR (noise reduction) feature is usually set to completely OFF. Originally when Sony released the CineEI mode for F5/F55 there was no NR option in CineEI mode at all, but after many user requests it was added aftewards – but the catch is you still have to turn it on. There are three setting options from low, med and high.
Hence there isn’t actually any less noise in Custom mode and anyone making this claim surely does not know about the NR feature in CineEI mode.
When all is said and done we have a very expensive set of camera’s where we actually lack the ability to access to newer gamma curve color space combinations in a way that could make more sense for specific shooting scenarios. Why on other cameras such as the A7 and A6000 series, and even the FS5, is is possible to white balance, adjust ISO, and set the gamma curve and color space to sog3/sgamut3.cine but again, not on the FS7, F5 or F55 camera?
In a future article I’ll look at true difference between Sony log gammas and the hyper/cine gammas. There’s a lot more than meets the eye here and in fact if you are one of those “over expose slog by 2 stops for best results” I’ll explain what might be wrong with doing this… and what you should be doing instead.
Please Subscribe to my blog so you get notified when new articles are released. Also please remember you will never see a third party ad, or trick click links on this website. Ever. Any links provided are to other articles of mine or website which contain relevant information.
Dennis Hingsberg is an award winning cinematographer and award winning producer based out of Toronto Canada, and founder of StarCentral Inc. – a video and film production company specializing in 35mm film production and film related post production services. Dennis also works as a paid consultant and resource on managing post production workflows for TV and film related projects.