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What Does It Mean To Shoot In LOG?
By Zac Henderson

Shooting in Log format

Being in the right place with the right light and capturing that light adequately is the foundation of photography. This is true of both still and moving images, and though photography and videography share many of the same basic principles, they can be as different as they are similar when it comes to capturing and processing.

In still photography it is relatively simple to create an image in a RAW format. That is, to capture an image and keep it in a more or less pristine, untouched state with only minimal processing done within the camera so that the resulting file is more malleable and allows for greater control in post production. All that is needed after the capture of a RAW image is to be imported into a RAW converter so it can be demosaiced, edited, and converted to a final file type (like a JPEG or TIFF) to achieve the intended result. This all happens with minimal processing power. Even the beastly 100 MB RAW files shot on our 100 megapixel Phase One XF system require only one piece of software and a machine with simple, modest specs to import, process, and render a completed image.

Video, on the other hand, is a different animal entirely. Though it shares many of the same fundamental principles with still photography, the act of recording the same kind of RAW data that we think of when we shoot stills requires much greater processing needs, vastly larger amounts of storage, and additional time. Bringing footage in to be demosaiced and interpreted is non-negotiable, and must be done before you can even view the footage, much less drop files into a timeline. The cameras that are even capable of recording RAW video are typically large, dedicated cinema cameras that require significant experience and understanding to operate.

Even so, we may start to see RAW recording as a feature in DSLR and mirrorless cameras after the announcement that Nikon’s Z7 will be able to record 12-bit RAW when paired with the Atomos Ninja V later this year, but that’s for another blog post.

The point is that it's easy to gather RAW data for stills, but isn’t even possible in a lot of otherwise extremely capable video cameras. Shooting video is a lot like shooting JPEGs in stills. Correct exposure is crucial. White balance must be set properly in camera. Whatever picture or color profile you use in camera will be what you get to work with in post. If your shadows are blocked up or your highlights are blown during capture, you won’t be getting much back in post, and if you try, your footage will likely fall apart. This is where LOG, or logarithmic, profiles shine.

Log Profile

A scene shot internally with a Z-LOG L profile from EOSHD on the Nikon Z6

These profiles are designed to be used with scenes that have lots of dynamic range, that is, drastic differences in highlights and shadow details. Shooting in a Log profile results in a very flat looking image that protects both shadow and highlight detail. This flat image isn’t the prettiest to look at since it appears so washed out, so color grading or applying a LUT (look up table) in post is necessary. Still, even though there is an extra step required in post, it's far less work and far less complicated than recording RAW video. Fortunately, because of the flatness of the image and the protected highlights and shadows, log footage can be pushed around and graded in post with far more success than a standard profile. You still have to nail white balance and exposure is still very important, but knowing that you’ll have greater control in post provides peace of mind.

Graded Profile

The same scene and Log profile with a LUT and additional grading applied

You might think that shooting in Log profles adds an unnecesarry step. Sometimes shooting in Log is unnecesarry. Depending on the use, many picture profiles provided in camera look quite good, and may not need much additional grading if the production doesn't require it. However, if you're trying to match footage from different camera systems and wish to have as much control in post production as possible, shooting in LOG is a great solution that requires minimal additional effort. Some external recorders can have LUTs applied to the video feed while simultaneously recording LOG, so you're seeing more or less proper contrast and color while still keeping your footage pristene and relatively untouched. This is a great solution since it can be disconcerting for a client to see the footage for their expensive video come out flat and lifeless.

Different camera manufacturers provide different log profiles for their camera systems. Canon provides C-log with their cinema line. Sony provides various S-logs, each with their own specific uses, as well as Fujifilm’s F-log, Nikon’s N-log, and so on. These profiles, though each slightly different, are designed to do the same things- improve dynamic range and protect the extremes in your image.

Color, contrast, and tonality are extremely important in film and video production. Shooting in LOG profiles help to maintain flexibility and allow for more control during post production so that the end result looks as it should. If you haven't shot in LOG before, give it a try. You'll likely be asked to record in LOG if you're handing off footage to an editor, so if you're just getting started in video, familiarizing yourself with these profiles is definitely a good idea.

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