UPDATE MAY 2011: Canon engineers, along some specialists from Hollywood, developed the Technicolor CineStyle profile. It’s even flatter than superflat or extraflat profiles, with better color accuracy and dynamic range in the shadows. Don’t waste your time with any other profile, just get that one.
As you probably know, it’s important to shoot “flat” with your video camera, in order to help color grading in post, especially if you’re after the “film look”. Since I got the Canon 5D MarkII, I made sure I shoot as flat as possible: with the “Neutral” color setting, modified to have the contrast/saturation/sharpness settings on minimum, and its tint on +1.
So far, I’ve only shot two videos with the 5D, and I was not happy with the visual result. Yes, its picture quality is amazing for the price, but as the occasional filmmaker & colorist that I am, I need the kind of look directly out of the camera that I could get with a film camera, or the RED One. And the 5D, with tricked out color settings, it would still not give me what I wanted: the videos came out over-saturated, and over-contrasty for my taste. Sure, the videos were magnitudes less contrasty/saturated than when using the “auto” color modes, but they were still not what I wanted.
I tweeted about it yesterday, and some people suggested I try the Canon Picture Style Editor, which lets you edit these parameters even more. So I downloaded this famous package, which includes a Panalog-like curve (which I didn’t like), Marvel’s EX1-like Cine curve, one called “superflat”, and a pseudo-Velvia one.
Well, I’m still not happy with the results. None of these downloadable styles are what I wanted exactly, and to make the matter worse, the curve utility inside the Picture Style Editor sucks goats: you can’t move the two edges of the curve. Photoshop’s curve dialog can do it, but Canon’s utility can’t. Because of that, it’s impossible to get more detail in the dark places directly out of the camera. You see, whatever you can do IN-camera, is MUCH more desirable than doing it in post processing. IN-camera processing is higher quality, so what you get out of it is purer, and doesn’t bring out as much the h.264 artifacts when lowering contrast in post. But without a curve dialog that let’s me do more, I can’t tell the camera to shoot that way. To be fair, this feature didn’t need to exist in the past, because photographers don’t care about it, but filmmakers do. Now that dSLRs can shoot video, hopefully a better curve dialog will be implemented in the future by Canon.
So, I had to do with what I had. I edited Neil Stubbings’ “superflat” style, and created a new one called “ExtraFlat”. My version uses the “Neutral” look as a base instead, and it’s a tiny bit less contrasty, but a lot less saturated, and it doesn’t have the “red face” attribute of the video look. Of course, we should not forget that Canon uses extra processing when sizes down the sensor image to 1080p, but that’s a kind of processing we can’t control.
The ExtraFlat picture style was used to shoot this music video. Color grading in post was minimal.
You can download the ExtraFlat style for your Canon vDSLR camera here. Instructions on how to upload it to your camera after unzipping it, here. Make sure the “EOS Utility” is installed on your computer. Check the ExtraFlat style compared to the rest.
Now, please don’t start commenting again about how you prefer the “standard” contrasty/saturated look. I don’t care if it looks better as a FINAL still picture. Don’t think of this frame grab as the end result. Video footage of any artistic work HAS to go through color grading, and for that, you need a FLAT look to work on.
Look at how the pros do it. Check this 2k frame grab, directly out of the RED One camera (ungraded). Notice how it’s extremely low-saturation, low-contrast, and the people’s skin is almost PINK-GREY and not red as the consumer camcorders do it (check this HV20 frame for reference). With a Canon consumer camcorder, even if you use Cinemode+custom color settings, it’ll still look red-ish, compared to what the RED ONE does. Panasonic consumer HD cams are way worse, since not only they don’t go as far in color settings, but their footage is processed to be very red by default.
With the ExtraFlat style I get almost what I want out of the 5D, but more dynamic range could be acquired in-camera if the curve dialog in the Picture Style Editor was better implemented. The camera CAN do it, we just don’t have a way to TELL it to do it right now.
Update: Shot a small video of me testing the flesh tones of the ExtraFlat today. It was flat and non-red alright! And it graded so nicely. Going through the various grading templates, it offered a very pleasant look, across the board.