While I was catching some Zs at NAB, the guys from Next Level Pictures and a number of shooters who have appeared on this site in the past (Vincent Laforet, Jared Abrams, Timur Civan, Tyler Ginter) were off testing the Sony F3's S-Log firmware upgrade. This is the first time the uncompressed outputs from the F3 were enabled outside the walls of Sony (in this case, they were recording to a Cinedeck), and the footage should demonstrate greater latitude than the default F3 settings. Here's the test:
Video is no longer available: vimeo.com/22540499
Initially, it's hard to judge the differences between the two, because the original XDCAM material is so much brighter and more saturated. S-Log by default outputs a flatter, grayer image, and the extent to which you retain any of that look has to do with the Look-Up Table you use and how you grade the footage. To better match the two, they could have added some more saturation to the S-Log footage, but that isn't the most important thing to pay attention to -- the key thing is the blown-out highlights lost in the XDCAM footage that are retained in the S-Log material. To better demonstrate this, I pulled a couple of framegrabs from identical shots and darkened them. This way we're not looking at a brighter and more saturated image compared to a darker, flatter image -- here, we're looking at two shots that have been darkened (roughly) the same amount, to see which version retains more highlight detail. Take a look at this comparison:
Look at the reflection on the glass in her hand. You can probably guess which side is the S-Log version -- the left. The highlight has significantly more gradation and detail than the XDCAM version.
S-Log gives much greater flexibility in post, though exactly how much, it remains to be seen. Sony claims an extra stop of latitude, and the participants in this test seem to think it'll be up to two stops. Without the firmware upgrade the F3 gets 11.5 stops, so with S-Log that would presumably take it at least to 12.5 -- better than any other video camera out there save the ARRI ALEXA and RED EPIC (both of which cost significantly more than the F3). Yes, for an HDSLR shooter the F3 is a far more expensive camera with a street price of thirteen grand. But it's far less than an ALEXA, which is $75k +, and the S-Log upgrade has the potential to turn the F3 into a mini-ALEXA. Unless Canon announces a large-sensor professional camera in this range, and until the EPIC-S actually ships, Sony has carved out their own pricepoint for a very capable camcorder.
Here's much more on the test in the form of a behind-the-scenes video:
Video is no longer available: vimeo.com/22576231
Details from the release:
New York City, NY (April 18, 2011) Next Level Pictures in association with Tstop Cinema teamed up with Abel Cine, Kessler Crane, Wide Open Lens, Angenieux, Carl Zeiss, Cooke, Tyler Mounts, and Miller to unveil the worlds first ever camera test using the Sony F3 with S-Log. S-Log isn’t scheduled for official release until late summer 2011 so we are proud to get our hands on the camera and put it through several latitude tests to include helicopter aerials by Vincent Laforet, vibrant Vegas city lights, and skin tone tests of two models in ten different locations throughout Las Vegas at NAB 2011. The crew of twelve had only ten hours with the camera to produce and film the entire project. The purpose of this test is to compare the latitude and image quality of the new S-Log firmware to native EX codec.