Canon picture styles - The cinematic look...

Push your camera's sensor to the limit, don't let it throw away ANY of that detail

What is picture style anyway?  And how can it improve my video project?


Changing your picture style will make a massive difference to the final picture detail, colour and overall quality, if you're shooting on the likes of a C100 then you'll probably already know this as you will most likely be shooting in Wide Dynamic Range or C-Log. If you shoot on a Canon DSLR (5Dmkii, 5D mkiii, 60D, 70D 6D etc) then setting your picture style could be the most inexpensive way to improve your videos & films.

To understand why, you've simply got to understand that Canon camera sensors capture video in the most efficient way possible, this means crushing the shaded areas into black and raising the lighter areas into white.  This is why the "straight out the camera" look can be quite reminiscent of a video camera.  There's nothing cinematic about it.  Crushing those blacks and raising those whites means less information to throw through the sensor, the buffer and onto the card.

There's lots of pre-sets of picture style on your camera (standard, faithful, monochrome etc) all of whos settings you can tweak, but there will also normally be 1-3 user definable functions. Take one of these programmable slots and slap these settings on it:

  1. Sharpness = 0 (all the way down)
  2. Contrast = 0 (all the way down)
  3. Saturation = 2 (minus 2)
  4. Colour Tone = Normal (leave alone)
Photo 10-02-2016.jpeg

It's slightly confusing because Sharpness is measured 0 - 7 and then Contrast, Saturation and Colour Tone all have a mid point from which you can go - or + 4 stops.  Basically, Sharpness need to be 0, Contrast all the way down (-4), Saturation two stops down (-2) and leave colour tone where is it as this is generally controlled very well by the white balance.

Changing the picture style to this gives a much flatter, less contrasty image with fewer crushed blacks, less blown highlights and ultimately results in more information being passed to the card.  Don't believe me?  Check out the difference between these picture styles:  

Standard Picture Style


What does this all mean?

I'm glad you've asked - Saving this pixel information that normally would have been thrown away means that you have more room to play in post production...  If you make any exposure or colour changes in FCPX, Premiere (or whatever you use) then if the shadows are already black, there's no information to raise from them, if the highlights are blown then there's no information to bring down.  Also, if you colour grade your footage then the more information you have the better.  If there's no colour information to change then what results can you possibly expect?

Take those same screen shots of footage as above and colour grade them and see the difference. Lumetri colour applied in Adobe Premiere Pro CC - 

Standard Picture Style - Graded

Cinestyle - Graded

Zoom into the shadows and look at the difference in detail...

Standard - Zoomed 400%

(Click for enlargement)

Cinestyle - Zoomed 400%

(Click for enlargement)

No detail on the left at all because it was thrown away before it even hit the card.

Normally, all you need to do in post is throw the contrast, saturation and sharpness back in, which is simple enough and will result in a much improved final product, and if you're planning on a substantial colour grade then this simple technique is a must.


Dan L


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