Each year, as the TVs in our homes grow larger and brighter, DOPs have to wonder how this will affect our craft and the integrity of our images. As it is, HDR is touted as a kind of industry panacea, addressing in an orderly way (more or less) the vastly improved color, highlight detail, and dynamic range, in the latest sets.
Still, the question remains for craft-savvy DOPs: how best to capture the most realistic pictures possible for display on screens of 1000 nits or more.
1a) Samsung QLED OH 85-F. 1b) range of display environments. 1c) 8K home theater. 1a) Today’s larger, brighter displays pose significant challenges to DOPs as our images are viewed increasingly in non-traditional ways, even vertically outside on 3000nit screens! 1b) In the USA and around the world, as viewers draw closer to their screens, a 65-inch TV is considered now at the minimum. 1c) Can 8K sets be far behind?
Clearly, DOPs face a daunting challenge. With respect to HDR itself, DOPs are adopting interesting new strategies, including the use of a false-color luminance monitor to ensure proper simultaneous capture of the HDR and SDR signals. Eliminating the complexity of referring to multiple monitors on-set improves our efficiency, and obviates the need and subjectivity of assessing images amid the lack of control and vagaries of ambient lighting. Simple techniques like the use of a false color monitor will go a long way to make the HDR-SDR workflow on-set much more practical and convenient.
Downstream, however, DOPs must contend with more existential issues. The latest and greatest big-screen TVs enable brighter, sharper display of our much doted-over images, which, fair to say, most of us, want and appreciate. But there is also peril in dem dar woods. The brighter, sharper OLED TVs with HDR are far more likely to display picture defects as well, especially lens defects. For shooters, the stakes couldn’t be higher as we face the mind-numbing prospect of 8K 1000nit displays arriving in droves relatively soon in viewers’ homes.
As DOPs, we like to stay employed of course, and with that in mind, we can do much to reduce the chances of egregious picture-lens defects appearing ‘all of a sudden’ in the new TVs. The older, cheaper optics we love and think as ‘cool’, may also exhibit significant chromatic aberrations (CA), which become immediately more apparent. Remember CA is the main reason that cheap lenses look cheap. At lower resolution and reduced brightness, CA’s prismatic fringing may add some degree of ‘character’, but on brighter HDR displays that see a lot more, CA artifacts can appear huge. Today, given the exigencies of Wide Color Gamut, HDR, and 1000nit displays, it may be time finally for DOPs to ditch the character optics, and invest in more ‘perfect’ 4K (or 8K!) lenses with reduced aberrations and flare.
2a) vintage lens. 2b) Zeiss the ‘perfect’ lens. Enough of the fun and games. It’s time. DOPs must consider more modern ‘perfect’ lenses. Vintage optics or more recent specialty lenses exhibiting lots of flare and chromatic aberrations may exude ‘character’ but are problematic in the big screen, vastly brighter, HDR environment.
Along the same lines, now may also be a good time to check (or re-check) our camera’s setup, particularly the Master Detail edge-enhancement level (DTL). In broadcast cameras, especially for ENG applications, the DTL is often set too high which can be especially problematic now. An elevated DTL not only imparts a plastic artificial look more apparent in the brighter displays, it can also sharpen and draw greater attention to any picture noise that might be present.
Shooting for the latest displays, it is particularly vital to eliminate or suppress noise in the captured image. This may mean simply increasing the amount of fill light we use when shooting talent close ups or employing a weak tightening filter like the Schneider Digicon to smooth over the flesh tones. Note that turning off the Master Detail entirely is almost always a bad idea. In most cameras, a DTL setting of 0 indicates an average value between maximum and minimum sharpening. It is not the same as turning Master Detail off!
Pro level cameras from Panasonic and others may also feature a DETAIL CORING setting to control the range of frequencies subject to DTL edge-enhancement. Raising the DETAIL CORING can produce cleaner images by reducing the camera’s proclivity to sharpen the noise along with everything else. The higher the DTL setting, the more pronounced will be the impact of raising the DETAIL CORING to help mask objectionable noise.
As always, DOPs must be mindful of the camera’s GAIN LEVEL. With many of today’s low-cost full-frame zooms managing only a paltry T4, there is a need and inclination among DOPs to increase the camera gain. Some mid-level cameras like the Sony PXW-FS7 and FS9 feature substantial built-in noise reduction to mitigate the impact from one or two stops of increased gain. DOPs may also be able to dial in noise reduction via the appropriate menu setting. In general, the user-settable approach should be avoided, however, owing to the potential loss of fine detail along and increased risk of ghosting.
It’s worth bearing in mind as we move to larger and brighter displays that proper exposure is more important than ever. Properly lit, correctly exposed scenes always exhibit less noise than underexposed scenes. As many cameras now feature a dual-base ISO capability, DOPs should take ample advantage as the higher ISOs of 2500-4000 often provide a viable alternative to increased gain.
3a) Actress CU w/reduced SKIN DETAIL. 3b) DETAIL menu setup. 3c) Brightly-lit landscape subject to color shift in clouds. 3d) On-camera optical tightening filter. Along with HDR, the advent of larger, brighter TVs requires DOPs to take a fresh look at their camera setup. Lowering the MASTER (DTL) and SKIN DETAIL can help alleviate the ‘plastic’ look and reduce noise in the flesh tones of talent. Reducing the CHROMA LEVEL may lower the risk of clipping and undesirable color shifts in landscape scenes (c0, while in some cameras, DETAIL CORING can be increased slightly to mask random noise close to the base line. 3c) A savvy DOP may also consider an on-camera ‘tightening’ filter like the Schneider Digicon to reduce unflattering sharpening.
Looking ahead, DOPs stand to reap enormous benefits from the brighter, more capable displays. Sophisticated HDR TVs, like Samsung’s Quantum HDR 32x series, optimize dynamic range and color fidelity on a scene-by-scene basis. In order to take maximum advantage, however, DOPs must adapt by upping our craft, and avoiding oversaturation, for example, in one or more color channels that are likely to clip. Even given the most advanced big-screen TVs, this can result in unappealing yellowish skin tones or ugly color shifts in bright objects. Re-setting the Chroma Level slightly lower may help reduce the risk of oversaturation and associated color shifts in the latest displays.
Use proper fill light! Adding a small amount of fill light will yield a much cleaner picture on today’s larger, brighter TVs.
Needless to say, DOPs face a bevy of challenges as viewers see our work increasingly in uncontrolled environments, including outside, or in a retail storefront with a large amount of ambient light. Some displays intended for outdoor viewing like Samsung’s 85-inch OH series, feature 3,000nit brightness and provide remarkable visibility even in direct sun, but what do our images actually look like under such insane conditions?
For their part, display manufacturers are slowly coming to grips with the challenges presented by extreme viewing environments. The Samsung OH, for example, features a dimming sensor that automatically adjusts its brightness according to the ambient light level. The display also contains a built-in polarizing filter that allows scenes to be viewed by a vaguely interested passersby even wearing sunglasses!
It is truly a brave new world when DOPs must consider how our images are seen by viewers in full sun wearing Ray-Bans!
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