By Tyler J. Clements Nov.18.2011
In: Articles, Projects
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Canon 5DMII - Flat Picture Style Test

People have been trying to push the limits of the Canon 5D Mark II ever since it has hit the shelves. Next to simply knowing what the best camera settings are, picture styles are probably the best way to improve the overall image and feel of the 5D Mark II’s video capabilities. Picture styles have especially been useful for improving the camera’s “latitude”

In other words: don’t even think about shooting your video using Canon’s standard picture style. That is, unless you don’t care about how the image looks…

There are a ton of different picture styles out there so it can be tough to decide which one is best to use. There has been a general consensus that the flatter the picture style – the more flexibility it gives you in post. Yet, not everyone wants to, knows how to, or has the time to spend doing color correction on all their projects. In that case, it would be best to find a picture style that looks good straight out of camera. I would argue that Canon’s standard picture style would still be a poor choice for getting a good straight-out-of-camera image. My hope with these tests is to help you decide what picture style would be best for you.

There are many different samples of what all these picture styles look like online but I have yet to find one that does a good job at showing different styles side by side in a conclusive way. Also, it’s obvious that some styles are flatter than others but I didn’t know how they would compare when the curves or levels are corrected. Would one of them stand out more than the rest?

Here’s the final test. I hope it’s conclusive or at least helpful. Make sure to watch it in HD by following the link below the video.

Canon 5DMII Flat Picture Style Test from Tyler J. Clements on Vimeo.

*note* When I say a number like 3,-4,2,0 this is the setting of the picture style where 3 is the sharpness, -4 is the contrast, 2 is the saturation, 0 is the tone.

There are more flat picture styles out there but these are probably the best ones that I’ve used. I ran them all through a series of tests. The first round is just a baseline of how they look and is also about as far as any other tests ever go. Since Vimeo plays at 720p and is limited to around 5000 kbits/sec it doesn’t give a very accurate representation of a picture styles capabilities. To make sure we get a clear view I pushed into the footage as far as possible so we can really see how details come out in each picture style. The second round is pushed in to see how the complex details as seen in the cards and the magazine text is affected by each style. The third round is pushed in to see how each style brings out details in the darkest areas of the shot. The details in the focus ring on the lens is a good guideline to determine which style is best to increase “latitude.” In the fourth round I adjusted the blacks in each shot to a more appropriate level. For instance, the Cinestyle shows black as more of a grey so I have to bring down the black levels so that it shows true black. This will give a better idea of which style has the best look after color correction (this is also a huge part missing from other tests).

In addition to multiple rounds I made sure to include different variations of the same style. First, I showed how they look at the little gray markers that Canon has set at 3,0,0,0. Next, I showed the styles at their flattest and most unsaturated point; 3,-4,-4,0. Finally, I showed the styles at their flattest point but the saturation is adjusted to represent more real world color. In other words the colors are closer to what the eye sees. This setting varies on the style.

I tend to use different picture styles based on the project that I’m working on. If it is a time sensitive project then I’ll go for a look that looks good straight out of camera. However, if it’s a bigger project that requires a higher quality output then using a more flexible picture style is a must.

I’m actually a big fan of Marvels Cine v3.3 picture style. After the blacks are adjusted it is essentially the same as Technicolor’s Cinestyle. To me, Cinestyle is just a picture style that took flatness to a whole new level, but there comes a point where it simply doesn’t make a difference.

For more examples of picture styles refer to my earlier test:
This test may be more useful if you’re looking for out of camera looks as it has more emulated film stocks.