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How to get the best out of the Sony PXW-FS7

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How to get the best out of the Sony PXW-FS7

The FS7 is a versatile camera suited for any need whether it's corporate production, documentary, commercial work or even indie film making. But a versatile camera comes with A LOT of options and a huge menu for you to choose from. Before you get lost in menu settings, here is a quick overview to get great results out of your FS7..

1. Shoot Cine EI

The camera comes with two different shooting modes: Custom Mode and Cine EI. In Custom Mode, the camera behaves like any typical video camera: what you see on the viewfinder is recorded to the XDQ cards. Though you have a lot of options to tweak your images with the camera settings (such as gamma, sharpness, etctera) this option won't get you all that beautiful dynamic range the camera is famous for. You are essentially just baking in the look of your images in-camera. But nevertheless, it is a great option for projects where there is little or no time for color grading and you just want your images to look good straight away.

The other mode is called Cine EI and is designed to get as much information of the sensor as possible. With 14 stops of dynamic range, you'll have maximum control over you footage, shadows and highlights in post-production, as well as all the freedom you need to polish your footage as you see fit.

If you shoot in Cine EI, you'll need to grade your footage. Since you are shooting in high dynamic range, the images will look washed out in your editing software. But grading can be as simple as applying a LUT en tweaking the highlights and shadows as you see fit.

Turning on Cine EI takes 3 simple steps:
- Turn on Cine EI mode
- Select the color space
- Activate an MLUT to monitor your footage.

To turn on Cine EI mode:
- Go to the 'Base Setting' in the menu
- Select 'Shooting Mode' and change 'Custom' to 'Cine EI'
- Press Execute

After you've set you camera in the Cine EI Mode, you'll have to select the color space. This determines the color range and contrast range of your images. The three options available are S-Gamut/SLOG2, S-Gamut3.Cine/Slog3 and S-Gamut3/SLog3. While S-Gamut and S-Gamut3 have the largest color space (and thus enables you to record the most colors) S-Gamut3.Cine has a slightly smaller color space, but it will be easiest to use for most users, because it is easier to grade in post-production.

To turn  on S-Gamut.Cine/Slog3:
- Go to the 'Base Setting' in the menu
- Select 'Color Space' and select S-Gamut.Cine/Slog3

Since your now camera records at a much higher dynamic range and color space in Cine EI, your images on the viewfinder will look flat and washed out. To compensate this, all you need to do is now is turn on the MLUT and you're ready to go. An MLUT (or Monitor Look Up Table) will convert your footage to a color space that is suitable for a monitor, without baking it in to your footage, so it will look like that on the monitor only. The easiest MLUT to select is 709 (800), because this is the standard television gamma. This will make shooting very is, because if it looks right on the viewfinder, is will be right when recording.

To turn on the MLUT:
- Go to the Video Settings in the main menu
- Select Monitor LUT
- At 'LUT Select' choose P1:709 (800%)
- Bellow you can turn the MLUT on and off, Turn it on for SDI2 and HDMI, but leave it off for 'SDI1 & Internet Rec'

If you leave MLUT on for 'SDI1 & Internet Rec', your LUT will be baked in the footage. Essentially giving you the same results as in Custom Mode.
MLUTs can only be applied at regular frame rates, when you shoot at higher frame rates (slow motion) you can only monitor the footage in its washed out Slog-form.

2. Understanding ISO when shooting CineEI

One important thing to know when shooting in Cine EI is that the camera will always record on the sensor's native ISO of 2000. This ISO has been chosen by Sony because it has the best balance between exposure, noise and sensitivity. Although you can rate the EI at lower levels through the Gain Swith on the side of the camera, your footage will only look brighter or darker, but you'll still shoot at a full 2000 ISO.

Although this can be a little confusing at first, the Gain Switch it not there to actually brighten or darken your recorded footage, but to brighten or darken your MLUT, allowing you adapt your iris and shutter speeds for optimal exposure.

When shooting Cine EI, setting the EI on the gain switch is best at around 800 to 1000 for general purposes. Your footage will look slightly darker than recorded, but by opening the aperture a little and re-exposing the picture, you'll actually make it brighter. This means that in post-production, you'll have to reduce your levels while grading. But by doing so, you'll reduce the noise levels and you'll end up with a much better image. So you'll get a much lower signal to noise ratio from the camera.

How to  set your Gain Levels:
- Go to the Camera Menu
- Select ISO/Gain/EI
- Here you can change the values of your gain switches: EI<H>,EI<M> and EI<L>

It's recommended never to go above 2000 EI.
When your shooting a bright scene (like sunlight), set your EI to a higher level (e.g. 2000) so you can monitor the highlights and avoid overexposed, clipped highlights.
If you are shooting a darker scene (such as a night scene), wet you EI to a lower level (e.g.500) so you can better monitor your shadows and avoid underexposed, noisy footage.

3. Use zebrass to properly expose your footage

A final tip to monitor the exposure of your footage, is to set your zebras correctly. The FS7 comes with two Zebras. Zebra 1 measures your exposure, while Zebra 2 measures your overexposure.

When shooting Cine EI with the 709(800) MLUT, you'll have the best results when your zebras are set to 70% and you change your exposure until you start having some small zebras on your character's skin.

To set your Zebras:
- Go to the VF settings in the main menu and select Zebra
- Change Zebra 1 level to 70%
- Change the Zebra Aperture level to 10%, this means that the zebra's will show op between 65% and 75%)
- Set your Zebra 2 Level at 100%

4. All files

Lastly, the FS7 give you the option to save all your current camera settings to an SD card. This is a great option if you are working multiple projects need a fast way to switch between different modes and camera settings, without having to change all the individual setting every time.

- Make sure you have an SD card in the camera.
- Go to the File menu on the camera, and select 'All File'.
- Choose a name for your All File en save it to the SD card.

This method will not only save you loads of time, it will also cancel any margin for error. Remember: the FS7's menu in incredibly comprehensive and not very user friendly. So if you want to re-enter all the settings every time you change the camera mode, you're bound to miss one.

If you would like some further reading in Cine EI, you can watch Alister Chapman's detailed guide here: