Out of the box, the camera’s “Cine-D” setting works reasonably well. However, I noticed two issues: harsh clipping of highlights, and plastic-like skin textures. I also noticed that, because Cine-D emphasizes dynamic range, the image tends to look muddy and underexposed.
While reading Barry Green’s excellent book, “The AF100 Book,” I was intrigued to learn how the various scene settings in the AF100 actually work. After some experimentation, I created my own custom scene file (creatively named “Alex 1”). Here’s what I did, and why I did it.
Operation Type: Film Cam – This simply means that the camera uses film-style settings (such as ISO instead of GAIN), and shoots at 24p as a default.
Rec Format: PH 1080/24p – This is the highest quality the camera can capture, and that’s what I want.
VFR Mode: Off – I can turn this on and off from the back of the camera, and defaulting to “Off” is a good idea because the camera does not record audio in VFR “On” mode.
Detail Level: +2 – I’m not 100% convinced that this is the best setting, but I do like to have a sharp image, so this is what I’m using for now. If I start having issues with noise, I will turn this down to “0” or perhaps “-1.”
V Detail Level: 0 – This is additional detail between vertical lines. I don’t see any reason to add this, so I keep it at “0.”
Detail Coring: -2 – Turning Detail Coring up will reduce noise and smooth skintones. Sounds great, in theory, but in practice I find that it gives a very electronic, plastic-like look to surface textures. Since I don’t like skintones that look like plastic, I’ve turned this down.
Chroma Level: -3 – This camera captures very chroma-rich images, which is great. But, since too much of a good thing is no good, I’ve turned this down a bit to suit my taste. I can always boost it in post.
DRS: Off – This is “Dynamic Range Stretching,” which also sounds like a good thing until you realize how much noise it introduces to the image.
Gamma: B.Press – I chose “B.Press” rather than one of the “Cine” settings for three reasons: first of all, it has the lowest inherent noise of any of the Gamma options; secondly, it does pretty much what I usually have to do in post – lower the shadows and boost the midtones; third, and most importantly, it allows me to use a “knee” setting, which the Cine settings do not allow.
Knee: Mid – This is the key to curing the AF100’s harsh, clipped highlights. Instead of capturing all the possible detail until 100% and then cutting off abruptly, the Knee setting electronically tapers off the highlights starting at about 90%. The difference on any particular portion of an image is subtle, but the cumulative effect is a softer, more film-life progression of highlights to pure white.
Matrix: Norm2 – As Barry Green describes it, “Norm2 offers brighter colors … a little less green, and a little more blue across the color spectrum.” Sounds good to me.
Skin Tone Dtl: Off – Go away, Ken and Barbie!
Interestingly, as soon as I started shooting with this scene file, my first thought was, “Hey, this looks like a 5D Mark II.” The blacks aren’t as crushed as they are with the 5D2, but the overall impression does have a bit more of the 5D “pop” that we’ve come to know and love.
Here’s a simple shot progression that goes from overexposed to underexposed, to show how the “Alex 1” scene file compares to Cine-D. As you can see, the difference is not dramatic, but the custom file gives more contrast and, although it has less latitude, the roll-off to white is less harsh than with Cine-D.