DISCLOSURE: AS AN AMAZON ASSOCIATE I EARN FROM QUALIFYING PURCHASES.
THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS, MEANING, AT NO ADDITIONAL COST TO YOU, I EARN FROM QUALIFYING PURCHASES. AFFILIATE LINKS ARE MARKED WITH #ad. "I" IN THIS CASE MEANS THE OWNER OF FILMDAFT.COM. PLEASE READ THE FULL DISCLOSURE FOR MORE INFO.
If you’re just starting out making vlogs or videos, at one point you’ll stumble upon the technical terms camera look, log camera profiles, and LUTs.
But is the difference between a look, LOG, and a LUT when it comes to video?
Looks, logs, and LUTs all impact the color of the recorded image in some way, which is why they can be confusing. However, this is where the similarities end.
A camera look profile is an in-camera setting to determine what color information, saturation and contrast values to record in.
A log profile is a desaturated image that looks gray and flat because it records the highest possible dynamic range with the most color information to be manipulated later.
A LUT is like a decoder which turns log footage into a correctly-colored image. It can be baked-in while recording, only applied to an external monitor while recording, or added in post.
Keep reading, and you’ll get a more in-depth explanation of each, why they’re important to know, and how you can use them in your work – whether you’re an aspiring YouTuber or cinematographer.
But in order to do so, we need to start in another place entirely.
First, we need to look at White Balance.
You might be asking yourself why we need different white balance settings for different types of light.
Different lights have different color
temperatures which are measured in Kelvins. Kelvins are a unit of temperature
measurement named after William Thomson, who was also known by the wild alias
of ‘Lord Kelvin.’
So what kind of light are we adjusting to?
Most shooting conditions rely on natural or artificial light, exterior sunlight or interior tungsten light or LED panels.
Tungsten is often a temperature around 2500 – 3500K.
Daylight is typically between 5500 – 6500K.
Note that these values are subject to change according to various factors like the type of bulb being used, the time of day of the shoot, changing weather conditions, etc.
One major advantage of upscale contemporary LED light panels is their ability to adjust their own color temperature with the simple rotation of a knob.
Then it is simply a matter of reading the temperature you have settled on and set your camera’s white balance to the same value.
How to Check the White Balance on Your Camera
Different cameras register color in slightly different ways. Ensuring your white balance is set correctly is a means to make sure that you capture the colors as correctly as possible for your particular camera.
In order to check your white balance, find something perfectly white. You can use a piece of white cardboard or 5 blank sheets of paper on top of each other to prevent any transparency.
If you have the cash an even better solution would be a white card, such as this foldable option from Lastolite, or color checker passport such as this popular option from X-rite, and place it in front of your camera before each recording.
It is important to do so every time the light temperature has changed or you’ve changed location.
Different cameras have different ways for you to set the white balance manually, so check your manual on how to do so.
You can then set the color temperature so that what the camera sees accurately reflects how your white source of reference (cardboard, paper, white card, etc.) looks (the reference source should be white, without a color tint).
Another great means – though more expensive – of checking your white balance is to use a handheld color temperature meter.
Avoid using Auto White Balance
Cameras typically offer white balance settings like Auto White Balance, but you will definitely want to avoid this when shooting video.
While it’s also advisable to avoid Auto White Balance while shooting stills, it hardly causes for concern if you do use it. The reason for this is that it is easy to correct a wrong white balance setting for a single image.
But when shooting moving images, small fluctuations in light conditions can mean disastrously difficult to fix results.
The Auto White Balance changing the color temperature during movement generally doesn’t tell you what temperatures it is changing between, and changing color values within a shot are highly noticeable even for amateur viewers.
This is also one of the reasons why you want to get out of the auto settings and into manual mode as fast as possible because auto white balance is often included as default in auto mode.
White balance presets
A lot of cameras also come with white balance presets, which are meant to be used under certain situations. Some white balance presets include Indoor, Daylight, and Cloudy Weather.
While they are better than auto white balance because they won’t fluctuate during recording, there are not very accurate. For example, if you’re shooting outdoors, the preset might be set to 5600 Kelvin. But you might be actually shooting closer to 6500 Kelvin or more.
That’s also why it is always recommended to always do your own white balancing.
And as you progress, you should use every opportunity to practice with different custom settings as often as possible to accommodate the subtleties of the light in whatever shooting scenario you might find yourself in, especially when multiple light sources are affecting the same shot.
Purposefully using an incorrect color balance can also be a creative tool in certain situations, so long as you understand exactly what you are doing from the start, and you are sure you want a very different color result.
LOG & RAW
LOG is a picture profile with a high dynamic range which allows for greater color depth.
For this reason, it will tend to look rather gray and neutral in tone while recording.
Log footage resembles RAW footage superficially in this respect.
Put simply, the biggest differences between Log and Raw have to do with storage space and white balance.
Think of a RAW file like a negative in film photography: while it contains all of the information necessary to ‘develop’ the final image, it is not straight out of the camera.
RAW is a file format that can be compared to ProRes, H.264 and other codec containers. But RAW captures so much more information, which you can use for color grading your footage in post.
Because RAW captures more information, meaning more wiggle room for color grading, it also requires far more storage space than Log, relative to the amount of change it allows for.
Some compressed RAW formats such as 3:1 BRAW from Blackmagic manages to reduce the file sizes a bit, but sacrifices some of the color grading wiggle room in the process.
Thus, Log is nearly as effective while taking up considerably less storage space.
Different companies use different algorithms (the ‘log’ is short for ‘logarithmic’) to create their Log files and thus name them with different starting letters: Sony calls theirs S-Log, while Canon uses a C-Log.
Why You Should use LOG for Video
The basic idea of Log, much like RAW, is to record the image with the colors as flat as possible, to allow for the capturing of the highest manageable amount of dynamic range.
Effectively, by recording a gray-looking image, these formats allow for greater leverage when it comes to manipulating the colors in the grading process, producing richer results and more possibilities.
However, there is one extremely important factor to keep in mind while shooting Log; white balance.
Shooting RAW allows for the flexibility of a total change of white balance in post-production. Log does not.
As long as you manage to always shoot at the correct white balance, Log is a perfectly viable image option which is a bit handier than RAW, since it requires less space.
Using LUTs for LOG while Recording
In some cases, you can use an external monitor to apply a LUT ‘live’ while recording, in order to understand how the colors will look once the LUT is applied in post, as opposed to watching the grayish flat image of the Log format you might be shooting in.
This is especially useful for presenting a preview of how the finished color grade will look for a member of the crew who might not understand how their work will look on-screen otherwise – for example, the artistic director might want a reference for how bold or muted certain colors of props or backdrops might appear.
Plus, it’s easy on the eyes. Who wouldn’t prefer to watch a live color-graded image over a de-saturated Log one?
And thankfully, it won’t be ‘baked in’ to the actual file, only applied in the external monitor, though some monitors and cameras actually offer to bake the LUT into the image while recording.
LUT is an acronym which stands for Look-Up Table and is a setting which can be applied to footage to produce a certain visual uniformity.
LUTs are essentially like presets, often aimed at emulating older film looks and stocks, and typically made to be applied to specific LOG footage.
For example, there are LUTs which correspond to camera-specific Logs, such as those designed for pairing with footage from an ARRI Alexa cameras, Red cameras, Blackmagic Design cameras, Panasonic cameras, among many others.
These LUTs effectively ‘de-code’ the gray looking straight-out-of-camera source footage into true-to-life high dynamic range images, generally to meet the specifications of the standardized Rec. 709 format.
Rec. 709 refers to a visual standard of color space which will mean the color information in your footage will look identical on any Rec. 709 compliant monitor (most HD monitors and HDTVs. 4K and UHD monitors and displays adhere to the Rec.2020 standard).
For this reason, it is a good idea to use a LUT to first set your footage to the standardized appearance of Rec. 709 before applying creative LUTs.
There also exist myriad LUTs intended for more general use to produce a certain aesthetic appearance without the limitations of corresponding to a specific camera’s output.
Effectively, they are like color presets that can be applied to your footage to produce an appearance that might be predominantly warm or cool colors, higher saturation, etc.
But when using a LUT not intended for your specific footage, be careful!
As with all colorwork, a blanket solution usually won’t work as well for all of your footage, so always review the results of your trials carefully.
Some interesting creative LUTs are offered in Premiere in categories like ‘Speedlooks’ and ‘Lumetri presets.’ These can be added in post-production to change the visual information quickly, like filters to be applied to emulate different film aesthetics.
Some of these emulations correspond to specific stocks of Fuji and Kodak film, while others emulate a style (for instance, a couple of example names of looks offered in Premiere include ‘GOLD TOBACCO’ and ‘NOIR 1965’).
While they will almost always need to be fine-tuned once they are applied, these presets and speedlooks can be very valuable resources.
LUT file formats
LUTs come in a few different file formats, such as CUBE, 3DL, ICC and VLT. Which one you will need depends on what software you are using. CUBE is the most widely compatible format.
There exist 1D and 3D LUTs. 1-dimensional LUTs give output values for the red, green and blue channels separately. Three-dimensional LUTs actually combine and overlap all three channels to produce more subtle color information.
If you want to learn more about color grading and color correction and how to use LUTs, I recommend you take a look at my article Color Correction vs. Color Grading: What Is The Difference?
Picture Profiles (Looks)
Similar to LUTs in that they produce a certain look, Picture Profiles generally are a ‘baked-in’ styling applied directly to the footage as it is recorded.
For those who don’t have the option to record in Log, Picture Profiles can be used to emulate the final results of Log footage after color grading.
Whereas LUTs are applied in post, Looks are
chosen before shooting and are applied based on the desired creative results.
Picture Profiles often have to do with pre-chosen settings, which can be used as your operating settings.
While the results can still be impressive, they do not have as high of a dynamic range as Log footage and are therefore more susceptible to blown-out highlights in high contrast situations. They also offer relatively little flexibility in grading.
However, one situation where Picture Profiles can really shine is a multi-cam set up for a project which has very little time in the schedule for the color grade. If the multiple cameras are the same model, setting all cameras to the same picture profile can go a long way toward ensuring the uniformity of color in the edit.
As a few examples of what some picture profiles are called, the GH4’s (my personal camera) profile choices include Standard, Vivid, Natural, Monochrome, Scenery, Portrait, Custom, Cinelike D and Cinelike V.
The five basic settings altered to create the different profiles in the GH4 are contrast, sharpness, noise reduction, saturation, and hue. For example, Cinelike V has lower contrast than its Cinelike D sister setting, while Standard has all five values set to zero, and Natural has a -5 contrast value (the lowest possible), -2 sharpness, -2 noise reduction, and zero values for Hue and Saturation.
So let’s review a bit: how can all of these categories be combined to produce the best results?
First, choose your in-camera color profile, be it ‘Standard,’ ‘Vivid,’ or Log.
Next, find the correct white balance using sheets of white paper, a white card, color checker, or light meter.
If you have an external monitor or camera which allows you to view LUTs while recording then be sure to get it rigged up and ready to roll.
Now you will want to import your footage into your editing software. If you shot your video in Log, start converting your footage from Log to Rec .709 color space using the appropriate LUT.
And now that your footage looks clean and proper, it is time to get creative!
Try out different speedlooks until you find the aesthetic you find satisfying.
I hope you’ll find this introduction to Looks, LUTs, and LOG-profile useful. If you got any comments please let us know in the comments.
About the author
Maximilien Luc Proctor (+MLP+) is a French-American filmmaker, musician & writer living in Berlin. He holds a B.A. in Film and Media Studies from the University of Oklahoma, where he graduated with honors. He is an Eagle Scout and National Merit Scholar. He has been a contributing writer for Photogénie (photogenie.be) since participating in their Young Critics Workshop in 2015, has been running Ultra Dogme (ultradogme.com) since its inception, and his short films have played in festivals around the world.
Photo by: Alex DePew