Panasonic GH5 settings for underwater video

In the previous post I described the HDR settings especially relevant if you have an external recorder. However there is quite a lot of discussion if it is worth shooting HDR underwater video with the Panasonic GH5 at all. This follows the discussions about using VLOG L underwater versus studio production: many people that start using VLOG L revert to a more normal setting something using standard profiles and not even Cine profiles because the workflow is just too much work.

In general there are 3 characteristics that are important to underwater footage but more in general to any footage: colour , contrast and noise. This is the reason why when you look at DXOMark you have some measures of those 3 characteristics.

GH5DXOMARKSCORES

What DxOMark is telling us is that looking at a RAW image produced from the GH5 the colour depth is at best 23.9 bits, the dynamic range is at best 13 Evs and the Low-light ISO that still gives some decent colour depth and dynamic range is 807 ISO.

Let’s have some interpretation of those measures colour depth of 23.9 bits means 15.6 millions colours, this is actually less than true colour of an sRGB display. Considering the RGB scale the 23.9 bits per colour really mean 8 bit colour. OK so why does the camera have a 10 bit colour (equivalent to 30 bits per pixel no camera reaches that even full frame) option at all? We will talk about it in a minute…

Dynamic range for a RAW image is 13 Evs however Panasonic says VLOG L offers 12 stops compared to 10 stops of professional SDR footage. Now 12 stops require a display with a contrast ratio of 4000:1 which is beyond all commercial computer monitor and in the range of HDR devices. The new VESA DisplayHDR standard HDR600 is a minimum requirement to display this level of contrast ratio.

Finally the Low-light ISO of 807 (corresponding to 1600 on your GH5 as ISO values are always incorrect and geared towards higher values for marketing reasons) means that unless you are at the surface pretty soon there won’t be any colour or dynamic range to show (low-light ISO requires 18 bit colour depth 9 Ev Dynamic range and 30 dB SNR).

WHAT ABOUT THE GH5S?

The GH5s will give you 1.5 stops more of low-light performance and therefore your footage will look good until ISO 2400 or ISO 4800 looking at the camera settings which is quite a bump.

OK now coming to the main point of the post having seen those limitations why would I bother shooting in VLOG or HLOG?

First consideration: Noise

As we have seen both dynamic range and colour depth drop considerably when ISO goes up. In short unless you have abundance of natural light or you are shooting macro with a lot of artificial light is unlikely you will see any benefit shooting VLOG or HLG.

Considering that compression brings additional noise here we see why shooting with an external recorder at higher bitrate really helps fighting noise even if you don’t shoot log because you reduce the compression artifacts. If you don’t have a recorder consider setting a max ISO limit quite low around 1600 on your GH5 or you will see a lot of grain.

Second consideration: color depth

If the camera cannot even resolve 10 bits per pixel RGB why would you shoot 10 bits? When you shoot VLOG or HLG you are not operating in the REC709 colour space which is limited to 8 bits so it is possible that the colour that the sensor is capturing are not all the 16.7 millions of the RGB palette but some of them are outside in the Dci-P3 or even REC.2020 colour space. Clearly if you do not have a 10 bit screen (and almost all computer screens are 8 bits) or 8 bits with FRC to simulate 10 bits, this is a total waste of time and you won’t see those colours and nobody on a computer working in sRGB will see them either. So unless you have a proper screen to watch your clips there is no point working in 10 bits. When it comes to grading again if you can’t display those colours it won’t be possible to do your work properly so don’t waste your time and shoot in 8 bits.

You now understand why you can’t see any difference in all those youtube comparison that by the way have been encoded 8 bits!

A lot of people records in VLOG 10 bit to then produce in REC709 that has 8 bit colour and the reason is that they have proper grading monitors to see what they are doing.

Just to give you an example laptops with exception of some recent MacBook Pro and others like the Dell XPS can’t display 10 bit colour. An iMac displays 10 bit colour and some screens that support DCI-P3 also are capable any other RGB screen won’t work.

Conclusion don’t waste your time with 10 bit if you don’t have a decent screen and if you only produce for youtube.

Third consideration: Dynamic range

VLOG and HLG start at base ISO 400 (that really is 200) and this is where you have your 12 stops. Once you get to ISO 1600 (nominal 3200 on your GH5) you still have 9.5 stops but the colours are gone. Generally it does make sense to shoot LOG however the issue may well be that your editing display is not HDR600 and therefore you can’t really see what you are shooting accurately. Having a screen that can correctly display HDR is even harder than finding one that can display 10 bit colours. What you need to consider though that unless you are capturing a sunburst or a backlit scene or you are shooting the surface you will not have more than 10 stops in your scene anyway.

Conclusion

The settings you can shoot really depend on your editing and display devices.

If you have a laptop or just an 8 bit computer screen and no external recorder you can shoot at 100 mbps 8 bit colour with the picture profile of your choice, standard, natural, cine like whatever you like as you won’t be able to tell the difference at any point in the process from any other formats 10 bits logs etc.

If you have a DCI-P3 display or better for editing shoot 10 bit colour. Examples are iMac and MacBook Pro or some Philips or Acer screens on the market.

If you have an HDR display for editing and an HDR Tv set shoot HLG.

If you have an external recorder shoot in PRORES HQ (as the GH5 does not support camera RAW). Some of those recorders like the Atomos Shogun Inferno support HDR and can also be used for editing with some adapters so shoot in HLG to get the best results.

Generally VLOG L requires a lot of work and is best suited to studio production so if you don’t have a good grading set up don’t waste your time with it.

If you are one of those shooters that after a lot of trial and error ended up shooting 8 bits colour because you don’t have a recorder or shooting natural or cine-like because you don’t have a proper grading HDR monitor now you know why you are doing what you are doing….

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