As I unopened our new AF100 and started going through and tweaking all the internal settings I had the thought, “Man, when I was a wee cinematographer I wish there was someone who told me what all these settings did.” Well, wee cinematographers, here it is. A cheat sheet of camera settings. (WARNING VERBIAGE IS BASED ON PANASONIC EQUIPMENT, IF YOUR CAMERA IS NOT A PANASONIC, SOME OF THE NAMES COULD BE SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT)
Here we go, in no particular order:
Detail Level: Makes the image look sharper. Pretty straightforward. This is a great tool, but if it set too high and your project is going to be projected on a large screen (ie. movie theater), the picture will start to have a fake, artificial feel. On small screens (ie. computer monitors, web videos), the end result will look great. Another side effect: if you crank up the Detail Level and your picture is noisy/grainy, then the noise and grain will get sharpened too and will be more noticeable. We’ve used a wide variety of detail levels for different types of shoots, but usually I leave this set to around -4.
V Detail Level: Same idea as Detail Level, makes the image look sharper. It is slightly more subtle than using Detail Level. I prefer to use the Detail Level setting.
Detail Coring: Noise controller. The higher it is set, the less noise you’ll see in your image. This is great to use in conjunction with Detail Level. The higher you set the Detail Level, the more noise you could get, but Detail Coring can help reduce the noise. Use it sparingly though, the higher you set it, the softer your image could look. Skin textures are especially affected.
Skin Tone: DTL: Helps smooth out imperfections on the skin of your subject. I use this when shooting teenagers (zits!) and also older folks as it smooths out some of the wrinkles. If you have your Detail Level jacked up, you might want to compensate by turning this function on. It might help hide some of those wrinkles and blemishes.
Chroma Level: Controls the saturation of your image. Low setting = less saturation. High setting = more saturation. I’ll use this sometimes when shooting exteriors.
Chroma Phase: Works like a tint controller. This is pretty subtle so you can’t do any crazy color grading in camera but, when set on the low side the colors will shift towards the yellow/greens, when set on the high side the colors will shift towards the purple/magentas. I don’t use this setting very much. I prefer to use gels when lighting to get the overall color I want.
Master Pedestal: Contrast control. The higher the setting the more the blacks or dark items in your shot will blend together. The lower the setting the more the picture will look washed out. I don’t usually play around with this setting too much.
Knee: This setting helps with overexposed portions of a shot. It tries to smooth the transition from a properly exposed area to an over exposed area. I usually don’t use this setting because I like to use CINELIKE gamma settings on our AF100 and, on the Panasonic cameras, those settings disable the Knee function. But mess around, see what you think.
Color Temp: I really like playing with this setting. All of you should know about Color Temperature. 5500 degrees Kelvin = Blue, 3200 degrees Kelvin = Orange. Usually, when shooting outside you can expect temperatures in the 5500 range (depending on time of day), indoors (depending on your light source) you can expect around 3200. I love this setting because you can warm up an exterior shot or you can cool off an interior shot. You can tweak this setting to get multiple cameras to match up. You can go crazy and really set a mood and make a scene very cold or very warm. Have you ever shot an exterior that is supposed to be winter but there is no snow on the ground and it’s a balmy 55 degrees? Try tweaking this setting so your scene is extra blue. All of a sudden, your shot feels really cold! This feature is very handy.
Matrix: These different settings basically tell the camera to process the colors of your shot in slightly different ways. I tend to use the CINELIKE setting because the colors are the most saturated, but you may also find a use for the FLUO setting, especially if you are shooting under fluorescent lights. This setting compensates for the green color of the light by removing some of the green from the picture.
With so many post options nowadays, it can be very easy to shoot a scene pretty flat and think, “I’ll really make this look sexy in post. I’ll jack up the saturation. Make it really contrasty and moody.” Well, I’ll tell you one thing, it never looks as good as when you get it to look that way in-camera. Now, I won’t say you should only go crazy with the camera’s internal settings to achieve your vision. But I will say that tweaks to the camera’s internal settings, along with creative lighting set ups, can make all the difference. Be brave wee cinematographers, don’t wait for post!