Thread: When shooting RAW, is it better to overexpose or underexpose?

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  1. #1 When shooting RAW, is it better to overexpose or underexpose? 
    Senior Member Tomas Stacewicz's Avatar
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    I hear different explanations and preferences. Exact and balanced exposure is of course always the preferrable, but what is worse when shooting RAW, to overexpose or to underexpose?

    Some like to treat RAW as Video, i.e. never overexposing for the fear of blowing out highlights and preferring to underexpose to be able to recover details in shadows.

    Others treat RAW as film, i.e. preferring to overexpose as there is supposed to be more information in the highlights compared to shadows, and thus fearing crushed blacks.

    Steven Ascher, in his 'The Filmmaker's Handbook' never mentions RAW per se in this instance, but does say that a Log capture should never be underexposed. Ascher often compares RAW to Log so I guess the same goes for RAW, which shouldn't be underexposed.

    Intuitively, I see a logic in treating RAW as film, i.e. not to underexpose and to be forgiving in overexposure. RAW behaves as film in many respects, such as responding to light metering (again referred to Ascher).

    What is your opinions on this matter, based on your own experience?
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  2. #2  
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    I and many others push a stop (rate the camera 1 ISO lower), many others are advocates for ETTR. Neither of these methods are overexposure at the sensor level, but are overexposure for the subject. Overexposing the sensor is not great practice but may be unavoidable with practicals, or specular reflections, etc., I'd never underexpose the subject to protect this information. I don't think I've ever heard of anyone advocating underexposure on a BM camera and with good reason.
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  3. #3  
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    Personal opinion is that it can vary strongly from camera to camera...

    Largely it depends on your method of measuring exposure...

    I.e. Are you basing exposure on zebras, lightmeter, false color, display color/space and gamma ?

    Each camera handles these elements somewhat differently.

    If you're basing it on the camera display path (including gamma/color display space) it's very important to know your particular camera.

    Pocket seems pretty right on. As far as where to set your ISO, I like to do it by where my mid tones look correctly but never to clip highlights. Once highlights are gone it's usually harder to pull highlights back into a useable space because of digital clipping. Generally if it looks very very clipped you probably are going to have a harder time getting it back.

    You may often find that whether you're at 200, 400 or 800 - your highlights will still be clipped, so if you keep your highlights and set your ISO to make your midtones look how you want with nothing too hidden in shadow that you hope to see later, you will probably find yourself a happy person.

    Oh - one major theme, I find I cannot trust a BMD onboard monitor to give me the straight legit dirt on my image... I think they use 6 bit panels which make things sometimes look weird / funky/muddy - when in fact connected to a great , well calibrated monitor, you have a spectacular image. Not a knock, just an observation. Hard to tell if your gamma/midtones are right with the onboards... OLED EVF is definitely. Enter, but love to have a giant Sony OLED or similar to look at...
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    Senior Member Tomas Stacewicz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DanKanes View Post
    Personal opinion is that it can vary strongly from camera to camera... Pocket seems pretty right on.
    I'm using the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera.
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  5. #5  
    Senior Member Tomas Stacewicz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Howie Roll View Post
    I and many others push a stop (rate the camera 1 ISO lower)
    Do you mean that you lower the rating from 800 ISO down to 400? You meant pulling, right?
    Last edited by Tomas Stacewicz; 12-16-2016 at 08:37 AM.
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  6. #6  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tomas Stacewicz View Post
    Do you mean that you lower the rating from 800 ISO down to 400?
    More or less but it's not that simple and I'll try to explain in 500 words or less.

    I'll start with exteriors because it's easier. On daytime exterior shots I'll ETTR. I'll put clouds at about 95% on the zebras, or if there are no clouds, 80% on a clear blue sky assuming the subject isn't in deep shade in which case lights may be necessary otherwise I might only use some bounce.

    For interiors and nightime exteriors, after much testing, I found a happy balance rating the Pocket sensor at about ISO 540, the mnemonic was 40 footcandles at an f4.0 which would put middle grey at 50 IRE. I use a lightmeter for interiors so having a footcandle rating is critical for making exposure decisions. Again it's not simple, if I have a high key setup I'll use 40 FC for the fill side, if I have a low key setup I'll use 40 FC for the key side at F4.0. The advantage of figuring out the footcandles is that you don't really need zebras or histograms, you know it works and you can bop around the set with a lightmeter and know you've got it covered. Shooting an F2.0? No problem now it's 10 FC.

    The screen and exposure tools on the Pocket are primitive at best and not really any indicator of what the final image will look like. I know that several things have changed on the Pocket since my last deep dive including the way Resolve interprets the raw footage.

    I'd advocate getting a lightmeter and testing the camera for yourself. Without a lightmeter you really don't have any idea of what the camera's response is, the histogram is too vague and gives no reference to the light input. I've had the same old Sekonkik L398 that I used in school 20 years ago and magically it's still going strong.

    I've probably forgotten about a hundred things but at least I kept it under 500 words.

    Good Luck.

    P.S. Once you've got exposure locked down ask me about the color matrix.
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  7. #7  
    Senior Member Tomas Stacewicz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Howie Roll View Post
    I've had the same old Sekonkik L398 that I used in school 20 years ago and magically it's still going strong.
    I use exactly that same meter myself :-)

    Thank you for your patience and valuable guidance!
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  8. #8  
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    Sorry to side step this conversation. I really want to get an analog light meter. Does the Sekonic L-398 let's you set the shutter angle or just shutter speed? Do you recommend it?
    Last edited by EYu; 12-16-2016 at 12:59 PM.
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  9. #9  
    Senior Member Tomas Stacewicz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by EYu View Post
    Sorry to side step this conversation. I really want to get an analog light meter. Does the Sekonic L-398 let's you set the shutter angle or just shutter speed? Do you recommend it?
    Just the shutter speed. It's the only light meter that I have ever used, but I'm pleased with it.
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  10. #10  
    Senior Member misterkofa's Avatar
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    always expose properly. Rely on your knowledge of the camera, histogram, and zebras.
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