Creative colour: how Canon Log can enhance your filmmaking

Cinematographer Ivan D'Antonio shares his advice for shooting in Canon Log and explains how this filmmaking feature can foster creativity.
Two fencers sparring in a room lit dimly with fluorescent lighting, one wearing a black mask, the other a silver one.

Colour grading an image shot in Canon Log can transform it to create a specific atmosphere. Here, cinematographer Ivan D'Antonio has used the technique to add gravity to a video he produced for the social campaign Mieloma ti sfido, which aims to raise awareness about the fight against myeloma, a type of bone marrow cancer. Filmed on a Canon EOS C200 in Canon Log 3. © Ivan D'Antonio

Shooting video using Canon Log is about more than just maximising dynamic range. While all of Canon's Cinema EOS Cameras, most XA and XF camcorders and some mirrorless and DSLR models offer a variety of Log-based gamma curves designed to retain detail in both the darkest and brightest parts of your footage, Canon Log is capable of far more than this. It also increases flexibility in colour grading, allowing a creative editor to really go to work on a video's colour palette. This makes it possible to produce a stylish, cinematic look that can become the cinematographer's visual signature.

"In a graded image, I look for my own interpretation of reality," says Italian cinematographer Ivan D'Antonio. "I want to create something that looks familiar and natural, but at the same time it shouldn't be just a perfect representation of nature. It should reflect the beauty of nature through someone's vision, as a painter does."

With a background as a painter himself, Ivan describes himself as "more like a macchiaiolo – one of the Italian impressionist painters. I prefer to find the truth of how I see things and not how they 'should' look." He has shot with Canon since the start of his career, beginning with a Canon XH A1 camcorder, then a Canon EOS 5D Mark II (now succeeded by the EOS 5D Mark IV). "I always prefer Canon, as I feel the colours are really painterly," he says.

Ivan started using Canon Log in the Canon EOS C100, then in a variety of Cinema EOS cameras. "Using Canon Log really improved the way I work," he says. "I started to be more free, and really started to experiment and develop my style."

A Canon EOS R5 C camera with the display screen showing Custom Picture settings.

Canon Log was first introduced in 2011 for the Canon EOS C300 and through the years has been added to an ever-increasing number of Canon cameras including the EOS 5D Mark IV, the EOS R5 and EOS R6, which support Canon Log 3 following a firmware update, the EOS R3, EOS R5 C (pictured) and EOS R7.

Cinematographer Ivan D'Antonio, wearing a light brown jacket and tartan cap, using a Canon Cinema EOS camera outdoors.

Ivan's filmmaking style, which is influenced by his background as a painter, includes great attention to detail when it comes to colour and lighting. He has used Canon Log for many years now and it's enabled him to really experiment with these components of his work.

The history of Canon Log

A logarithmic gamma curve called Canon Log was introduced for the original Canon EOS C300 (now succeeded by the Canon EOS C300 Mark III) in November 2011. It was quickly recognised as a fantastic tool for maximising dynamic range without adding any additional file size.

Canon Log applies a logarithmic tone curve and processing parameters at the point of capture to deliver a manageable file size while squeezing the widest possible dynamic range from the sensor – over 16 stops of dynamic range can be achieved on the EOS C300 Mark III and EOS C70 when using Canon Log 2. The resulting footage requires processing because of its low contrast and saturation straight from the camera, but it holds more tonal information that can be utilised in post-production to deliver a far wider range between the darkest and brightest areas.

"Canon Log gives you much more leeway and latitude, so you can stretch out the highlights and dive down into the shadows a bit more," explains Paul Atkinson, Pro Video Product Specialist at Canon Europe. "By doing that, you can increase tonal range and therefore the amount of information that can eventually be projected onto a screen.

"As sensors became more sensitive, Canon was able to produce an even wider dynamic range, so the first Canon Log curve evolved to Log 2 and then Log 3," he adds. "With the original Canon Log you could go from 12 stops of dynamic range on the original EOS C300 up to around 15 stops on the EOS C300 Mark II with Canon Log 2.

"And then when you come to the EOS C70 and the EOS C300 Mark III, Canon Log 2 extends dynamic range to more than 16 stops, thanks to the Dual Gain Output (DGO) sensor technology. And the more information you've got to play with, the better," says Paul.

A technician wearing white gloves cleans the sensor of a Canon camera.

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Cinematographer Ivan D'Antonio shooting with a Canon Cinema EOS camera in a small room with old-fashioned décor.

Canon Log gives filmmakers greater control over the final look of their films, allowing them to more easily adjust footage and create their own interpretations of reality. "I tend to not create perfectly standardised images but prefer to find the beauty in natural imperfections," says Ivan.

Two versions of a close-up of a woman's face, one showing the low-saturation footage shot in Canon Log 3 and the other the image after it has been colour graded.

Shooting in Canon Log results in footage low in contrast and saturation, but with a huge amount of tonal information retained. When you grade your footage you can give it your own signature look, as seen here in this before and after still. Filmed on a Canon EOS C200 in Canon Log 3. © Ivan D'Antonio

Shooting in Canon Log

If you want broadcast- or edit-ready footage straight out of your camera, then normal colour profiles or Canon Wide DR are ideal. But for just a little extra time in post, shooting in Canon Log delivers improved image quality and ultimate control over the look of your footage. It also gives you the flexibility to grade the content into various different output formats such as BT.709, BT.2020, HLG or PQ HDR.

Because shooting in Log produces a low-saturation, low-contrast image, you need to take care to get the exposure right. All the recent Canon Log enabled cameras allow you to apply a viewing LUT, either to the camera's monitor or to an external monitor, giving you a far better idea of what the final footage will look like.

"You have to expose it right," says Ivan, "although I have managed to save a bad shot thanks to Canon Log! I tend to 'expose to the right' to keep the highlights, and then in post-production I bring down the exposure. The images come out incredibly clean, and I use an external monitor with LUTs so I can see how they'll look. I always use the waveform rather than just looking at the monitor."

It's not just about getting the exposure technically right, but learning how the camera works in Log to allow you to create the right mood for the scene. "Before starting your first project in Canon Log, experiment with it," advises Ivan. "Try to understand how you should light for it and how the post-production works. It might sound difficult, but once you get used to it, you will be able to do everything quickly to create the images you have in your mind."

A ballet dancer in a flowing yellow dress and shawl poses atop a mountain overlooking a valley, with half the frame showing the Canon Log version, and the other the graded one.

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A close-up of a male fencer wearing an epee mask staring intently.

Before and after stills from the Mieloma ti sfido social campaign video, which Ivan filmed in Canon Log 3 on a Canon EOS C200 camera with a Canon CN-E18-80mm T4.4 L IS KAS S lens. © Ivan D'Antonio

A close-up of a male fencer wearing an epee mask staring intently. The image has been colour graded in post-production.

With its superb dynamic range, Canon Log retains details in even the deepest shadows and highlights. © Ivan D'Antonio

Canon Log, Log 2 or Log 3: which should you use?

Some Canon cameras give you a choice of Canon Log, Log 2 or Log 3 curves. "The original Canon Log is a good all-round setting, while Canon Log 2 gives a lot more detail in the shadows," Paul explains. "If you go too much into the highlights and they're clipped, you can't get them back. If you come down too much into the shadows or you underexpose too much and you try to bring it up, you will introduce noise. Canon Log 3 was developed to give you a slightly reduced dynamic range in comparison with Canon Log 2, but it still delivers much more than filming without a Canon Log curve. It just means you don't have quite as much depth into the shadows and therefore not quite as much noise to deal with afterwards."

The right choice often depends on the scene you're shooting and the amount of time you have available for grading. If there are very bright highlights and deep shadows, Canon Log 2 is probably the best choice, with some additional work in post-production required to clear up noise in the shadow areas. If you don't need quite as wide a dynamic range in the shadows but still want an extended range, then Canon Log 3 is better. Canon Log 2 and Canon Log 3 have the same highlight performance – the difference is in how much shadow detail they retain.

Aron Randhawa, Pro Video Product Specialist at Canon Europe, explains: "One of the disadvantages of using Canon Log 2 is that you have so much detail in your shadows that the noise floor is elevated, which means your clip requires more careful work in post-production to get it looking the way you want. For many people, it's not so important to have so much detail in the shadows – they're more concerned with highlight retention and a quick turnaround. Using Canon Log 3 avoids having to reduce the amount of noise in each clip during grading, saving a lot of time."

Consequently, Canon Log 3 is the most used Canon Log curve today because it enables a relatively quick turnaround in production, while still giving lots of control over the contrast and colour of the final movie.

It's worth noting, however, that the groundbreaking DGO sensor in the EOS C300 Mark III and EOS C70 significantly reduces noise in the shadows, making Canon Log 2 just as practical as Canon Log 3 with those cameras.

A Canon EOS R5 C camera with the rear screen showing a man in a green t-shirt, as well as various selected camera settings.

Canon Log 3 is a good match for 10-bit YCbCr 4:2:2 Cinema Gamut post-production, as it combines wide dynamic range with subtle tonal gradation and the scope for significant colour adjustment.

It's also worth bearing in mind that when shooting in Log, many people expose to the right to produce a slightly brighter image than they ultimately want. They then reduce the brightness of the image in post-production, making the shadows darker rather than bringing out more detail.

Aron continues: "Really, Canon Log 2 is best suited to high-end professionals who want to squeeze everything out of the camera that they possibly can and have the time and the money to make the image as rich as possible. Canon Log 3 is ideal for everyday users who are making productions on a regular basis. It still gives an incredible level of detail for both SDR and HDR content, but it enables a much easier workflow."

Canon Log curves are also a great match for a 10-bit post-production process because, as Aron explains, "the extra level of gradation in the colour as well as the additional dynamic range from the Log curve means you're able to manipulate brightness and colour with a new level of creative freedom."

A man playing a guitar, sitting in a dining room with ornate but ageing wooden furniture.

Before and after post-production stills from the music video Marije, shot in Canon Log 3 on a Canon EOS C200 with a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM lens. © Ivan D'Antonio

A man playing a guitar, sitting in a dining room with ornate but ageing wooden furniture. The image has been colour graded in post-production.

As part of his signature style, Ivan prefers to illuminate the environment around his actors, rather than focusing light on their faces. Canon Log 3 was the ideal choice for this smaller shoot as it's capable of producing rich colours while minimising noise. © Ivan D'Antonio

Having different Log settings available gives a cinematographer more options on the shoot. Then, in post, you can apply a specific LUT to your image, or do your own colour correction to give it a particular aesthetic.

"At the moment, my favourite is Canon Log 2," says Ivan. "I use it for bigger projects. It is simply perfect, with a great dynamic range and super-flat colours – especially for bright scenes. You can see both in the highlights and shadows. Of course, you need more time for the colour correction process, but you can achieve unlimited beauty.

"For smaller projects or if I have to deal with low light, I prefer Canon Log 3 as it produces cleaner images at high ISOs. It has slightly less dynamic range in the shadows, but the colours are more vivid, so you need less time in post-production and the results are great."

Whether you're aiming to "achieve unlimited beauty" or simply to realise your particular vision, Canon Log gives you more scope for creativity.

The rear screen of a Canon EOS R5 C camera showing the Base ISO settings screen.

The Canon EOS R5 C is the first Cinema EOS camera to offer Dual Base ISO to expand sensitivity and minimise noise when filming in low-light environments. It can shoot in ISO 800/3200 ISO in Canon Log 3, and ISO 400/1600 in BT.709 Wide DR, PQ and HLG.

A woman films herself, holding a Canon EOS R7 at arm's length with a microphone attached on top.

The Canon EOS R7 is the first APS-C format mirrorless camera to support Canon Log 3 video with 10-bit H.265/HEVC recording, YCbCr 4:2:3 colour sampling and Rec.2020 colour gamut.

Which cameras have Canon Log?

Canon Log was first introduced with the Canon EOS C300 in 2011 and it is now available in all of the current Cinema EOS range of pro cine cameras, as well as some DSLRs and EOS R System mirrorless cameras.

Adam Duckworth and Angela Nicholson

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