A Cinematographer’s Take on HDR and ACES
By James Mathers
Cinematographer and Founder of the Digital Cinema Society
I’m no expert on the subject of HDR, but as a Cinematographer, I’m not sure I really need to be. To use an expression coined by my fellow Cinematographer friend, Bill Bennett, ASC, “we’ve been shooting HDR for years.” That’s because film and more recently high end Digital Cinema cameras have already been able to capture the necessary dynamic range. HDR is a display format rather than a capture format and the only problem is that the display technology has not previously been capable of properly showing HDR.
Now such technology is on the near horizon. It is estimated that there will be hundreds of titles available to stream in HDR by the end of the year with more on the way. I personally think it is a very engaging technology. Its more than just showing brighter highlights and a greater range between dark and light; it adds depth to the image, makes it more dimensional and immersive.
However, just as there are are huge benefits, there are also huge challenges. One is that although consumers are not yet experiencing much HDR in the home, they soon will be, and the images we capture today will likely be viewed in HDR in the not too distant future. However on-set HDR monitoring options are not always practical, so how do we evaluate what we’re capturing to know how it will eventually be displayed?
There are only handful of true professional grade HDR displays, and although they produce exquisite images, they are quite pricey and delicate, seeming more suited to the DI suite than the set. You also need a proper viewing environment which can be tough with the kind of narrative location based shooting I usually do, even though with HDR, a controlled viewing environment seems even more critical.
Another issue is that there is currently no single standard for HDR display or multi-platform distribution. The best approach for me seems to be to capture as if I were shooting film, where after testing through the post pipeline and familiarity with the camera, I know where I want things to fall.
This is where sticking to an ACES pipeline, the ability to test, and being able to supervise the DI is so crucial. Knowing that the color decisions I make will carry throughout the post and distribution pipeline will help insure all current and future audiences will see the images as I intended, whether viewing HDR or legacy displays.
Once HDR gets sorted out, it will be a boon to both creatives and viewers, but without a good framework of standards it could be chaos. In bringing together the divergent interest of filmmakers, manufacturers, studios, and service providers the Academy has done the Industry a great service getting everyone on the same page in regard to how we share digital images. Thank you for ACES!