Updated: Jul 31
I know many of you are eager to find out how to customize the Sony Picture Profiles to create film simulations. Well, today we’ll dive deep into this feature. We’ll explore the Picture Profile menu, submenu, and settings that can help you create your very own Sony film simulation recipe.
Let’s dive in!
Benefits of Using Sony Picture Profiles
The picture profile menu was designed to help videographers change certain parameters, such as color, detail, or gamma curve. While they were created with video in mind, Sony’s picture profile can also be used to get great JPEGs straight out of camera.
Here are some of the benefits of using them:
Change the image before compression.
Get the best dynamic range out of your Sony camera.
Improved Sony Colors.
Better low-light performance.
Make your workflow 10x faster & save time in post-production.
Express your unique style.
Customize them to fit any shooting scenario.
The Picture Profile Menu
Before I show you how to go from the standard setting with the Picture Profiles, let’s explore the menu. Each option plays a significant role in shaping the final look of your images, so it's important to understand how they work together. Here's a breakdown of the key features:
The Black Level
The black level is the equivalent of the Black Point in any editing software. This setting determines the level of the darkest blacks in your image, which affects the contrast and the shadow detail.
You can either lower the black level to make the image darker and more contrasty, or raise it to make the image brighter and softer. However, depending on the gamma curve you use, you may want to avoid changing the black level too much.
Actually, the only situation when you really want to fade the blacks is when using it with high contrast gammas.
So, for example, it works really well with Gammas like Movie or Still, which already have a steep gamma slope and high contrast, which in some occasions might be a little bit too much. So in this scenario, by using the still gamma, we have a punchy contrast as a base, and lifting the black retains some of the shadow details.
For low contrast gammas like cine1 or cine2, I recommend decreasing the shadows to maybe -10 or -15 since they already have a super soft and fitted contrast. Lifting the Black Level further will only make your image lose contrast and look muddy.
Black level will not work with log Gammas. Only the black gamma will influence them. With HLG gamma, it's the exact opposite; only the black level will work. So the black gamma is disabled.
P.S: Compared to other manufacturers, Sony doesn’t compress the image so much. So even if the shadows or highlights seem crushed, I’m always surprised how much detail I can actually recover in post-processing.
Gamma refers to how the camera reads the input data and affects contrast. You can compare it to the S curve you find in editing software.
Each gamma setting will offer a different contrast and dynamic range.
Still and movie games are the ones with the most contrast and least dynamic range.
Cine gammas are meant to replicate film-like contrast.
Helg and S-log have the flattest image, soft contrast, and most dynamic range to work with.
You can use them all to your advantage in order to get a punchy look or a soft faded one.
Black Gamma provides refined control over shadow details. By adjusting the range and level settings, you can choose the extent of shadow influence and lift or lower the shadows accordingly. The range setting determines how much of the shadows you want to affect, while the level setting allows you to lift or lower the shadows.
For example, for portrait profiles, a wider range with lifted shadows can brighten skin tones, while for a moody film look, choosing a wider or middle range and dragging the level down can create a darker, more atmospheric effect.
To create your custom picture profile, you’ll use the black gamma in combination with the black and gamma - going back and forth to refine your image.
You can watch my YouTube video to have a visual reference for all of this 👇
The Knee option softens and improves Sony's highlight roll-off. By setting it to manual, you can customize the percentage and slope values. So you can control the percentage at which the highlights start being compressed to retain the details. The slope value determines the maximum white level point.
The Knee feature essentially allows you to compress and manage the transition from mid-tones to highlights, resulting in a smoother and more pleasing rendition of bright areas in your images. When properly set, the Knee can prevent the clipping of highlight details, preserving information that would otherwise be lost.
P.S: Keep in mind that each Gamma has a different maximum white point, which means you may need different knee settings for each Gamma profile. Experimenting is key here! One thing I found useful is using the camera’s viewfinder for a more accurate representation. Sony's screens don’t always provide a reliable representation.
There are 10 or more color modes on Sony cameras, each with its color science and a distinct look.
Every color mode in Sony cameras imparts a distinct hue tonality and saturation, allowing you to choose the one that best suits your creative vision.
For example, the itu709 color mode tends to have more saturated reds, while the cinema color mode emphasizes blues and magentas.
Therefore, it’s super important to choose a color mode that aligns with the look you’re going for. The idea here is to test them out until you understand them for real. Because once you know the characteristics of each color mode, you’ll have full control of the pre and post-production process.
Here’s a description of each color mode, taken from Sony’s website:
When you start creating your custom picture profile, you might want to revisit the table or look up videos for a direct comparison between the main color modes. This might help you get acquainted with them.
While some color modes may be more suitable for specific scenarios or genres, such as Movie or Stills for standard colors and pleasing skin tones, don't be afraid to think outside the box and experiment with different color modes to achieve unique and captivating results.
Saturation controls the intensity of colors in your image. Increase or decrease it according to your preferences. An interesting trick is to exploit the characteristics of certain color modes, such as itu709, which tends to have overly saturated reds. By selecting itu709 and decreasing the saturation, you can balance out the reds while achieving desaturated and deep greens.
Color Phase allows you to shift the hue of the entire image. When used in combination with the color depth setting, it’s a powerful tool that shifts all the colors in different directions, creating different color palettes.
For example, if you shift the color phase to a negative value, it will shift the whole color palette counterclockwise. A value of -7, for instance, will make reds become orange, yellows become green, greens become teal, and blues become violet/magenta. On the other hand, if you lift the color phase to a positive value of +7, reds will become magenta, oranges will become reddish, greens will turn into olive, and blues will become teal or even green.
Color Depth refers to luma adjustments on each color channel, enabling you to control the brightness of individual colors. This, coupled with Sony's array of color modes, gives their film simulations the ability to closely mimic real film. This is where Sony shines, compared to Fuji. You’ll get more flexibility in adjusting color tones in-camera for a film look.
P.S This setting is a bit counterintuitive – if we lift the color depth it gets darker, and if we drag it down it gets brighter.
Now, if you apply some basic color theory to the equation, you’ll find that the darker a color is, the more saturated it will appear. The brighter the color, the more desaturated.
However, the brighter the color, the less saturation you want to apply to it because it will be too much, too vibrant. And the darker the color or overall image, the more saturation you can apply because the darkness will counteract the vibrance of the color, making it pop out less and less noticeable.
For a basic portrait picture profile, I would go with bright skin tones. So bring down the reds and yellows to lift their luma values, which is luminosity. That’s the most important part for skin tones. The rest of the colors you can shift however you like them. Maybe you want deep blues to offer contrast to your model’s skin tones or maybe you want deep greens. The magentas can be tricky because they can also influence skin tones sometimes, so it’s best to lift them up a little to have a safe bet.
Don’t create huge color contrast between two adjacent colors, for example blue and cyan or green and yellow. You don’t want to set blue to -7 and cyan to +7 because that will make color fall apart and create artifacts, noise, and color separation over the whole image.
Additionally, shifting the color depth may cause colors to change their hue slightly. For example, pushing the reds might make them appear almost pink, while darkening them might shift them towards red or orange. This effect is more noticeable in film simulations with strong color adjustments.
Many Sony users are familiar with the camera’s sharpness. However, you can experiment with the detail settings to produce a super soft, organic, and analog look.
For example, decreasing the detail to -7 reduces general sharpness. Furthermore, you can fine-tune the detail settings for shadows, midtones, and highlights. Adjusting the v/h balance allows you to emphasize either vertical or horizontal details. Meanwhile, the B/W balance enables you to choose which part of the image should have more details. Lowering it accentuates details in shadows and reduces them in highlights, while raising it does the opposite.
How To Create Film Simulations With Your Sony Camera
Since nobody’s really explaining how to customize the standard setting of the picture profiles, I want to explain every bit of it & show you the step by step process involved in creating your custom Picture Profile recipe.
1. Check if your Sony Camera has a Picture Profile Menu 😂
Nowadays, most Sony cameras do have this feature, but you still need to check. So – google your camera model and check.
P.S - You’re looking for the Picture Profile menu, NOT the Picture Effect feature.
What’s really cool is that you can create your custom picture profile button. This is one of the reasons why I love the Sony system - they give us so many customizable options.
2. Choose the RAW + JPEG file format.
Once you determine whether your camera has this feature, the next step is to choose the file format you want. Even though these Picture Profiles are mainly focused on video, Sony mentions that it can indeed be used for images as well and the looks will be baked into JPEGs only).
However, I always choose the RAW + JPEG option. Just in case I want to edit the image further in post-production. Sometimes you need that RAW power.
3. Think of a look or film stock you want to emulate & analyze it thoroughly. 🔍
Consider the style or mood you want to create with your film simulation. Are you aiming for a vintage, cinematic, or natural look?
Define the key visual elements that make up that look, such as color tones, contrast, or shadow details. How would you achieve that look in editing? How would you tweak the black level, knee setting, gamma/black gamma, color phase and color depth to achieve the look?
You can start off with a super popular film stock, like Kodak Gold. Check out your own drive, lomography.com, YouTube or forums for photo samples.
Take some notes with your ideas and test them. Then, refine your recipe! If you do have access to the Sony Film Simulations , you can check how your recipe compares to mine and hop on the forum to chat!
4. Start with the Gamma Settings
Choose a gamma setting that aligns with your desired look. For instance, if you want a high-contrast style, choose a Gamma like Movie Still. If you’re into a softer look, you might want to go for the Cine Gamma curves. For a flat look, but the best dynamic range - the Log curves are your best bet.
5. Adjust Black Level and Black Gamma ⚫
Fine-tune the black point to control the level of darkest blacks in your image. Lowering it will increase shadows and create a darker look, while raising it will maintain more shadow detail.
Experiment with black gamma settings to refine shadow control.
Select a range that determines how much of the shadows you want to influence, and adjust the level to lift or lower the shadows accordingly.
6. The Knee Setting
The knee option helps control highlight roll-off. What I usually aim for is a soft, faded highlight roll-off to cut down that high contrast and give my shoots a moody tone. For that, I usually set it between 75-80% and set the slope to +1 or +2.
7. Choose The Color Mode
Select a color mode that complements your desired look & respective gamma curve. For instance, if you went for the still gamma curve, you’ll want to choose the color mode accordingly.
8. Fine-tune Saturation, Color Phase and Color Depth
Adjust the saturation setting to enhance or reduce the overall color vibrancy. Decreasing saturation can create a desaturated or muted look, while increasing it can make colors more vivid.
Use the color phase option to shift the hue of the entire image. Experiment with subtle adjustments to achieve the desired color balance and tonal shift.
Pro Tip - Analyze the look you’re going for beforehand. How would you twitch these settings to get your look? What hues stand out? Is the look muted or vibrant? How dark/light is each color? Then - Test, test, test! 🧪
9. Go Into Details
Next step is setting the details of your profile picture. I’m going to share what I’ve found to be the best default setting for a smooth cinematic picture profile. This setting will give you that specific analog soft look, while also preserving the overall image quality & details. With these settings, Sony doesn’t over sharpen images anymore.
First, bring down the general sharpness to -7 for a softer look. This helps create a more organic feel in the image. In terms of detail balance, I tend to prefer a higher balance for horizontal detail, as it adds a pleasing aesthetic to the final result.
When it comes to distributing detail, I often reduce the level of details in the highlights, particularly for portrait profiles, as this helps achieve smoother skin tones. For those aiming for a clean low-light profile, setting the B/W balance to type 5 works wonders, minimizing shadow details and potential noise.
Lastly, to ensure that the brighter areas of the image retain their subtle details, I typically set the Crispening to +4.
These settings have consistently yielded that soft film look in my custom profile pictures.
10. Save, play, and refine. 📷
Once you've achieved the desired look, save your custom picture profile so you can easily access it in the future.
The trick here is to continuously experiment with the picture profile in different settings & to refine it. Honestly, it’s a great way of letting your creativity burst!
Want to share your recipes and connect with other Sony users? Let’s come together and create a tight-knit community for Sony film simulations! Hop on the forum & join the conversation.