A common filmmaking problem is that you don’t always have two cameras that are the same model. Until recently, it was more difficult to seamlessly match different cameras in post-production. But not anymore.
It’s nice to rent the expensive camera. You know the one — the one that you’ve always dreamed of using. You own a much cheaper camera yourself, but this project had a nice budget — and you got to rent your dream camera for it. Only problem is, sometimes, projects need more than one camera. So will the cheaper camera you already own and the more expensive one cut well together?
That exact scenario has played out in my own career more times than I can count. Most of the time, I end up using two completely different camera systems in my projects. I’ve spent the better part of the last two to three years using an Ursa Mini 4.6 as my A-cam and an a7SII as my B-cam. These cameras have entirely different color science and dynamic range, which can cause issues in post.
Here are my methods for color-matching two cameras when color correcting. I’ve found it works for just about any two cameras you might use.
Obviously, you might not be able to match your mom’s Handicam from 2001 to an ARRI Alexa, but as crazy as this may sound, I think you can at least get it somewhat close. Will it be noticeable? Totally. Will the colors exist in the same “world” and be a lot less jarring to the audience? Hopefully.
I’ve had clients ask me time and time again if Camera A will cut well with Camera B. This usually comes from worries about the budget and not wanting to rent two big expensive cameras. My answer is always, “I don’t know, probably.” I just feel like that’s a bit of a loaded question. If you could make a cheap camera look exactly like an ARRI Alexa in post, then nobody would rent an ARRI Alexa.
Having said that, it’s my personal belief that your can place the footage from any two modern cameras in an edit next to each other, if color matched, and it won’t be as jarring to the audience — and that’s about all you can do. An Alexa will always be an Alexa, so if you want it to match perfectly, then rent two.
Except for that time Peter Jackson used a GoPro in The Hobbit. That was kind of weird.
What You’re Looking For
No matter what you do, match your white balance and tint settings as best as you can while you’re on set. This will set you up for more success later on.
When color matching, beyond the overall color correction and look you’re going for (which you should set up after you’ve matched your cameras), there are three things that you are looking at in order to match your cameras.
- Contrast/Exposure: You have to match contrast first. This will reveal certain things in your colors that you’ll need to fix. You need to do this by eye usually, and I like to use curves adjustments for that.
- Color Temp/White Balance: Even if you match white balance when shooting, the different cameras might have more blue or orange in the image.
- Tint: Certain cameras are known for being a bit green, or a bit pink. Regardless, every sensor is going to respond to the light in the scene differently. You use your tint to match the pink/green shift in the image. This usually requires a very, very subtle correction.
If you follow these three steps, in that order, you’ll usually find that you can easily match your cameras.
This part is for Premiere users; however, other NLEs have some different versions of this same concept.
It can be difficult to color match when you have to switch between two shots on the timeline to see how well they compare. Luckily, Premiere has a new-ish feature called “Comparison View.” This feature provides three different side-by-side views that allow you to compare two shots simultaneously.
It’s very intuitive, and extremely helpful. Using comparison view, you’ll find that you’re matching your shots in a third of the time that it took before. I used to think I had two shots matched, and then when I watched them in context in the edit, I would realize that they couldn’t be further from matching. The process is much easier now.
Another great new feature in Premiere is the “Apply Match” button.
This feature leverages the comparison view “Reference” pane and attempts to automatically match the color to the shot you currently have selected. There is also a face detection checkbox, which prioritizes skin tones.
This is a really great and powerful new feature. While it may not always provide a perfect match, it is definitely always a really good starting point. The effect only manipulates the color wheels in the Lumetri panel, so you can still go in and make adjustments earlier in the chain, or alter the color wheels manually after the automatic match has been done.
I like to use it as a way to approximate where my skin tones need to be, and then correct the scene around them a bit to get a better match.
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