Sony RX100 Low Light Footage

En route home from a night out, I decided to grab a few shots of NYC at night to see how the Sony RX100 fares in dim street light.  Overall, I’d say it does admirably for a compact, but still pales in comparison to most DSLR’s (note the blue noise in the shadows).

You can bump your low light performance a bit by setting your camera to Shutter Priority Mode (or full manual) and setting the shutter to 1/40 or even 1/30 (though the latter will give you a 360° shutter, which has a very “video” look to it).

Overall, the main reason this camera is cool is because I can have it with me at all times.  The bigger “pro” cameras are great for controlled environments and paid gigs, but in recording daily life, it’s all about convenience.  If it doesn’t fit in my pocket, it usually stays home.  You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

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    Latest Comments
    1. Dayle

      I have been reading/watching your blog regarding video cameras and software; I find it extremely helpful – thank you.

      I am familiar with many aspects of entertainment business, but not with video cameras. I’m trying to familiarize myself as much as possible – kind of like cramming for a test.

      I read your One Bag – priced out all the components you included in it and came to a value of approx $2000 (if all components are there). I noticed you since then posted about another video camera.

      I’m working on a reality/documentary piece (tbd) since the production company I’m working with can not be at every where – I need a camera I can shoot with that will be acceptable quality for tv or film – that does as much of the job for me as possible. Meaning audio / lighting two important components) – I watched your video on stabilization, that software will be extremely helpful.

      Can you please recommend a camera for me that can accomplish on the go shooting – without it being extremely expensive – that is going to be a quality acceptable to tv/film programming standards?

      Another questions, I hope you don’t mind….. I want to ask the expert and that is you. – For audio where do you suggest storing large audio files? I have researched SoundCloud, DropBox and YouSendIt. – do you have a preference on which can handle big files?

      What computer system laptop / software do you suggest for uploading the video once I have it shot each day? Editing software?

      Thank you again your blog is very informative and I enjoy reading / watching it!

      Dayle

      • brandon

        Thanks Dayle! In order to give you advice, I need to know what the scope of the production is. Are you shooting stuff that may get used for network TV broadcast, or is it just for demo purposes? Or web? Are you shooting hours and hours a day, or just a little? More run-and-gun stuff, or more interviews? Do you want to carry a bag of gear around all the time, or is stealth and convenience the priority? And lastly, I need to know a ballpark figure of your budget. Then I’ll be able to make some recommendations. Let me know!

    2. lee mackreath

      Are you using flat picture profiles on this camera and doing any grading in post or is this footage straight out of the camera using a standard picture profile? The same question goes for the nightclub footage as well.

      thanks

      lee

      • lee mackreath

        sorry I see you already gave that info on the low light video…but the question about the night club footage and post processing is still valid.

        thanks

        • brandon

          For Hollywood Nights, I used Magic Bullet Looks combined with some custom gradient overlays to give each scene a different character. The karaoke stuff is pretty much straight out of the camera, though. I couldn’t do much grading because the footage already had a strong blue cast, and I was shooting at ISO 3200.

          • lee mackreath

            I have the magic bullet looks 2 plugin for FCP X and tend to use it quite often if I am looking for the right look or feel for a scene, I also have Nick Campbell ‘s “Vintage film looks” pack for Magic Bullet looks also and have found some very nice presets in there also.

            Is there any particular looks presets you use or find yourself using often?

            • brandon

              I most often use the “subtle film” preset as a starting point. I’ve just started using Campbell’s vintage pack, but I find a lot of the presets are more usable if I add reduce the initial contrast in the the “subject” portion of the effects pipeline. These presets were designed with flat footage in mind, so my contrasty source material fares better if I flatten it a bit in Looks first.

    3. lee mackreath

      Last question for now…I believe you use Final Cut Pro X for compiling your footage?

      I know you export to prores, is this standard or on HQ? Also in a previous post on Vimeo you mentioned that once this was done you then use Adobe Media Encoder..is this simple to reduce the file size of the prores file and nothing else?

      I am now using FCP X 10.05 and export at h.264 just to keep the file size down…am I losing quality using this rather than prores?

      • brandon

        I used Premiere CS6 for this one. I find the playback on un-transcoded footage is smoother on my computer with Premiere than FCP X. Exported to H.264 – Prores isn’t supported by Vimeo and is overkill for web output anyway.

    4. Dayle

      To answer your questions Brandon – The quality would be intended for network broadcast television and or movie. It would be documentary style / reality with interviews and capturing moments, meetings, events -shooting in hotels, restaurants and some outdoor. I don’t mind carrying gear around as long as it’s not too much for one person and it’s helping the quality out – ideally, hands free from more baggage is always a plus. Shooting could be several hours throughout the day / evening, but in spurts of about 2-3 hours at a time. Budget wise: Under $5K and the very least under 3K.
      Sound and lighting important.

      Thank you.

      • brandon

        The highest quality camera you could get for this task and budget would be the Blackmagic Cinema Camera (shipping end of December), which is $3k without lenses. Plan on $5k for a full camera rig. But this camera would require some expertise on the part of the operator, and editing the footage would require someting like a new Macbook Pro with a solid state hard drive. You would also need an external solid state drive to record/store the footage. Plan on another $3-4k for the post-production rig. If you want something cheaper and novice-friendly, I’d suggest the GH2 kit I describe in my previous article. If you don’t want to sync sound separately in post (which is never as simple as it should be), I would suggest Sennheiser G3 wireless mics. Lighting can be cheap if you go for something like an Ikan LED on-camera light. For cheaper computer options, consider a maxed-out gaming PC laptop or a used Macbook Pro. Going into further detail on gear would be beyond the scope of this comment, but I hope this is a good starting point for you.

    5. Dayle

      Thank you Brandon, that’s a great start! Appreciate you taking the time to answer.
      Dayle~

    6. Thomas

      Hi Brandon,
      what were your settings for noise reduction and recording quality/format for this video.
      Thanks in advance.
      Thomas

      • brandon

        Hi, noise reduction was set to “normal” though I’m not sure it applies to video mode. It was recorded at 1080p60 at 28mbps.

    7. mario

      I really like your blog, just got a rx100 and reading your posts is really useful. great job

    8. Sander

      Hi Brandon,
      Looking for info about the rx100 i stumbled on your very inspirational website, it motivated me to buy this little camera. Thanks for sharing your ideas and solutions.
      However, the settings on the rx100 you use at night are not fit for the purpose. The rx100 can achieve so much more in darkness.

      Short story: In direct very strong sunlight dial contrast to -3. In dark ultra low light dial contrast to +3. Besides reducing blue noise this reduces lens flare around lamps on the street.
      Long story:
      Contrast -2 or even -3, is good for bright sunshine outdoor, because the big dynamic range of a well lit world won’t fit in the limited dynamic range of whatever sensor you use in a camera.
      At night the dynamic range is much smaller, somewhere between streetlamp and black and your camera’s automatic iso setting is unsuccessful trying to push it to a daylight lit balanced picture.
      In very dark night scenes its better to compensate the low dynamic lighting by pushing the contrast to higher levels, in this particular case i would use:
      contrast +2 or even +3, saturation 0, sharpness -2 . DRO level 0 or 1, exposure compensation eventually dialed down a little bit.

      After a few days of experimenting with the RX i have made three memory recalls in camera.
      1 For bright sunny daylight: Aperture priority, contrast -3 or -2, saturation -1, sharpness -2 DRO 0 or maybe 1, iso limited between 100 and 400 to prevent pumping of the iso when walking around
      2 For dusk and dawn : Shutterspeed priority, Contrast around 0, saturation 0, sharpness-2, iso limited between 200 and 800. DRO level o or 1
      3 For ultra dark shots: Shutterspeed priority Contrast +3, saturation 0 or 1, sharpness -1, iso limited between 400 and 3200, DRO level 1 or even 2.

      In case 3 i would not mind to lower the shutter speed to 1/25 ( in your ntsc case 1/30). It’s to dark to notice the 360 shutter effect anyway 😉

      Sander.

      • Brandon Li

        Thanks for all this info! So glad you’ve found the site useful. I’m using the RX100’s extensively in production now, and they’ve held up amazingly. I will definitely try out your settings and see how they affect low light performance and dynamic range. Great to hear from someone else who regards this amazing camera as a pro video tool. It really is a game changer, and if I had the coin I would add an RX1 to my arsenal as well. Are you going to check that one out?

        • Sander

          After making some statements here about contrast and sharpness of the rx100 i just did some reproducible testing. Under the function button i assigned white balance, creative style, DRO and iso 3200. With the white balance on the lightbulb setting i went into a total dark closet and dialed contrast to -3. The display of the camera showed lots of blue noise instead of the desired black. Slowly turning the contrast to +1 the noise disappeared and turned in a nice black.
          Again in total darkness i dialed the DRO slowly up, to give more shadow structure. At level 2 a faint vignette of bleu noise started to appear, so i dialed back to level one.
          After that i went outside. A cloudy night , no moon and dim suburb fluorescent streetlights every 20 meters. I started filming short pan and scans with sharpness each round dialed up from-3 to +3. Increasing sharpness makes fine noise in light areas change in noise resembling film noise. Nice. My settings so far for near total darkness and WB lightbulb are +1,0,+2 and DRO level 1
          Thats the way i found the best settings for almost total darkness. Try it yourself, because my rx100 is made in china, some are made in japan. Perhaps they behave a little different. Repeat this test with other WB’s, especially the lightbulb setting creates lots of blue noise.

          About the rx1: This one is outside my needs (and budget). The camera i want to try is the gh3, especially because rumours say its waterproof. Living in holland waterproof is a very good thing.
          Greetings, Sander.

          • Brandon Li

            Very interesting. What creative style are you using? I’ve been on Standard because it’s the most natural looking. There’s that supposed smoothness of color gradation that Sunset profile provides, but in my empirical tests I hardly noticed a difference, and I like the option of AWB. Haven’t messed around much with the other styles.

    9. Sander

      Hi Brandon. I found a very good solution to get rid of the blue noise of the rx100, but first i will answer your questions.White balance is for me a simple thing: At day and outside i use “sun”, at night in the city mostly “incandescent” or manual. Far more predictable than AWB in post.
      The standard creative style on the rx100 looks good to me too. Sunset and portrait looks nice to. At sunny daytime i use now -2,0,-3, at very dark night i am now happy with +2,+1,-2, eventually with a little bit of DRO. Raising sharpness did not bring the joy i expected after closer examination of more footage.
      Especially at night its important to keep an eye on exposure compensation. Dial it down when the surroundings are black, dial it (very slightly)up when the surroundings are white. When in doubt, always dial EV down a bit at night.

      For the bleu noise (mostly luminance) i found a solution far exceeding my expectations, so called temporal noise reduction. You need:
      -A computer from the latest generation (i7 or i5)with as many cores as possible and if possible a nvidia CUDA enabled graphic card.
      -A noise profile of the camera you used to shoot the footage.
      -Temporal denoise software.
      -Time, because of long render times.

      I don’t want to advertise the specific software solution i used to get rid of all the noise, i leave that to your discretion. If you are interested i can mail/ pm you the link to the software trial i used , my rx100 noise profile as a starter and instructions how to make a specific noise profile of your own rx100’s. It’s possible to eliminate noise in your older footage too this way but results are best if you take some precautions with contrast/sharpness/WB/EV during recording of your footage. After that, iso 3200 is very useable.

      P.S. The specific software i tried is available for all major editing software, including FCP x and Premiere.

      • Brandon Li

        Are you concerned at all with crushing the blacks and losing detail when increasing contrast in the picture profile? I tried it out a bit and I definitely lose a lot of detail in the shadows.

        I’ve tried denoising software and found it useful only for mild cases of video noise – the softening becomes unacceptable when I’m shooting ISO 3200 with a fast-moving subject. Maybe I need a more accurate noise profile for the RX100 to fully take advantage. But honestly, I get enough “denoising” out of web compression to satisfy most of my problems.

        Have you achieved better results? Are you able to retain sharpness in the image while removing blue noise?

    10. eric

      Brandon…. Thinking about picking one of these up for Backstage type video shoots… Are you still happy with it and I have 2 questions.. You have a filter solution yet for ND, I am sure in Full sun the shutter speed will have to go really high and will get the choppy Private Ryan syndrome??? Also Does the AF in Video Mode work well enough to follow models and people well and is the manual focus as hard as I have read in other Post…? I am going to NY next week and was thinking about picking one of these up for a B camera and or BAckstage fashion video camera to go along with some 7D footage… Do the movie file work well in FCP X? THANKS for any help before I go to NY…

      • Brandon Li

        Hi, I am very happy with the camera. There is a variable ND filter solution at Cheesycam.com.

        The shutter does go really fast in full sunlight. I just live with it. The AF in video mode is not great if you’re shooting wide open. It will be able to track faces in decent light as long as they’re facing you, but side views and lowlight shooting cause enough hunting to make the AF unusable for critical shots.

        The movie files work fine in FCP X. Just be aware that your footage will be interpreted as 60p, so you’ll have to export 24p manually. I’m currently exporting a 60p master via the “share” function, then transcoding it for web with Adobe Media Encoder, which seems to be much faster tdhan Compressor.

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