You may have heard about flat picture profiles for HD-DSLR cameras but do you know what they mean and why some experts recommend them? Digital cameras and especially HD-DSLR cameras need to have a colour recipe for the sensor to know how to output colours and exposure for your photographs and video. Until the widespread uptake of video functions on DSLR cameras, they were designed by the camera manufacturers to mimic film, the types of films that enthusiasts had been used to in analogue cameras. To keep those consumers familiar with the change to digital, the picture styles or camera profiles were set up to produce results similar to the popular films of the eighties and nineties like Kodachrome and Fuji Velvia.
These are great profiles to have for still pictures because we can get vibrant colours straight from the camera and as an added bonus if we shoot RAW format, these picture styles are not baked in, they can be changed with RAW processing software. That's fine for photographs but with video most everything we do to set the camera up before filming is baked into the footage, leaving little nondestructive editing post shoot. The profiles are using the senors dynamic range, meaning the difference between the lightest part of the image to the darkest. This is fine if your scene falls into the dynamic range but very often it doesn't and most HD-DSLR camera manufacturers set their cameras meter to prevent the highlights blowing out, meaning the shadows on a higher contrast scene are left to drop to deep black with no shadow detail, or at best minimal.
Flat profiles to the rescue or is it, these types of profiles artificially extend your dynamic range to add maybe another couple of stops, but really it is just reducing the contrast in your video clip, allowing you in post production to choose which information is more important to you. Do you add contrast to bring out more shadow detail and risk loosing some highlights. The only useful time to use flat profiles is when you have a high contrast scene in bright sun with deep shadows and bright highlights. The cost to using the flat profile is the risk of introducing more digital noise and ultimately spending too much time on a video clip for stock footage.
Choose a camera picture profile to suit the scene and maybe have a flat profile for those times you might have a high contrast scene to have as a safety net, getting it right in camera as much as you can for stock video is still more important.