How to Match Shots from Two or More Cameras for Color and Exposure

Sooner or later there comes a time in a cinematographer’s career when he or she is forced to shoot with multiple cameras – either on a multi-cam shoot or just because the main camera is not available anymore and you’re forced to shoot with another.

Exclusive Bonus: Download my free cheatsheet on when to choose a Steadicam, Gimbal or Handheld Rig for those camera motion shots (PDF file optimized for mobiles and tablets).

Sometimes you’re lucky and the cameras are close enough to make shot matching easy, while other times you might be asked to match an iPhone to an Alexa. Never say never. In this article, I’ll show you some important concepts and explain how you can ensure you have the best chance to have your shots match so the most important people – your clients and your audience – can’t tell the difference.

Here’s how to do it:

Notes:

  • Just because I say the F5 and F55 sensors match, it does not mean they do; nor are we interested in the minor differences between the sensors of the A7r and the D810.
  • If you’re wondering about which color chart to pick, buy the DSC Labs OneShot Pocket. It’s designed for video, unlike the charts from X-Rite and Datacolor. However, a color chart is better than no color chart.

 

The steps (more like a flowchart) to match shots from different cameras

1. Try to get the same camera models, and you can avoid the 8 of the 12 steps in this list.

  • If yes, hold your horses. Try to get the same lenses and filters. Don’t forget to custom white balance and use the same presets, codecs, etc.
  • If no, go to step two.

2.  Try to get cameras with the exact same sensors (choices are limited here).

  • If yes, try to adapt the same lenses and filters. Then go to step four.
  • If no, go to step three.

3. Try to get cameras with the same sensor size (FF or APS-C, etc.) and technology (CMOS vs CCD, etc.)

  • If yes, your footage will at least have similar depth-of-field characteristics and so on, but that’s about it. Go to step four.
  • If no, you’re screwed, and must tread carefully – to step four.

4. Custom white balance both cameras using a neutral white or 18% grey card that has been printed to standards.

5. Do both cameras shoot Rec. 709?

  • If yes, set both cameras to Rec. 709. It gives you the best hope to survive this apocalypse. Go to step seven.
  • If no, hope for step six.

6. Does either camera shoot RAW?

  • Shoot RAW on that camera. It’s easier to change white balance, exposure and color space information later. On to step seven.
  • If no, you will have to earn your pay, and then some, starting with step seven.

7. Use a color chart, individually to both cameras, and record using the video mode (no stills). Make sure the lighting does not change. Use the same presets as your final shoot.

8. Are you the kind of person who likes to carry broadcast monitors and computers to set?

  • If yes, are you under studio lighting conditions (no changes)?
  • If yes, calibrate your monitors to your lighting conditions (Did you bring your calibration kit?). Go to step ten.
  • If no, go to step nine.
  • If no, go to step ten.

9. Tweak settings on camera till the colors look similar to you. You asked for it. You’ll still need to do step eleven in post.

10. Shoot! And take notes of any changes.

11. Bring the footage back into your color grading software, preferably DaVinci Resolve (It has the best ‘fine-control’ color tools to make you life easier and faster):

  • Play with lift/gamma/gain to first ensure the exposures match. The waveform monitor will tell you when it does.
  • Play with the RGB Parade or Vectorscope to ensure the white balance is accurate. Pay attention to the white/grey patches.
  • Now use the color wheels, and sometimes secondary color correction tools to make sure the color patches match – to the best of your ability. You only have to please the director or client – and they are known to mostly be color blind, even when they’re not.

12. Publish your video and test it on different monitors, the Internet, etc. Do they still match?

  • If yes, you’re all set. You made it!
  • If no, return to step eleven and tweak till it hurts.

I hope this quick run-through has given you the confidence to tackle multi-cam setups. There are always extenuating circumstances that force you to use different cameras, it’s normal and quite common. For all other cases, your safest, fastest and most economical bet is to just use the same cameras.

Do you have any tips you use to match cameras? Let me know in the comments section below.

Exclusive Bonus: Download my free cheatsheet on when to choose a Steadicam, Gimbal or Handheld Rig for those camera motion shots (PDF file optimized for mobiles and tablets).