Saturday, May 06, 2023

Photo style settings for the Panasonic Lumix DC-S5

The Lumix DC-S5 provides a large number of Photo Styles and Photo Effects. These options are ideal for those who prefer to get their look in-camera, shooting directly to JPG. There are Landscape and Portrait settings, several different Monochrome models, Cross-Processing, Toy Effect, Low and High Key, Sepia, and even settings termed Fantasy, Expressive, Retro, and Old Days. 

Now, like many, I prefer to capture a malleable image in RAW and then post-process on a computer, as required. But I cannot ignore the Photo Styles, since this setting also determines the recorded gamma curve.

So, what are the best settings for photography? Should we use Standard or Natural? Or should we be shooting photos in Cinelike or V-Log, originally designed for videography? This article will investigate. 

I find it unfortunate that Panasonic has jumbled together special effects designed for point-and-shoot users with important exposure settings that more serious photographers will wish to control. Some might even say that SFX features don't belong on a professional's camera. But the Lumix S5 is truly trying to be all things to all people. 

At very least the gamma curve and exposure compression algorithms should be explicitly available and well documented. Instead, Panasonic provides the following not-so-helpful descriptions in the manual for the three most basic choices: 

  • Standard: "the standard setting"
  • Natural: "produces a softer quality with lower contrast"
  • Flat: "produces a flatter image quality with lower saturation and contrast"

And that's all we get!

So obviously I needed to produce a test strip. The following images were taken in Standard, Vivid, Natural, Flat, Cinelike V2, and V-Log. No grading has been applied. You can readily find other comparisons online. In particular, you might wish to see what happens with skin tones, since I am not your man for portraiture.

PhotoStyles: Standard, Vivid, Natural, Flat, Cinelike V2, V-Log

(As always, click through to see a full-size image on Flickr.)

Cinematic exposure

Cinelike V2, and V-Log are styles influenced by cinema cameras. This is where the mysteries of exposure deepen. 

A log style applies a logarithmic (-like) gamma curve or exposure map, so that blacks are raised and highlights reduced, according to a specific formula. This allows a wider dynamic range to be stored in 10 bits of data, preventing the clipping of shadows and highlights. The image while shooting will appear quite washed out, but this provides latitude in post-production, where colour grading can restore shadows, highlight detail, and contrast. (Here's Panasonic's own explanation.)

Now, it's important to realise that there is no universal log formula. Every brand has their own, signified by a prefix. Canon has C-Log; Nikon has N-Log; for Sony it's S-Log, and for Panasonic... V-Log. Don't ask me!

There are also difference depending on whether the video is being stored using 8-bit or 10-bit colour. 

Most every pundit on the internet raves about these modes, as though they will instantly make your work more "cinematic". But what works for video doesn't necessarily work for photography. Massimo Franzese, who writes as interceptor121, has provided a deep dive into this topic, which I will summarise. 

The V-Log Photo Style works by effectively scrunching exposure information down into the blacks. This requires you to compensate in camera by "exposing to the right" (ETTR) by 2.67 EV. This is clearly visible in my test strip. In order to be consistent, I didn't compensate for this dark shift when shooting. Nor did I correct when developing, so that the shots could be compared. Not only is the result significantly darker but the contrast range has been changed in ways that are not easy to compensate for while developing. Working with this image in a photographic workflow would be very difficult.

The second potential issue is that boosting exposure might make noise more apparent. But the Lumix S line is ISO invariant, meaning that there's no difference in shooting at a higher ISO and boosting exposure after the fact. Nonetheless, there could be a noise issue when crossing from the low to high ISO range. (See my previous article for details.)

Third, Franzese writes of potential colour bleed issues, about which I know nothing. Finally, V-Log restricts our minimum ISO to 640, which increases the need for ND filters in bright environments. 

For all that bother, what do we gain? According to Franzese, V-Log offers only a 0.7 stop benefit over the CineLikeD2 profile, which has none of the drawbacks previously mentioned. Though CineLikeD2 increases the minimum ISO, it does so only from 100 to 200. From my test strip you can easily see that the image is darker, but this is readily compensated for in developing.

Also available is CineLikeV2, a newer variation that apparently handles skin tones better. Again, I resort to the manual for these minimal descriptions:

  • CineLikeD2: "creates a film-like finishing touch using a gamma curve and give priority to the dynamic range"
  • CineLikeV2: "creates a film-like finishing touch using a gamma curve that gives priority to the contrast"


Panasonic's own article explains that the Photo Styles are only shortcuts towards the final look you desire. If you are photographing to RAW format, all of the data is available in the file in any case. Unlike video, we have a full 24 bits of colour, so there is no need for compressions schemes. Actually, I could have started with that declaration! But I thought the information in the previous section was worth presenting in any case.

For my part, I will standardise on the Natural setting and make any aesthetic changes in post-production. I do this safe in the knowledge that the Photo Style options can be ignored entirely.

When I turn to videography, I will favour the CineLike styles. But that's another article!


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