Consumer video cameras generally come in two flavours: 8-bit and 10-bit. I want this article to be as practical as possible so I won’t cover the technical differences here. Just know that it’s not difficult to understand how the two effect your footage. I like to think of it this way: Just like a RAW image has more information than a JPEG, a 10-bit video clip has more information than an 8-bit one. This means that you can do more in post with a 10-bit video clip than you can with an 8-bit one. This is the main reason I don’t heavily grade my footage. The more I push and pull the contrast and the colours the more the image is being pulled apart and degraded. While I do process my images slightly in post, I do my very best to achieve the look I’m going for in camera.
To learn more about the differences of 8-bit and 10-bit video checkout this article by B&H: 8-Bit, 10-Bit, What Does It All Mean for Your Videos?
If you want to go really deep watch biscuitsalive’s video: 10bit vs 8bit colour. When NOT to use 8bit, and why.
Don’t do it!
If you’re like me and your recording with an 8bit hybrid photo/video camera, you might be making the terrible mistake of recording in a flat or, god-forbid, a log mode. This is possibly the worst thing you could do to your 8-bit footage. Video clips, unless shot RAW, basically act like JPEG images and an 8 bit JPEG image has almost no leeway in terms of how much you can edit it. So, when you shoot in flat modes and then add contrast and saturation in post you are actually degrading the quality of your image and making it look so much worse than it could look if you had not shot flat in the first place.
I’m sure you’re actually quite good at colour correction and colour grading if you’ve been able to get flat 8-bit footage to look half-way decent, because that is no easy task. But, here’s the thing: Camera manufactures have spent millions of dollars in research and development to have their cameras produce great looking video right out of camera. All you have to do to take advantage of their hard work is shoot with the in-camera colours and contrast provided by the manufacturer. If you create your look in-camera you will be so much happier with the results, because the image won’t have been stretched and pulled apart.
Does this mean that flat 8-bit footage can’t be graded? Well, no. Professional colourists can still ‘save’ flat 8-bit footage, but you’re no professional colourist (my apologies if you are.) You’re grading your films on a consumer monitor in an unbalanced room. There’s only so much you can do, and given the vast amount of tutorials I’ve seen of people attempting to grade flat 8-bit footage the results are always worse than the in-camera colours and contrast.
A narrow dynamic range is only a problem if you’re shooting scenes that have a wide dynamic range. Most of the time, you’re probably not using all of those stops anyway and bringing the contrast and saturation to where it would have been had you not shot the scene flat. Letting the camera bring you to that starting point will always give you better results than starting flat, correcting it to ‘normal’, and then grading it. If you do need to shoot a scene with a high-dynamic range by all means shoot a little flatter, but if you don’t need all of that information to begin with why make things harder than they have to be?
Even if you do get your flat 8-bit image to look great on your monitor there is a really good chance that the couple will watch their film on their phone with night-mode turned on, or on an uncalibrated TV and ruin all of your hard work. I think it’s really important to ask yourself, “who am I grading all of these clips for, me or the couple? Will the couple even notice?”
Finally, just think of all the time you will save in editing not heavily correcting and colour grading your clips. If this was only benefit of shooting this way it would be enough for me. There is nothing worse for the creative juices or my mental health than having a growing backlog of wedding films. Creating workflows that will allow you to edit faster is the best way to crush that backlog and film more weddings!