Zebras for a photographer?


this week I’m going to show you what
zebras are and how you can use them to help your photography the zebra function is a highlight
warning indicator and it’s come across from videography but now we have hybrid
cameras that can shoot both of video and stills you can also use it in your
photography it doesn’t control exposure but it warns you of a certain exposure
level on parts of the image it may make the image on the monitor look very
strange but this isn’t recorded in the final photograph or video so basically
it’s a function that helps you with your exposure to turn it on in your Sony a7
three go into the menus and select tab to page six out of nine and click on
zebra setting turn them on and then select zebra level in this you’ll have
settings from 70 to 100 plus and then to custom settings the numbers can be
equated to Ayari levels this is a very geeky term and basically it refers to
your brightness or luminosity an IRA is a unit used in the measurement of
composite video signals it’s name is derived from the initials of the
Institute of radio engineers a value of 100 I re was originally defined to be
the range from blanking level to peak white in a video signal 100 could be
equated to 100 percent brightness zero can be equated to zero brightness so
pure black and pure white well if we look at the back of the camera I’ve
purposely overexposed this image I’ve set my zebras to 100 plus and you can
see the zebra pattern on this screen when I look at the preview image you can
see that the Blinky’s show that this area should be overexposed however when
I bring the image into Lightroom I can still recover the highlights this is
quite misleading and quite frustrating as well because the whole idea of zebras
is that you bring them up so you see them on the screen and then you pull
your exposure back a little bit so the zebras disappear and you know you’re at
the point just before overexposure it’s always a good idea to go and test it for
yourself so I suggest even if you go out into the garden or outside your house or
apartment take a few photos and then go back in
have a look to see what happens on your computer then by doing this test you’ll
start to learn loads about your camera and how it works and how you can get the
best out of it as the zebras are basically a videography tool they’ll
show you a certain exposure or Ayari level on the back of the camera on the
monitor or in the EVF now this is basically a JPEG readout the format that
these cameras film in is the h.264 format h.264 is basically the video
version of a JPEG it bakes in lots of different settings and you don’t have
the flexibility like you would in RAW so then I had a little play around with the
custom function in the zebra settings even though the manual didn’t have much
on these this is what I’ve found there are two settings the first one is lower
limits and the second one is standard plus range lower limit seems to be like
the preset figures however to get the same as 100 plus I have to set it to 99
plus standard range gives you a level and a range of Ayari numbers you can set
the zebras to as I predominantly shoot stills at the moment I want to get as
much out of the camera as possible and fully utilize the whole dynamic range
that the camera offers therefore if I can get the zebras to show the actual
overexposed part on a raw file I’ll know that I’ll be at the limit my highlights
won’t be blown out but I’m squeezing as much information out of the camera as
possible so I did a test with each of these custom settings seeing how far I
could push the image before the raw file became overexposed in the highlights
first of all I set it to lower limit and 100 plus I took a photo with no zebras
on the screen and then another photo with zebras on the screen both of these
still had details in the highlights next I set the lower limit to 105 plus and
took another two photos one without zebras and one with zebras again both of
these shots had details in the highlights the third test I did was with
low limit and I set it to 109 plus again I took two photos one with zebras and
one without now this is where it gets interesting the first shot I can
bring back in lightroom by pulling down the highlights and the exposure there is
still detail and good color in the highlights with zebras showing at this
level now when I try and pull the highlights back I start seeing there’s
some funky colors in the sky this shows that it’s lost certain colors and
basically these have blown out and the camera hasn’t recorded any details in
all of the color channels so therefore when I set it to this limit and there
are no zebras I know that I’m at the limits of my highlights I’m not over
exposing them and I’m not under exposing them now as I’m pushing this camera as
far as it can go and really squeezing as much detail out of the highlights I’m
gonna test this over the next month or so just to see what results I get I’ll
be keeping the Zebras set to low limit 109 Plus just to see what results I get
I’ll make sure when I’m exposing the shot
I’ll get the highlights on the screen and then I’ll bring the exposure down a
little bit to get rid of those zebras it’ll be interesting to see how the
camera copes whether or not I start losing details in the highlights and
also to squeeze as much of the dynamic range out of the camera as possible if
you want to see how I get on over the next month with these settings head over
to my website scroll down to the bottom my home page and sign up for my weekly
newsletter in this I’ll send you links to downloadable files so you can take a
look of the images yourself my weekly newsletter will include tests like this
with downloadable examples any interesting photography news and of
course links to my latest videos it’s one per week no more than that and of
course no spam we all hate spam next I tested standard Plus range in this
setting when you set the range to a really low amount like one you only get
a thin strip of zebras so part of the image could be overexposed without
zebras on it if you set it to 100 plus or minus one you know that the zebras
are only going to show on 99 to 101 when I set the range to 5 I got very similar
results to the test that I’ve just done this is why I recommend using lower
limit with standard Plus range you could have air
that are overexposed without any zebras on the best thing to do is to go out and
test it for yourself I keep saying this but the more of these little tests that
you do even if you just go out into your garden and take some images and bring
them back into your computer you’ll get a better understanding of this setting
and you’ll be able to work out what works for you
the Dro setting basically lets the camera adjust the exposure to have more
dynamic range available for the mapping of the image this often reduces exposure
to get more details in the highlights therefore this will affect the Zebras
but not in how they operate just in how the shot is exposed so you might see the
Zebras moving subtly if you turn DRO off or on but the zebras will still
cover the levels that you set them to with dr aid i’d recommend turning this
off picture profiles do not affect your RAW files so as long as you’re shooting
in RAW there is no reason to have picture profile switched on these are
mainly a function for videographers to get as much dynamic range out of the
shot as possible they are profiles that are baked into a
video file or a JPEG so as long as you’re shooting in RAW which you should
be doing you should keep this function off when shooting photographs another
use for zebras is where you can get a good exposure on a person’s face if you
take an average Caucasian person you set your zebras to 70 when you then get them
on the screen you’ll set the exposure so you can see the Zebras on their face so
for an example I’ve set this camera up to level 70 and you can see I’ve set the
exposure so the Zebras do appear on the brighter parts of my face when I switch
to the normal view you can see I’ve got good exposure in theory this works
really well but say if you have someone with very pale skin or slightly tan skin
then this may mess up the system so I stay away from this one now even though
I don’t use this technique I’m just making you aware of it so then you have
the option of using zebras in this way and that’s about it
zebras are a really good tool to use to help you set your exposure correctly if
you don’t mind the zebra pattern being on the image of the back of the
screen knowing that it’s not going to be there on the final image you can use
this and very quickly dial in your exposure as always if you like what you
see give me a thumbs up if you didn’t give me a thumbs down and for weekly
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notifications I’ll see you next time


22 Responses

  1. Thomas Bauer

    November 1, 2018 5:29 pm

    Very interesting, Mike. I set my A7III to 100+ but never made any tests as you did. I'm very interested in the results of your 1-month-test. Will you publish them as a new/updated video here on YouTube?

  2. Brandon Bousquet

    November 1, 2018 6:40 pm

    Mike, can you do a quick video on the exposure dial and best practices? I never adjust my exposure knob.

  3. Chryseas S.

    November 1, 2018 6:41 pm

    I shall be watching this a few times to extract all this useful information! Thanks for doing this- all very interesting!

  4. Woob

    November 2, 2018 2:00 pm

    Another awesome video Mike, Sony A series zebra inconsistency has been frustrating me since I started using them.. I'm keen to see how the testing goes!

  5. Benedict Eric Kwasi Baah

    November 3, 2018 9:13 pm

    I seem to be watching your videos a lot lately… thumbs up Mike! I would love to see a tutorial on setting up (settings for photography) on the A7iii. I am coming from the canon background and so the Sony system looks very complicated to me a bit. Thank you!

  6. Darren Lane

    December 17, 2018 8:11 pm

    just signed up to your news letter , this is best video yet , i set mine to LL 107 but what profile do you reccomend ? neutral ? standard ? any change to contrast values ? thanks

  7. umang ojha

    February 11, 2019 7:34 am

    Hey Mike – Thanks for the video. I have my a7iii also setup on 100+ zebra setting. I went out yesterday it was a bright sunny day. While i was taking pictures i felt that due to zebra i was not able to take properly exposed images because zebra lines were displaying all the time in every frame and i was adjusting exposure compensation, shutter and aperture to make it go away. After taking the images i felt that almost every image is underexposed as opposed to what i could see in reality iso was 100 wb was day light. How to manage this? Additionally, same issue i faced while shooting videos at 4k 24frames and 1/50 shutter, for this iso was 100 and white balance was day light. Here i could only change the aperture and exposure compensation to make zebra lines go away the final result was underexposed and not optimal because due aperture changes i lost the bookeh. How do i manage in this?

  8. Sergei K

    February 24, 2019 7:22 pm

    Mike, completely agree with your idea to explore the tool we use and make the best out of it. As I understand after watching some other youtube videos, it is a good idea to set your exposure level to the highest possible value and yet be mindful of not overexposing the picture to avoid clipping. Doing so, will bring some shadows out (which can be adjusted in post processing) but it will ensure that the image has better quality in those areas. I guess that's the whole point of exposing to the right – to have a better quality of the image as darker areas tend to be more grainy than highlights. Is my understanding correct?
    But I guess there might be situations when certain areas of the image should be left overexposed like reflections on the waves. After all when looking at those bright spots human eye don't register any details. They are all just very bright beams of light.

  9. Darren Lane

    March 8, 2019 10:52 am

    Hi Mike what did you finally settle on ? I shoot Raw , Dro Off , Standard Profile , what Zebra setting to get the most from the Raw please thanks

  10. Grover Costello

    March 20, 2019 11:06 am

    Hi Mike. Great video as always but I still find exposure and zebras confusing. What I am trying to understand is if highlights get clipped/lost when they go over 100 ire and blacks/shadows get crushed under 0 ire why would you set zebras to 100+? Wouldn't setting zebras to 100 show zebras up when you go over the 100 mark or is that what the + is doing, that the zebras appear once you go anything over 100. I am an A7III hybrid shooter so this video is very relevant to me but I still find understanding it fully very confusing.

  11. Prasanth Aravindakshan

    March 28, 2019 7:22 pm

    Well explained and demonstrated .. why I was not watching your channel ??? !!! subscribed. More A7iii videos …

  12. Paul Vo

    May 3, 2019 7:41 pm

    This past weekend, I successfully applied the techniques you showed in this video. Thank you for these instructions.


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