Chromatic - Fantastic Color Grading Plugin
Color grading is an often discussed issue for Final Cut Pro X users. Most find the built-in color board sufficient. Some of us miss the science based color wheels. Some want curves like in Photoshop. There have been many color grading templates and plugins created for various grading purposes and levels. There’s even Resolve if you don’t mind the round-tripping.
But now we have the amazing Chromatic, which is best in breed if you ask me. For me, this is such a great plugin, and well worth the money.
For the first week you get all five of Coremelt’s LUT collections included with Chromatic (that’s over 150 LUTs, a $99 value by itself) all for only $99.
This is, IMHO, the new state-of-the-art color grading plugin for FCPX. I’ve always been a Coremelt fan. When they introduced TrackX, SliceX and MotionX I was blown away. Now with Chromatic, I’m breathless. Blog posts are not an in-depth medium, so go to the Chromatic web page if you want more information beyond this introduction. They also feature great tutorials by my buddy Iain Anderson.
There is a free trial version you can download to test it out for yourself. So after you’ve read this, if you’re curious, give it a spin before spending any money.
* Disclosure; I helped (in a very small way) to beta test this voluntarily the past few months.
* I’m reviewing a version 1.0 in this article and there are many more features and enhancements already being developed that will make Chromatic even better. I’ll post on my FCPX.guru Facebook page as those new features are released over time.
* Please, as always, feel free to drop me your comments, concerns and questions here.
* Issues for Chromatic or any Coremelt product should be addressed here.
What Is Chromatic?
Chromatic is a color grading plugin that comes with four effects: Chromatic Grade, Chromatic Log Grade, Film Grain and Quick Denoise.
Here’s a brief overview of the four effects.
The main color grading effect that is the heart of this plugin package. The operations order is that any mask you draw is applied to the image first, then the Adjustment Layers, then the “Final Output Adjust” settings are applied.
Chromatic LOG Grade
This effect is the same as Chromatic Grade with Camera LUT tools added. When using this effect, instead of the regular Chromatic Grade effect, the first thing applied to your image is the Pre-Exposure slider along with adjusting Super Whites and Super Blacks easily, which lets you recover highlights that would otherwise get clamped by the LOG to REC 709 camera LUT. After that the Camera LUT you choose is applied to your image. Next the Adjustment Layers are applied as with the regular Chromatic Grade effect. Last, the “Final Output Adjust” settings are applied. Also, you can add your own LUTs (click here) manually, but a GUI interface for this will be coming soon.
Since adding grain is a big part of some coloring schemes, you get one here. Parameters to control are: film Type, ISO, Amount, and Response by color channel (RGB sliders) or use a “Uniform” setting to effect everything equally.
A simple quick and dirty denoies effect. Settings include: Noise Amount, Resharp, Wipe direction. It also allows for saving custom presets. Please be clear that this denies is intended to solve problems when you get extra noise by raising the blacks and need to smooth it out. Cormelt doesn’t claim this does what Neat Video does. Which is the reason Quick Denoise is part of Chromatic, and not a stand-alone product.
The Meat And Potatoes
Let me concentrate on Chromatic Grade, the main effect included with this amazing plugin. All the controls in this effect are much more sensitive, and much more dialed into luma and chroma spectrums than the built-in Color effect from Apple is. It even handles Super Whites and Super Blacks properly.
The real guts of this effect for coloring comes to play when you click the Chromatic Grade “Open” button. This presents a floating pallet that gives you access to all your main coloring tools. These tools get set in layers. You can drag and rearrange the layers in any order you like, and they process from top down. Check boxes let you override each layer temporarily without losing that layer and its settings.
There are a variety of color grading adjustments which are applied to a layer, which are placed in the stack, which can be ordered and re-ordered as you wish with a simple click-drag. Each adjustment layer can be saved as a custom preset individually, or you can save the whole stack as a custom preset. It has a mask tool with tracker. It supports Super Whites and Super Blacks properly. And there are controls to tweak the output of your final grade in the Inspector. It is, in practice, really nice, very powerful, super flexible and most importantly, fast to use.
The nine effects you can apply to stack layers are: Lift Gamma Gain, Lows Mids Highs, Auto White Balance, Replace Color, Color Balance/EV, RGB Curves, HSL Curves, Lab Curves and Color LUT. Towards the end of this post are shots of each effect that I think are self explanatory. But let me discuss a few specific effects and features that I find most exciting.
A Few Effects At A Glance
I don’t want to write a full tutorial about Chromatic, that would take pages and pages and pages. I’m going to just explain a few of the effects that I’ve used and found really helpful. For more complete usage explanations see the Chromatic tutorials page.
Auto White Balance
You can either use the Pick White method to traditionally click in the Viewer to select what to base white balance on manually (eye dropper like). Or you can use Scene Analysis to let Chromatic figure it out for you. Something I’ve found gives a more pleasing result than manually setting white balance on many clips. The Auto Adjust Brightness function can help when setting your balance actually darkens the image, which isn’t uncommon. If enabled, I can also adjust how strongly that brightness function effects my image. I find this to be about the best quality white balancer I’ve ever used.
Masks & Tracking
There is a Mask feature with blur (feathering) and opacity settings. This is the same mask tool you get with the X-plugins (SliceX/TrackX/MotionX) which use the award winning Mocha tracking technology. To make the mask function even better, you can apply color grades to three different layer stacks: the overall image, the inside of the mask, or the outside of the mask. A simply drop down menu lets you mix select which stack you’re currently working in.
These really super cool once you learn them. Lab color space is the mathematical representation of all visible color (and some invisible) in 3 dimensions. Lab(L) is the lightness dimension, Lab(a) is the green-red dimension, Lab(b) is the blue-yellow dimension. For a more technical exploration of what Lab color space is, read the Wikipedia article. Chromatic’s Lab Curves also includes a Luma curve, which I find very handy when working this way. Not everyone will want to work with Lab Curves, but for those who do, having access to it inside FCPX is very exciting.
This is a simple click-drag in the Viewer function that let’s you select the color range to replace. Luma range and Tolerance sliders help refine your selection. You can view the end result as a b/w mask or the mask with the effected area’s results. I’m finding it very effective. Select someone’s skin in your shot and then adjust for skin tone, you’ll find this is a surprisingly pleasant way to do that.
Color LUT lets you select a Looks LUT (not a camera LUT) from the included stylized LUT library, or load an external LUT. If you purchase any of the add-on LUT libraries that Coremelt offers they will load into Chromatic’s Color LUT library, also. You can also, of course, adjust Gamma.
Final Output Controls
Located in the Inspector pane, these let you tweak the plugin’s output, after everything else is done. These are: Gain, Saturation, Brightness and Contrast (see first image up top). I have loved being able to use these on occasion.
Little Things Matter
Again, before showing the screen shots, I’d like to say a few words about eight features I personally find very exciting.
* Chromatic handles Super Whites and Super Blacks, just FYI.
* Holding down the Option key while dragging a slider gives more sensitivity, makes it travel slower. Which helps when making surgical color adjustments. This even works when adjusting points on curves.
* Click and hold a point on a curve, then hold down the Control Key, you’re constrained to horizontal movements. Click and hold a point on a curve, then hold down the Command Key you’re constrained to vertical movements.
* Some effects have reset buttons, you can always reset a layer via the action menu (looks like a gear), and you can also double-click color values shown in numeric fields to reset them to zero. Which is very interesting when working with color wheels, resetting just one of the RGB values in a wheel rather than the whole wheel, very cool.
* Not to mention you can type in numeric fields for the most part.
* Effect Amount is immediatly to the right of each adjustment layer’s name. It’s like an opacity setting for each individual effect layer. I have found this to be very handy. I can dial in what I want an effect to do, it can be slightly exaggerated, so I just lower the Effect LayerAmount percentage. Done, perfect, BAM!
* Cut/Copy & Paste can be done from an effect layer in one stack (overall, inside, outside) to another stack. Even better I can cut/copy/paste between Chromatic effects in different video clips. For example, if I apply an adjustment but it effects the overall image and I don’t want that. I can then draw a mask to limit the area I wanted that effect to be isolated to. I select the already tweaked adjustment effect, Cmd-x to cut from the Overall stack, switch to the Inside stack, and Cmd-v to paste it. Done!
* Are you unfamiliar or uncomfortable with using curves, or want to work faster and easier with more precision? Curves OSC Control is something that I find VERY practical. Especially since using curves can bring much more surgical accuracy to your color work. With ANY of the curves (RGB, HSL or Lab) you have an On-Screen-Control. Apply a curves effect, make sure the Chromatic effect is highlighted in the Inspector (bright yellow outline, click on its title bar) and then just click and drag up/down in the Viewer. The luma/chroma value you’ve just clicked on has a point assigned to it in the currently active curve, and then dragging up/down moves that point on the curve. In this way you can control the exact values for your image, without having to guess where to place your points on the curve.
There is one gotcha with the curves OSC; If you have a mask applied and turned on, you’ll have to select the Eye Dropper tool in the mask tool hud to select your spot in the viewer to drag. Yeah, not really a “gotcha,” but… I GOTCHA! HA!
My Personal Experience With Chromatic
I’ve been using Chromatic as a beta tester for awhile. Don’t know that I’ve actually contributed much. But it was an very exciting experience. I actually used it to grade some commercials and show episodes while contracted at a local TV station. So stuff graded with this has actually been broadcasted. My point is that Chromatic is that good of a plugin. It made grading more precise and more flexible. Problems I had to “correct” in a grade were so much easier with Chromatic. I’ve still got two shows in independent production, and Chromatic is our go-to color grade solution.
For my own video samples, click here. These may not the best examples, but you get some side by side comparisons and see how well masks track.
I found rendering in the timeline pretty good, and exports not seriously hampered by Chromatic. But then, I don’t sit and stare at my monitor while half hour and hour long TV shows are exporting. The occasions I did peak in on occasion to keep track, I didn’t see any substantial increase in export times.
The Color Replace is more accurate and powerful than the one Apple has with their own Color effect. I found it to be very different from Apple, but definitely easier to dial in difficult colors. Chromatic gives much more control over the color.
I found the controls to be well laid out, logical, easy. Once I got used to Lab curves I was in heaven. The most used effects for me personally are the auto color balance and the color balance. I did find myself using the color replace more than expected for skin tones and skies, mostly. Obviously I used the masks and tracking WAY more than I expected.
If you are thinking to yourself, “Hey, I have TrackX, why do I need this?” Because you don’t have the variety of grading tools available, nor the convenience of built-in mask/tracking with TrackX. For what you get, $99 is a really good price.
Now, I used to love Color Finale, and I do NOT want to get into any flame war over which is better. Some folks will like CF better, some folks will like Chromatic better. Personally, I find Chromatic more to my tastes. And with the tracked mask built right in, I’m using it more than I have in the past. Simply because it is there, quick, easy. Not to mention that IMHO I have more precise control over color wheels and other parameters than I did with CF.
I am very impressed with the results, especially with the auto white balance. The best white balance tool I’ve ever seen. I absolutely love the results.
I’m sold, which is why I wrote this blog post. And I only write blog posts for products I actually use and firmly believe in (or I’ll write a bad review about something I think needs a bad review, which is rare).
I’d also like to point out, even though I’m not allowed to say what was discussed, there is an ongoing future for Chromatic. There are more features that are being developed and will be released over time. There are a few that should be obvious, and a few that won’t be so obvious. But I can tell you for sure, this is a version 1.0 and more features are coming!
So here, before the conclusion, is the self-explanatory screen shots I promised. I have each of the effects loaded into a layer in these. Each shot highlights a specific effect.
I hope this brief article gives you some insight into what an amazing color grading plugin Chromatic really is, and encourages you to visit the Coremelt Chromatic product and tutorial pages to learn more about it. And rock those color grades!
Lift Gamma Gain
Lows Mids Highs
Auto White Balance
Color Balance / EV
Chromatic in Motion 5
Chromatic in Motion is officially not supported! In fact, it may not show up in Motion at all come some future update. Yet even thought Coremelt has not developed Chromatic to be Motion compatible, I’m using it in Motion anyway… for now. The only difference is that you don’t get the Mocha tracking in Motion. This is due to a limitation of Motion’s API for third party developers I believe. Instead of the Mask HUD as you get in FCPX, you get a new Mask control section when using it in Motion. You use a shape source layer as your mask (Matte Input setting) along with other controls: Mask Strength, Mask Opacity, Position, Scale, Aspect, Rotation. If you needed tracking in Motion, you would need to use the tracking tools built-in to Motion. Again, this is a limitation of Motion, not of Chromatic. All in all I’m glad I can access the color grading tools in Motion as this will help me work with imported video clips a great deal. I’ve never been happy with color filters in Motion for video clips specifically.
Chromatic & Color Finale
I’m including this only because there’s a lot of comparison in forums now. Are they similar? Yes, for a variety of reasons. Are they significantly different? Yes, in a variety of ways. The significant differences is in how they work under the hood. Both will be fierce competitors, which helps us as editors. I think most folks who purchase Chromatic already own Color Finale and will keep both, using each as needed. Chromatic has many curves the CF doesn’t have, auto white balance, color replace and masks and tracking those masks. CF has 6 Vectors, grade management, Passport color checker support and surface controller support which Chromatic doesn’t have at this time. Chromatic will be gaining a grade management system, control surface support, LUT export and more in the near future, but I doubt it’ll ever adopt the 6 Vectors effect. Chromatic also has more output controls and more flexible LUT abilities (camera vs look). Both will be evolving over time, and both will be offering us more and more powerful color grading inside our FCPX timelines.
Competition is good, flaming one or the other is simply unacceptable by any standard.
So you can see there’s a LOT going on here. This is packed full of color grading and correction goodies. Yes, it is similar to Color Finale, and if you prefer using that, great. I’ve used Color Finale a lot (for problematic issues), I use the Apple Color Board even more (mostly for contrast/saturation quickies), but now I use Chromatic almost exclusively. Can’t beat it for the price, and the coming additional features will simply make it better and better over time.
Yes, I have some knowledge of Chromatic’s future, it is insanely great, but I can’t tell you, because if I did I’d have to…
So I sign off as always; “Rock those edits!”
P.S. I ran across this, I can’t endorse it as I know nothing about it, but if you collect LUTs, these are free (click here).