Zebras are a stripped overlay that can be displayed over parts of the image that fall within or beyond preset values. Using zebras helps to gauge movie exposure and where in the frame mid-tones and highlights are.

What are zebras?

These are not the zebra’s you might find in Africa or the local zoo, but patterns or cross hatching over the image to indicate the exposure value of parts of the frame when shooting movies. In the frame above there are two different kinds of zebra overlay displayed.

On the subject’s right cheek – camera left – the zebra slopes from top left to bottom right. This is the pattern of the mid-tones or skin tone zebra, Zebra1.

On the left side of the subject’s face and the extreme right hand edge of the frame the zebra slopes from top right towards bottom left. This is the pattern of the highlights zebra, Zebra2.

On the camera the you can toggle the zebra display, and decide which of the two zebra levels you want to display, plus set the range for Zebra1 or threshold for Zebra2. Below is the screen from the camera when the picture above was captured. Zebra 1 & 2 are set to display and the levels are 55±5% and 95%. In this case exposure for the skin tones can be set adjusted on camera until the subjects face shows some areas with Zebra1. Zebra 2 is used to check for overexposure.

What levels should the zebra be set to?

There are various different schools of thought on the levels of zebras for both mid-tones – Zebra 1 and highlights – Zebra 2. If you set Zebra1 to 65±5% that would be good reasonable to use for determining the highlights on a subjects face. Setting Zebra 2 to 95% would allow you to identify areas of the image that are getting very close to overexposure, though you can also set to 100% and aim to not see them at all.

You might not need zebras all the time

The zebra display is rally quite helpful when setting up a shot, but if you are inexperienced it might distract you while filming. It is beneficial to use a custom button to toggle the zebra display on or off. Check your camera as most of them have the option for different custom button configurations for movies and stills operation. On the EOS R10 I use left cross-key button to toggle the zebra display on and off.

The following cameras all provide zebra displays when shooting movies:

  • EOS R3
  • EOS R5 / EOS R6
  • EOS R5C
  • EOS R7 / EOS R10 / EOS R50
  • EOS R6 Mark II / EOS R8

Advent Calendar of Tips

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About the author

Full-time photo tutor and photographer. I love to share my knowledge and skills to make photos, videos and teach others. I write books and articles for photo magazines and I always have at least one Speedlite flash in my camera bag