Chicago-based Filmworkers recently took part in a unique event testing the performance of the current generation of digital motion picture cameras, from leading edge camera systems used to shoot Hollywood blockbusters to the humble iPhone. Revenge of the Great Camera Shootout was produced by camera dealer Zacuto and crane manufacturer Kessler Cranes. Like similar events produced by Zacuto in the past, RGCSO features side-by-side tests of camera systems made by Sony, Arri, Red, Canon, Panasonic and Apple. Filmworkers provided color grading services necessary to make direct comparisons between the output of the cameras. Grading was performed by colorist Jimmy Cardenas with additional grading by colorist Brian “Crash” Carlucci.
A Chicago screening of The Revenge of the Great Camera Shootout is scheduled for May 1 at the Tribeca Flashpoint Academy.
Test footage was shot under the supervision of veteran cinematographer Bruce Logan, ASC at Tribeca Flashpoint Academy in Chicago. The cameras included a Sony F65, an ARRI Alexa, a RED Epic, a Sony FS100, a Sony F3 (with S-log), a Canon C300, a Canon 7D, a Panasonic GH2 and an Apple iPhone.
The cameras were put through two types of tests, empirical and subjective. In the empirical tests, each of the cameras was used to shoot an identical scene with identical lighting on a stage set. The camera output was then graded to match a standard look. This test was meant to show differences in the various cameras’ abilities to capture images. In the subjective tests, lighting was used to compensate for the specific dynamics of the individual cameras. The output was then put through a full, creative color grading process. Those tests were meant to show how cinematographers could take advantage of a camera’s strengths and weaknesses for creative effect.
Color grading for both types of tests was conducted at Filmworkers’ Chicago facility by Carlucci and Cardenas using a Baselight EIGHT color grading system. Todd Freese, the facility’s technical director, noted that strict measures were taken to ensure that the tests were fair. “We made sure our pipeline was scientifically perfect and that we were able to handle the output of each camera natively, without transcoding,” Freese said. “This was not just a test of the cameras, it was also a test of our Baselight. Working with all these different cameras pushed our system to the limits, and it performed beautifully.”
Filmworkers’ Baselight grading suites allowed the camera media to be processed under optimal conditions. “We graded everything in P3 color space,” explained Cardenas. “We had the tools to make each one look its best. For directors and cinematographers, this is a great demonstration. It’s hard to compare one camera to another until you see their output side by side.”
From a colorist’s point of view, it was insightful to compare cameras costing in the high five figures with others costing just a few thousand dollars. “It was interesting to see how each camera reacted to the empirical lighting,” said Cardenas. “You don’t have the same dynamic range in some of the lower end cameras. Getting some of that footage to match the standard look of a high-end camera was a challenge.”
Carlucci was impressed with the subjective testing. He said it showed that with a talented cinematographer, proper lighting, and powerful postproduction technology, even modestly-priced cameras can be used to produce professional results. “Tools, like Baselight, allow us to do almost anything with digital images,” he said. “It really doesn’t matter to us what a production shoots with, an Alexa, an F65 or an iPhone, we will make it look fantastic.”
Results from Revenge of the Great Camera Shootout can be seen at the Zacuto/Kessler booth at NAB. Other screenings are scheduled to be held at the American Film Institute in Hollywood, at Lucasfilm SkyWalker Ranch and in venues in New York, Chicago, Nashville, England, France, Germany, Netherlands, India, Australia and Japan.