The Sensor Wars
DXOmark posted a comparison between the Red Epic Dragon, the Nikon D800E, and the Sony A7r.
The winner? The Epic Dragon. It was the first to break 100 points on their scale.
So is the Epic Dragon the best?
Maybe, but probably not. There is more to a camera than the sensor that something techies need to get over.
Keep in mind not a single Oscar nomination for best cinematography was shot with the Red. But why?
From my experience as a commercial editor, there is just something about the Red. It’s great for VFX because of the 19 megapixels and it’s a really really nice image, but there is just something about it I don’t love when compared to an Arri or Film. Maybe the Dragon has a better look than the Mysterium but I just never really seem to love its look in general. (I’ve yet to work with the Dragon so I’ll have to wait and see if it’s significantly better.)
For more serious commercial work people seem to lean towards the Arri Alexa. And in my experience, it just looks better. I don’t know why, or how, it’s just a prettier image. This is probably why most Cinematographers favor it, plus it’s way easier to use for post-production. Shoot straight to Prores or DNxHD. No Redrocket card. No debayer settings. Just shoot, and use.
Or you can shoot a film. Like in Zack Snyder’s Superman. And it will always look amazing!
I’m also suspicious of DXOMarks settings, as always. The Red cameras have an HDR mode which shoots 2 simultaneous frames at different exposures. This would dramatically bump the Dynamic Range of their sensor which is currently seen at 16.5+. See the Red Dragon specs here. If DXOMark did do the tests with this setting turned on, then their readings are inaccurate and massively skewed. Not to mention the setting is left turned off most of the time by Cinematographers unless shooting low movement or landscape shots. Image the dynamic range of a Nikon D800 if it shot in HDR mode? Those scores would be off the charts.
So is the Epic better than a Sony A7r or the D800E?
That’s kind of a ridiculous question since you’re comparing apples to mushrooms. But maybe, there is just something about the Sony A7r’s image that I feel can’t be beaten. I like the color profiles, the Zeiss lenses, the whole package produces really nice stunning and crisp images.
It’s a unique look, different than Canon, different than Nikon, and different than Red. It’s because of a great look that even Leica achieved years ago that makes people pay attention to them, even though their sensors are slightly inferior to the competition.
It’s not about the sensor. It’s about the look. It’s about usability and interface. And especially reliability. Cinematographers are and still will likely favor the Arri Alexa or film for their general cinematography, but the Red does have a solid place in VFX and likely will for a while. It’s always exciting seeing technology continue to push forward like it has been and Red seems to be leading the way.
Now who manufactures the Red Dragons sensor and when can we get it in a DSLR or Mirrorless camera system? Last I heard it was Olympus, but Red tries to keep that under wraps.
As camera sales continue to plummet, we’ll likely see less money spent in R&D for new sensor technologies. So maybe the future of our DSLR and Mirrorless cameras will come from the cinema?
And for the Sony A7r. We’ll see a new firmware soon. I doubt it will be at a 100 score on DXOMark, but hopefully, it gets us a little closer to the Nikon D800E.
Photo Of The Red Epic Shooting Over LA.
This is not the Red Dragon. It’s the Mysterium.
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