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The Camera Test

After looking over the available options, we came to a decision of what cameras we would test for the project. Working closely with Andy Shipsides and Mike Nichols at AbelCine, we worked out which cameras we could get our hands on to test, as well as which cameras we thought to have the availability required for our departure date. Although the times are bright for 4K, they are not altogether ripe.

Camera 1: Canon C500

Tom and I both have used the C300 extensively in documentary settings, and love how it handles both technically and ergonomically. The C500 is the same body size, except that to shoot 4K, it requires an external recorder. Once the recorder is added to the camera, we will have to see if it’s as user-friendly handheld in verite scenes.

When shooting uncompressed 4K to the Codex, it yields approximately 1TB per hour. Unfortunately, there is no recorder capable of recording a compressed 4K signal. Once the AJA KiPro Quad is released, it will fill this void. But for now, we will have to live in an uncompressed world. This will play heavily in our decision, since the data management will be a monumental undertaking.

Camera 2: RED Epic

The greatest attribute of this camera is it’s ability to record compressed 4K internally. But for its size, it is a heavy and awkward camera. As much as this test will examine the cameras’ technical abilities, it will also weigh heavily on the camera’s physical ability to stand up to tough, remote shooting environments over a long period of time.

In comparison to the C500, the data rate of this guy is a cakewalk. At 200 GB per hour with a 5:1 compression ratio, the RED Epic’s data is much easier to handle.

The Test

We need to see how the images hold up to the lighting conditions found in the Sundarbans, as well as testing the various lighting configurations we will most likely encounter on the boat or in the remote villages. There are a few key ingredients we will focus on.

  • Pre-Dawn light

  • Dawn light

  • Sunny exterior with skin tones

  • Daylight interior with skin tones

  • Mixing color temperatures

  • Silhouetting against a window

  • Night interior skin tones with a lone open bulb

These setups will give us a good idea how the cameras and compression schemes handle

  • Under and Over exposure

  • Contrast

  • Skin tones

  • Latitude

  • Shadow and highlight roll-off

Thankfully for us, the Sundarbans have a striking resemblance to New Jersey’s meadowlands or Long Island’s coastal marshlands! We took the cameras out early one morning to Oceanside, NY to shoot our test.

The Results

Here is what our cinematographer, Tom Hurwitz, ASC, had to say about the test:

The tests were quite exhaustive and their results were very clear. The Canon C500 out-performed the RED Epic in every measure, in every condition — resolution, color quality and accuracy, exposure latitude, contrast, quality of black. In the words of Tim Spitzer and John Dowdel of Goldcrest Post, our post-production facility, when they saw the Canon material, “we are in Alexa territory here!” They were referring to the excellent Arri Alexa, a camera that is by far too heavy and bulky to use in our conditions, and unfortunately does not shoot 4K. We were delighted with how we saw the Canon perform.

So with that said, our camera package will consist of the C500 shooting uncompressed 4K CanonRAW to the Codex Onboard S recorder. Information about our data management workflow is soon to come. Stay tuned!

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