Well, we definitely had too many cameras and too little time. A total of 8 for only a few hours. Thus, we were only able to run 4 tests. And those 4 tests were not nearly as detailed and in-depth as we were hoping. But still, I think everyone would agree that this was an incredible experience and after taking a look at the results, we’ll be doing this again.
Now I just have to sift through all the different codecs, sync up audio, and get these images on a big screen.
Winner? Oh no, you’re not getting off that easy. Each one of these cameras is designed for different uses and as a result have different strengths and weaknesses depending on your intended image. So choosing an overall winner is next to impossible.
I will say this though, the 7D amazed us all. That is, until we pulled out the chainsaw and the bow and arrow and started shooting the Phantom at 1000fps.
Update: Jan 2013
So I never finished this article and I apologize. As I stated in the original description, we were too ambitious. It became clear as I was reviewing the footage, that we didn’t have any baseline for our tests. We just set up cameras and shot. We tried to control for variables like ISO, lens speeds, etc, but the cameras were so different, there was no way that we could. I knew that if I posted the tests, I would have been ripped apart online for being sloppy. So the tests sit on my hard drive. But this post still gets a lot of hits, so I thought I would do a quick update, even though the cameras are old now 🙂
I stated that the 7D impressed us, mostly because it was so much better in low light than the EX1, HVX200 and the EX1 with a Letus adapter (haha, remember those?) and 50mm f/1.4 lens. It was new at the time and showed us a lot of its potential. Over the following year though, we stopped using it because the rolling shutter was too aggressive in handheld shots. It also became apparent how old the HVX200 had become, as it was the noisiest of the bunch. The Varicam 3700 was also surprisingly noisy. But when well lit, it produces a very filmic image. As an ENG camera with Fujinon lens, it has proven to be the best run and gun camera. I just wish it was smaller.
The Phantom HD Gold was amazingly sensitive, as it should be for shooting 1000fps. But we set up a mock studio-lit interview and were able to shoot it with no lights, just the ambient light from the windows. The Phantom could never be used like this, but it amazed us none the less. In another low light test, we were in a garage with only one window cracked. It was too dark for the EX1 with Letus (totally black image), but there was enough like for the Phantom for it to look like it was a well lit scene. In the time since, the Alexa has become the gold standard for this.
What has changed since the test?
Well, we replaced the Phantom HD Gold with a Flex. A much better and more consistant camera. The Varicam 3700 is still a part of the Brain Farm arsenal for reality and interviews, although an Alexa has taken over most of the interviews as the Varicam demands more light and further distances to create the desired depth of field. One of the huge pluses to the 3700 is its 4:4:4 record out, but we never used this. We could have gotten by with Varicams further down the totem pole and gotten the exact same images (and saved money). I’ve pretty much stopped using DSLR cameras, other than fully locked down shots (or timelapses) so there’s no chance for rolling shutter issues. I have used the 5D Mk3 since and it’s a vast improvement. The RED One was a non-MX version, so we almost never used it. It was a backup to the Phantom as it was the only PL-mount camera we had with overcrank ability. But we rarely used it as the whites would blow out too easily in snow. We actually shot 35mm on an ARRI 235 for much of Flight because we preferred this to the RED One. The MX version and the Epic and Scarlet are huge leaps in this area.
Which is the best camera?
Well, horses for courses. They’re all very different and with different uses. I’d say if you want a camera that has every ability, the RED Epic is probably your best bet – 35mm sensor, PL or Canon mount, overcrank, good latitude, raw recording. A used RED One MX also is an excellent value, if size isn’t an issue. The thing I don’t like about the PL-mount/35mm craze is the lack of ENG-style lenses. Their zoom range really made them excellent all around. Abel Cine recently started carrying a B4 to PL-mount adapter that corrects 3 chip prism (ENG) lenses for single chip 35mm sensors (but at a 2 stop light loss). I think the Fujinon lens from the Varicam, mounted to the Epic with this adapter would make an interesting, perhaps killer ENG replacement camera.