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1080P Camera Shootout: ARRI ALEXA vs Sony F3 (S-Log) vs Canon 7D

10.26.11 @ 9:59AM Tags : , , , , , ,

I’m always up for a demo of the Sony F3′s S-Log mode, especially when compared to the much more expensive but similar ARRI ALEXA. The F3 has been called a “mini ALEXA” in S-Log mode, and I suppose you could call the Canon 7D a “mini F3,” though no one’s claiming the 7D can hold up to the big boys — it’s here as a reference for HDSLR shooters. Here’s the test, carried out by Hello World Communications using Cooke Panchro lenses:

Hit the Vimeo page for a download of the 1080p source Quicktime.

To my eye, the ALEXA’s skin tones look better than all the other digital cameras I’ve seen to date. It’s not something you measure with charts, just as an emotional response. Both the ALEX and S-Log F3 both look much smoother and sharper than the 7D, which looks very video-y and a lot softer. But while the 7D gets blown out in several shots in which the F3 and ALEXA retain background highlight details, as with every test we’ve seen over the past of years, the cheap DSLR holds up very well when considered in terms of price:performance ratio. What did you guys think while watching?

[thanks, Ron]


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  • I said it on vimeo but, to me, the skin tones of the f3 (at least in this test) look very very similar to the skin tones produced by Red, and, big shock coming from me here, I much prefer Alexa’s skin tones to anything I’ve seen so far. Heck, I like the D21′s skin tones better than what i’ve seen so far. Honestly my dream camera would mix the color science of Arri and all of the features of an Epic. I will say the Epic is LOADS better in terms of how it looks when graded to standard Red One footage, but, Arri just knows how to get “that look.” If only they were cheaper and more feature-filled

  • They didn’t use the cinestyle profile on the 7D……

    • Yeah, disappointing that the tester didn’t use the cinestyle profile but rather some sort of standard style. I mean, what the heck…

      Still, undeniable that the 7D’s detail (very visible on the face closeups) can’t hold up with the two others. Same thought as you -the 7D is still the best bang for the buck.

  • Jeremy Widen on 10.26.11 @ 12:03PM

    I know that everything is supposed to get color graded, but if for some reason you need to get out an edit without it, I think the Canon has the best natural color. It doesn’t even get in the same range once they all get touched up; but straight out of the camera, the color looks stronger on the 7D to me.

    • well duh. thats what an image looks like when you cram 6 extra stops of dynamic range into it. i dont think anyone would ever use unprocessed arri footage as-is.

  • A couple of settings should have been utilized on the 7D to make this test more accurate. I agree with what Flep said above; they should have used the cinestyle color profile, as well as used ISO speeds in increments of 160 (they were using ISO 400).

    • The cinestyle profile looks like crap in regards to skin tones. I’ve told all the DPs I work with (as a colorist) to stop using it except for extreme contrast situations.

  • What makes the 7D look so bad is the resolution (or lack of it). All clothing lacks texture and facial details are non existent. Doing a blind test its hard to tell the graded F3 and Alexa apart.

    Graded or ungraded you can tell the 7D apart from the others very easily, if the shirt or face has no detail, or appears washed out, its the 7D.

    • I’d have to disagree about the f3 and alexa; alexa is blowing the f3 out of the water with the details in both high and low as well as color fidelity in grading

      • You are right…The F3 is NOT even a remote choice for me. Alexa is the best easy. Only bi looking at the images I would really consider buying a 7D. It is not light years away on every shot. Of course blows the highlights but again nothing that a good DP could´t fix… Everybody is trying to match cameras in the same conditions when we no they are totally different machines. None of these 3 cameras works in the same way under the same light conditions. But there is a difference between 1500, 15000 and 60000 dollars…

  • Aside from the 7D not being optimized as noted in previous comments, the Sony F3 skin tones look the best IMO. The Arri seems to have a yellow cast.

  • Yeah, if the 7d would had the cinestyle we’d seen different results, though, i believe the f3 is darker and contrasty but i feel it has a more neutral color tones than the alexa, that is a little bit yellowish, the 7d is reddish than the other two cameras, but the alexa has greater dyinamic range i guess, it just looks more easy to grade than the others

  • They really should have use the Cinestyle profile on the 7D. Would have made a big difference.
    A shame.

  • It would be nice to see which had the better script, acting, composition and editing. When will we see that comparison haha

  • I have a 7D and rarely ever use for video, Panasonic GH2 is better video quality and costs even less.

    Best bang for buck, GH2 and iPhone 4S. Otherwise sure, rent or if you really want insult to injury, buy an ARRI or RED if you’re in the 1% club. Talent trumps big expensive cameras. Only gear heads are over-concerned with every pixel. The same nonsense is going on digital filmmaking as did in digital photography for the past decade and it gets old, welcome to the party, the modern camera era. Just use the gear and make something compelling.

    • while i get the ideals behind what you’re saying, i think this argument often misses a critical point: different cameras WILL tell your story different ways. It can be a great story or a crappy story and they can be told (visually) this way or that. The value of the story itself is only part of the vision, as film is all about representing those paper ideas to visual, dynamic life. If you think the gear doesn’t matter or go with the cheapest option available instead of the right tool for the job, then you’ve overlooked an entire piece of the storytelling puzzle. There are reasons to shoot in 5k or to shoot with a wide dynamic range beyond being a “gear-head.” Sometimes these things can help you, wether in-camera or in post production, to tell the story you want to tell. So, as much as I like the GH2, i absolutely know there are certain things it cannot pull off that i would need it to.

      On a budget? well then, you go with the best tool available to you in the price range, and in the price range of the GH2, it’s hard to beat (at least once you’ve hacked it). 7d and 5d are the only things that come close.

  • Greg Greenhaw on 10.26.11 @ 4:14PM

    Why did they not use a hacked 5d with cinestyle and the ajj5.9 firmware with qscale to -16 or cbr to 150%. They could have pulled at least t 70mb a sec bitrate. So much more detail would be preserved.

  • I also think that the Alexa has a yellow cast. And for the window backlit test, I felt that it was a bit purple-ish (watch for the girls’ lips). Now it has greater latitude, that’s for sure!
    While the Alexa seems better in the lowlight, the F3 impressed me with the mixed lighting.
    I’d go with the F3, even without comparing prices.
    The 7D is a great still camera that can make pretty nice videos.

  • I love that slog. Looks best to my eye

  • Honestly, The fact that the 7D is even being compared and tested along side these cameras is saying a great deal for the camera. No more excuses. . . Make your movies. . . make your marks. . . tell your stories.
    Yes, you cannot blow up or CC the dslr image without a bit of suffering, but they are being used professionally because up to a certain point they work.

    Would I like to own one of the big boys? You bet (and eventually I will).

    Am I happy shooting with a 7D? Yep. I am fine with work arounds and can live with the limitations due to the kind of work that I do.

    The first documentary I shot (which actually made it to theaters) was shot on a dvx100.

    What I find exciting is that there is an exponential speed increase in technology right now and I really think we will see a sub 10k camera that will stand up to the big boys. Smaller production packages, less expensive support gear (lights, sound, grip, etc.)

    In fact, story telling with movies is poised to become truly independent from the somewhat sick and out of balance machine that currently churns out such a high percentage of repetitive regurgitation. Aided by affordable tools, but driven by human need for more depth, substance and exploration.

    It is the next group (we) that will find the way out of the current loop of un-imagination. Difficult and rare to get a movie made in the system without having to give way to the market researchers who tell you not to stray out of bounds. &^%$* that! I have no interest in that system! I am watching another system being born.

    OK Sorry . . . Jetwash. . . Spun a bit out of control there. Did not mean to hijack. Back to the test.

  • Unless you have a specially color calibrated monitor, I don’t think anyone online can really give a definitive analysis of one color tone vs. the other when they are as close as the Slog is to the Alex. Just sayin’.

  • The 7D clips look more like scaled up 720p video than actual 1080p video. Normally video I’ve seen from the 7D appears much more detailed than this. Even the 550d I use looks crisper unless it’s not focused correctly. What happened?

    • the 7D it always looks great, sharp and nice… unless compared side by side with the big boys
      no conspiracy theory here: just look at a resolution test chart
      let’s hope the next generation of low and mid-end canons avoids line skipping and does a nice subsampling instead

      • That’s all fine and good, except that aliasing gives a very different set of artifacts from what this video seems to show, because line skipping doesn’t result in fewer samples but simply smaller, farther apart samples. Then again, in the video they mention that it’s primarily latitude and color that they’re looking for and that the 7D is a “base reference”. Maybe they really were using it in 720p mode?

  • cows:
    Yes, probably due in part to the side by side comparison. The red channel clipped first almost every time but all three were being pushed. Although some dislike it (for varying reasons), I do think that the Technicolor picture style might have helped the 7D fare a bit better, DR wise. Also, though I am not certain of the effect the difference in ISO would have on DR, I have verified a noticeable difference b/t ISO 400 and 320(cleaner image @ 320). I don’t notice a difference in stills.

    It is probably a good thing that one needs to develop a bit of DP skill (i.e. knowledge of camera, knowledge of light, etc. . . ) to tame with the issues . . .

  • I’ve said it many times….it’s all about the dynamic range. That is the reason film is still tops. The Alexa is close to film range and the others are about 5-7 stops less than that. That’s probably the biggest benefit of Alexa in terms of picture quality. Better dynamic range with contrast added in post is was gives you the perceived sharpness and detail and overall “film look.” I wish camera makers would work more on dynamic range in their cameras instead of other factors resolution (like 4k and 5k).

    Also keep in mind the 7d Raw footage and it’s graded version are basically the same, because you can’t do much in post color grading with a 7d. The benefits of the F3 and Alexa as far as grading is concerned is huuuuuge. Sure the DSLRs look good out of the camera, which is great for those who don’t color grade.

  • Alexa looks beautiful. Looking forward to there being more Alexa’s out in the world for rental. Just shot a feature on the Red One Mx, and the Alexa skin tones are way ahead of the Red. Really wish the 7D would have been properly utilized here. Its so important to shoot with a flat picture style. Not having that makes the pre-correction comparisons almost irrelevant to me.

  • No CineStyle no game… 7D starts color corrected… I’m finishing my feature (with a 550d) and I must say I don’t have those color grading problems… I might say that 550d is more like Alexa… more bright than F3… but still a 4:2:0 compression… Skin tones are more natural than in this (false) comparison…

    Was this clip a way to minimize dslr…? I hope not…

    Thanks… keep up your excelent work…

  • Stephane Chung on 10.27.11 @ 3:37PM

    Alexa vs F3 was interesting, but the 7D is really too far from these two … This shootout would have been better with a hacked GH2 instead (with Driftwood 176Mbs Intra hack)

  • Iain Philpott on 10.27.11 @ 4:33PM

    You can split all the hairs you like here but the bottom line is as expected, the line up is
    1st Arri
    2nd F3
    3rd 7D

    And that’s the order they should be given their respective costs. If you can justify on each level the performance increase with the production budget you have to spend you are going to go for what you can afford – the best you can do for your budget.

    I do think it was a shame the 7D did not use CineStyle?

    Leaves a possible massive budget gap/quality issue? What if Scarlet comes in at sub $9,000 – game on I say!

  • Price-wise, the forthcoming Sony F65 would be a fairer choice to compare to the Alexa. That should be an interesting comparison. I agree with color comments that say it is pretty meaningless to be judging color quality without a calibrated video monitor. I use an Eye-1 to calibrate my LaCie CRT monitor for still print work and still even this is not the same as a calibrated video monitor for image quality comparisons. About all I think can be said definitively is that both the Alexa and Sony F3 look of professional quality but for the money the 7D looks a reasonable compromise if you are on a budget and aren’t gonna make the film otherwise. I think for the money, the Sony F3 is pretty impressive compared to video cameras of just a few years ago so probably a great choice for Indy films that can justify its cost.

  • Hi Gang…I just finished and ready for theatrical release a feature film shot with the 7D. Please take a look at my trailer at There will be always an excuse for not to shoot a movie. Format? brand?, bla, bla bla? it is all itn the desire to shoot your story and believe in your storytelling skills. Technology is a constant process, we can’t sit around waiting fore the perfect camera, just shoot your movie…with whatever you got.

    • Iain Philpott on 10.27.11 @ 6:31PM

      Could not agree more.

    • Congrats on the movie, but i’ve gotta disagree a wee bit. LIke, watching that trailer, great job but i can tell it’s shot on the cheap (and if it’s not, the fact that i thought that and it distracted me from your story shows that your equipment (or how you use it) does matter). Story is the main ingredient, but using the proper “brushes” and “pigments” to tell that story are, arguably, as important as having a story to tell because if they can’t match your vision then people will notice. The fact that i was distracted by your production value which, in turn, took me out of your story should come closer to proving to you that equipment, and, specifically, cameras, matter in the long haul. Would you hire a crappy wedding photographer? If it’s just about telling a story visually and that’s all that matters then why not use your little nephew who wants to be a pro-photographer when he grows up and let him use his little “KB-Toys” brand point and shoot? Or heck, someone who thinks they are a great photographer but clearly aren’t…should their enthusiasm to tell your story be the most important factor? no. The visual is of equal importance in cinema because it is a visual, audible, and thematic art. If you just want to tell a story and your visual tools don’t matter why not write a book or turn your story into an audiobook?

      • I think an important question is whether you’re distracted because it looks “worse” in some objective sense, or simply because it looks different. I think film displayed at 60 frames per second looks incredibly distracting, even when done correctly (i.e. more expensively). On the other hand, it sounds like James Cameron disagrees since he’s supposedly making the next Avatar movie at 60 FPS. And after that I imagine a lot more big-budget productions will be in 60 FPS, and everyone will get used to it, and it won’t be “distracting” anymore.

        I think this really isn’t that different with things that look “worse.” If you look at something like INLAND EMPIRE, the resolution is extremely low and the colors are quite, well, unusual, but I think it looks great in spite of that. David Lynch said that “It looks different. Some would say it looks bad. But it reminds me of early 35mm, that didn’t have that tight grain. When you have a poor image, there’s lots more room to dream.”

        In both cases, it’s distracting at first, but I can’t imagine people being unable to get over it.

        • Cows-
          I totally get what you’re saying and wouldn’t necessarily disagree with what your points are implying but I do think there is a somewhat objective look at what looks “cheap” and what looks “good.” I love Aronofsky’s “pi” and it’s shot on super grainy 16mm black and white film. It worked well for that story and he made the absolute best of it. It didn’t look or feel like a student film, this one does. I do know what you’re saying but I don’t think it applies to this video. The tools matter (which you kinda said anyway).

      • That’s it. Public Enemies was shot on the Sony F23. That didn’t work for me. It’s great photography except for in movement it screams digital. I guess digital and 1930′s didn’t match and that got me out of the film. Collateral (Mann again) was shot on the F900 and it looks amazing. Digital. But amazing. AND without distracting.
        Distraction is a factor not only with camera/photography, but also with art direction, acting, writing…
        Good storytelling is when all those come together working for the same film.

        • Lefa
          Exactly. Great examples too. I felt exactly the same way. Collateral looked great (even though it didn’t look “great”), public enemies looked awful and, you’re right, it made it feel like they were playing dress up instead of being in the actual time period. I think my biggest thing with the video from the comment above is that it tries to look “pro” and “stylized” with equipment that looks like a good soap-opera drama (and that’s not saying much). Embrace the weaknesses of your camera and light accordingly. If you need it to look more elegant, refined, or colored naturalistically, then get the right tool

  • This test is a joke! That denigration suffered 7D… shame not to use the cinestyle!!! :@

  • It will be interesting to see how the new camera Canon has announced with perform. It sounds like it brings a lot of improvements to the table, including a much improved recording format (formats), improved dynamic range, very little moire or “jello” issues, and more. It’s good to note also that when telling a story, it’s often true that “size matters”. That is, there are shots that are near impossible to get with the larger cameras that can be captured with HDSLR’s, making it possible to tell your story in ways you simply couldn’t otherwise, or that would be prohiitive to even attempt otherwise – and you could well dump money down that black hole trying to get the shots you need with the “better” cameras and not necessarily have any guarantee that it’s going to work ultimately… and THEN perhaps end up turning to an HDSLR to capture what wasn’t feasible to capture with the larger cameras. Once again, I think it will be interesting to see how the new Canon EOS 1D X performs. I’ll be looking forward to that. And if it doesn’t quite match the higher-priced cameras, it will nonetheless produce better results that previous generations of HDSLR’s and certainly of a quality that will lend itself well to inclusion in sophisticated productions, while retaining a size that will allow it to go where the “big boys” can’t realistically go.

  • It’d be great to have the 1D X as a benchmark comparison instead for DSLR video now, since it boasts a new dual digic sensor which could possibly help resolve more highlight detail on the video side.

  • The difference is very small between all of them, just here & there, no wonder that’s why 5d & 7d are so popular. And now days with all latest software/color correction & styles, you can bring your dslr footage to a very close cinematic look, that the average person will not feel much difference. In terms of price to value ratio 7d is a winner here. if Canon will bring their new 5d III, for under 3k I would say forget about all these lexias and F3s.

  • Although DSLR’s like the 7D are crazy insane value for money and I love to worked with them …. tests like these show that the DSLR’s are pretty good for alot of things, but will probably never ever get the quality results like the Alexa’s, RED’s and F3′s in terms of detail, sharpness & dynamic range.

    The sharpness and detail of the Alexa is amazing, next to the fact that the Alexa is a true “cameraman’s camera” with everything in the place you want it to be. ( Listen and learn, RED?)
    Personallly I have some doubts about the 7D footage, as some of the shots look a little too “‘un-sharp’ to me as they should be. And I wonder why there ‘s no pan in the 75mm shot from the 7D?

    I haven’t yet worked with the F3, but it looks like the s-log is very interesting.

    Nice test!!

  • The 7D video (even the ungraded version) looks awfully soft – and I don’t think just in comparison. I have seen sharper footage from the 7D, even with much less expensive lenses.

    Of course the Alexa is a way better video camera than the 7D, no doubt about that.
    It’s nice to see how close the F3 can come to the Alexa.

    In my case I own a 7D mainly for shooting stills – so the video function comes “for free”. I really can’t complain about that ;)

  • Lucas Adamson on 10.29.11 @ 3:52PM

    The 7D is clipping all over the place. If you’re an amateur and never colour correct, it might be fine.

    The Alexa is a camera with intentionally extremely low contrast and saturation for the specific intention of ALWAYS colour correcting, and getting the most post-produceable image possible. Awesome! Nice job Arri!

    The Sony falls somewhere inbetween. You can’t fault it on clipping in any of these examples, because it simply didn’t, and so after CC, it was just as nice as the Arri ( I guess adjusting settings could get them really close.) It had a more acceptably contrasty out-of-camera image for most people.

    Give me the Arri any day!

  • the 7D could have had better results with a more CC friendly shooting style. If you\re going to use the 7d for video the factory settings are your worst enemy. There are lots of custom picture styles that flatten the image and increase the dynamic range to give more information for post production.

    if you can\t get your hands on an Alexa customize your 7d to get the most out of it!

  • Whoa! This blog looks exactly like my old one! It’s on a completely different subject but it has pretty much the same layout and design.
    Wonderful choice of colors!

  • Sageofgames on 05.27.14 @ 11:14PM

    Couple things is the f3 footage from the sxs card or a 4:4:4 raw dual hd sdi out of the camera into a recorder image? This then can be a true comparison of images between Alexa and f3 other wise it is unfair because the sxs card records from camera 28mbps vs a higher bit rate Alexa