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The RED SCARLET and Sony F3 Trade Blows in a Head-to-Head Test and... Both Look Good

04.8.12 @ 6:03PM Tags : , , , , , ,

DP Timur Civan, who lensed my RED SCARLET test short and now has a SCARLET of his own, has done an apples-to-apples comparison with two of the top similarly-priced Super35 motion picture cameras currently on the market: the Sony F3 and the RED SCARLET. Timur has the luxury of owning both — and some flawless Cooke Panchro primes — and has set up a nice skin tone and still life test. Here it is:

My conclusion from watching Timur’s test: I don’t know. They both look great. I can’t help but think that digital motion picture cameras are at a point where, if you can’t tell your story with either one of these… the camera is not the problem. Plus, because both cameras give you a very gradeable image (the F3 with the now-standard S-Log option and the SCARLET using REDRAW), you can push the images in a lot of different directions.

Timur’s own conclusions can and should be read in full using the link below (where he compares not just the images you see in the clip but also workflow considerations). To pull a short quote:

This real issue is that it comes down to image quality. I find myself shooting films and documentary on the F3, but commercials, music videos, and corporate spots on the RED. When it needs to look natural, I use the F3. When it needs to look crisp and slick, RED.

One interesting thing about this comparison: the F3 is more sensitive and has greater dynamic range, but is “only” 1080p. It’s rumored Sony will announce an F5 with 4K output (or at least an upgrade path to 4K output) at NAB, addressing this concern. Meanwhile the SCARLET already has 4K resolution but is noisier/less sensitive. RED’s forthcoming Dragon sensor upgrade for the SCARLET will attempt to address this concern. Both companies are already targeting the chief complaint about their respective cameras… and they already make great images. Not a bad time to be shooting!

Finally, as with all camera tests: different tools for different jobs. There is no such thing as “one camera to rule them all,” which is why it often makes sense to rent (but not always). Any observations of your own from watching Timur’s test?

Link: An Examination of: Sony F3 and Red Scarlet; a Direct Comparison – T.STOPS


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  • Agreed, it’s definitely not a bad time to be shooting! I’m leaning towards saving up for the Scarlet or Sony FS 700.

    Also from what I’ve seen the mark 3 is pretty comparable especially if you’re shooting for the web. Just posted a reel of mk3 shots-

    • Austin, I think your comment that the mark 3 is comparable to these cameras is the funniest thing I’ve read in a long time. Thanks for the laugh!

      • Let me clarify, I’m talking about image quality/resolution alone. I’ve used the f3, red epic, and every canon Dslr.

        Have you actually tried the mk3 and watched the raw footage? I’m willing to bet that 7/10 people will not really know the difference between the f3/mk3 they are after all both 1080p

        I’m talking about normal people, guys and gals that don’t know the difference between 4k and 1080p maybe the colors will look more natural on the f3 plus more latitude but that’s… about it.

        As a video camera though, every canon Dslr including the mk3 is utter crap compared to the features you get with these higher end cameras. No xlr, rolling shutter, moire, etc etc etc 

        The mark2 looks way different from my red footage even downscaled to 1080p but the mk3 held up much much better than I expected. Deep blacks, amazing latitude, and crisp colors.

        I don’t consider the mk3 a real video camera. But if used purely for the image, it becomes a powerful tool appropriate for certain situations.  

        I’m a pixel peeper too, I’ll upload some raw mk3 footage later this week and you can make a proper judgement.

        Again- I’m only talking about image quality not features  or flexibility in post and do not believe that it’s the same as f3/red but am simply saying that the common person probably won’t notice the difference at 1080p

        Koo, EM, and Joe I know you have access to all the cameras above- I dare you to mix them all up in a video. See how accurate the common person and pixel peepers are in their guesses :) 

        I’d be surprised if the majority got more than 50% right. I put one mark 2 shot in my red reel and in the week before I posted the answer only about 10% of the guesses were right. And that’s with the mark 2! 

        I’m not trying to encourage a debate I’m simply giving my own personal experience. Before using the mk3 I would have scoffed at all of my statements above but after using the new interframe compression I know this is a completely different beast. 

        You want a real camera? Red/Sony has them.

        Want image quality that’s kind of close at 1080p but no other features or post flexibility? Mk3 is your (cheaper) bet.

        I’d love to hear from the writers of this site- does the mk3 hold up in terms of pure image quality in your opinion? 

  • Jordan Carr on 04.9.12 @ 12:42AM

    Wow the Sony looked great. (as did the scarlet but it would shine the most at its full 4k) That being said I don’t agree that the MK3 is even close – not by a mile. Not going to debate Austin about it. No point.

    Back ON TOPIC the Scarlet went up in price a bit recently – what is availability like these days? Waiting list long?

    • I probably should’ve written an article about this, but RED is out of backorder. Scarlets, Epics, and most accessories… in stock.

  • I just told someone the other day (his in the market for a new camera) that if a RED was the best camera for everything then nobody would be making and buying any other camera. It would just be Red. Which brings me to your conclusion: Different tools for different jobs.

  • Or maybe it’s the worst time ever to shoot, given the number of other people doing just that, using the same cameras you’re using.

    So, oddly enough, it comes down to what it’s always comes down to: no matter how cheap and accessible the camera may be, production design is expensive, locations are expensive, professional performances are expensive, lighting is expensive and writing is priceless.

    The only thing that’s cheap and readily affordable these days is resolution — in a medium where a lot of people have trouble distinguishing the projected images of a sub-720p from a 4K camera.

    • True true true. Add to that the fact that even if you do get one of these fine cameras, if your colorist, editor and overall content isnt that powerful, the final product will still be crap. So yeah, people can get by with an fs100, they better invest in finer glass and training to get really good stuff going.

  • I have an upcoming feature project that will be heavily dependent on green screen work. I think we’re already at a point where camera choice for non-VFX imagery has become personal preference or even hair-splitting. However, if you need to key the footage, the differences between 4:2:0, 4:2:2 and 4:4:4 become glaringly obvious. I currently own a GH2 and an HMC150, but I’m contemplating what to do for the feature. We just shot a test with the GH2 (basically in the form of a short-short in its own right, it’s at for reference), and though I managed to get pretty decent keys, I wasn’t really happy with them.

    I’ve seen plenty of camera tests online, here and elsewhere, and I very much appreciate all the work that has gone into them. I know it’s not trivial, because I’ve done them myself. :-) However, I would really really love to see some comparisons on the keying side, e.g. set up a subject in front of a green screen, key out the screen with (say) Primatte, then show the raw footage, keyed footage against a particular background and (best of all) the alpha channel itself, because that will *really* make the differences obvious.

    My own possible choices are sucking it up and using the GH2 + ~50mbit/s hack, D800 + Atomos Ninja, AF100 + Atomos Ninja/Samurai, FS100 + Atomos Ninja, wait for the new FS700 and use that with an external recorder, or look at renting something higher end. RED would make a huge amount of sense, obviously, but it’s out of my budget currently.

    At the moment, I’m mostly concentrating on getting the best possible green screen footage, so I’m attempting to piece together my own ghetto Chromatte-clone by sourcing the cloth from 3M and using a lower cost green LED ring light.

    Anyway, suggestions welcome!

    • Jordan Carr on 04.9.12 @ 2:28PM

      just rent A scarlet or F3 for $1200 a week or the FS100 for under $400 a week – problem solved.

    • Artemis, you should avoid green screen work if you can’t output to a 4:4:4 recorder. 4:2:2 at very least and, even then, it’s doubtful you will achieve an acceptable result.

      • Avoiding keying isn’t really an option because the script requires it in nearly every scene. It’s actually a historical drama — part of it is the impracticality of building most of the sets, and partly because there is a lot of vision-imagery. I’d say that roughly 40% of the shots will have a CGI background with live action and relatively simple comps, 40% will have a CGI background and fairly complex comps with some CGI foreground objects, and maybe 20% will be closeups that show little or no background so will be (mostly) feasible in camera. One compromise will have to be restricting camera movement somewhat, using a greater proportion of locked off shots than I’d normally prefer in order to keep the matchmoving to a minimum (and the render times down — it’s always faster to render a single frame!).

        I fully realize that I’m attempting something that you’re not supposed to attempt, and attempting it on a very small budget at that. My preference is to avoid renting if possible because the shoot will probably be on weekends over an extended period (several months), which doesn’t work well. 4:2:2 might be the best I can do on our budget, so it’ll have to be a case of running with that, like it or not.

        • Skip the D800, just buy two fs100s + atomos samurai. And pay for a really good post team/ or post equipment. If perfection of the green screen mattered that much, then do it photoshop style, frame by frame for clean up. Also where will the final output be distributed? Cinema or internet? Cause if its internet, you really shouldnt pixel peep that much.

      • shaun wilson on 04.10.12 @ 7:23AM

        Yes the 4.2.2/4.4.4 is one consideration for chroma shooting but what really is important is to use 1/3 or at most 2/3 chip cameras because shallow DOF will ruin a greenscreen shoot completely. I took a 550D over a 5D because of this exact reason and it saved me a whole lot of trouble with keying. Then there’s the greenscreen rule of thumb, don’t use any lens over 35mm (as in no 50mm plus) because you’re up again on shallow DOF that will make Keylight 1.2 have kittens when trying to pull crisp mattes. Even in Nuke, the 2/3 chip/ 35mm stop gap shall do wonders.

        • Interesting… so maybe an interesting choice would be to shoot with my HMC150 and an external recorder?

          • shaun wilson on 04.13.12 @ 9:23AM

            Yes definitely. Try to keep things at 4.2.2 or above and greenscreen will work effectively, but lighting is a huge contender as well. I find good old Zeiss primes are excellent. 35mm prime especially will do good things for chroma green

  • I think what it really comes down to is the look of the film your creating. I personally like the footage out of the Sony than the RED. I’m not really liking that softer look on the RED.

  • The pink tint “problem” is ridiculous. Learn how to develop your raw footage, bro.

    • Reshot the Skintone section today with a 600 DIT. Will post it up in the next couple days. We ran the cameras through a Leder shooting a macbeth, and saw a few interesting things. In RG3/RC3 RED is spot on accurate with regard to Red/Green colors, but its magenta, yellow, and blue are a tiny bit off. However, switching to RedLOGFILM, the color is far more accurate. F3 was less variable, but did have blue/yellow errors. Mind you when i say off, im talking tiny tiny bit off. Both cameras did wonderfully.

      Initial reaction, using redlogfilm is DEFINTLY the way to go. Highlights are more natural, and color is somewhat muted, but more accurate because of the flattened contrast.

      I will post R3D’s, and DPX files for people to download and compare. Should be up by monday.

  • Sony F3, the forgotten gem. Unfortunately lattely everything is C300 or scarlet. This camera should be at the forefront of the indie camera under $ 15 000 budget. It is much better spec camera than both, it is a much better balanced camera in terms of spec, a baby Alexa, the Hollywood camera. It has the best DR of the three, as good lowlight as the C300 and loose only to the resolution of the Scarlet. A 13.5 stop DR (only bested by the Alexa), easily two stop better lowlight than the scarlet (4 times more light power will be needed to shoot) and 10 bit 422/444 compared to the 8 bit C300 for grading and color correction.

    • Yes, yes and hell yes!!! Thank you Danyyyel! I’ve been preaching this for months. It IS the camera that everybody SHOULD be raving about but, for whatever reason, it doesn’t get it’s due. I guess it wasn’t ultra-hyped which, is all too frequent now and unduly bestowed on less deserving cameras, these days. I think Sony did do it a disservice by charging so much for the S-log upgrade, early on. It’s entirely possible, if they had included it from the git-go, this camera would be much more popular than it is. It IS the ONLY camera that comes close to the Alexa in dynamic range and at a fraction of the Alexa price tag. Far surpassing the over-hyped, over-rated, over-priced C300 in every category except being able have a Canon lens hung on the front of it. It just didnt beat it’s chest and yell as loudly as the C300 did.

      I like Red but, if you don’t HAVE to have 4K, there is NOTHING that beats the F3 at this price level.

      • I know the C300 wasn’t really part of this thread but, I included it to make the point of the F3 being over-shadowed by marketing. Sorry…

  • Alexjhaines on 04.13.12 @ 4:56AM

    The noise on the Scarlet when graded is disgusting – is no one else seeing this!?!?!!

    • shaun wilson on 04.13.12 @ 9:26AM

      Im definitely seeing this and have now decided its not the camera for me.

      • Robert Ruffo on 05.14.14 @ 6:24PM

        He added grain using a look – that’s not noise. How could a higher contrast grade add noise?

  • best for under 3,000…..5d mark 3 super 16mm …and can use in high end broadcast

  • for post i choose red. i like the flat image that red produce