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Can You Tell the Difference Between the ARRI Alexa and Canon C300 in This 'Game of Thrones' Test?

04.9.12 @ 8:36PM Tags : , , , ,

Comparisons are fun, even more when they’re for expensive cameras. As I’ve said before, we try to look at all sorts of different topics from around the film industry, and we are not just going to look at DIY options like the hacked GH2. Shane Hurlbut, who runs a fantastic and informative blog himself, was recently shooting a promo for HBO’s Game of Thrones. He decided to shoot the Canon C300 alongside the Arri Alexa for the promo. Shane came up with some interesting results.

First, here’s the promo, which only uses a few clips from the interviews for this particular spot:

Here is the comparison which does not have any audio (probably for rights reasons):

Shane gives a great summary, so I’m not going to step on his toes and try to counter anything he’s saying. They are both amazing cameras, it feels like it has been said by me and by others over and over again, but they are both digital cinema quality cameras (assuming 1080p is your final output – and yes 1080p can be digital cinema because the F35 and Genesis have been major Hollywood cameras for a long time now). You should be able to get results with the C300 on par with the Alexa, and if you didn’t know which camera was which, it would be difficult to guess – much different than mixing digital cinema footage and DSLRs.


As far as my subjective gut feeling, the Alexa footage feels like film and the Canon C300 feels more digital. What do I mean by that exactly? The Alexa footage has better highlight roll-off, and it seems like the Canon blows out a little quicker. We know that the Alexa has higher dynamic range than the C300, and it shows. This is what the other $50,000 is going towards, that and ProRes 4:4:4:4 12-bit (as well as RAW for a few more dollars). It shows, there’s another layer of detail compared to the C300, it’s not necessarily something you see (of course you can if you really look), but something you can feel. Dynamic range is much less noticeable than resolution – it’s something you’re going to feel rather than see most of the time, since blown highlights are often in the background.

It is pretty amazing how well the C300 compares  – and that sort of comparison is only going to get more interesting as newer cameras are released and technology gets cheaper. It won’t be too long when a $60,000 camera and a $5,000 camera are indistinguishable, even on a cinema screen. That is when the true revolution will come full circle – when anyone can buy a camera that will have the same quality as a camera that’s ten times as expensive. It’s not going to make your story better, but the camera is not going to be the limiting factor in any production going forward.

[via Hurlbut Visuals]

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  • Well this is nearly impossible to decide much from: why is the framing so radically different between the cameras for most of the shots? A MCU and a MS, c’mon…! That being said, the totally different angle and focal length and framing aside (ahem!), the Alexa looks gentler, maybe more ‘filmlike’, but a much ore useful comparison would of course be matching shots; probably not an option, or Shane would have provided thAT!

    • I guess the framing is different for sake of giving the editor choice. After all, this was a live production, not merely a test of apple versus orange.

  • If only Shane had done this with the F3 instead of the C300… you really wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

  • The C300 certainly seems to have a more baked in contrasty look here. The skin tone from the Alexa looks neutral and I bet there is lots of range to grade in too. There was more color in the whites in the C300 which leads me to think that the setup wasn’t to flat. And it did blow out pretty nasty on the white shirt.

    The money saved on the C300 could easily be spent on more lighting package to over come most of these issues, as this was obviously lit for Alexa. I really love the comparo to.

    • This was obviously lit for Alexa??? C’mon, the scene was lit, period. The Alexa handles it and the C300 doesn’t.
      I love this comparison. It shows off just what the C300 is capable of… which is nothing special. At $16K and with all the hype we’ve heard (and I keep hearing) on this thing, it should do better but, it can’t and I wish people would stop making excuses for it.

      • The C300 is $16K. The Alexa is $80K. You may think the F3 for the same price would do a better job than the C300, and I may even agree with you. But a lot of DP’s and Director’s are excited about what the C300 offers at that price point. Maybe the ease of editing and the on-set workflow are more heavily weighted than squeezing out an extra stop of latitude in some situations. The point being, if the market deems the C300 overpriced due to the better specs of it’s competitors then so be it. But unless you work for Sony or RED I don’t see why you’d get upset about ‘people making excuses for it’!

        • Will Gilbey on 04.10.12 @ 2:26PM

          Also, he didn’t shoot Canon Log (or Log C on the Alexa) for this test so the whole comparison seems a bit strange.

        • @Scott-I don’t see why you’d get upset about ‘people making excuses for it’!

          What get’s me ‘upset’ is all the hype surrounding a camera you have to make excuses for… which, since the post was made a few days ago about the C300′s color fringing (http://nofilmschool.com/2012/03/purple-green-fringing-c30/) and now this comparison, there are quite a few floating around (excuses, that is).

          And, I’m not really upset. I’m just pointing out some facts.

          For $16K, please remind me of what “a lot of DP’s and Director’s are excited about (t)hat the C300 offers at that price point”.

          As Logan says below, “you can buy an F3 new with stock s-log and Gemini recorder and come out for about the same price as the stock C300 but a FAR better picture quality.” Couldn’t have said it better myself. Thank you, Logan.

      • Theres no point just lighting a scene for one camera. Alexa has more dynamic range than C300, everbody knows that (written in the manual doh) and so lighting a scene for wit more dr will obiviously blow out or underexpose the camera with less latitude. Under and especially overespoing will start to shift and ruin the colors, for example skin tones wont be right etc. In short it will fuck up the whole picture quality and so any comparison between the cameras is totally worthless.

  • Álex Montoya on 04.10.12 @ 5:19AM

    I assume a better job could have been done to match both cameras but the difference in latitude is there.

  • I work for a rental house and we have both the f3 and c300.
    Both are great cameras but you can buy an F3 new with stock s-log and Gemini recorder and come out for about the same price as the stock C300 but a FAR better picture quality.

  • John Jeffreys on 04.10.12 @ 2:52PM

    Alexa picture looks way better, but then again its a much more expensive camera so that should be a given. C300 has its strengths, though

  • If a $16k camera matched my $60k camera, as an owner… I’d be pissed.

    It’s pretty far-fetched to expect the C3000 to match the Alexa. The F3 (with external recorder) does look better, but it STILL doesn’t match the Alexa. To expect otherwise is ridiculous.

  • Different shots aside, the C300 had some nasty blown out whites creating chromatic aberration + the baked in look. For the most part, the C300 was sharper though and the skin tones more accurate (of-course both were not graded so it can be argued the Alexa is better since more choices on grading can occur). I agree the Alexa just looks filmic.

  • “That is when the true revolution will come full circle – when anyone can buy a camera that will have the same quality as a camera that’s ten times as expensive. It’s not going to make your story better, but the camera is not going to be the limiting factor in any production going forward.”

    I have to say the first portion is a bit insane. While it’s nice to think that, take a real world comparison to cars: No stock Honda Civic is performing like a BMW 7 series (oddly enough, both cars hit the around the price points of the two cameras being tested). Of course, a lot of low budget cameras now are performing as good or better than the top of the line camera 10 years ago, like the Sony F900 (not the newer F900R).

    The second portion of the statement, I think is coming within 5 years. And I’ll qualify the broadness by saying that most cameras over $1,000 will be using a better quality codec because the price of A/D converters and high quality internals will continue to come down, enough so a decent quality chromakey can be pulled. Once you have that in the majority of cases, rarely will your shooting ability be limited in relation to the scale of your budget — honestly, it barely is now.

    • Should have clarified that better – I meant cameras in a few years will have the same quality as cameras ten times more expensive right now – as in – we’ll have a $5,000 camera in 5 years comparable to an Arri Alexa right now.

  • Both are nice. The Alexa definitely looks more movie’ish than the C300. It seems like the C300 is too sharp and gives up too much detail in the skin texture. I’m thinking most actors wouldn’t like that so some sort of filter in post could probably fix that. I did notice the better highlights(with the current lighting & grading) on the alexa. Not that the c300 is harsh, but the Alexa just seems to produce a smoother picture.

  • I prefer the look of the C300, but I can see why people would prefer the Alexa-much more film or “cinematic” looking. That and I know little to nothing about proper grading, so I wouldn’t know what to look for in that department.

  • I’m not like skin on the Alexa. The faces have little detail. It looks as if it was processed in Lightroom and had the Clarity slider turned way down. The C300 may have been a little over saturated and overly detailed but those can be toned down in post.

  • Roger Wielgus on 04.12.12 @ 4:25PM

    “”””That is when the true revolution will come full circle – when anyone can buy a camera that will have the same quality as a camera that’s ten times as expensive.””””””

    It will never happen. Now we are stuck in Super 35mm format. Not ideal as format. As a film director I am already dreaming to retrieve the 70mm format I use to shot with in the eighties, and also at 120fps as it has been proven to be the best shooting/projecting rate by veteran Spfx director Douglas Trumbull.
    One the 70mm format will be achieved @ 8K, we will get into a triple 70mm a 180mm super cinemascope format @ 18k. And, even at that resolution, we won’t be very near from the world the director wants to give to the audience.
    Professional cameras will always be ahead compared to the consumers cameras. Once in the way the are built, because shooting every days 10 hours with more than 10 peoples caring for the camera, are not the same as shooting, once during the week end, and second, regarding the high end technology they use.

    • The problem is that the theaters are just getting around to 4K projection. We’ll have 4K in theaters for another 10-15 years or more – this is what I meant, when we have great 4K cameras at $5,000 – especially when they are oversampled sensors above 4K. That’s going to happen, believe me. When we’re oversampling 4K at that cheap of a price, IMAX is the only place where larger format and higher resolution will really matter.

    • David Mullen ASC responded to some similar thoughts on http://reduser.net/forum/showthread.php?59036-Resolution-of-35mm-film-and-70mm-IMAX-film

      “It’s easier to just talk about the resolution on the original negative and avoid bringing in the resolution of various printing and projection methods, etc. Red has tested Super-35 and generally found it to be, I forgot, 3.2K or 3.5K, something like that.

      You could therefore say that if a 24mm wide piece of film negative resolves 3.2K, for example, a 36mm wide piece of film (VistaVision) would resolve 4.8K, and a 52mm wide piece of film (5-perf 65mm Super Panavision / Todd-AO) would resolve 6.9K, and a 70mm wide piece of film (15-perf 65mm IMAX) would resolve 9.3K. However, this ignores some real-world issues like the fact that older medium-format lenses used on large format movie cameras have a lower MTF compared to modern 35mm cine optics (because the larger negatives don’t need lenses with high MTF’s because if you have more millimeters overall, you don’t need to resolve as many lines per millimeter…)

      If you really want to be crude, you could say that you lose maybe half the resolution of the negative once it is printed through dupe elements and thrown onto a theater screen, which is why 2K projection seems on par with the best 35mm print projection, and 4K projection would be similar to 70mm projection, but it therefore also means that IMAX digital projection should be at least 6K…

      Now don’t confuse measurable resolution with optimal scanning, mastering, and archiving resolution — if 35mm film really resolves 3.2K, then in reality you really should be scanning it at more like 4K to 6K to avoid aliasing, which is why most people round things off to 4K as being ideal for posting 35mm photography… but perhaps 6K would be better for scanning, and then you should finish at 4K. ”

      While Mr. Mullen brings up various printing methods, only recently have we been able to take full advantage of the resolution of film due to digital intermediates. Previously, a lot of high frequency was lost from the multiple interneg/interpos processes between camera and release print.

      In a normal theater environment, 4K tends to hit limits in viewing distance and projector lens resolution. http://magazine.creativecow.net/article/the-truth-about-2k-4k-the-future-of-pixels While there is a real, physical limitation to the amount of detail the human eye can see, I do predict the use of 6-8k cameras in the future as the mindset switches to using extra frame space for punch in, stabilization, re-framing and so forth.

      I also tend to agree with Stu Maschwitz when it comes to the use of slower framerates and how the removal of detail engages the viewer http://www.macvideo.tv/camera-technology/interviews/?articleid=3213230

      While I agree the move to 48 or 60fps is inevitable, I think it’s the wrong move for 2d film.

    • I should also mention, you probably won’t see sensors above 8K… there are optical limitations with “mathematically perfect” lenses being able to resolve that amount of detail in a super35 or full frame 35 form factor.

    • Daniel Mimura on 04.17.12 @ 6:47PM

      Trumball’s format (Showscan) was 60fps, not 120. (I think his new digital version is 48fps).

      And what films were you directing in the 80′s in 70mm? There were very few films shot in 70mm at that time …although there were plenty of ‘scope films that got the 70mm release print treatment (negating much of the generation lost of film printing).

      If you want to get technical, b/c you’re clearly throwing a lot of numbers around, nobody shoots in 70mm. You shoot in 65mm and project in 70mm.

      Of course saying super-35 is terrible thing to be stuck with is completely subjective, but I personally think the idea of shooting with something like a 70mm film plane is for most productions completely ludicrous, especially given recent filmmaker’s obsession with shooting wide open with minimal light… (Drive, comes to mind, and that trend is even more extreme with the microbudgeted films.) Can we have a little depth of field please? I’m not afraid of Pfister shooting Batman 3 in IMAX b/c he has the skills (and the lighting package) to deal with it, but for the industry as a whole, bigger than 4perf vertical 35mm is probably a completely awful idea. Even the 5d has what is often a distractingly big a film plane…I’m so tired of seeing shots of things with 1 eye in focus b/c the depth of field it too shallow to even catch a single person’s head in focus.

      To expand on what the point Joe and some other people were making (I think) is that this year’s $80k camera will have specs comparable to what a $5k camera can do in 3-4 years…

      With that thought in mind, it’s one of many reason’s why I am 100% not in favor of buying a camera…since they are subject to Moore’s Law. I can live with buying a new computer every 18 months (barely!), but I’ll let the rental houses buy expensive cameras that often.

      I may buy one of those cheap $3500 Alexas or Epics in 2016 though.

  • Soon, film/video with reach the point to where the size/resolution will become negligible like the audio world. Currently 96k audio has NO audible difference to the average human ear than 48k. I’ve been a professional recording engineer for a bit over 7 years and NO ONE can hear the difference between them and 16bit & 24bit audio. The same will happen with video. At a certain point it will become a waste of space to capture beyond 8k, 10k etc… as no one will be able to see the difference. Frame rate on the other hand still has room for advancement. 48fps and 60fps is very noticeable to the eye and could become a new theatre standard and then spread to the web as a new viewing standard.

    • Daniel Mimura on 04.17.12 @ 7:05PM

      I agree with you that fairly soon motion picture footage is going to hit that threshold that you’re seeing now with audio.

      I disagree about frame rates…it may change, and it should for Formula One or videogames…but there is a certain nostalgia to 24fps that many people (myself included) are never going to surrender. I hate 30fps footage. Maybe it’s from my background in film school in the 90′s in that era where film and video were beginning to collide…and how I hated betacam sp, DV, umatic, high8, and every other video format compared to Super 8, super 16, 16 and 35. Super 8 is very filmic, and I’m not talking about the grain.

      It’s not about quality, it’s about expectations and what we’re used to. When I read books on the ipad or kindle app, I have the page turning feature on. As much as I like to think I “evolve” and learn new things…staying adaptable and flexible…this has been how I have turned pages since I was 2.

      Its why cinemascope lenses are still popular and always will be…it’s not giving us anything quantifiably “better” (ignoring when it was giving you a bigger film plane back when it was on film—I’m talking about in modern digital usage)…but it’s “filmic”. I think 24fps projection now has that same sort of je nous c’est qua as ‘scope, and will always be widely used.

      Note: Jackson and Cameron’s push for higher than 24fps projection is highly motivated by their recognition that many people do not react well to the polarized light in modern 3D projection where you’re only seeing half at a time with a given eye, meaning that each eye of 48fps projection of 3D is still getting 24fps…the same as almost any film since the beginning of the sound era.

  • Alexa is another planet, not even comparable.

  • Why is the ARRI footage so….so green? I prefer the look of the C300 in the example simply because the coloring seemed real. Could just be a grading choice, but I think the green of the ARRI just mucks up the image. It’s an interview not a video of the show itself. Skin should look like skin, the white of their shirt should be white, their grey suite should be grey and not sea foam green.

  • Both are just tools… Tools to tell stories with. The Alexa is great. So is the Canon. I personally would put the $66000.00 in savings from my purchase of a c300 into glass, lights, production design and a cameo from a bankable lead but that is just me! lol I would rather get distribution for my C300 feature than have a beautiful film that just sits on the shelf! Think about how far technology has come and the possibilities become endless. Tech snobbery is dead. long live story!

  • And then the Blackmagic Cinema Camera was announced…

  • Immediately after this post went up on Shane’s blog he was hired by Canon to shoot a sponsored demo with a preproduction 1DC. After that he was then tossed money to promote Canon cameras and has completely reversed his stance on the Canon C300. In his original post he hated the C300 stating that it wasn’t film-like at all and that it was just a “video camera” If you click the reference link in this article, which is supposed to point you towards Shane’s website, you’ll notice that it returns a “404 Error”. Now that he’s a secret Canon representative, Shane has removed any of his inflammatory remarks about the Canon C300 from his website.

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