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August 10, 2012

RED Claims Dragon Sensor Doubles EPIC/SCARLET Sensitivity, ISO 2000 Cleaner Than ISO 800

All has been quiet on the RED front concerning the new Dragon sensor since NAB in April. After their kickoff party before the start of the exhibition, they announced the specifications of the updated sensor. One of the criticisms of the MX sensor has been lower dynamic range than some of its peers, like, for example, the Arri Alexa. RED seems to be gunning straight for that camera with a reported 15 stops or more of dynamic range and 6K of resolution with a sensor only slightly larger than MX. Now we've got a little more confirmation on sensitivity of the $6,000 EPIC upgrade (SCARLET pricing and specs will come later). If the numbers from RED's CEO turn out to be true, it would mean that the new Dragon sensor would be a little more than twice as sensitive as the MX, even with smaller pixels.

Here is what he had to say on REDUser:

... photosite (pixel) size used to be one of the most important pieces for DR but has now taken a back seat to pixel design. The MX sensor has more DR than the original M sensor... and the pixels are the same size. The new Dragon sensor has mind-blowing DR and the pixels are slightly smaller than either the M or MX...The Dragon sensor is the cleanest sensor you have ever seen. ISO 2000 looks better than MX at ISO 800.

These are the specs as they were stated back in April (with updated info):

  • 6K Sensor
  • 15 Stops or Greater Dynamic Range
  • 120 Frames Per Second at Full 5K
  • 85 Frames Per Second (at least) at Full 6K
  • Sensor Size: 30.7 × 15.8mm
  • Pixel Size: 5 microns
  • ISO 2000 Cleaner Than ISO 800
  • Late 2012 $6,000 Upgrade for EPIC
  • 2013 SCARLET Upgrade

RED seems to be working extra hard on sensor design, as the increase in sensitivity is contrary to the way most of us have been told sensor pixels should work. In the past, the smaller the pixel, the less sensitive the sensor would be overall, even with very optimized micro-lenses to guide light to the pixel. That doesn't seem to be the case with the new Dragon sensor. While the new sensor is actually 10% larger, there are far more pixels, and the end result is a larger pixel density (thus smaller pixels). Sensor design for all manufacturers is certainly improving, and while larger pixels usually equals better light sensitivity, it will be extremely impressive if RED can more than double the sensor's performance in lower-light over the MX.

The RED Dragon Sensor:

While availability for the upgrade is still stated as sometime before the end of the year for EPIC cameras, there are no hard dates for when this process might begin. However, there is some good news for a select group of people -- those who purchased $50,000 or more worth of a RED EPIC and other gear after NAB will receive a free upgrade to Dragon. If you were one of the early EPIC-M adopters (the hand machined EPIC that was released long before any of the others at a higher price), you will be the first to receive the Dragon sensor update. While not free for anyone else, if you were an early adopter, RED is once again attempting to take care of those users.

Here is Jarred Land on that:

Epic -M owners will get priority for the Dragon upgrade. No free upgrades before the NAB special $50k deal.. It has nothing to do with loyalty.. it has to do with economics. As much as we would love to.. as a business we can't give everything away for free.. we already did that once.

While I'm not sure RED has ever given everything away for free (if they did I think I missed that sign-up sheet), it should still be comforting for those who purchased a Beta camera (as stated by RED) to be the first to shoot 16-bit RAW and higher frame rates in a smaller package. There is some other interesting news regarding codecs. One of the big complaints about the RED workflow is that there are plenty of jobs that just want ProRes or DNxHD 1080p (like the Blackmagic Cinema Camera can do) immediately instead of 4K or 5K RAW (for speed purposes). This is something that RED's main rival, Arri, has been able to incorporate into the Alexa (ProRes from the start, DNxHD as a paid upgrade). Being forced to convert footage is just another step for some of these clients, and many just want to edit immediately using a ProRes log file or similar. There is some word that RED may finally release a module to do either or both ProRes and DNxHD, which just might steer some of those professional jobs right back into RED's corner.

Jarred Land when asked by Rory Hinds about a possible DNxHD/ProRes module said this:

Dont worry Rory.. we are listening.

Increased sensitivity could put the new Dragon sensor in line with some of the other digital cinema cameras out there (like the Alexa), and may actually prove to be comparable in low-light to cameras like the Canon C300 and the Sony F3. For those wondering why anyone would ever need 6K, if you've been reading the site lately, we've talked about bayer patterns and the loss of resolution that comes from pixel interpolation. Since there isn't a red, green, and blue for every single pixel, there has to be some interpolation to fill in the missing gaps. The more information you start with (6K), the closer you're going to get to a clean 4K, which is the intended final resolution for high-end digital cinema and 4K television sets. Sony's F65 has an interesting 8K pixel design precisely for this reason -- though that camera was only ever designed to shoot 4K, while RED's will actually give you the 6K file for manipulation and cropping.

These are interesting times, and we don't have much word on when the update will be coming to SCARLET, how much it will cost, and who gets it first (probably those who ordered first). There is no question that SCARLET will have lower frame rates and probably a lower shooting resolution, but how much lower remains to be seen. Since Dragon will need to be cropped for many lenses anyway because of the larger than MX sensor (35mm still lenses, or lenses like the Zeiss CP.2s, will still cover the sensor), being forced to shoot 5K on the SCARLET wouldn't be a deal-breaker depending on the price.

[via REDUser]

Your Comment

93 Comments

Upgradeable sensors seems to be one of the greatest attributes for owning a RED camera. Making that part modular was definitely a right call and when I'm ready, may be a deciding factor should I choose to buy into their ecosystem.

August 10, 2012

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It's a big investment. If you have a chance to give the system a try (via rental, or if you're lucky, a friend), I would recommend it. It's hard to "know" a camera until you have it in your hands.

August 10, 2012

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Brian Kaufman

Yeah. The modularity and hardcore customization is what really sells me on potentially using a red for my next project. Affording one, well, thats another story.

August 11, 2012

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john jeffreys

I assume when talking about needing ProRes output we're talking about shops with Final Cut or older versions of Avid? Premiere CS5+ has no problem editing R3Ds in real time, and if I recall correctly, Avid now handles them natively as well... I just used a Scarlet-X for a 48 Hr Film Festival piece (where time is of the essence) and it was just as fast as using a more traditional camera/codec.

August 10, 2012

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Brian Kaufman

Avid's handling is only semi-native, but that doesn't change the fact that many post-houses and editors would rather have a smaller file to edit on a less powerful system just to do the cutting. Each place has their own workflows, and if that includes having ProRes or DNxHD for the editors, they're going to do it even if the system might be able to handle a RAW file natively.

August 10, 2012

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Joe Marine
Editor-at-Large
Shooter/Writer/Director

This also helps handle the ever growing issue of storage space - especially for post houses who archive as well. I believe Joe did a fantastic write up of hard drive space in relation to 4K raw workflows. The results were depressing haha. Raid systems just can't get big enough fast enough, or cheap enough - so having prores or dnxhd for active projects that don't need 4k is a super plus.

August 10, 2012

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If you have a production company needing lots of storage for video, you should look into something like the Backblaze storage pods:

http://blog.backblaze.com/2011/07/20/petabytes-on-a-budget-v2-0revealing...

You can order everything you need from this company: http://protocase.com/products/index.php?e=Backblaze

If I'd need petabytes of storage, I'd surely look into this solution - because it's going to get far more expensive with any other off-the-shelf solution.

August 11, 2012

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Wow. Funny to see my company showing up on discussion of a camera sensor. I guess there are lots of people looking for inexpensive storage solutions like a Backblaze pod.

August 11, 2012

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casey

Johan - did you really make or build a Backblaze storage pod for your video storage needs?

August 11, 2012

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casey

I've been looking into these for the past 6 months - they look fantastic!

August 13, 2012

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6K = Overkill, sorry
15 stops = great
image still not as nice as the Alexa in most of the situations

August 10, 2012

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Marcus

Nothing is overkill if you understand the way sensors and resolution works - there is a reason the Sony F65 has 8K pixels. The more pixels you have in a bayer pattern, the closer you'll get in resolved detail to your final intended resolution. 5K should produce a real 4K if you work on the 80% bayer pattern to final resolution rule, and since people like David Fincher and others actually frame the sensor smaller than the full height and width for stabilization and reframing, this would allow people to frame for 5K, get a real actual 4K, and still have room to manipulate the image.

August 10, 2012

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Joe Marine
Editor-at-Large
Shooter/Writer/Director

That's been the M.O. of a DP I do a lot of work for. Besides reframing, you also get more tracking data for VFX, and room for convergence and geometry on 3D shows. There's also the benefit for deliveries with differing aspect ratios - you can add height and/or width as opposed to pan&scan or letter/pillarboxing. Again, some more specialty stuff - not necessary for every production - but still useful. You're welcome to shoot at 5K, or hell even 4K. And now the 5K will fit closer to S35, so more win to those of us currently vignetting.

August 10, 2012

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Kevin Marshall

@kevin, it doest make it easy to track it will make it very heavy. For good tracking you need contrast basically. You need someone on set to make sure the image been captured has all the info to be tracked otherwise you place some tracking marks also collect camera and lens information. I give a credit for stablishing and reframing but for that 4k should be just enough.

August 11, 2012

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Marcus

With a bayer pattern sensor, 4K isn't really 4K. So if you're starting with 4K, you're not actually resolving 4K, and if you then need to stabilize and crop into the image, you're probably resolving closer to 3K or even 2K. There are certainly people out there who don't care about that - but this is what's happening to the image, whether we like it or not.

August 11, 2012

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Joe Marine
Editor-at-Large
Shooter/Writer/Director

You are right Joe, as long as im not forced to record in 6k, 5 or 4k when i dont want to. If at least the didnt have the crop if you want to record straight in 2k. Hence overkill.

August 11, 2012

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Marcus

Well that's the trade-off, isn't it? That's why there are plenty of cameras out there for different situations - if you don't want to have to deal with those resolutions, you don't have to shoot with these cameras. If you really wanted to just record 1080p, you could record the HD-SDI output. It's probably going to be a little lower quality than doing it in post, but all your dynamic range should be there.

August 11, 2012

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Joe Marine
Editor-at-Large
Shooter/Writer/Director

You are looking at a RED system as a Video camera ment for use like a video camera. The RED is from conception, a 35mm Film replacement camera.

Saying 6k is overkill for a corporate video, is like saying shooting 35mm film is overkill. Yes it is. That would be using the tool outside its intended purpose. You can do it... But it requires the time and effort to deal with it. The company is RED Digital Cinema, Key word Cinema. You cant fault it for doing what its designed to do. Capture high resolution images in RAW. Thats what a RED does. Period. Its not a 1080p camera, its not a ENG camera, its not a DSLR, its not a Stills camera. Can it be used like those things, yes it can. But they all stray from its intended purpose. You can't fault a sports car for being impractical. It was never ment to be.

August 13, 2012

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"image still not as nice as the Alexa in most of the situations"

How do you know that? There haven't been any images released from this sensor. If you're talking about the MX, I'd say it's up for debate - and definitely somewhat subjective.

August 10, 2012

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Kevin Marshall

This.

August 11, 2012

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Lliam Worthington

Color science still the same, and you right its up for debate, its my personal opinion.

August 11, 2012

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Marcus

Who said that the color science will be the same after upgrade?

August 11, 2012

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Ryan

Red said that the color science will be upgraded as well, hold the hate my friend

August 11, 2012

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Ryan

Not hating, Red is a great camera, perfect fit for independent filmmakers within its price range. If you check their foruns you'll see Red is attacking Alexa based on resolution only, thats their strenght along with a compact body. The only thing I hate is Reduser forum nonsense :)

August 11, 2012

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Marcus

If you look at their forums, what you said is not true. http://www.reduser.net/forum/showthread.php?83976-Sensors

August 11, 2012

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Ryan

Of course they have multiple posts about the subject, some of them trying to fix things said in the past. Anyway, I have no interest in making this discussion longer. My post was to state 3 things (my opinion): 6k recording is overkill for today, 15 stops of dynamic range is great! and the image (until the update their color science) is still less appealing than the Alexa, FOR ME, sorry if I offended anyone.

August 11, 2012

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Marcus

I see the same thing, it is a bit like the megapixel race in the dslr world not so long ago. As a d800 owner, I can tell you that apart from billboard or museum shoot the 36 megapixel are overkill for 95 % of shots. What is nice is that the camera is still well excel in every other domain like very good in low light and great DR. Should it have been different I would have been very critical of it.

Now on the 6k sensor and 4k output. Is the 4k (3k real) output not already very good to overkill? I mean until now I have never seen a pixel in a 2k output (even looking into it). Most of the actors faces (mostly woman) are being soften a bit in post. I am not interested to see every pores of my favorite actress. This is going more in the technological arm race Marketing propaganda than any real perceivable quality gain by human beings.

The last thing is the refraining concept. I read an article from a very experience editor and she was complaining that people were thinking that everything was possible in post. So people were getting lazy and that in the end the work was getting harder and that now they had to pay much more for the editing because of the time for re-framing color correction etc.

So my conclusion is that people are getting too much entangled into technological mambo jumbo. How many film you where bothered by the 2k output. 6k is overkill, 15 stop is big, because for now from my experience I would say that it is close to human perception. When they will release the camera with 20 stop DR, I won't be that exited because up and above certain level there is a sharp law of diminishing return. Resolution for motion capture is already close for me at 2k.

August 13, 2012

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Danyyyel

I could see a big difference between the Imax and 35mm shots in the Dark Knight Rises, so more resolution is useful for some things at least. It's also worth noting that to keep details like pores from becoming unsightly, you have to have real detail not artifically sharpened detail...and the only way to get that kind of real detail in 1080p, is to shoot something like 4k and do a high quality downscale. This gives you a smooth creamy detailed image, without the harsh halo artifacts of sharpening.

Re: Reframing in post...any tool that lets you do something easier means it can be used in a lazy way. Somebody can use their car to drive two blocks to the grocery store, and end up getting fat and lazy. But that doesn't mean a car is a lazy tool...it's just being used for the wrong reasons. If you use the tool to do something you couldn't otherwise do, then you're using the tool for the right reasons.

August 13, 2012

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Gabe

Couldn't agree more to all of that. Options are not a bad thing. It's like people who say "if you're panning so fast that rolling shutter is a problem, then you shouldn't be panning that fast." Oh, really? What about if you make a creative choice to have a handheld scene running with the camera? What if you're shooting in strobe lights? Sure, the camera arms race is less important than age-old storytelling. But give us options and the best storytellers will use them wisely.

August 13, 2012

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

6K = post stabilization and reframing. It's overkill only for n00bz.
DR is the king for sure though

August 19, 2012

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Natt

One interesting thing I found when posting about pixel pitch and noise before the Sony F3 came out: "engineers find that, while very small pixel pitches bring with them increased noise, once you reach a reasonable size — 4-6 microns — the benefits of larger pixel pitches in terms of noise are reduced." The Dragon Sensor, even at 6K, is squarely in that "reasonable size" range at 5 microns.

August 10, 2012

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

If this actually happened, I think it would be the end of the game, in a way. If you have a camera with 15 stops of DR, shoots at 6K, 120 fps at 5K, 16bit RAW and 2000ISO looking as good as 800, well... would you really need anything else? It sounds a bit 'pie-in-the-sky' but, if I had the dough, I'd buy it and figure I was set for life. I hope Jannard makes it happen.

Maybe this isn't the place but, Joe... got a thread idea for you (you've probably already thought about it) and it might be interesting to start it before the final episode of the Zacuto shootout is released (hell, I don't know, maybe after) but, here goes...

Since the GH2 won the poll for best looking video in the 1st Zacuto episode, (my God, I'm still baffled as to why it did but, it did) I was thinking a good question now would be, "If money was no object, which camera would you pick to shoot your next motion picture project on?" I would think lots of folks would say Alexa, many would say Epic (probably, a lot now would say, I'll wait to see Dragon) and some, the F65 but, I would be curious to know, how many of those who chose the GH2 in the poll would say they would, actually, choose the GH2 to shoot their feature on? I mean, if you thought it looked the best, why wouldn't you use it, even if money wasn't an issue? Huh? This I would like to know.

August 10, 2012

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dixter

Inputs/outputs, low light performance, lens compatibility, codec, reliability, ergonomics, recording media, resolution... To start. But I wasnt one of the ones who thought the GH2 looked good (other than in the bang for the buck department!).

August 10, 2012

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

If I read you correctly, Koo, those would be on my list why NOT to use a GH2, besides the fact that it was near the top of my list for worst looking of the group. But, I think it would be an interesting read on why an individual would choose one over the other, if they could afford any camera they wanted. And, I'd still like to know if those (even Coppola) who preferred the GH2 image, would choose it over all others.

August 10, 2012

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dixter

Yeah I've thought about that - it's an interesting idea. I really don't think anyone in their right mind would choose a low-budget camera if given the choice. If money is no object, you shoot on the best camera available - Alexa, F65, or Epic. If you specifically need a camera to be amazing in low-light, then you might choose the C300 or F3.

These are biggest questions you should ask when choosing a camera for a specific project: What does the image look like (and do you like it)? Which camera will give you the least amount of compromises while shooting and in post for your particular workflow?

August 10, 2012

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Joe Marine
Editor-at-Large
Shooter/Writer/Director

Well, there's your question... What does the image look like (and do you like it)? I mean, to me, as a DP, image is everything. All the other issues Koo mentioned above notwithstanding, if you thought the GH2 looked the best then, why would you use anything else? I hope my point is not lost in here, somehow. Never considered myself a gifted writer.

August 10, 2012

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dixter

No, it's not lost, but I don't think you can have one question without the other. Maybe you like the GH2 image the most, but that camera is certainly not going to be the most flexible on set, and in post. At least from my point of view, if another camera actually lets you work faster and better, you might choose it even if you aren't as happy with the image.

All of those factors, however, must come after budget. If you can only afford $1,000 or $2,000 for your camera rental during a production of more than 3 or 4 days, your options are severely limited, and at that point it does become "what is the image I like the most, for the least amount of money, and with the least amount of compromises?" Hopefully people understand this when they view these types of shootouts. No one camera will do everything you need it to do, maybe some day, but at the moment they've all got positives and negatives and those have to be considered along with your budget, how much you like the image, and what it will mean for your production and post workflow.

August 10, 2012

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Joe Marine
Editor-at-Large
Shooter/Writer/Director

I can't wait for the people who start saying "yeah, sounds cool - but I'm gonna wait for the 8K version"

Think we'll hit 10K by 2015, or will we just get outrageous low light instead? Cameras are getting weird haha.

August 10, 2012

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Red has promised a lot of things over the years. Many empty promises that turned out to be false.

August 10, 2012

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Mack

Even if its 50% true, its still amazing. I'll gladly take 14 stops and clean 1000 ISO. Still basically an alexa

August 10, 2012

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Ryan

Such as?

August 19, 2012

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Natt

The reason 4k cameras are meaning full right now is this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-GYrbecb88

Click "Original" size. 4k delivery right now. with Retina displays at the nearly 3k mark, 1080 material appears soft. Try watching 1080p Prores on a 27" Retina mac monitor.

Then watch Timescapes in 4k on that same monitor. This is why i went with red instead of a used Alexa. Make a film, post it in 4k, Deliver over the web in 4k, whether it be Youtube4K or a Download. The delivery medium is here.

August 10, 2012

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No one has a 4k monitor.

August 13, 2012

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Peter

If by no one you mean the general public, you might be right, but if things go as planned Apple just might have more than a 4K monitor in its next Cinema Display and iMac. Once that happens, it's a race to the bottom and HP, Sony, and others won't be far behind trying to capitalize on higher resolutions.

August 13, 2012

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Joe Marine
Editor-at-Large
Shooter/Writer/Director

yes i mean the general public. Honestly do you know anyone with a 4K monitor? Anyway even if Apple release a 4k cinema display monitor watching something on a computer screen in 4K, seriously wouldnt that be kinda redundant anyway? On a big screen, sure it'd be great, but on a 17inch MBP on your lap? or even 30inch Cinema display. And watching 4k on Youtube? Wouldnt there still be hideous compression issues with that?

I love my technology, and I love nerding out over specs and cameras and everything else, but I really do think 4k is overkill. I think people are using the whole reframing argument to try and justify it in their own heads.

Having said all that if you offered me a 4K camera I would bite your hand off

August 14, 2012

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Peter Kelly

I used to think 4k was overkill, but the fact that my iPad is more than 4K makes me realize that it's not. And I second Timur about the 27" iMacs and the Timescapes comparisons...compression is an issue, but even compressed, there is a place for 4k right here and now.

August 25, 2012

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Daniel Mimura

I meant my iPad was more that 1080, not 4k.

August 25, 2012

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Daniel Mimura

More big shot cameras for hollywood fat-cats and big-wigs to make more insipid fmovies.

August 10, 2012

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VINCEGORTHO

Or as a rental for low-budget movies...

August 11, 2012

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Joe Marine
Editor-at-Large
Shooter/Writer/Director

Someone is jelly

August 19, 2012

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Natt

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