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.