It may be 2013 in many places around the world already, but it probably feels like a whole bunch of holidays wrapped into one over at RED. The company has been somewhat quiet about their Dragon sensor over the last few months, but thanks to the CEO Jim Jannard we've been getting details here and there throughout 2012 about the sensor. It's claimed that it will be able to achieve over 15 stops of dynamic range, and they are trying to back up that claim with a dynamic range chart showing what appears to be that, and possibly more.
This is the first image from Dragon (click for larger):
UPDATE: If you're curious exactly what's going on in the chart, Graeme Nattress stopped by to post this in our comments section:
If the 1st step is at clip, any point below that has detail, so the jump from step 1 to step 2 marks one stop of DR. Each step below that you can differentiate from the background counts as another stop of DR.
There will be a wide range of valid values that you can place mid-grey at, just as with our other cameras. That’s the beauty of how we have ISO gain work on our cameras.
Looking at the raw data here I can see steps 1 through 19 inclusive which would indicate a 18 stop DR, and as you say, and as Jim says, the sensor team is still tweaking…. I can’t wait to see what they send me next to analyze!
Here is what Jarred Land said in the forum:
Happy New Year everyone... just a bit of an update on Dragon.
There are some people that think RED has been standing still.. Quite the contrary. We just have been a bit quiet with our hands full harnessing the fire-breathing power of the Dragon.
Dragon was born from a brand new pixel design, with a new fab process and a new read out architecture that has resulted in a sensor that is cleaner and that has more dynamic range than anyone expected.
One of our most reserved sensor engineers wrote Jim and I this morning after shooting a test and these were his words:
" First time in ten years that I'm speechless "
Getting Dragon done was one of the most difficult things we have ever done... but it has turned out to be much more than we could of ever imagined.
This much range coming off of a sensor has never been done before.. let alone at over 6k at 80 frames a second.. so we had to beef up the entire infrastructure of EPIC.
This is likely to affect the price of the upgrade a bit.. and its going to close the door on any chance of a Scarlet to be able to upgrade to Dragon.
We are however.. going to be offering a trade-in program much like we did with the R1 for Scarlet customers to get into an Epic Dragon.
So on the last day of the year of the Dragon, I am going to share with you a frame that was taken this morning.
Don't look at image quality here... this is a dirty debayer with no black calibration, no offset correction and no processing on a special 21 stop DR Chart from DSC.
This is from a prototype " Frankie " Epic camera with a really, really expensive engineering lens that really, really sucks at taking pretty pictures, on a non-sealed lens mount ( hence the light bloom ) but it gives you a bit of an idea on just how powerful all your cameras are about to become.
"Real" Images coming soon... ( but not tonight )
A little later he said:
...notice the little piece of tape on the top of step 16 on the chart. That is where it was supposed to end :)
We are getting a longer chart made. We have such precision now we actually need a chart with in-between wedges for Graeme to do what he does best.
The Engineers keep reminding me that this is the worst we will ever see Dragon. There are still alot of knobs to turn :)
Some words from Jim Jannard (all of these are combined from different comments):
It appears that the Dragon will have about 4 stops more DR and less than half the noise of the current Mysterium-X sensor.
I'm not quite sure if everyone fully understands what this actually means. This is the 1st time in history that a digital sensor blows away the dynamic range of film... and at a resolution that rivals 65mm. Couple that with 80+ fps at full resolution. Of course you can shoot lower resolution at higher frame rates. Record to a small SSD. REDCODE. Dragon. RED.
This is the equivalent to HDRx +5. Native. I guess we just obsoleted HDRx. Oh, well. Progress.
Get your wallets full... the increase in ASIC spending means the upgrade will cost a bit more. But well worth it.
UPDATE: Jarred Land added later that the Dragon will be getting a brand new IR OLPF, so the issues many have been having because of IR pollution with heavy ND filtering and the MX sensor may be a thing of the past. This is essential as the Dragon is set to be even more light sensitive, and will probably require a bit more ND than the MX sensor needed depending on where the dynamic range is biased. He also said this related to the global shutter/rolling shutter debate:
You guys are going to be thrilled...
Global Shutter creates foundational problems in other aspects of sensor design.... as much as everyone thinks they want a global shutter they really just want the side-effects. We took things to a whole different level.
UPDATE: Jannard also added a bit more about the sensor later on:
I don't think there is anything left in the "native ISO" thinking. You can shoot ISO 100 to 12,800 depending on how much noise you can tolerate.
I think "ideal" will be somewhere between ISO 400 and 2000.
Conservative... and I think the chart shows 18+ stops. But remember we still have a lot to go in calibration and color science.
I'm not sure where the 21 stops came from but clearly we see a usable 18+ stops of dynamic range. Maybe more given some tweaking. In any event, it is more than any film stock we have ever seen and certainly more than any digital sensor known to man. This is meaningful. :-)
While it's a little hard to tell where the highlight detail ends because of the blooming, it definitely looks like there is some detail in 2, and I can see it cleanly through 16, which would make this sensor at least 14-15 stops or more. It looks like there is detail in a lot more than just those stops, but at the very least if the chart is accurate it means that Dragon should match or exceed what is currently out there in terms of dynamic range, including the Arri Alexa and the Sony F65/F55. Not to spoil the excitement for some people but we do have to take it with a grain of salt until we see the real images from the camera, but there is no question this is a promising start, especially with the reported ISO 2000 sensitivity of the sensor.
We also got our first details about price. The current upgrade price looks like it's going to rise for EPIC, which previously stood at $6,000 (and this even included new owners). This is due to the need to upgrade most of the internal boards, and at this point, they are now dealing with all sorts of new R&D. It's not clear what the higher price will be, but if you're just buying an EPIC right now, even a $10,000 upgrade would still be cheaper than what people had been paying before the price drop.
Unfortunately, if you were a SCARLET owner hoping for an upgrade, it's not going to happen. That doesn't mean you're out of luck, however. From what they've said there will be a trade-in program very similar to the RED ONE, which means you'll be able to take your SCARLET and likely trade it in for full value towards an EPIC Dragon. This is going to mean that some people may not get a chance to use the Dragon sensor in their cameras if they can't afford the extra price of EPIC, but if you look at it the other way, no camera manufacturer allows you to trade in anything for the full price you paid for it and get a brand new camera with a new sensor. It's unclear what this will cost, but it's probably safe to assume it will be $10,000+ above what you already paid to get yourself into RED EPIC Dragon. It will be interesting to see if the amount changes depending on when you bought the camera, considering they've now offered the SCARLET at three completely different prices for a working body.
If the sensor can really deliver 15 stops or more, it's actually a much bigger deal than the 6K resolution or the ISO sensitivity. Increasing the dynamic range means you're going to have more room to work with when you're in difficult lighting situations. If there is anything that can save you time on set (unless you're shooting in the dark), it's being able to not worry about controlling specific parts of the image if they are too dark or too bright because you know you've got the dynamic range there. This isn't to say that you always fix it in post, but a sensor that can hold detail in almost any situation in the highs and lows makes for a more powerful grading process and a better-looking product overall.
What do you guys think? Is this exciting news or are you waiting for the real images first? If you're a SCARLET owner, what would you be willing to pay for an upgrade? Does this news mean you might not be able to afford to shoot with Dragon? What about any EPIC users, how much more do you think the upgrade will cost and does that affect you in any way?