The new DRAGON sensor from RED -- with quoted specs like 6K resolution, clean 2000 ISO, and over 15 stops of dynamic range -- was originally set to be released all the way back in late 2012. There were some promises -- and then some delays. But the sensor is now finally done, and camera upgrades will begin in September. In the last few weeks DRAGON-upgraded cameras have found their way into the hands of professional DPs across the world, many working without any RED supervision. We got our first little tease of what DRAGON is capable of from one of these DPs, Mark Toia, and now he has unleashed the first footage ever from the sensor.
We will likely get something a bit more uncompressed at some point, but Mark was worried about his servers exploding, so at the moment we've got Vimeo to show off the footage all shot at 6K (though you should go download it right from the site for the best quality possible):
Here's some of what he said on REDUser, followed by some stills (there are many more over on the thread). He did a stress test with the camera in all sorts of real-world scenarios, and also reiterated that Jim and Jarred were not part of the test in any way -- it was all him:
The two main areas I wanted the camera to perform in are :
HIGH CONTRAST information, just how much is hiding on the shadows and highlight. And secondly, Just how far can I push it in the dark. What is the most usable ISO without the aid of any noise reducing plugins.
Data was also big question for me, I'm a laptop warrior, I travel the world with RED and MAC.. I don't need anything slowing me down. So the question was, Just how long are these cards going to last… So my idea of testing lower compression rates to save space, and then to push the limits of the ISO into 17:1+ compression to see if it fell apart. The simple answer is no… Dragon @17:1 looks like MX @8:1. So we are all saved, none of us have to run out to buy more cards.
Skin tests, filter tests, IR tests, were also done.
Here is his feedback (bold is mine):
The Red Dragon sensor has 3 F STOPS more than before. 1 in the hight lights which rolls over wonderfully !, 2 solid extra stops in the darks…. maybe 3 once the colour science has been perfected.
But there is still noise, but nothing like before. I ran some 250d 2k film rushes next some of my 4000asa stuff, And silly as it sounds, it looks like film grain, not noise. Don't ask me how, as I wouldn't have a clue. But it looks great !
Red Dragon now has the best highlight fall off I have ever seen from any digital camera. Beating film! Big call I know, but after shooting film and pushing it around in telecine chains for more than a decade, I can categorically say that this new sensor has a better range than film ever had.
Probably the most interesting stuff from a guy who has shot literally everything out there:
The Dragon is more stable than my current MX EPIC's.
The SONY F65 I rate as having the best sensor in the market for a production cine camera. Yes.. it's better than the EPIC- MX. (I'm not going to harp on about the size of it or the price comparisons).
Even Jim knows that Sony have done very well with the F65 sensor and that was obviously pissing him off, because his new Dragon sensor has just given the the F65 notice.
All the F65 SONY purists out there will dispute this. But I have Sony files here with me, and I'm looking at both side by side… and Dragons grain (noise) structure is cleaner and it has more range.
Dragon is now the King. (AND… I'm not going to harp on about the size of it or the price comparisons). or did I ..ha !
The single one sentence i can say that can sum up everything is this..
It's the first camera ever that I have used that captures exactly what I see with my own eye.
Never have I seen this before. !
Click for a larger version (there are many more stills taken from video over on the REDUser post):
Just as a refresher, here are some of the DRAGON specs listed by RED:
SENSOR: 19 MEGAPIXEL DRAGON™
PIXEL ARRAY: 6144 (h) x 3160 (v)
S/N RATIO: 80db
DYNAMIC RANGE: 16.5+ stops
MAX IMAGE AREA: 6144 (h) x 3160 (v)
LENS COVERAGE: 30.7mm (h) x 15.8mm (v) x 34.5 mm (d)
- 6K RAW (2:1, 2.4:1)
- 5K RAW (Full Frame, 2:1, 2.4:1 and Anamorphic 2:1)
- 4.5K RAW (2.4:1)
- 4K RAW (16:9, HD, 2:1 and Anamorphic 2:1)
- 3K RAW (16:9, 2:1 and Anamorphic 2:1)
- 2K RAW (16:9, 2:1 and Anamorphic 2:1)
- 1080p RGB (16:9)
- 720p RGB (16:9)
- Compression choices of 18:1 to 3:1
- 12 and 16-bit RAW : Compression choices of 18:1 to 3:1
- 1-100 fps 6K
- 1-120 fps 5K, 4.5K
- 1-150 fps 4K
- 1-200 fps 3K
- 1-300 fps 2K
Getting three additional stops of dynamic range is simply huge. Though we'll have to wait a bit to get .R3D files to play around with from the new sensor (since a new version of REDCINE-X that works with DRAGON has not yet been publicly released), it's clear that RED has created something special. Where exactly the MX sensor ranked in terms of dynamic range was up for debate, but now with 3 extra stops, DRAGON has the highest dynamic range of any digital cinema camera out right now. Even if you were rating MX at 12 stops, 3 extra stops puts it at 15, which is pretty amazing when you then consider the 6K resolution, high-ISO, high frame rates, and the fact that dynamic range seems to stay consistent from 250 all the way to 2000 ISO.
Color science on the new sensor is supposedly much improved, and they have spent quite a bit of time behind the scenes trying to make sure that this is right from the get-go. From the looks of things, they are off to a great start. It does remind me a bit of the Sony F65, which is the best resolving 4K camera at the moment (with DRAGON now equalling or surpassing it), and is capable of some unbelievable imagery. The fact that RED is putting all of this tech inside such a tiny body is still mind-blowing.
Something that many have misunderstood along the way: you will not be projecting 6K (though when the capabilities exist you certainly could). 6K will resolve a much higher quality 4K image since you're throwing more pixels at it (think still photographs which are very often 4K and above). This is the true power of 6K. It will also allow for reframing in post for various reasons, including image stabilization. Even a serious crop of the 6K frame will still give you plenty of room to work around, and probably still maintain 4K res.
As far as low-light performance, things are looking promising, and it seems like 4000 ISO is pretty clean, and 6400 is still usable. This is getting into DSLR territory, except you've got much, much more resolution and color depth to work with. I think this low-light performance and dynamic range are the most exciting things about this new sensor.
Current owners have a few upgrade options, but considering a new camera is going to start well under $30,000, it's pretty remarkable just how far we've come.
What do you think?