Shane Hurlbut's Extensive Cinema Camera Tests Part 1: ARRI ALEXA vs. Canon C500
Although most digital productions these days are shot on the ALEXA or the EPIC, Director of Photography Shane Hurlbut's most recent project, Need For Speed, featured an against-the-grain camera choice of Canon's C500. In a recent series of blog posts, Hurlbut provided his readers with an extensive amount of information about how he and his team chose the C500 over the multitude of digital cinema cameras on the market today. Here's a roundup of his first set of camera tests, featuring the ARRI ALEXA and the Canon C500.
Hurlbut uses the idea of "digital emulsions," where he treats the sensor in each digital camera like its own unique film stock. Through conducting extensive tests for each of these cameras and their sensors, Hurlbut is able to determine the strengths and weaknesses of each sensor, and more importantly, which cameras are suited for certain types of shooting conditions. With this information, he's able to make educated camera choices for each individual project that he shoots. With the "digital emulsion" philosophy in mind, Hurlbut set out to conduct a series of camera tests for his most recent project, Need For Speed.
First, here's the Daylight ISO test, in which Shane and his team measure how the characteristics of each sensor change in a daylight situation as the ISO is cranked up on each camera:
Next, here's the backlight test where they essentially tested the skin tones of each camera in a natural, soft, daylight situation. This test proved to be a crucial one as skin tonality would play a major role in why the C500 was chosen over the other camera systems:
Lastly, here's the dynamic range test. In this test, Hurlbut looks at how the ALEXA and C500 maintain dynamic range when moved away from their native ISO's in a bright daylight situation with clouds in the background (which is always tricky to expose).
One of the major takeaways from this set of tests is, of course, that each of these cameras have their strengths. The ALEXA is still the most traditionally "filmic" camera out there in that it renders images a bit softer and warmer than its competitors. It also absolutely destroys the competition in the dynamic range department, although that may have changed now that the DRAGON sensor is making its way into the world.
The C500, on the other hand, renders its images with a sharper look and more subtle gradations in the skin tones, which provides a more realistic look. In many cases, this wouldn't be the ideal look for certain types of cinema. However, since Need For Speed was being shot with practical effects (with the actors actually driving these cars at high speeds), the added sense of "realism" from the C500 was actually an asset for this production.
Additionally, Hurlbut didn't choose the C500 as a "one size fits all" solution for Need For Speed. As we can see in these tests, the C500 really shows its weakness in the dynamic range department, especially when moved away from its native ISO. For that reason, he chose to use the ALEXA for the bright daytime exterior shots where dynamic range would be an issue. By using each of these cameras for their strengths, Hurlbut and his team were able to provide the best images possible for every scenario in the film.
Check out the trailer for Need For Speed:
Be sure to head on over to Hurlbut's blog to read up on the specifics of these camera tests and to see a few others which weren't posted here.