December 1, 2013

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.

Link: Arri Alexa vs. Canon C500 -- Hurlblog

Your Comment

20 Comments

I appreciate Shane for everything that he does. Not many DP's at his level take the time to teach and share their knowledge with everyone else. And I respect him immensely for that. However, I can't take any sort of review he does seriously. Not since he went on and on about how the 1Dc was on par with the Alexa as one of the greatest cameras that he's shot on.

December 1, 2013 at 9:35PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Michael Solomon

It was from an image quality and camera size point of view. It's not that the 1D C necessarily looks better, it's that it produces a great image with good low-light performance in a size that can be easily handled and put in literally any space. It's a personal preference for the way he likes to shoot. The images on these tests speak for themselves regardless.

December 1, 2013 at 9:51PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Joe Marine
Camera Department

Nope.... he specifically said *IMAGE QUALITY* crushes the f65, epic, and alexa. "When you harness 4K into the small footprint of a 1D, give it the processing power to record to little CF cards with no external recording devices needed, then deliver an image that crushes the F65, Epic, Alexa in one fell swoop. Now that is where the WOW factor comes in."

December 1, 2013 at 10:03PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Michael Solomon

To clarify my point, he is clearly biased towards Canon cameras to a pretty significant degree. Consequently, any camera review or roundup that includes a canon camera done by him should be taken with a grain of salt.

December 1, 2013 at 9:52PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Michael Solomon

that "appreciation" is bull, you can't pay homage and bite the hand the feeds. Who gives a crap what his bias is. If he has information to bestow as a superior pro, then I'll take a listen and keep my opinions to myself.

December 1, 2013 at 11:13PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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ryan

the alexa destroys canon, RED, blackmagic.

December 1, 2013 at 9:43PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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imeldamarcos

Because of course that's what the Alexa does: it physically goes out of its way to humiliate and then destroy all other camera brands. Or the sensible statement could be made of "Overall I prefer the image that comes from the Arri Alexa as I feel it is more aesthetically pleasing to my eye and it is much more enjoyable to work with (assuming you've actually worked with that camera or any of the other brands you mentioned)."

December 1, 2013 at 10:56PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Coty

I have a hunch he probably hasn't used any of them.

December 1, 2013 at 11:34PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gene

Who need this it?

December 1, 2013 at 10:20PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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hawaj

I've worked with the C300, and unless I'm shooting at night with no light, you'd be a fool to choose to shoot on Canon over Alexa.

December 1, 2013 at 10:21PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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The trailer footage looks oddly cheap for an intended blockbuster genre film.

December 1, 2013 at 10:35PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Stewe

I had seen some of these videos a week ago. I knew some commenters here wouldn't believe he chose Canon over ARRI---no matter his reasons.

December 1, 2013 at 10:54PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gene

“When you harness 4K into the small footprint of a 1D, give it the processing power to record to little CF cards with no external recording devices needed, then deliver an image that crushes the F65, Epic, Alexa in one fell swoop. Now that is where the WOW factor comes in.”

Sounds like something a PR flack would write. How much did they pay for that comment?

December 1, 2013 at 11:07PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Larry Vaughn

No telling, but the worst part is that it feeds the gear-trolls an all you can eat buffet.

December 1, 2013 at 11:11PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Coty

He's not being paid. There's always exaggeration when it comes to Canon.

December 1, 2013 at 11:32PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gene

Another installment in camera wars. I wonder how many posts this one will rack up.

December 1, 2013 at 11:10PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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moebius22

I don't know. The cinematography looks all over the place in that trailer. All of his previous films especially ones that were shot on film looked beautiful. Terminator Salvation, We are Marshall and The Greatest Game Ever Played to name a few. I've noticed this on most cinematographers. When they transition to digital, their work ends up looking sloppy; weird even. Then again, its just my observation.

Plus, I've heard from friends that've worked with him say that he's pretty hard to work with. Apparently, he likes to say 'go stab yourself, idiot' a lot. I've heard the same regarding Robert Richardson as well.

But whatever, take it with a grain of salt. I still have huge respect for his willingness to share his experience.

December 1, 2013 at 11:13PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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mjuII

Well we can always count on Hurlbut to perform tests during which canon cameras looks infinitely better than Arri.

December 6, 2013 at 5:39AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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konstantinos

I'd sure like an answer on why was my comment erased.I was not being insulting.I never am.Besides everyone seems to question the objectivity behind these tests.It is not that hard to figure that out.In the same way that it is not that difficult to understand why the comments board was kept closed for the first hours of this post going online or why this very comment I am writing is going to get erased again

December 8, 2013 at 9:23PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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konstantinos

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March 1, 2014 at 7:59AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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