About the Mega Test

With so many great cinema cameras on the market, at a wide range of prices, It can sometimes be tough to decide which one is the best choice to buy, as an owner operator or rent for a project. We had the opportunity to get 6 popular cameras together to do some basic testing. This was an opportunity to get an idea of some of their strengths and weaknesses shooting in 4k (UHD).  

Cameras Tested

RED Epic Dragon

RAW 3:1
ISO 2000

Sony F5

CineEI S-GAMUT3/SLOG-3
ISO 2000

Sony FS7

CineEI S-GAMUT3/SLOG-3
ISO 2000

Sony FS5

S-GAMUT3Cine/SLOG-3
ISO 2000

URSA Mini 4.6K

(pre black shading 4.2 update)
RAW 3:1
ISO 800

Canon C300 MK1

REC709
ISO 800

Let me start with one caveat. This in not a shoot-out to prove which is the overall best camera. Our goal here is to give you a little insight with regard to color, exposure response, and grading.  There are so many other subjective factors like price, ergonomics, post workflow, compatibility, etc, that go into choosing a camera. We just couldn’t address everything in this project.

Given the time we had available with all the cameras and our free studio space, we decided to limit our test to an exposure stress test. The RED and URSA Mini were recorded in RAW 3:1. All of the Sony cameras used SLog-3. The Canon was shot in Standard REC709 (we initially were not planning to include the Canon after our C300 MK2 got booked on a job.) Each camera was set to it’s “base ISO” and recorded at several stops over and under proper exposure. We used a grey card, in camera exposure tools, and our professional judgment to determine the best exposure for each camera.

Overexposure

All the cameras in this test performed extremely well. They easily recovering from as much as 4 stops of overexposure to render a pleasing image. It was not much of a surprise to see that the Sony F5 and FS7 were almost identical in this test. They both were able to recover from almost 6-stops of exposure while maintaining reasonably good detail in the skin tone of our fair skinned model (Claudia). The C300 performed much better than any of us expected, considering that it’s an HD camera that had to be up-rezed to 4K (UHD).

Underexposure

I know there are all sorts of ways to maximize the low light capability of each of these cameras. Without jumping thru too many hoops, we wanted to see how far under proper exposure they could go and still manage to render a usable image.  At 2 stops under, just about all of the cameras rendered an image that we all agreed was useable, after some basic primary adjustments in Davinci Resolve.  When pushed to 4 stops under, the Sony F5 rendered the most “usable” image. I’m sure that we would have gotten better results from the RED using the Low Light Optimized OLPF (optical low-pass filter). Similarly, the Sony cameras would have benefited from a switch from SLog-3 to one of the Hypergammas, like HG3. (Of course, we could have just bumped the gain, but what fun is that.)

The Grade

Colorist Eric McClainAll the footage was shipped out to Eric McClain (Digital Pix: Motion Picture Imaging) to be graded in Davinci Resolve. There is a lot that can be done in Resolve to make all these cameras really shine. Eric chose to limit this test to a single primary grade – opting to get each camera to clean and neutral looking baseline.

We’re working on a video that covers the entire grading process and will be posting it soon. As a quick overview, it turns out that the RED was the easiest of the group work with. This is much improved from its past reputation of having a difficult and lengthy post workflow. The Sony F5 and FS7 the next easiest to color correct. They required virtually identical tweaks to render a neutral baseline image. The URSA Mini required the most manipulation to get a neutral image. In the end, the result is one of the most pleasing (IMHO).

Conclusion

Really the conclusion is up to you. Take a look at the video. Watch in 4k on a decent monitor and keep in mind what’s important for your style of work.  I hope this gives you a better understanding of the capabilities of these 6 cameras.

Derek Allen

Derek Allen

Cinematographer / Editor

Tim Wilson

Tim Wilson

Cinematographer / VFX

Chris Downing

Chris Downing

Video & Sound

Eric McClain

Eric McClain

Colorist