Until yesterday, we had a clear separation in the world of moving images: celluloid film was the undisputed ruler of dynamic range, while the digital sensor was the leader in resolution, speed and practicality. This has just changed for good, as an upcoming camera from RED Digital Cinema Company reached a goal which no other camera manufacturer has been able to achieve.
Test image taken on the upcoming RED Epic camera in 5K resolution [downsampled to a lowly 675 pixels]
The RED team successfully tested moving images from a digital sensor in dynamic range larger than the range captured by a film tape. RED Epic was tested in its HDR mode and the test chart showed clear 18 stops of dynamic range. Do note that the published tests do not represent the final version of picture quality as the camera is still being fine tuned and features improved. One of the things which differentiates RED from other companies is their informing the public about the advancements during R&D which means showing work in progress.
The last important limitation of digital technology – captured range between highlights and shadows has now been broken, and new generation of these cinema cameras will be able to achieve what no other film camera can. With 18 stops of DR, a sensitivity of ISO 800 [very usable at even higher ISO values], the smallest form factor for a 35 mm cinema camera, 120 fps in 5K and a 1.8" SSD onboard for lossless RAW recording, it becomes obvious that RED has made a revolutionary step in motion imaging. Not bad for a project which in its start was ridiculed by the industry as being a scam.
Prior to this achievement, photographers were forced to shoot a few different exposures and combine them into one HDR image [as almost every guide on the net will tell you so]. This technique lead to discrepancies between images which consisted of any motion [leafs, rivers, people moving through the frame, etc.]. Naturally, any motion-based imaging using HDR was impossible. The new High Dynamic Range motion imaging ability not only enables recording the footage [and stills] most similar to what our eyes can see, but also presents a new creative tool.
There will be two modes of HDR. "Easy HDR", done within camera and irreversible, and "HDRx" which can be manipulated in post production. DP?s will love the ability to protect the highlights in their scene and ability to choose the HDR range of +3 to +6 additional stops [to existing 13 stops of DR] with only disadvantage being recording twice the amount of data.
Does this achievement announce the end of film? No, it doesn?t. All the aesthetics of celluloid tape will be close to our hearts for a long time and film makers will always be able to choose. However, what this step does is that it brings in more creativity and practicality than ever before.
The Monster behind the images: upcoming RED Epic Digital Camera in prototype configuration
From my professional experience, having shot on numerous cameras for more than a decade and after using RED One for more than two years, right now it is hard to imagine will we ever need another camera after Epic comes out [Of course you will. RED Ultra Epic? Ed.]. RED leader Jim Jannard said that the Epic is all he ever wanted. I hope this doesn?t mean retiring because world needs a madman like him to keep pushing the envelope.
Congratulations to the whole RED team for this spectacular achievement. Movie buffs: expect to see the Epic in theaters soon.