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#1 John Brawley

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Posted 28 May 2011 - 04:54 PM

HI.

I've just uploaded some tests I did whilst in pre for a series that starts up in a little while. We wanted to compare Alexa, RED MX and as a dark horse, Super 16.

I've got a few frame grabs and the original footage.

Have a look here

jb
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#2 Stuart Page

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Posted 28 May 2011 - 07:49 PM

HI.

I've just uploaded some tests I did whilst in pre for a series that starts up in a little while. We wanted to compare Alexa, RED MX and as a dark horse, Super 16.

I've got a few frame grabs and the original footage.

Have a look here

jb


I expected better results from the Alexa. I think overall the RED MX performed the best, and the film just looks lovely in some shots, but would probably need a little more fill light here and there.
Very interesting test, I'd be keen to know what you went with.
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#3 John Brawley

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Posted 28 May 2011 - 08:21 PM

I expected better results from the Alexa. I think overall the RED MX performed the best, and the film just looks lovely in some shots, but would probably need a little more fill light here and there.
Very interesting test, I'd be keen to know what you went with.


I actually felt the Alexa was markedly better than the RED. The highlight information in the first setup clearly shows it can go very close to matching the film. There was also a fair bit less noise in the blacks compared to the RED on the second setup. The camera seems to have a lot of "reach" and I figure I'll be throwing DR away rather than trying to lift anything out of the shadows.

Yes, the film looks lovely. The colour reproduction is still something to behold. I love the texture of it too. I do suspect that it won't go that way though because of the cost.

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#4 Jaron Berman

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Posted 28 May 2011 - 09:09 PM

16 looked beautiful, Alexa looked pretty amazing, MX looked like RED. Blown highlights, crushed blacks, plastic skin. I have to disagree with Stuart completely -MX isn't in the same league as s16 or Alexa - like John said - just look at the glass blocks...or on the last shot look at the cars in the bg as they transition to black, compared to the skintone.... No contest....but then again, MX is in a different price class sorta, so it's not surprising

But from your test, its impressive how nice Alexa looked compared to the s16! The lower-value skintones looked awfully nice on film, even Alexa can't quite hold that low-light skintone just yet. Nowhere near as gross and plastic as MX, but still - ain't film! Thanks for posting this - always nice to see side-by-side shots every so often to check on the "state of things."
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#5 Vincent Sweeney

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Posted 29 May 2011 - 03:52 AM

I expected better results from the Alexa. I think overall the RED MX performed the best..


You were kidding, right?
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#6 Francesco Bonomo

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Posted 29 May 2011 - 04:12 AM

16 looked beautiful, Alexa looked pretty amazing, MX looked like RED. Blown highlights, crushed blacks, plastic skin. I have to disagree with Stuart completely -MX isn't in the same league as s16 or Alexa - like John said - just look at the glass blocks...or on the last shot look at the cars in the bg as they transition to black, compared to the skintone.... No contest....but then again, MX is in a different price class sorta, so it's not surprising

But from your test, its impressive how nice Alexa looked compared to the s16! The lower-value skintones looked awfully nice on film, even Alexa can't quite hold that low-light skintone just yet. Nowhere near as gross and plastic as MX, but still - ain't film! Thanks for posting this - always nice to see side-by-side shots every so often to check on the "state of things."


This is EXACTLY what I thought. I must say MX looked pretty good to me in the shadow areas and the blacks didn't bother me at all, but the highlights and skin tones were definitely better (IMHO) in S16 and Alexa. The grain in S16 looked beautiful, and the way film handles skin tones and highlights still looks superior, at least to me.

Yes, the film looks lovely. The colour reproduction is still something to behold. I love the texture of it too. I do suspect that it won't go that way though because of the cost.



Just out of curiosity, what kind of savings are we talking about here? I'm interested in this, because I hear digital is cheaper all the time, and it probably is when you consider all the costs of film stock and lab fees, but are we talking about significant savings or just a little bit? I'm on a tv series right now, we're on S16 (like most tv series in Italy), and we're shooting an average of 4000-5000 feet per day.

Anyway, thanks so much for posting this, John!
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#7 John Brawley

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Posted 29 May 2011 - 04:40 AM

Just out of curiosity, what kind of savings are we talking about here? I'm interested in this, because I hear digital is cheaper all the time, and it probably is when you consider all the costs of film stock and lab fees, but are we talking about significant savings or just a little bit? I'm on a tv series right now, we're on S16 (like most tv series in Italy), and we're shooting an average of 4000-5000 feet per day.

Anyway, thanks so much for posting this, John!


Well it comes down to ratio.

Your example of 5000' That's 2 hours 18 mins @ 24 FPS. Is that the right frame rate for Italian TV ? Is that one camera ?

I just did a series with the same producers and we shoot 2-3 hours per camera per day. So we're usually running two cameras on most setups. We certainly try to cut if there's no need to be running, but that's what we average for 8-10 mins of screen time per day (all location based). That's an average of about 30 setups per day as well or about 50 shots.

If that was shooting on film that would be up to 6750' per camera per day. (at 25 FPS)

Of course I'd argue that the *discipline* of shooting on film would lead to a lower ratio and arguably better shots, BUT TV is a producer's medium and they favour coverage above everything else.

jb
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#8 Francesco Bonomo

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Posted 29 May 2011 - 05:05 AM

Your example of 5000' That's 2 hours 18 mins @ 24 FPS. Is that the right frame rate for Italian TV ? Is that one camera ?


We're shooting 25fps, I'd say it's 66% 1 camera, and 34% 2 cameras, depending on various things. Three days ago the B camera shot only two setups, while the following day it was used for every setup.

I just did a series with the same producers and we shoot 2-3 hours per camera per day. So we're usually running two cameras on most setups. We certainly try to cut if there's no need to be running, but that's what we average for 8-10 mins of screen time per day (all location based). That's an average of about 30 setups per day as well or about 50 shots.


Definitely more footage per camera than what we're doing, but the minutes per day and the number of setups sound quite familiar.

Of course I'd argue that the *discipline* of shooting on film would lead to a lower ratio and arguably better shots


I haven't worked on tv series shot digitally so far, but based on my limited experience on digital sets, I'd tend to agree, though it'd be quite unfair to say that digital shoots are inherently "lazier" or less disciplined.

BUT TV is a producer's medium and they favour coverage above everything else.


Yeah, "coverage" is the key word here as well, after "hurry up and finish this damn thing before we have to pay for extra time" :-)
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#9 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 29 May 2011 - 05:31 AM

Of course I'd argue that the *discipline* of shooting on film would lead to a lower ratio and arguably better shots, BUT TV is a producer's medium and they favour coverage above everything else.


Producer's like having control during the edit... the director mightn't even be there in some cases. I don't think the John Ford approach would work these days - don't give them the stuff they might use it.

Yes, good old film still has that magical quality and the Alexa seemed the closest.

BTW Liked the old cameras on the shelves.
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#10 John Brawley

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Posted 29 May 2011 - 05:45 AM

Producer's like having control during the edit... the director mightn't even be there in some cases. I don't think the John Ford approach would work these days - don't give them the stuff they might use it.


Well that's Television. Cinema still seems to be a bit different.....

Yes, good old film still has that magical quality and the Alexa seemed the closest.

BTW Liked the old cameras on the shelves.


Probably the worlds finest collection of Auricon cameras. From the collection of the late John Bowring. He was obsessed. There's a few one-off prototypes if you know what to look for....

jb
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#11 Francesco Bonomo

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Posted 29 May 2011 - 05:58 AM

Producer's like having control during the edit... the director mightn't even be there in some cases. I don't think the John Ford approach would work these days - don't give them the stuff they might use it.


It's always very interesting to see how things change depending on the country. Here the producer is the one who's hired by the network to provide them with a given number of hours of tv entertainment, and sometimes, like on the series I'm working on, he's the guy responsible for coming up with the initial idea for the series, but he doesn't really deal with the series on a daily or even weekly basis, maybe because he's producing other 7-8 series at the same time, plus a couple of theatrical features. He obviously has the last word in most things, but you rarely see him on set (I've worked on this same series in the past, and I think I've seen him once in a grand total of 20 months), and when you do, it's usually because there's some big problem.
Then we have what we call the "organizer", who I guess it's similar to the producer in the American meaning, and he's responsible for organizing and overseeing the shoot from a logistical perspective, but also somehow creative, along with the director, especially when it comes to deal with the screenwriters.

As for the John Ford approach, at least over here, it really depends on the director. Years ago I worked with a great one who would do exactly that, knowing that he wouldn't be able to go to the editing room, so especially for important scenes he really cared about, he would shoot only what he wanted, so editors couldn't "mess around" with his footage. And I must say, after seeing the final edit air on tv, he was right 100% of the times he did that.

Probably the worlds finest collection of Auricon cameras. From the collection of the late John Bowring. He was obsessed. There's a few one-off prototypes if you know what to look for....


I apologize for the off topic, but the more I read about John Bowring, the sadder I get for not having had the chance to meet him. And your tribute to him on your blog, John, was really great.
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#12 John Brawley

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Posted 29 May 2011 - 07:40 AM

It's always very interesting to see how things change depending on the country. Here the producer is the one who's hired by the network to provide them with a given number of hours of tv entertainment, and sometimes, like on the series I'm working on, he's the guy responsible for coming up with the initial idea for the series, but he doesn't really deal with the series on a daily or even weekly basis, maybe because he's producing other 7-8 series at the same time, plus a couple of theatrical features. He obviously has the last word in most things, but you rarely see him on set (I've worked on this same series in the past, and I think I've seen him once in a grand total of 20 months), and when you do, it's usually because there's some big problem.


Same here really. We have an EP who set's up the show and is very involved at the beginning, who's also producing multiple shows. He hardly ever visits set. There's producer who has a bit more to do on set, but is mainly working with the writers to get the scripts the best they can be and then the Line producer and the Production Manager who keep the wheels turning on set itself.

The EP though is still very much involved, because all the producers present the rough cuts to the TV network along with the director. And when the network want other options in the cut *THATS* when coverage counts. So they aren't as involved on set, but they are certainly making the presence felt. And you certainly hear about it if there aren't enough options in the edit suite when the network want something changed !


As for the John Ford approach, at least over here, it really depends on the director. Years ago I worked with a great one who would do exactly that, knowing that he wouldn't be able to go to the editing room, so especially for important scenes he really cared about, he would shoot only what he wanted, so editors couldn't "mess around" with his footage. And I must say, after seeing the final edit air on tv, he was right 100% of the times he did that.


We had a director that did that last season. He would set up one shot scenes or often do just one take of some setups. He wasn't asked back again on the second season.


I apologize for the off topic, but the more I read about John Bowring, the sadder I get for not having had the chance to meet him. And your tribute to him on your blog, John, was really great.


Thank you.

I was lucky enough to work as his assistant for 3 years. His knowledge is irreplaceable.

jb
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#13 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 29 May 2011 - 09:12 AM

Red looks like arse, doesn't it?

Even the MX, which is so much vastly improved, has really, really poor highlight handling. It's so bad in that test, it makes me wonder how the thing was set up. MX Red ought to be better than that - surely? It couldn't even handle the blue backlight on the benchtop in the projection room.

P
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#14 Jaron Berman

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Posted 29 May 2011 - 02:10 PM

On the low end, I think even the Panasonic AF100 gives RED a run for its money. But it's clear why Alexa took so long and costs what it does - does a pretty incredible job when compared to film.

Out of curiosity John - when you're budgeting film vs. digital are they factoring DIT, monitoring, archiving etc... it feels like there's a point at which the assumptions of what will show up on set for digital are so high that it pushes the budget back in favor of film, no?
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#15 John Brawley

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Posted 29 May 2011 - 06:15 PM

Red looks like arse, doesn't it?

Even the MX, which is so much vastly improved, has really, really poor highlight handling. It's so bad in that test, it makes me wonder how the thing was set up. MX Red ought to be better than that - surely? It couldn't even handle the blue backlight on the benchtop in the projection room.

P


Hi Phil,

I know you love to bag RED, and it's definitely got it's baggage but I think it's important to remember that RED has been around for a few years now. I've done a feature (which just went into release in the US). It was shot in 2008. The budget was embarrassingly small. There's no way it could have been shot to get that super 35 look with anything else.

I've also done 3 TV seasons, and again, in Australia where NO TV is ever shot 35mm, it was a great tool for doing that and getting a super 35 DOF look. Something NO oz TV show has ever had.

When it first appeared, there wasn't anything close to matching it in terms of cost for a large sensor look. Now there is and though it costs double the price, it's considered an equal.

So yeah, the Alexa does trump the RED in lot's of ways visually, but it's going to cost 30% extra to the RED for my show to rent them. And RED's are already considered expensive on episodic TV because of the cost of those expensive 35mm *film* lenses. Again, historically, a lot of TV drama in this part of the world has been shot F900.

With regard to the linked test material, I've always know that RED run's into clipping very quickly. It's pretty standard for me to underexpose the image and trade shadow reach for highlights. In this case, i was simply exposing them *to the meter* rather than *for the grade*. For the sake of a fair comparison.

I actually think one of the most underrated things about RED is the way they manage their post workflow. By having the metadata automatically follow the image around, I can drastically swing the exposure around and still give editorial rushes that look good. They've really done away with the need for LUT's. Or rather, they're automatic.

All of a sudden with the Alexa, I'm faced with having to do LUT's for rushes....and multiple LUT's for processing rushes into editorial ! And LUT's on my monitors. That feels like such a giant step backwards to me.

Shooting to Pro Res also mens baking in my white point AND baking in my ISO. I haven't tested this enough to see if that's a disadvantage or if the greater dynamic range overwhelms committing to a white point and ISO in the field. I've gotten used the RED workflow and when I step away from it, I suddenly realise how flexible it is.

There's also the resolution. Not that it happens often, but you can easily do a 200% frame enlargement on the RED and you'd barely notice it. The Alexa doesn't stand up so well to blowing up.

Yeah there's a lot to hate about the RED, but I'm realising now that there's also a lot that I like.


jb
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#16 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 29 May 2011 - 06:24 PM

I'm not trying to "bag" red. I'm expressing surprise that it looks as bad as it does. It certainly seems overexposed; I would not have tried to use a meter in that scenario.

P
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#17 John Brawley

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Posted 29 May 2011 - 06:40 PM

I'm not trying to "bag" red. I'm expressing surprise that it looks as bad as it does. It certainly seems overexposed; I would not have tried to use a meter in that scenario.

P


No worries Phil,

As I said, I wouldn't normally expose it that way either. But I had to have something in common for each of the formats. I basically set an exposure at *base* for when the subject stops and let everything else fall where it falls.

Plenty of cameras have failed that glass brick wall. I've shot it many times in tests. RED is in front of a long line. Film is normally the only format that gets close to coping with it. The Alexa did very very well with that particular set up. Yes we could have underexposed (exposed for the highlights) the RED, as per my previous post, and graded it up, but I was keen to see how they would all fare at the same base exposure, knowing that there would be low light scenarios where the RED would be more equal...

jb
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#18 John Brawley

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Posted 29 May 2011 - 06:55 PM

On the low end, I think even the Panasonic AF100 gives RED a run for its money. But it's clear why Alexa took so long and costs what it does - does a pretty incredible job when compared to film.

Out of curiosity John - when you're budgeting film vs. digital are they factoring DIT, monitoring, archiving etc... it feels like there's a point at which the assumptions of what will show up on set for digital are so high that it pushes the budget back in favor of film, no?


I've been using the AF100 as an insert camera with the RED and it grades very nicely to match. Most can't pick it in the grade. There's a little more compression buzzing in the blacks (if only they upped the data rate on their codec a sniff)

I'm a bit heretical in my approach to DIT's.

I generally don't have them on set. I shoot to unreliable mechanical spinning drives, split them at lunch time and at wrap. They get sent to the *lab* where they get backed up and tech checked in a more consistent and controlled environment.

We did cost up doing tech checks and backup's on set with a DIT and it's actually cheaper than sending them through to our post house. I just prefer that this job is done in a better and less hostile environment than on set. It's worked for 100 years of film so why change it all of a sudden. I'm through something like 70TB of data over the last 3 series and something like 34 000 mins of rushes. So far I've only had a problem with a single shot where the drive failed. All the files were recovered no problem and a single shot was screwed just for the first few seconds before the slate. Then it came good. Just to prove a point to myself I had it sent to RED and they eventually fully recovered the file.

So far a 100% success rate. It's a calculated risk and now SSD's will hopefully reduce it even more.

Archiving is a similar cost for film I imagine, so back to costs, I think it's still about ratio. That's the key to the costs.

jb
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#19 Keith Walters

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Posted 29 May 2011 - 07:09 PM

I'm not trying to "bag" red. I'm expressing surprise that it looks as bad as it does. P

It is one of eternal mysteries of RED: It uses a fairly ordinary CMOS sensor, so you'd think it should be able to produce as nice an image as any other CMOS sensor.
Yet the end product routinely comes out looking "off", at times almost like an old black and white photo that's been hand-tinted.
Even the mighty Tom Lowe has been reduced to admitting this.
So what are they doing wrong?

Against my better judgement, I'm going to see Pirates of the Carribean 4 (in 3D!) tomorrow night. I'm not too optimistic, at least based on the trailers I've seen on TV so far.
If it wasn't for all the mermaids being required to have non-siliconed knockers, I probably wouldn't bother...
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#20 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 29 May 2011 - 07:31 PM

With the Alexa, you do have the option of recording Log on the SxS cards while sending ARRI's own Rec.709 version to the monitors, it's just not a great Rec.709 (too contrasty, and it's yellow-ish). Similar to how you can record RAW on the Red and send out whatever gamma-encoded format you want to the monitors on set.

The advantage of developing a LUT yourself for the Alexa is just that the same LUT can be applied to the monitors and to the dailies at the post house, if you take the time to develop the LUT over at the post house and then apply it on set (on my Alexa shoot, we used Cinetal monitors which could be loaded with a LUT.)

Even Red acknowledges that the Alexa is slightly better at dynamic range than the M-X Red One, and film negative is still the best of all in that aspect so it's hardly surprising that Red came in third if you are looking at DR.

The latest color science available behind the conversions from RAW to RGB have mostly solved that desaturated look problem that Keith mentions.
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