I don’t think there is a product out there in the digital cinema world that is quite as controversial as the Dragon sensor upgrade from RED. In this brief review i’m going to go over the actual experience I had using the new sensor. I do own an epic, no im not paid by RED. Lets make that clear. I will be doing a proper full test soon of the Dragon, but for now I want to talk about how it is to actually use.
I DPed a music video, on Dave Kruta’s anamorphic lomos, with the Diamond Bros dragon upgraded Epic-M. Truth is, the camera is actually pretty impressive. The funny thing is, when I first fired up the camera, I noted: it looks great, nice dynamic range, at ISO 2000 the recommended native ISO, it was performing very well. Beautiful highlight rendition, crisp and clean blacks, tons of tonality. But it didn’t make me say, “OH MY GOD!!!!!” The day progressed nicely, and for an insert shot I had my Epic M- MX on stand by with a EF mount and a macro lens for the extreme close up work. Thats when i realised the difference. I thought my MX was broken…. It just looked …. old. Its a funny thing with technology, you don’t notice an improvement as being that huge until you take a step backwards in generation. I love the current MX, but I just met its successful, smarter, hotter, younger sister. The difference was significant and purely in image. The image QUALITY is there…. The creaminess of the Alexa with the grainlessness of the Sony F series. The color rendition has improved significantly, but the current dragon is still running RedColor3. I wont make a judgment till its on RC4. Even Tom Wong IATSE 600 DIT, the pickiest of the pickiest perfection obsessed image technicians you will ever run into on set said (and i quote) “It looks pretty good man…”. (Thats a Rave review from him by the way.) The biggest improvements are in the lower mid tones, and the highlights. The muddiness is gone. You can shoot dark and still get rich subtle color on skin tones. This has to do with the biggest spec upgrades in my opinion, the true 16bit files and new far more efficient REDCODE compression. If RED should get accolades for anything on this update its the new compression. You just don’t see artifacts. Compression wise 12:1 looks like 5:1, and 17:1 looks like 10:1 . Not that you should shoot that way, but it means that the lower compression schemes, like 3:1, 4:1 and 5:1 will behave like uncompressed. Thats a good thing.
I had no way of measuring on set its actual dynamic range, but it is quite impressive, and like an F65, you can’t see all of it at once, even in RedLogFilm. There is just so much in the file. This is a huge positive, because not only did its dynamic range kick the hell out of the MX, but it did it at ISO250. The former “no no” of MX land is now a full and complete working stop. It still has 13+ stops dynamic range at this “low” ISO. On the MX, shooting at ISO 250 ment almost no highlight retention, something like 9 stops range below mid grey, and 3 above. On Dragon, it just looks great. You have to work hard to clip this chip. This means working with bigger lights, with less ND is possible. Folks forget that “film look” is mostly big lighting units. Its hard to use big lights on a MX because it needs to sit at ISO 800 to have an even split on the dynamic range, this means lots of ND, which leads to all kinds of color shifts, IR contamination and things like that. IR cut filters make the image green, and muck up the balance. Much better to shoot with a natively lower ISO. This is the case with the F65/55 as well. Its spotless at ISO 2000, but it looks awesome when dropped down low. Really the only camera I can compare the dragon to is the F65. The Alexa is in the ball park, but the resolution is a factor here too. This is what gives it it’s absolutely spotless feel. The down sampling cleans up the grain. This is the same with the F65, its an “8K” chip that records 4K. The Dragon should be used as a 6K capture, 4K delivery camera. Should you choose to down sample to 1080, be prepared for a completely spotless image up to about ISO2000. @ISO 250, its spotlessness is only comparable to the Sony F3 at -6dB. Yea… that clean; if you don’t know what that looks like, if the subject isn’t moving it mind as well be a still image.
Over all, initial impression is that its stunning. But that “Oh My God!!” factor creeps up on you, it isn’t immediately noticeable until you start realising that you are not using any net to cut highlights, or don’t need to add fill to see in the shadows… it just looks beautiful.
Thats it for now, i will do a thorough write up when the music video is out, with workflow, lighting and a more detailed experience with the camera.
Thanks for Reading.
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