I spent some time today in Soho, London watching the latest Zacuto camera shootout. It was really interesting and quite enlightening. I don’t want to go into to many details here as it may spoil it for those of you still waiting to see the results. But what I will say is that Steve Weiss certainly achieved what he set out to do and that is to question what’s more important, the camera, the operator or something else and whether the camera makes the difference between a good movie and a bad one.
First we were shown footage from each of the cameras tested, shot under matching lighting. You could clearly see differences between each camera, as you would expect. The majority of the cameras were however remarkably similar. Maybe one would have better dynamic range, maybe another would have better colour. Next we were shown a blind screening of each camera where we did not know which camera was which. A letter from A to I was assigned to each camera. For these shots the DoP responsible for the camera was allowed to tweak the lighting to get the most from his or her camera. Then the DoP was allowed some time in the grading suite to do pretty much whatever they wanted to make the camera shine.
The discussion at the end of this set of clips was very interesting. One of the main conclusions drawn was that as much as assessing the actual look of the camera we were also assessing the DoP’s artistic interpretation of what made a good shot. Some clearly favoured highlights, some shadows. It was clear to us all that in the right hands almost all of the cameras were capable of producing great looking pictures in this controlled environment (would be interesting to see a less controlled scenario). Each person at the screening was given a card so they could list their top 5 cameras and most of us were asked to name the worst. There was generally a feeling that of the 9 cameras there were 3 or 4 that most of us liked the most, a couple that were not liked at all and the remaining sat in the middle as perfectly useable but maybe not quite in the same league as the top 4. Even so they were all remarkably close.
So from this I draw some interesting conclusions. The current large sensor cameras are all pretty good. Lighting and careful grading can overcome or at least mask most of any specific shortfalls. The general public audience would be hard pushed to tell.
Adding to this though I would say that one of the cameras that was quite weak in the reference test, but did look so much better in the DoP lit test required a lot more work in extra lighting and grading to get it that way, so obviously there are advantages to be had in having a higher performing camera, but also a good DoP makes all the difference.
There were some definite surprises in the cameras that were liked. One of the higher end cameras was not liked as much as expected and this surprised everyone. An old favourite also failed to perform as expected. When I watched the blind test I scored each camera out of 10. My top camera scored 8, second best was 7.5, third 7, forth 6. So there was very little between my top 3, in fact I really struggled choosing between F and A. My top 5 were F, A, H, C and then E. If you want to know which is which you will have to go to a screening or wait till the online video comes out.