Available light screening results

With a large turnout of nearly 200 people, I was really surprised that so many people wouldn’t have something better to do on a beautiful Melbourne Saturday afternoon.

But turn out they did ! We started with a quick introduction from Ross at Deluxe. Writer / Director of the test Kate Dennis explained her rationale and thinking behind wanting to explore this mode of shooting.

Then it was me. I wanted to explain the context and thinking from my perspective on these tests. Tests are kind of meaningless to everyone but those that are actually doing them in a way. I was hoping to really see what the latest digital cameras can do in a truly difficult lighting situation….available light at night.

Then I wondered about how film would fare in the same difficult lighting circumstances as well.

I’d seen the 35mm print down at deluxe, but their tiny cinema was dwarfed by Cinema 2 at ACMI. It only occurred to me as I was sitting down that I’d be seeing it and the DCP version for the first time with everyone else !

There was a really terrific q&a afterwards with both myself and Kate, but also editor Ben Joss, colorist Stanly Lopusanzki and Ross Mtichel from Deluxe.

Only 3 people were brave enough to say that they correctly picked all 6 formats.

From my rough estimation of the number of hands raised as to the audience award, the 35mm was the marginal favorite, followed almost equally by the Alexa and the RED MX.

It was really interesting to compare the DCP and the 35mm print as well. I wasn’t expecting to like the DCP as much as I did. It was also much more clear which material was film originated and which were digital.

I did also really like having the grain of the 35mm on the DCP. I think there’s a danger of having too clean an image once you combine digital projection with digital acquisition.

All in all, i felt like there really wasn’t much difference between the Alexa, the RED MX and the 35mm.

The film material seemed to have the most lively and naturalistic colour. The Alexa had the most to offer in terms of reach into the shadows while the RED seemed to have the most resolution. All three of those were my equal favorites without taking story and budget limitations into account.

Afterwards there was some great discussion round the ACMI bar about the virtues of each one. It was wonderful to see so much discussion, and it went on till after 6.

I’d love to hear from you if you went along. Please leave your feedback. It would be great to hear what you liked and didn’t like, and especially, how many you were able to pick !

About johnbrawley

Director Of Photography striving to create compelling images
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16 Responses to Available light screening results

  1. Richard Turton says:

    Hey John
    a great event as evidenced by the turnout. Congrads to you and Kate for kicking it off and making it happen. Anyone that can conceptualise such events and catalyse the response needs a medal in my book. The camera revolution has been crying out for such a call. Loved it.
    Also loved Kate’s call for the smaller foot print shoot… a barrow I have been pushing up hill for a number of years now.
    All the best.

  2. Matt Smolen says:

    Hi John,

    Firstly, thanks so much for organising the tests. It was great to see some real world applications and also from our own soil!

    I must say I was blown away by the results of the Alexa. Sitting there in Cinema 2, when the 35mm print kicked off, I said Camera A (the Alexa) was 35mm. For sure. But lo and behold – I was wrong.

    Anyway, again thanks to yourself, and all involved. It was a great afternoon, with great discussion and I left with some great impressions!

  3. Hi John,

    I attended your screening yesterday and really enjoyed your presentation, so first of all thank you to everybody involved. I think that you were interested in what our emotional engagement with each format was.

    In my opinion, for the scenes shown yesterday I felt more affinity with the 35mm format on the DCP. Just on aesthetics I felt that it was the most flattering to the Actors, of course there are tech reasons apart.
    For a modern genre picture I would go with DCP, however for a period piece maybe I would think about 35mm Print.

    I do also like the Alexa and Red MX, but in that order. However, I felt that the Alexa just had a slight edge on the Red MX for the scenes yesterday. To me the Alexa seemed more forgiving to the Actors, and maybe you may have slightly more dynamic range on the Alexa than on the Red MX I’m not sure but having a less contrasty look helped those scenes. Assuming this was a romance genre script.

    Mind you if I love the colour response of the Red MX, maybe the Epic M would be worth a look. If we were talking an Action genre film I would probably lean towards the Red MX, I guess the more contrast the more I feel distance from the Actors.

    All the best,


  4. Darrell Martin says:

    Fantastic tests John and well worth the effort!
    It was terrific to see the 35mm up against the Red Mx and Alexa.
    I was surprised at how much the Red looked sharper than the Alexa!
    Loved the fact that it was real world conditions rather than a bunch of charts.
    I hope you get to screen this in Sydney – its a must see for emerging and established cinematographers alike!

  5. Pete Ford says:

    Hey mate – it was a great and truly worthy event.

    I voted for the 35mm based on the question but I do have to say based on the costs there was a clear winner and that was the RED. The cost impost of the film was not worth the additional $$$.

    Especially when you consider that there are ways to get around the few limitations that are imposed by a strictly available light comparison. For instance – the exterior with the city and the sky where the 35mm just beat the crap out of all of the other formats. But – in reality you would lock off the shot and do a background plate with proper exposure and comp the two together. If it’s a handheld then still lock it off and use the resolution of the RED to apply a handheld float to the shot in post.

    I agree about the grain – the other thing that gets lost in all digital production is the subtle gate float that gives a subliminal energy to a shot shoot on film. I think that there is a case for digitally applying both for DCP exhibition – but not so much for print as the project and stock take care of it.

    Acquisition costs on 35mm are roughly 30 to 40% more than RED. But I don’t think that it delivers that in value to production and that is becoming almost impossible to argue.

    Great afternoon – I was enlightened and (as the owner of two RED MX’s) relieved!

    Cheers John!

  6. An outstanding event to come to. Truth be told have been thinking about it in the back of my mind since. I was surprised by some of the results and grateful to see such a ‘true’ comparison. A dramatic comparison.

    You asked the question on the day of how the varied formats made us ‘feel’ dramatically. It was in my mind as we watched and it was very interesting to think of each format emotionally. Formats which usually I bat for seemed so ’empty’ when sitting next to richer formats such as the Alexa and RED (of course not to mention 35mm).

    In short, I am grateful that someone in the industry had the get and and go to do a proper test and I thank you for making it so readily accessible to us all.

    Keep up the fantastic work and please keep us all posted as to whether the tests will be available outside of Saturday’s screening.

  7. Terry Forrester says:

    Hi John,
    Saturday arvo at the movies! (ACMI cinema)

    Congratulations and thank you to yourself, Kate and the whole team involved in shooting and getting the tests to screen.

    On all of the formats on the day, clearly there was very obvious winners and some noticeably not so good as revealed in your real world field test. You certainly set yourselves a cracking pace for what you had to achieve in one day and just what is possible in run and gun shooting.

    I would suggest any and all of the formats including the Canon would be very acceptable to a cinema audience if used as the only camera format in a stand alone completed production.

    Seeing each clip projected (DCP) was also great value.
    A case of acceptance required here as celluloid becomes an item of nostalgia and memory – relegated to the romantic dreams of bygone steam locomotives, colourful portable Olivetti typewriters etc!

    And at the end of it all 35mm motion picture film was still there on top with its incredible exposure latitude where as the electronic formats desperately needed a Grad filter or two to help get them over the line down by the Yarra.

    It was a very informative session and a nice tribute to Brolga, he would be quietly chuffed I should think.


  8. Spencer McLaren says:

    Hi John

    A very worthwhile exercsie so thank you for undertaking it.

    I am not shooting anything right at the moment but if there is anyway to make the results available for future reference it would be extremely useful. Obviously that is difficult as you can’t just create a DVD and watch it at home to see what you like… Maybe yours and Kate’s notes on each might be a useful document.

    Either way I was really excited by the possibilities as we are just about to digitally distribute our feature that was shot on Red and the DCP came up great. I actually don’t think I would ever worry about a print now. As Kate mentioned we won’t have a choice anyway soon.

    Thanks again

  9. matt rooke says:

    WOW thanks so much for a great arvo, a great eye opener.
    What got me along was to see the digital formats printed and projected on 35mm, which was great but I was really glad to see the DCP and the results there, just thought the whole session was fascinating with a great Q&A at the end. I’m seeing RED in a whole new light but liked the Alexia. Thank You, inspired effort by you and your team

  10. Dale Bromley says:

    The first thing that must be said is “well done” for the huge amount of effort, time and resources you and so many others put into that test event. I’ve been thinking about it and talking about it with anyone who will listen ever since!

    I particularly liked the fact that there wasn’t a single test/resolution chart in the whole thing. Just real locations and real talent infront of the six cameras.

    I also appreciated the opportunity to see a secondary comparison between 35mm projection and a digital DCP. I had no idea video projection had arrived at that level of performance. What happened to the dodgy light source and the whites that looked grey to the eye, of those older technology video projectors?

    So John, now that you’ve hopefully set a standard here, how about you quietly get your breath back, go out and do some more paying jobs, then in the future set up another camera test?

    I’d like to see how this group of cameras each perform under lighting and exposure conditions for which they are designed.

    I guess you heard the rolling groan around the audience when the super 16 test hit the screen. I think there were a few members of the church sitting near me because I heard a loud “Ohhh Jesus”, at that time too.

    Since you had an exposure in many locations which led you to rate the Red camera at over 2000 ASA and the Alexa at 1600ASA, I have to assume you were under-exposing the 500T film stocks by up to 2 stops. It looked that way in the split screen comparisons (original : graded). So there we were with severely under-exposed high speed 16mm negative cranked up hugely in grading and then transferred up to 35mm print, to be projected onto a massive cinema screen and finally to be enlarged again by another 200% for the brutal part of the test. I suspect everyone in the theater knew that would be a recipe for “grain like golf balls” … and it was!

    I may be a bit of a sook, but I really felt rather sorry for the little super16. Not sure it got much of the credit it deserves.

    I reckon the point you demonstrated in this test is this: if we have a similar minuscule amount of natural light in a shoot like you had in your test locations , we’d really be better off taking a digital camera like the Alexa or the Red… and simply forget film. But if we were serious (and cashed up) we’d light the locations and capture the terrific dynamic range and emotion in the blacks that only film can deliver…. even super16!

    But what I still am unsure about is this. How do the new high end digital cameras compare with film cameras when the lighting/exposure is ideal…. say at 50ASA daylight or 100ASA tungsten. I still am left wondering if the religious members of the audience would be responding to the super16 comparison with the same deeply devout cries.

    So, great work by you and Kate and Sir Stanley and all the others who helped in all sorts of ways. It was sincerely appreciated, as the 200 turnout demonstrated. And when you run your “next follow up” test event, let me know how I can help. I make seriously good coffee.

  11. Hayden says:

    Hi John,

    I’ve been waiting for someone to do this for literally years, and the result far exceeded my expectations.

    In the past six months alone we have produced material (mostly corporate) shot on super 16, RED1, Canon 5D and more recently Sony F3, so you well and truly had our interests covered. The analysis was both informative and fun with real world application.

    Thanks for taking the considerable time and effort to produce such an engaging seminar.



  12. Philip Watts says:

    It was great to see a ‘real world’ test done in such a methodical and thorough way. I am an editor, not a DOP, so don’t have a huge vested interest, but just want to keep abreast of what’s around.

    Having said that, I thought it was amazing how good all the footage looked, apart from the 16mm. (Sorry!) Even the 1D and F3 came up looking pretty good most of the time (thanks partly of course to Stanley’s hard work.)

    Thanks again for bringing us these tests.

  13. Hi John,
    Thank you to you and your team for sharing your results in such an open forum. We are so lucky to have so many choices which provide opportunity to get productions made.
    It is a shame however that preproduction and testing has become less of a priority for productions. I am noticing more and more that consulting with the DOP prior to making visual capture and post path decisions is being lost in the bottom line. A big shame given that is what we do!
    Personally the highlight was the difference in projection, it was great to see both on the big screen.
    Thanks again John

  14. Pingback: Dynamic Range Tests | johnbrawley

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  16. Thanks for doing this John. Came out pretty much as expected.

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