Testing the Arri Alexa vs the Canon C500 – which is better for feature films?

Shane Hurlbut tests the Arri Alexa vs the Canon C500:

Arri Alexa – shot with Arri RAW 2.8K and Codex S Recorder
Canon C500 – shot with Canon RAW 4K and Codex S Recorder

Part One

In this part (it’s the first part in a series of three) he tests the cameras for:

  • Daytime ISO
  • Backlight and Skin tone
  • Dynamic Range
    Here’s an example:

    The Alexa skin tone looked very creamy and beautiful; however, it did not see the subtle blue sky ambiance on the shadow side of her face. Nor did it show the subtle details of her different skin tones like the C500 did.

    Here’s the video comparing dynamic ranges:

    Of course, there’s a lot more images and comparisons on his blog. Read the full review here.

    Part Two

    Part two takes you through Canon C500 and Arri Alexa tests of IR Filtration, Interior Latitude, Night ISO, and Night Driving.

    We systematically did this test with Tiffen WW Straight ND filtration and quickly realized the limits of the Alexa’s IR filter. After a 1.2 ND, you really could see the IR pollution start to enter the blacks. What you are looking for is this reddish brown contamination.

    On the flip side, Canon has really mastered this IR filter technology with the effort devoted to the still photography arm of their company. So even with eight stops of ND added, there is no IR pollution evident in any of the blacks.

    Probably the most important test is for dynamic range. Shane splits the test into overexposing and underexposing:

    We start with the Alexa with the key light matching the exposure on the camera. If the light was at a 4.0, then the camera’s exposure was set to a 4.0. We slowly open up the lens in one third stop increments. The reason for this test is to see how the camera handles over exposure and whether it looks like video when it blows out or whether it looks like film. The Alexa across the board looked just like film. It over exposed so creamy and organically. I loved how this camera looked.

    With the C500, this overexposing did not look organic or feel like film. At +2 and 1/3 stops over exposed, the faces of our models started to clip in a very digital way. It was not creamy. I felt this was one of the biggest limitations of this camera.

    Both sensors acted very similarly in the under exposing tests.

    He also conducts extensive night ISO tests filming on the streets as well as while driving:

    I knew that we would be doing a ton of shots inside the cars with our actors physically driving and I wanted to make sure that by just adding a little dashboard fill light I could literally drive down our race route and not have to add a light. We tested the Arri Alexa in this configuration and noticed right away the physicality of the camera’s size was incredibly limiting.

    When the C500 came on the screen, it seemed to see all the colors in a much brighter and more vibrant way. It energized the background.

    Of course, there’s a lot more images and comparisons on his blog. Read the full report here.

    October 26, 2013