There’s a common misconception in the filmmaking community that the more you spend on a camera, the better image quality you will get. While this may be true for specific shooting scenarios, there is no one camera that can be considered as the ultimate performer in each and every situation. Sure, some are better all-around cameras while others could truly shine under certain circumstances such as filming in low-light.
But how about the ARRI ALEXA Mini and the Panasonic GH5s? The next video produced by CineGal compares the two rivals in a detailed series of tests, particularly taking into account low-light performance, motion artifacts, and banding.
Before we dive into the actual tests, it’s worth mentioning that both cameras were set to record internally with the available onboard settings – the GH5s was using 10-bit 422 All Intra MPEG-4 AVC codec, whereas the ALEXA Mini was predominantly shooting in ProRes 4444 XQ and Raw Open Gate.
Now, let’s jump straight to the second part of the noise test with the Macbeth chart where both cameras were shooting at ISOs ranging between 1600 and 3200. It’s at these ISO settings wherein most images begin to break down, revealing the presence of unwanted video noise. To be clear, this particular test was merely focusing on grain and noise artifacts alone, not taking into account other factors such as dynamic range, shadow and highlight detail, color shift, etc.
Overall, the GH5s surprises expectations regarding noise levels as it produced clearer images, despite its inferior recording capabilities. While grain was present at ISO 1600 and up, it wasn’t as much compared to the grain found in the ALEXA Mini, both in Raw and ProRes 4444 XQ. In fact, if you look closer at the ALEXA Mini footage, you should be able to notice the noise prevalent in the green areas of the color chart.
The second test involved both an interior and exterior shot. Surprisingly, both cameras performed similarly at all recording modes, producing well-balanced images. Furthermore, not only was the movement more than passable but the level of detail that can be seen as the steam rises from the mug or the water droplets spew out of the hose are sharp and crisp.
The final test in the video goes into evaluating the amount of banding present in the shots after extreme color grading was applied. This helps determine which camera is more flexible when it comes to tweaking the image’s aesthetics in post-production. Using the Lumetri Color panel in Premiere Pro CC, each shot was gradually pushed through the use of extreme S-Curves and contrast levels.
For this round, the ALEXA Mini was able to produce the best footage using the Raw Open Gate. Of course, that is to be expected since the Raw format holds a lot more image information than the compressed codecs utilized in the tests. Nonetheless, the compressed video from both the GH5S and ALEXA Mini was more than adequate when it comes to heavy color grading, even when the situation might require pushing it to the extreme.
Again, these tests come to show that no camera is built for every shooting environment. So, if you’re someone who needs to film in low-light, the above comparison suggests that the reduced grain of the Panasonic GH5S at the higher ISOs makes it the better option, despite its Micro 4/3 sensor and the lack of Raw recording capabilities.
On the other hand, the ALEXA Mini does provide more flexibility when it comes to extreme color grading which alongside its exquisite color rendition and unique visual aesthetics unambiguously proves once again that the device still lives up to its reputation of the best high-end digital cinema camera in the world.