There is strange allure, a fascination, in participating in a blind test. Putting your knowledge at risk of being disproven, but also the fun excitement of a trivia quiz, we know why we enjoy them. Now, what could be the most exciting trivia quiz for a filmmaker?
You’re right! A blind test between four of the most interesting cameras of the last few years: the Pocket 6K, ALEXA Mini, URSA Mini Pro, and the RED Raven. Well, this edition of the “ultimate camera comparison“ will be conducted by Tom Antos, there are no prizes if you guess correctly, but you’ll get a lot of fun in the process. Shall we start the spin?
The test has obviously the cameras confronted in similar conditions and to avoid any kind of bias the images are also presented in random order in the video itself. It is really a nice occasion to test your confidence and discover your prejudice. You may have some bias towards a camera maker without even knowing. Let’s see this first image for example:
It’s a collage of the first test shot we see. Now, what should we look for? In a shot like this, where we have a well-lit subject and a bright overcast background, we can start with dynamic range. Which one does seem to have the wider range? Do the shadows feel noisy? Is there detail in the brighter parts?
And the color science? Is there a color cast? Is it green or magenta? How do you like the skin tones? Does it feel like the legendary ALEXA skin tone, or instead do you see the trademarked Blackmagic’s tint? Take your time and just like a modern Sherlock Holmes let’s try to solve the puzzle! Here are some other shots, this time whit no crop.
OK then. You’ve got your time to analyze the image: did you make up your mind? Now let’s get to the solution and let’s discover what Tom’s got to say about these cameras.
Antos did a clever thing. He kept the names hidden and is giving us the blind test results for each camera. He did not, however, limit the public vote to the test on YouTube, but it was all across his social platforms, so we are presented with a roundup of all the votes globally.
The winner as the camera with the best picture quality was Camera C (39% of votes), then followed Camera A (28%), Camera B (26%) and closes Camera D (8%). Will the result follow our expectations? Well, buckle up, ’cause you’re in for a surprise.
Did you expect such a result? We sure did not. And it seems that Tom did not expect it either. So could it be true? Once we’re not biased by price and brands, personal experience and build quality, once we look only at the picture quality it’s the underdog that takes the lead? Well, it’s usually like that in Hollywood movies, but in real life?
Is our URSA actually running up the stairs like a modern Rocky ready to beat the ARRI “Apollo Creed” ALEXA?
The answer to that question is not straightforward. But before going deep, there’s something that, while reviewing the images, someone will have already noticed. How come settings and lenses are not the same? It’s not an unbiased and scientific test! Well yes, you’re right. But that is a precise decision of Tom and his staff, and it makes a lot of sense too.
They decided to test the cameras in the most real-world possible setup and we have to say that we agree with them. There’s no point in renting an ARRI ALEXA to mount a Rokinon lens or buying a Pocket 6K to get a Zeiss Compact Prime.
The test compares user-cases in real production scenarios, and that makes the results even more exciting!
“Why is that?” you may ask. Well, Tom is right when he says that it’s an incredible time to be a filmmaker. After all, we can see small and affordable cameras can hold up against high-end cine cameras that sell at 10-20 times the price. It’s a world of opportunity for the filmmakers that can grab them.
But is that all of the story? It’s actually, and unfortunately, more complex than that. In fact, there is still a reason for the cost of an ALEXA Mini. The price of a camera is not only made of the pixels it produces. It’s a combination of reliability, support, availability, gear compatibility, and workflow.
Every one of us will make the decision based on his or hers personal preferences and budgets, but we can do so knowing that our work will stand a chance to compete against bigger budgets and productions. And that’s, after all, a wonderful thing.