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Red Epic vs. Canon C500

Red Epic    vs.     Canon C500
5K RAW 4:1     Canon 4K RAW S Recorder

 
Red Epic vs. Canon C500

 
In this corner, weighing 11 lbs. and a height of 7.5 inches and boasting 5K imagery, The Red Epic!!!!!
In the other corner, weighing 6 lbs. and a height of 7 inches and displaying 4K capture, The Canon C500!!!!

When we started prep on Need for Speed, the director Scotty Waugh wanted me to do an extensive camera test of all the possible players on the market so that we could find the visual voice of Need for Speed. This was a daunting task to pull off. Zacuto had done the Great Camera shootout and I loved the in-depth tests that the experienced cinematographers had put them through. When you are going for a specific look, these tests need to be done internally so that you can personally see, with the specific way that you expose, which camera sensor responds the best.
 

Digital Emulsions

I compare digital camera sensors to film emulsions. The reason a cinematographer selects a specific camera for their film is the look and feel of the sensor and their lenses.

You are about to embark on a journey of my discovery that is as unbiased as I can be. I will describe the subtle details in narration so that it is a much more immersive experience for all of you. I know that these images are not in 5K and 4K for your review. We are limited by the internet but I think the details that I am pointing out still shine in HD. These extensive tests between the Red Epic and the Canon C500 were conducted over three days with seven other cameras. We will be keeping up the comparison tests once a month.
 

Day ISO Tests

The first test is our ISO range in the daytime. I like to do these both in the day and night. With the daytime ISO test, you can really see the noise that would not be as apparent during the night because it can be masked in the blacks. Look at the grey card, the shadow in the trees behind them and the shadow areas on their faces for the digital noise as we crank up the ISOs on each camera. Also look at the color chart to see how it holds its color as you increase your ISO levels and the contrast level increase on their faces.
 
Epic ISO Test
 
C500 ISO Test
 
I found that as we increase the Epic’s ISO, it started to lose color depth and had a very magenta cast. One thing that has always been apparent with Red footage is its magenta, pink nature. The C500 did not exhibit any of these qualities. Once the Epic got up to 3000 ISO, the image looks very thin. It loses a lot of its color information. You can see it in the background as well with the greens; everything looks very de-saturated and dead.

 

Epic 3200 ISO

C500 ISO 3200
 
We noticed that the bit depth and its color on the C500 seemed really thin once we got over 4000 ISO, which is still pretty impressive. We made this our top end, if we had to go there. But the highest we really wanted to go on the C500 with night exteriors and night interior cars would be at 1600 to 2000 ISO. All the lights on the street seemed to respond well to these levels and they felt balanced.
 
C500_ISO_NFS


 

IR Filtration

This test is to find the exact level of Neutral Density where a camera starts to become polluted with IR (Infrared). When you use high levels of ND to take your exposure down to an f stop that will deliver more cinematic depth of field, the sensor pics up on IR and that IR contaminates your image with a reddish brown hue. That is very difficult to get out of your image even with the most powerful of color correction devices.

Each sensor has an IR filter, but finding that IR filter’s breaking point is what this test is about. None of the camera manufacturers will tell you at what level their IR filter is so I compare this test to Indiana Jones’s expedition to find the Holy Grail.

We systematically did this test with Tiffen WW Straight ND filtration and we quickly realized the limits of the RED Epic’s IR Filtration. We wanted to see where it started to happen. After a .9 ND, you could see the IR pollution start to enter the blacks. What you are looking for is this reddish brown contamination. Look to the trees behind our model, over each shoulder.
 
EPIC IR
 
On the flip side, Canon has really mastered this IR filter technology with the Still Photography side of their company. So even with eight stops of ND added, there is no IR pollution evident in any of the blacks.

 

C500 IR Filtration
 
Now let’s show you some screen grabs of the side by side where it is very apparent when the Red starts its IR pollution and where the Canon remains clean.

 

C500 & EPIC IR


 

Latitude Test Interior

I love this test because it is all about finding your digital sensor’s voice. I broke it into two parts, one being Over Exposing and the other Under Exposing.
 

Over Exposing

We start with the Epic 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 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 if it looks like film. The Epic started to clip at about +2 and 1/3 stops. It seemed to react completely differently than the C500 in its over-exposure. The Red Epic felt very hot overall and the C500 was just clipping the male model’s forehead. So it feels like the C500 held its highlights about +2/3 of a stop more. However, the Epic overexposed in a more filmic way, softer than the C500, which looked more like video clipping.
 
Red Epic Latitude Over
 
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. You can see the model’s forehead clip at +21/3 stops and continue to feel very video looking all the way up to +4 stops.
 
C500 Latitude Over
 
Let’s conclude on this part of the test. The RED Epic totes 15 stops of latitude and the C500 totes 12. We are about to witness where the RED holds its latitude in the under and it is impressive.
 
C500 vs Red Epic Latitude Over

 

Underexposing

I do the underexposing part of this test because I feel that digital sensors look better when they are starved of light. This is a technique I used with film. I under exposed most of my Kodak stocks -2/3 of a stop. When you start underexposing the image, it feels more filmic, to my taste. This is where the Epic cleaned up. Its underexposing was so amazing. I did something a little different in these tests when we color corrected them. The under exposing was so impressive with the Epic that after -2 and 1/3 stops, I started to bring back the image to look normal and to see how far I could push it. We did not do this with the C500. When you see the side by sides, the C500 will continue to get darker but the Epic stays the same. The incredible thing about this was when I tried to push the C500 to do the same, it fell apart and the digital noise became very apparent. With the Epic, even at -5 stops down, no digital noise was injected and the color remained true to form.
 
Red Epic Latitude Under
 
With the C500, I found -2/3 to -1 stops under exposed was the right recipe, but I felt with the Epic, the underexposure recipe was more like -3 stops.
 
C500 latitude under

C500 latitude under

EPIC under exposure
 
Now here is the side by side of these.
 
EPIC_C500_Lat_Under

 

Fill Ratio

This is a test I like to do because it gives you a sense of what fill levels your camera sensor responds to on a face. I lit the model more with a side light so that we could see the fill level better. I started at -2 stops down from the key light on the fill side, which is the camera left side of her face. Then I took the level down in 1/2 stop increments so that you can see where you would keep your fill if it were a woman and/or a man. I did this using a Sekonic light meter so that it was accurate.
 
EPIC -2.5 fillEPIC -2.5 fill

C500 -3.5 fill C500_-2.5_fill_sm
 
I like -2.5 stops on our model and I thought a guy could easily handle -3.5 stops on the fill side.

I wanted to see how the Red Epic handled this warm light. I have had problems in the past with using very warm sources. Our model’s key light was 2700 Kelvin and the fill light was 3600 Kelvin.
 
EPIC -3.5 fill C500 -3.5 fill
 
I felt that both cameras delivered the test well. The Red Epic had a more magenta feel overall. What I loved about the Epic was the way it fell off into the shadow side of her face. It was gradual and elegant. The Epic delivered a creamier skin tone, but on the pink side. The C500 was nice and golden, but fell off more drastically in the shadow areas. The C500 image seemed sharper overall, a little more snap. The background color was more purple than blue on the Epic. The C500 rendered the cool tone in the background, pretty much spot on to my eye.
 
Red Epic vs Canon C500 Fill Ratio


 

Night Driving Test

I knew that we would be doing a ton of shots inside the cars with our actors physically driving. 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 Red Epic in this configuration and right off the bat, the Epic felt noisy. It felt muddy and it felt like I was not able to capture the minimal style of lighting that I wanted to go with in our driving scenes. It was not energizing the light in the background or the light coming into the car. 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, as well as the active light in the car. It felt so real, seeing its display of colors out the window as well as traffic lights spilling red into the car. When the traffic light went green, you could see that all play out on our driver’s face.
 

Minimal Lighting – looking ruddy overall

Minimal Lighting – looking ruddy overall

EPIC driving test

Lights and color play across driver's face

Lights and color play across driver’s face

C500_green_sm

C500 is more vibrant even with minimal available light

C500 is more vibrant even with minimal available light

 
Director Scott Waugh loved this because he knew the way to have the audience experience speed at night is to actually see something moving by in the background on the sides of your frame. I knew that our schedule and budget was incredibly tight, which meant we needed to take advantage of as much lighting as the city of Macon, Georgia could provide us. We made the C500 our go to night camera based on these tests. It gave Scott the freedom to have our actors drive without any lights out on the hood that would block their vision and enable us to link our actors with other actors driving as well.

Because we did not have lights all around the car, I could have my camera operators looking out the front windshield and pan right back to our actors driving. These are shots that are usually done during the day because you lack this ability to pan because of the lights. We were able to light over three miles of night street racing with about 12 lights. YES!!! It is possible. That was so great for our stunt players because they could really go at it and get the cars cranking through turns and not worry about running out of lighting real estate. This style of shooting action sequences as a play, like we did on Act of Valor of the SEALs hitting a target, was the right recipe to put the audience in the driver seat at speeds over 180mph.
 

 

Conclusion

What I really took away from this test was that it is absolutely essential to use the right camera sensor for what it does best. The Red Epic did well with under exposing, but then fell short in the night driving scene where underexposure is everywhere. It had a very hard time with IR pollution and delivered across the board a more magenta image. The C500 delivered great skin tones, a very clean image with ND filtration without IR pollution and owned the night, but fell short in the over exposure area. More tests are on the way. Next month the BMCC goes head to head with the Sony F5. Stay tuned.

Buy the Canon C500:
B&Hamazon.comeBayAdorama

Buy the Red Epic:
eBayRED

Visit Vimeo to watch these videos in 1080p.

Author: Shane

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33 Comments

  1. Shane, writing to you from Emerson College’s cinematography program! Loving it here. Somewhat related to this, I shot with the C100 the other day for a Senior web series. That was fun, especially lighting-wise. Those Canon cinema cameras can see in the dark! It’s amazing.

    -Brendan

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  2. This is consistently one of the niggling issues that I have w/ the Red Epic. In some cases, underexposing works and in others, it looks downright unusable. I’m not sure what it is, but the inconsistency doesn’t give much confidence.

    Another area that tends to bother me [of course] is how the Epic renders skin tones. It still appears somewhat plastic looking and muted unless it’s graded. Where as w/ the C500, even in LOG, this problem doesn’t rear its head.

    It’s possible that the tech is different for the Dragon sensor, so this could be an outdated issue [hopefully].

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    • I have worked on several projects with Epic, Alexa and c500, Epic I find it stunning as the camera.
      Honestly problems with skin tones I’ve never had.
      I do not understand all these fears.
      Kahl please let you show me some links or your test where there are these problems, with the original files to download? would be really interesting, thank you.

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      • Davide, it is personal preference I guess. I just feel that the skin tones generated by the C500 look better in my world.

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  3. Hello Mr. hurlbut

    I wanted to know if you did all of this test with C500 on 4K which is 10 bit or 2K which is 12 bit it makes much difference in exposure.
    thx

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  4. Love the review videos of the C500 and Red Epic and Alexa put head to head. It really helps on making decisions for my next project. Any chance you’ll be testing the F65 and F55 as well?

    Thanks again. Canon’s C500 feels like it’s a step in the right direction. I wonder if they will create a camera that has at least the 14-16 stops seen on the RED and Sony F5 and F55 Cameras.

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    • The 14-16 stops on the Red or F65, F55 doesn’t help if it looks like video right? I will work with less latitude every time if that is the perameters on picking a camera.

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  5. Shane,

    I’m a little confused by these results. The Epic did very well in the underexposure test, basically handling up to 4 stops of underexposure without any discernible trouble, but then performed rather poorly in the night driving test? Wouldn’t a camera that handles such underexposure perform well in low light conditions?

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    • I thought the same thing but it didn’t. The camera Performed really poorly. It seems like it needs some type of light to engerize the sensor where the Canon just saw it more like film

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  6. I wonder if these attributes trickle down to the c100. I just upgraded the firmware that allows the 80k ISO. It’s insane, but it seems to have a cleaner lower ISO range than before.

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    • I am not sure about the C100 but everyone tells me this firmware upgrade is excellent This baby kills the 5D III
      In my mind

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  7. Thank you for publishing these test, we all know how much time it takes. You help us grow! I am wondering if you ended up using Epic in the film, and what for? Do you find a place for every camera you test, or you just pick the top 2 and shoot everything on those? Did you utilize the high speed rate on Epic for slow-motion, or some other camera like Phantom? thanks

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    • David,
      Thank you for appreciating the time and energy that this takes. We did not use the Epic or it’s high speed functions. Love that it has all of that in its arsenal but was not the right fit for out movie. I select several cameras to help tell the story. It was C500, Alexa, Canon 1DC, and GoPro Hero 3. Thanks for the kind words and support of our blog.

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  8. Hi Shane,

    Thank you for sharing this test with us. I was wondering if it was possible to push the Epic RAW material in post to get a similar result as the C500 for the car scenes?

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    • born, yes, but when we pushed it, the image quickly fell apart. I am very much a proponent of using the right sensor for what it does best

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  9. I admire the stylistic choices you’re making in Need for Speed! When I watched Act of Valor for the first time, it really didn’t feel like a “Hollywood”, Friday night sort of film. It felt absolutely authentic and helped me connect with the characters because the camera was right in the middle of the action alongside the actors. Your comment about being able to shoot pans from the hood to the characters seems like a solid decision for this film and as you said, a step in the same direction as Act of Valor. I’m excited to see it all come together. Thanks!

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    • Stuart Wurtman, thank you so much for your kind words and support. I look forward to feedback when you see Need for Speed on March 14, 2014. Like Scotty and I put you behind the gun and in the action on AOV, we will be putting you in the drivers seat at 180mph. Hold ON BABY!!!!!

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  10. Shane,

    Thanks for the reply. Yes, the Epic does seem to need an additional light source when exposed in very low light, unbalanced situations, such as the in-car scenario. We have had many problems with it underwater, where most of our work takes place, given the lack of reds and predominance of blue, the Epic goes completely crazy and exhibits weird anomalies like tinting the water magenta and the shadows green, to the point where we can’t use the camera in most situations. RED has been informed about it and they are working on it, but so far, no solution. I suspect this tendency to tender colors with low saturation and wrong bias transpires to all work done with RED, even affecting well lit situations even if the issue is barely noticeable there. Pity, such a nice form factor the Epic is.

    Saw he trailers for NFS, they look great, and yes, the C 500 does look like its own emulsion, noticeably yellow/golden skin tones, pleasant for sure, and very good saturation on the shadow areas. Of course, as usual, 90% of it is due to the cinematographer’s work and not the camera.

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    • Rudi Herbert, you bet, glad I could help in anyway possible. Yes, it is the cinematographer that creates the tone, the mood, the artistry and the camera is just assist. Thanks for your kind words on NFS. I look forward to your feedback once you see it on March 14, 2014.

      Post a Reply
  11. Shane, do you know Larry Thorpe at Canon? He’s the designer of the C-x00 family of cameras. I’d love to get the two of you together at a post house with your test images, and just listen to the conversation.

    – J.S.

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    • John Sprung, yes I have met him several times. Ha ha, that would be fun

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  12. What do you think about new sensor Dragon? it has more dynamic range Mysterium-X (Current one) and it has less noise than any other cameras on market.
    Peter Collister ASC shown some images and tests at Club House did you see those? Have you used any Red cameras on professonal job? Do you hate the company or you have other reasons for Red Digital Cinema? i see you always being sceptical with Red products.

    Post a Reply
    • Kemalettin, I cannot wait to test the new Dragon Sensor. I have heard many great things about them. Some people like Kodak, others like Fuji. I have shot with the Red many times in professional settings. It was the right camera to tell those stories, not Need for Speed. Remember this is my journey.

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      • Thanks for the reply Shane! love your blog.Please share your experience with us new Sensor when you get a chance to test it.

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  13. Hi Shane

    Thanks for doing the tests.

    I’m curious if you used IRND or a hot mirror for the Epic daylight ISO test?

    IR pollution can manifest as a magenta/brown cast and/or desaturation/loss of sharpness, which I think I’m seeing in your Epic samples above ND2.1

    As your IR pollution test shows, Canon have amazingly good IR filtration built in, whereas at least until Dragon, Red’s IR filtration has needed addition IR cut in front of the lens for large amounts of ND.

    If IRNDs or hot mirrors weren’t used, it’s a bit of an unfair comparison in that particular test.

    Cheers
    Eric

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    • Eric Y, You are very welcome. It is not an unfair test because I was trying to demonstrate that the IR pollution on the RED without using all that IR filtration. I wanted to see how much IR filtration the Epic had built in. That was the test. Not to make either camera look good. Because when it is all said and done, when you are in the thick of it, and you have to deal with all this IR filtration, balancing it, managing it, the internal ND’s on the Canon were a godsend. We didn’t have to deal with double reflections, flaring, etc. The Arri Alexa was a pain in the ass as well with the IR pollution and many filters to make it work. Now the XT has the internal filters, so I am looking forward to that.

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      • I agree dealing with IR filtration is a pain, so Dragon will be welcome.

        But I was referring specifically to your Daylight ISO test which was supposed to check noise levels if I understand correctly, but then refers to magenta tones and desaturation and thin (low contrast?) images which are symptoms of IR pollution. If it was to check for noise, then IRND/hot mirror would have been in order I think, so that IR pollution wouldn’t obscure noise?

        Surely that wasn’t supposed to test built in IR filtration as well as noise, as you have the specific IR pollution test straight after to do that?

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  14. What are the noise levels regarding the under exposure for the canon and epic. I’ve found when actually watching and grading in 4k as a final resolution that canon has false latitude i.e. there is something that canon is doing to boost the image in-camera and it is pretty noisy. I shoot according to meters and histograms and have never had an issue with either when properly exposed, and if I want my low-light footage noisy and low like canon’s default then I can shoot low and boost it in post on the epic. Maybe some full resolution stills would help in this case?

    Finally have you investigated what canon is doing to it’s red channel that that makes skin tones look good yet ruins the color reproduction of other reds like clothing or the golden gate bridge? Canon has done some in-camera “magic” and it isn’t wysiwyg as far as I can tell.

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  15. Shane, I was wondering if you were planning on doing similar testing with the Dragon.

    Post a Reply
    • Jimmy Gilmore, now that it is out I want to get my hands on that baby, so YES

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  16. Shane, Thank you so much for the amazing detail you go into with your tests. You bring some much knowledge and insight that not very many people have access to. Do you think the Canon C500 would be a great go to camera for any aspect of filming? (e.g. Movies, Commercials, low budget videos). This looks like an amazing camera to grow into and hopefully use for a long time.

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