The results of the Digital Cinema Camera test between the Sony F-35 and the Arri D-21 were looked at on the big screen and here are my observations.
(Being both a film and digital cinematographer, and working extensively in digital since the beginning over 10 years ago, and in both 35mm and 65mm (5 perf & 15 perf IMAX film) I feel I have good qualifications to be able to look at these camera systems and objectively choose the best camera for our needs on this current project).
First let me say that both cameras are nice to work with and being in the higher end of the digital game, produce great results, and both cameras held up very well as expected on the larger theatrical screen. The Sony F-35 while 2 stops faster than the Arri, was slightly sharper and held up well, but the Arri D-21 had somewhat more of an organic “film look.” The Sony’s highlights seemed to be clipped a bit more and the shadows exhibited a bit less gradation in the darker areas, but it was virtually noise free. The Arri D-21 @ 200ASA (base) seemed to have a bit more noise in the blacks, but exposed properly, did better than I expected, and noise wasn’t really an issue. (This is not a low light camera like the new Arri Alexia will be… but knowing that, one will use this camera on the right projects). The highlights and shadows both seemed to have more range in them and the Arri color gamut (via the uncompressed Arri RAW format) seemed to fall into place a little more easily in our post color timing tests on a Da vinci 2K.
The Sony has a S35 single chip sensor which records in the 1920 X 1080 4:4:4 format, while the Arri has a 4:3 sensor with can record any size aspect ratio from anamorphic which uses the full 4:3 “Academy” chip to produce an unsqueezed 2:35 aspect ratio, or the more common, 16:9, 1:85 or 2:1 ratios via frame lines (while still recording the full 4:3 chip, putting the camera in 2K category for the spherical formats, and closer to 3.5K for the anamorphic format.
On the mechanical end, the Arri with its optical viewfinder was nice to work with. Being able to see outside of the 1.85.1 frame lines you could pre-anticipate something about to enter the frame and was easier to judge focus for the operator, like a film camera. The rotating mechanical shutter adds to the more organic look of the D-21 I feel, as it eliminates the rolling shutter effect and helps to make the image more “film like.” (One note, it is a little weird to leave the shutter running all day, but you can’t send an image to the monitor with it stopped… and after a while we all got used to it).
Also since we are operating in extreme dust conditions on our project, the Arri won out in that department, as the electronics are completely sealed in the camera body, (as is the S.two OB-1 Solid State Digital Recorder). With no fans running to help keep the camera cool, (just the heat sinks on the back of the camera), the camera maintained a mild temperature outdoors while running all day. The D-21 is also noise free when powered up… and speaking of powered up, the Arri is still functional without power… having an optical viewfinder, so if you need to frame a shot before the camera is powered up, you can do that even without the shutter moving… (the shutter is only important to get the signal to the monitor, otherwise you can rehearse with no power if needed).
On the post end… neither camera is really for the average user, with the Sony using HDCAM SR tape, (which requires a full post production facility to ingest and manage), and the Arri with its RAW recording to the solid state S.two OB-1 recorder, has very large data files and requires the S.two “Flash Dock” in the field to be able to transfer the material to back up drives, but that process, while somewhat time consuming (30min/500GB “mags” take about an hour and a half to fully “download”) is not much of a problem practically. With a small digital set-up in a trailer we needed the following pieces of equipment to transfer our material… ((1) USB Back-Up Battery for the hard drives, (1) S.two Flash Dock, (1) Macbook Pro Computer and (4) 2TB G-Tech hard drives), so it was actually not that difficult. Our digital management technician was able to process the footage and back up the material as we went along shooting during the day… so it doesn’t need to actually be that big and complicated as one might think, much to the relief of the producers.
All in all they are both great cameras, the Sony feeling like it is a bit more of a studio camera, but shooting in Sony “Cine Mode” S-Log makes great pictures, so it was an interesting test really… and for our needs (and every shoot has different requirements), we ended up choosing the Arri D-21 for this project.
(Thanks to Sony, Arri, and Chad Martin and Mel Mathis @ The Camera House in No. Hollywood)