German DoP Tobias Mennle shows some of the results from an ongoing larger camera testing programme.

Tobias looks at exterior night time shooting with the Panasonic VariCam LT and ARRI Amira cameras.

Varicam LT vs Amira – EXT Night – ISO800 to 10 000 from Tobias Mennle on Vimeo.

This footage is part of a bigger test, please check for many more cameras (C300II – FS7 – Red Raven – Blackest Magic…), details, and analysis:

A quick comparison of the Varicam LT (owned and operated by me) with the Amira (owned and operated by Chris Rowe). Grading methodogy see below. Lens: Canon CN-E 50/1.3 at T2. Amira recording 3.2K to ProRes444, Varicam LT UHD to AVCUltra422. First two shots with open shutter, third shot shutter 180° to underexpose/push 1 stop.

ISO800 – Varicam LT: Excellent.

ISO800 – Amira: Shot is out of focus. In grading I had to desaturate 6 points to match the Varicam.

ISO5000 (native) – Varicam LT: Excellent.

ISO3200 – Amira: Looks good and noise is probably acceptable for most projects.

Now what happens if we pull these ISOs one stop more? Something strange, as the cameras behave very differently:

ISO 10 000 – pushed from ISO5000 – Varicam LT (this time, my shot is out of focus). Image LOSES contrast. Noise looks tight and granular, yielding a film texture, and may be acceptable for many projects.

ISO 6400 – pushed from 3200 – Amira: Image INCREASES contrast and becomes overcontrasty and oversharp with pronounced chroma noise that will be inacceptable for most uses. A custom made curve or lut might help, the Arri lut is probably not made for this push.

Graded in DaVinci for full data levels rec709. Both cameras are extremely easy to grade with the manufacturer luts.
– Node 2: apply manufacturer lut.
– Node 1: Adjust brightness/exposure to compensate for exposure decisions BEFORE the lut. This maps skintones to the right place.
– Node 2: Make blacks straight and set black point. Make whites straight and set white point.
– Node 1: Play around with exposure to make sure skintones glow best after the contrast corrections.
– Node 2: Make skintones look good, balance colour shifts, only with gamma (as blacks and whites should be straight). Control master saturation.

In this test I feel the Varicam even at ISO800 dethrones the Alexa. To my eyes (and focus issues left aside which is problematic) it is a more natural, more vibrant, sharper image with more color nuances. At ISO5000 it is clear that Panasonic has really worked miracles with their Varicam sensor and image processing. Now they need to use it full force and improve image processing/codecs in slow motion image capture 4K/50p and HD100/200p where Alexa clearly rules despite older sensor technology and lower resolution sensor.

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