Here’s a big one for you guys. This will be a series of posts regarding this over-under exposure test with the RED Scarlet-W and Panasonic Varicam LT. I not only compared the Varicam LT to the Scarlet-W, but also compared individual settings within both cameras, such as the RED’s Standard OLPF vs. Skin Tone-Highlight OLPF and the Varicam’s Native 800 ISO mode vs. Native 5000 ISO mode. Many more posts spawning from this test to come, so stick around 🙂
RED Scarlet-W (Standard OLPF) vs. Panasonic Varicam LT Dynamic Range
I was recently invited to the Panasonic Headquarters to take part in a complete over-under exposure test with their new, not-yet-released Panasonic Varicam LT. The tests were conducted and produced by the incredible cinematographer and AFI alumni Toshi Kizu with Panasonic’s camera engineer Takahiro Mitsui present to take us through the camera and running the tests. The Varicam LT uses the same exact sensor as the full-sized Varicam 35; it’s just a new, smaller and compact body — the Varicam “Light” (hence LT). As far as I know, the Varicam LT has not been officially released and this is still considered to be pre-release footage and more tweaks to the camera are actively being made.
I brought my Scarlet-W along to partake in the festivities and spent a solid 12 hours in their studio shooting Xyla Dynamic Range charts, over-under dynamic range tests, and projecting them on the large theater screen to see how the two looked in its large format. We were extremely meticulous in controlling all the variables and adjusted exposure accordingly.
With the Red Scarlet-W coming in at about $15,000 and the Panasonic Varicam LT at about $25,000, both are in contention for a similar customer-base. I’m not going to go into detail about the features for each camera, but you can read my RED Scarlet-W impressions in my previous post, and the Varicam LT post will come in the future.
Xyla-21 Dynamic Range Test Chart
First off, using the Xyla Dynamic Range chart, both the Scarlet-W and Varicam LT have very similar dynamic ranges; approximately 14-15. 14 clear stops with the 15th being a bit amorphous, though I can make out slight borders for both the Scarlet-W and Varicam. Very close. Both these charts were shot at native ISOs of 800.
Testing Methodology and Parameters
This test was comparing the Red’s Standard OLPF (native 800 ISO) to the Panasonic Varicam LT (native 800 ISO). We conducted an additional test using Red’s Skin Tone-Highlight OLPF which will be posted in the future.
Each camera’s dynamic range was tested up to 8 ½ stops over and 8 ½ stops under in increments of half stops. All the test footage was shot with the Leica Summicron-C 29mm at a common stop of T/4.0 and stopped up or down a half stop to adjust for exposure changes. In order to accommodate the common stop of a T8.0 on the gray card, we had to adjust the camera’s settings accordingly, as the camera’s had different frame rate shooting capabilities. All the footage was shot side-by-side.
Below is the chart made by Toshi Kizu that was used to determine the settings for each individual exposure value and their equivalence to adjust for the different cameras. Please refer to this if you have questions regarding how the scene was adjusted for each exposure.
It’s worth noting that the Scarlet-W was shot in 5K HD to match the Varicam’s Super35 sensor. 5K Dragon sensor is just slightly wider than Super35 (but same height) so we chose to crop to 5K HD (4800×2700) to match the Varicam’s 4K UHD aspect ratio (3840×2160). That means that all the Red 5K footage is downscaled to 4K UHD, though resolution was not what we were testing.
Scene readings as made by the spot meter
I think it was a surprise to many to see how well the Varicam LT performed compared to the Scarlet-W. The Varicam LT was able to hold greater highlight detail when overexposed with a softer roll-off. It was able to retain more color and detail information in the shadows when underexposed. The Red Dragon sensor is known to have a hard clip in their highlights and flat-line compared to say, the Arri Alexa’s ALEV III sensor, and it was clear that Panasonic took a note from Arri in replicating a softer roll-off. The Varicam’s ability to hold color information in the highlights was very impressive. Even at N+5 ½, the Red began to lose it’s ability to distinguish individual colors but the Varicam was able to hold its colors easily.
Panasonic’s V-Log is very flat compared to Red’s RedLogFilm gamma curve. Again, I think Panasonic took notes from Arri’s Log C and attempted to create a log curve as flat as possible as opposed to Red’s more contrasted curve. Even in D-Max and D-Min, there’s a noticeable softening of both the hard clip white and solid black; both are not quite pure white nor a solid back compared to Red’s RedLogFilm gamma.
As much as I wanted to believe that my Scarlet-W was superior, it’s hard to ignore the performance of the Varicam LT. I believe it can be a top tier contender when compared to the Arri Alexa or the RED Weapon at about half the price. This test didn’t even touch upon the Varicam’s ability to switch it’s native ISO to 5000 in-camera giving you incredible low light performance with minimal noise introduction.
Going into the future, it still needs to be tested to see how well Panasonic’s AVC-I codec and V-log will hold up to aggressive color grading and correction. At the time of the test, the Varicam LT’s RAW codex was not yet released. Red’s R3D format has already been proven to hold up against great amounts of grading flexibility in post, and I’m curious to see if the Varicam LT will have that ability as well without too much degradation to the image.
In closing, the Panasonic Varicam LT displays great dynamic range and exceeded expectations in both over and underexposure. To be clear, the dynamic range was the only thing we were truly testing with this series and it will be exciting to see how it holds up in real-world situations. I’m still very happy with the performance of my Scarlet-W and this doesn’t necessarily mean that one camera is better than the other; dynamic range is only one small part of the equation in the overall picture. I do believe that there is a place for both cameras in the market, and it’s also important to not overlook the $10,000 price difference between the two.
Special thanks to Toshi Kizu for having me and allowing me to share the results, Takahiro Mitsui from Panasonic for taking an entire Saturday out of his weekend to have us, the crew Ryo Araki and Yusuke Shiratori, and our lovely talent, Shavvon Lin, for being so patient while conducting an inordinate amount of camera settings.
Thanks for reading and please feel free to leave me a comment and/or suggestions. I love hearing your feedback!
More content on the way soon. Stay posted.
Some fun BTS stills taken throughout the day