The Revenge of the Great Zacuto Shootout has concluded and the winner is … going to shock you. With such heavy hitters as the Sony F3 & FS100, the RED Epic, the Arri Alexa and the Canon C300, you’d expect these three to slug it out for the top honors amongst some of Hollywood’s cinema elite. But while these professional grade (and professionally priced) camera rigs were busy squaring off against each other, a sub $1,000 camera snuck in and impressed a great many tasked with evaluating each rig. For those who use it, that wasn’t a surprise. But the big surprise was who it actually impressed.
We’ve got a lot to prove in Revenge of the Great Camera Shootout 2012. Some of it will surprise you, some of it will shock you, and some of it will change the way you work forever. Let’s make this clear: This is not the shootout you’re expecting. – Zacuto
The thing I like about Zacuto is that it’s a blind test. Cameras are shot by a vast array of professionals, with various amounts of experience, and a free hand on how to light the same scene. Then, Zacuto assigns each camera’s footage an anonymous letter and then screens it to a host of luminaries who give their impressions on what they see. Here’s how it broke down:
Camera A – Sony F3 ($16,000), shot by Nancy Schreiber ASC
Camera B – Panasonic GH2 ($700), shot by Colt Seaman
Camera C – Red Epic ($58,000), shot by Ryan Walters
Camera D – Apple iPhone 4S ($199/$599 unsubsidized), shot by Michael Koerbel (I think this is both funny and impressive that Zacuto would include it)
Camera E – Canon C300 ($16,000), shot by Polly Morgan
Camera F – Arri Alexa ($60,000), shot by Rodney Charters
Camera G – Canon 7D ($1500), shot by Michael Negrin ASC
Camera H – Sony F65 ($65,000), shot by a “Sony Approved Cinematographer”
Camera I – Sony FS100 ($5,000), shot by Den Lennie & Mick Jones
“The thing I was most impressed with is that some guys or gals with something to prove did better at lighting than the established cinematographers with a good camera” - Bruce Lundeen
A few thoughts on this breakdown. While many are mistaking the Zacuto as a kind of horse race, it’s really more of a compare and contrast exercise, meant to convey not only what someone can do with a certain camera, but that a result can be achieved with any camera so long as you light correctly. But Steve Weiss, who made the documentary of the Shootout is adamant, that Zacuto is not a horse race, and anyone who’s looking for a winner is missing the point.
But that isn’t stopping some from trying. NoFilmSchool did a poll of readers based on their impressions and they found some similar results (including the Panasonic GH2 being preferred) and some that weren’t even close. According to the NFS poll, 17% of those who viewed the footage had no preference whatsoever. But equally interesting is that 16 viewers (2% of the judges) actually preferred the iPhone 4S footage. Course, this can be more a testament to who lit and shot the footage, and not necessarily the camera itself. But all things being equal, and considering the company Cupertino’s current smartphone is in here, that’s pretty damned impressive. And who was the one who was most notably impressed by the Panasonic GH2′s performance? How about Francis Ford Coppola.
No Film School’s poll says that while it should be either the RED Epic, the Canon C300, or at least the Arri Alexa or one of the front line Sony’s – the F3 or the FS100. The was the $700 Panasonic GH2, which took top honors from 30% of those who viewed the footage online. And it wasn’t even close either, as it’s nearest competitor was the Arri Alexa with 17% of the votes. A “two touchdown” margin. WOW.
Where was RED? 8%. Think about that for a second. Almost four times as many preferred a $700 DSLR over Jim Jannard’s flagship camera, and RED only outperformed the iPhone by a paltry 6%. Man, no wonder Jannard wanted to have his own shootout with conditions he could control on his own turf. And on top of that, the Canon C300 only got the same results as the iPhone. MAN. That’s just embarrassing. But the reality of it is, that all the cameras that cost more than $1,000 should be hanging their head in collective shame. It’s like Apollo Creed going up against a nobody named Rocky Balboa and ending up just winning by a decision rather than giving him a sound thrashing.
“If you walk away saying this is the best camera, you’re missing the point. We should be saying these are the cameras we can choose from.”- said one cinematographer
But again, that really wasn’t the point. Weiss says that what budding shooters should take away from the Great Zacuto Shootout is that you can get great results with the cameras you have, and that a choice of camera should be lower on your list of priorities than story, lighting and especially audio. He also goes on to say that viewers should keep their powder dry until the watch part III. (Program Note: Our next episode of DoddleTALKS Tech will feature an in depth conversation with Weiss and the Zacuto approach, you won’t want to miss it).
The 90 minute documentary of the results is being presented in three parts that will be available on the 15th of June, July, and August. For more videos and technical breakdown of how Zacuto approached the shootout, go here.