A RED Tech installing a DRAGON sensor at NAB: clever theater, yes, but not the big news. Written by RedShark contributor Adam Wilt
As Freya Black points out, not everything on the RED stand at NAB got the same amount of attention. Yes, the DRAGON sensor is here: faster, sharper, better dynamic range! We’re installing ‘em here at the show! We bought Element Technica!
That’s all fine, I’m sure. Sensors should get swifter, more megapixelly magnificent, and latitudinally accommodating over time. Well done, RED, but we expected that. Installing DRAGON sensors at the show made for great theater, but make no mistake, it was theater. And E-T has been building RED kit since the early days, so there’s nothing earth-shattering about a closer (much closer) working relationship between E-T’s master machinists and the RED crew.
One bit about DRAGON got lost in all the hype of “more” (DR, resolution, ISO), and that was the talk of “new”. As RED points out.
“NEW COLOR SCIENCE ... The new RED DRAGON™ sensor features our most advanced color science yet, taking advantage of vastly improved dynamic range and low-light capabilities. Skin tones are softer, primary colors are more vibrant, and subtle color variations are discernibly remarkable.”
New Color Science
For many cinematographers this may be the single most important thing about the DRAGON. With the Mysterium and M-X chips, getting really good color, including rich and nuanced fleshtones, has been tricky. It can be done, but it often requires a bit more fiddly work in grading than is typically the case with other sensors: something I can attest to through personal experience.
If RED really has improved the color rendering of the new sensor (such that subtle color variations are not only discernibly remarkable, but remarkably discernible), it will improve the lot of DPs and colorists alike, and RED DRAGONs will be held in much higher esteesm than their predecessors. We eagerly await reports from folks in the trenches as DRAGONs start being deployed.
Going through the motion
The other big news was the “Motion Mount”: a replacement lens mount incorporating the Tessive Time Filter. The Time Filter is a temporal low-pass filter (TLPF) that reduces temporal aliasing—the harsh, edgy look of digital shuttering, backwards-spinning wagon wheels (or, nowadays, cop-car wheels on “Midsomer Murders” and “Wallander”), and the like—in a manner analogous to the way an optical low-pass filter (OLPF) reduces spatial aliasing and artifacts.
Consider that a digital camera’s sensor exposes a frame in a digital manner: it suddenly starts gathering light, then just as suddenly stops. A film camera, by contrast, has a softer exposure profile; the penumbral sweep of the mechanical shutter’s shadow across the film plane means that each exposure starts with a “sunrise” and ends with a “sunset”, instead of the now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t of a typical electronic shutter. That soft-edged exposure, and the smoothly feathered motion blur it provides, is something that digital cameras weren’t able to emulate, unless they themselves incorporated a mechanical shutter, before Tessive introduced the Time Filter at Cine Gear Expo 2011.