Sharpness and high details in video cameras

Hi guys,
I've been looking to buy a new video camera and I'v been wondering about something technical:
When comparing 2 cameras - lets say all the settings are the same, resolutions are the same, and it's on auto focus, and both are filming the same scene in good light conditions. what makes the image from one camera sharper / more detailed than the other? what is that function that I should look for in a camera in order to get the best image quality as possible? is it the sensor size or something?
I was under the impression that pixels are all that matters but now i'm confused, help out your newbie buddy here :)


  • Triem23Triem23 Moderator
    edited June 2017

    Unfortunately there's no single answer here. The quality of a lens, sensor and software all come into play, along with sensor size. 

    A quick example. A cell phone camera usually has a 1/6" sensor and a plastic lens. An MFT camera sensor has about 64 times the surface area of that phone, and probably has a nice glass lens costing as much as the phone. A RED EPIC has a sensor about as big as the entire phone, and might be shooting on a lens that costs more than a car! 

    Second example. Sony a7sii vs a7rii. Both sensors are "full frame 35mm." The a7rii has a 20 megapixel sensor, the a7sii 12 megapixels. Because each PIXEL on the a7sii is larger, each pixel collects more light. This is the primary reason the a7sii is so good in lowlight--it's sensor resolution is exactly what it needs for video, maximizing it's ability to capture what it needs. 

  • Actually, the A7Rii is 42 megapixels... an even bigger difference.

    And the Epic's sensor is a little larger than a Super 35 frame, which makes it smaller than a 135 photographic frame.

    Thing is that if you're using a modern camera, especially a dedicated cinema camera, you'll see more of a difference from lighting + composition than from the camera itself. Even the lenses... good image quality these day is crazy easy to come by.

    The reason that most indie films look like they were shot with cheap, crappy cameras is really a lack of craftsmanship, rarely a limitation in the cameras.

    What @Triem23 said about light gathering is spot on, though there are a host of other factors involved also. For example, Sony INCREASED the resolution of the A7R when developing the A7Rii, yet it has higher ISO options and lower noise... because Sony switched to a back-illuminated sensor (it's basically a sensor that has the logic circuitry in the back rather than in the front, so the logic doesn't cast shadows onto the sensor).

    Red's Helium sensor has the same resolution as an A7R (36 megapixels) yet it also has less noise, higher ISO options, and even more dynamic range. I'm guessing that it's also back illuminated, but that's just a guess.

    Odds are a Helium isn't in the cards for you if you're just getting started, though.



  • Triem23Triem23 Moderator

    @WhiteCranePhoto obviously I'm probably wrong, but I thought one of the REDs had a sensor that was about the size of an iPhone3. 

    Otherwise, thanks for the correction on other points and further insight. 

    One factor neither of us brought up yet is the camera codec. The h.264 encoding used my most lower end cameras is highly compressed and will hold less detail than something shooting ProRes. In general the larger the video's file size, the more detail is captured. 

    Then there are different color encodes. 4:4:4 is better than 4:2:0 with 4:2:2 being a middle ground. There's differences in color depth as well, which makes a huge difference in how far things can be pushed in post, as ten-bit color holds four times the information of eight-bit color. 

    Now, for choosing a camera, a truism in general is still the more you spend on a camera and lenses, the better the image will be. The good news is canera tech is advancing so quickly that the $1000-$2000 camera of today will give you the video quality of a $10k-$20k camera from ten years ago. And today's $5k to $10k cameras are freaking insanely good. 

    As WhiteCrane correctly notes, with any camera lighting and composition are the true key elements. No matter what camera you end up with, it comes down to shooting test footage to learn how to best light for that camera and frame up an interesting shot. Learning the basic composition rules--rule of thirds, golden ratio, etc is a must. Once you learn them you can cheerfully break them, but better to learn them then break the rules from knowledge than just mess around. 

    Anyways, all of what's been discussed here is really oversimplified. As you've no doubt noticed, it's a complex subject. 

    Ask for camera recommendations and you'll get a lot of different answers. Suggestions. Decide on your budget and let people know the kinds of things you're shooting. If you're vlogging as a one man band camera recommendations are different than shooting narrative with even one assistant. If you're shooting event work or industrials, arguably your best best is a mid-high camcorder with external controls--because you'll have to be fast. For narrative work a DSLR/MFT or Cinema camera is a better choice as long as you'll have the time on set to assemble your cage, monitor and focus controls. For vlogging a higher-end point and shoot or DSLR/MFT with minimal outboard gear might do the trick. 

  • @Triem23, the Vista Vision sensor is in between a 135 and 645 in terms of size. 645 is 6x4.6 cm... nowhere near to the size of a phone, which is more like large format territory. Large format begins at 4x5 inches.

    "Now, for choosing a camera, a truism in general is still the more you spend on a camera and lenses, the better the image will be. "

    To be completely correction, you should say, "the better the POTENTIAL image will be" since in the hands of an average bozo, even a Helium won't produce a significantly better image than a Pocket cinema camera.


  • Triem23Triem23 Moderator
    edited June 2017

    @WhiteCranePhoto point taken. :-) Side note, watching "Sleepy Hollow" Season 4 with my wife I was particularly struck by the cinematography in ep 401. I mean a FOX show isn't going to have BAD camera work, but that particular DP and director did a really fantastic job on that episode. 402 had scenes on the same set, but flatter lighting and less interesting camera angle choices. 

    Another side note: At the end of this season there will have been about 140 episodes of the current run on Doctor Who. In that time, 47 Directors, 38 Editors and 27 DPs. Which explains why some episodes look fantastic, some look like crap, but, overall the look of the show is inconsistent. Too many key creatives are in rotation to nail down a "style" for the show. The difference between a Dalek looking menacing vs stupid is only about 8 inches of camera placement. 

    TheK point of the above is reinforcing WhiteCrane's point about the skill of the DP being more important than the gear. The only project I've workes on shot on RED was being done 70's sitcom style--bright, flat lighting. Looked like hell, and renting three REDs was a waste of budget, but the Producer wanted the bragging rights of shooting RED. Renting some Panasonic P2 studio cameras would have looked as... "good," at less than half the cost, which also would have meant the lighting crew could have been four people, not two, which would have saved hours on set (thus saved more money, because we went into overtime all three days), which means we wouldn't have lost an actor, and replaced him with one of the makeup crew (although that was me, and, oddly enough all my takes got used with the original actor ADRing me. Heh.).

  • A better camera doesn't change GIGO.

    All it does is allow you to capture garbage in higher resolution. :)


  • Well some cameras video recording can be very different. For example the Dji Osmo is very de-saturated, but the Canon Cinema Eos 100 MK iii actually has a normal saturation level.


  • Triem23Triem23 Moderator

    TheK @Eliezerlow312 hit another good point. The software different camera makers use to encode sensor data also makes a difference. Sonys tend to be a little cool and Sony tends to not sharpen in-camera. Canons tend to be very neutral. Panasonics tend to have a little more sharpening, a little more saturation and a little more warmth, but in an appealing way. While Canon tends to "accurate" I like the look of the Panasonic. And this all affects how an image looks. 

  • Aladdin4dAladdin4d Moderator

    For event work shooting with a Panny means less work in post getting things to look "right" ;) 


  • Comparing, for example, an Alexa Mini, Red Epic-W, Varicam LT, and C700, you're looking at a set of lovely cameras whose looks are like film stocks, especially when you're using their non-raw options.

    When not shooting in raw, you're getting the camera's look baked in. 

    Panasonic is making its way into bug budget film work based on its look; at least one DP used a Varicam LT using Panasonic's AVC for a big budget Netflix series.

  • Ah the big can of worms opening up.  You can get good images from an iphone up to the latest cameras.  Each camera is different, some swear by using a DSLR while some will only use a Red.  My suggestion is see if you have friends or people around you that have some equipment you can try out. Or get some of your friends together and rent a camera for the weekend to try it out on a short film. Maybe even keep a short log of what your likes and dislikes are for each camera. The more you try the easier it is to decide what you want.  Also consider what you are wanting to use the camera for. Doing a lot of FX and greenscreen work then a camera with 4.2.2. or 4.4.4 colour is better to work with than one with 4.2.0. Does it give you the frame rate you want, Is it a full sized sensor, Super35 sensor or 1/3rds? Are you using a fixed lens camera, or interchangeable lenses? If you aren't using a fixed lens, how much are you willing to pay for that glass? Quality cinema lenses aren't cheap.  In the end whatever you decide on will be right for you. No camera is perfect no matter what supporters of each camera will say.  That said the lure of the bright shiny new thing is always a peril to camera users.

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