Will Video Cameras Kill Still Photography? Red Epic Vs Hasselblad

UPDATED WITH PETER'S Full RES FILES! New cameras are getting faster and faster each year. In over a decade DSLRs have gone from 6 fps to 12 fps, and now many can shoot 60 frames of HD video. We've all heard it before, "At some point photographers will just shoot video and pull the best frame out" but is this really even feasible? Fstoppers.com recently teamed up with Peter Hurley to test this theory as we compared the Hasselblad H3D-22 with the Red Epic. The results are shocking!

Peter Hurley is considered one of the top headshot photographers in the world. Since his whole style is based on capturing the absolute definitive moment in a person's expression, we thought it would be fun to bring a Red Epic video camera into his studio and test it against a traditional medium format still camera (thanks Cinema-Vision NYC!). Since Peter lights his portraits with Kino Flos, a type of constant light, the images taken on both systems would look stylistically identical.

The question we wanted to know was...

Can high resolution video keep up with or out perform high resolution photography?

Below are two high resolution images from the headshot session. The first image is from the 22mp Hasselblad H3D-22 and the second image is from the 14mp Red Epic.

Hasselblad H3D-22
Red Epic

The difference between cameras

The Hasselblad H3D-22 medium format camera

Camera Type Medium Format Interchangeable Lens Camera with Reflex Viewfinder and Integrated Digital Back
Image Quality
Image Sensor 36.7 x 49.0 mm, 22 Megapixel CCD
Effective Resolution 22.2 million pixels
Color Depth 48-Bit RGB
Color Modes Full Color
Image File Formats RAW 3FR
TIFF (8-bit)
Recorded Resolution 4080 x 5440 pixels

The Red Epic 5k Video Camera

Camera Type 5K High Resolution Video Camera with Interchangeable Lenses
Image Quality
Image Sensor 30mm x 15mm, 14 Megapixel CMOS
Effective Resolution 13.8 million pixels
Color Depth 24-Bit RGB
Color Modes Full Color
Image File Formats RAW R3D
TIFF (16-bit)
Recorded Resolution 5120 x 2700 pixels

What is 5K video?

Unless you are heavily involved with video recording, the average person might not know what 5K video actually means. The term "5K" refers to the horizontal pixel count on a video file. Everyone is familiar with 1080 HD video which has 1080 pixels vertically. The Red Epic shoots video that is over 6x more resolution! If you were to pause a 1080 video and pull that frame out from the video, you would have a 2 megapixel image (1080x1920 - 2 million pixels). With a 5K video frame, you have almost 14 megapixels (5120x2700 as in the Red Epic).

For a modest 8x10 print, you need roughly 3 megapixels and a super sharp image to print something usable. The Red Epic can film 120 frames per second at the full 5K resolution which means you can easily print the exact definitive moment on a 17"x9" canvas (5K is 16:9 aspect ratio).

I thought photographers use strobes, why does this work?

Photographers typically use flashes or strobes to light their images. Videographers rely on constant light. Peter Hurley actually uses constant light to photograph his headshots. By lighting his subjects with Kino Flo light banks, Peter was easily able to shoot both stills and video under the same lighting condition. With his headshot clients, Peter alternates between pure white backgrounds and medium gray backgrounds by flashing his background. The Red Epic cannot record fast enough to capture Peter's pure white backgrounds lit by flash but it can reproduce his medium gray background because they are only lit by his Kino Flo lights.

For more information about Peter Hurley's lighting setup and why his headshots are some of the best in the world, check out his full length tutorial The Art Behind The Headshot.

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I do prefer the Hasselblad. Colors ánd sharpness. The Red-Epic seems to be slightly oversaturated, but that could be a post-production thing. Interesting test though.

 Likewise. Definitely prefer the sharpness of the Hasselblad over the RED Epic. But I guess you won't notice that much if u get them printed on a smaller photo-paper.

Lights are different, RED has much lower dynamic range. 

SignalOneThreeMedia's picture

Oddly in post production we use a very flat image with low contrast. It provides a large amount of headroom to color correct. In the image on the hasselblad you can see that the pink is the shirt is [most likely] more true to the actual color. The epic in the red and blue channel tends to desaturate. In video post this is a good thing! blown red and blue in video, as in stills, is hell to do post work on.

This is crazy! SHABANG!

Adam Thompson's picture

I think there's a pretty huge difference in clarity. the Red-Epic is a lot softer, as far as exposure, DOF, and Colors go I'm impressed.

The Hassie is better, but only a tiny bit. Amazing.

To build on what Adam said, the depth of field fall off is much more pleasing with the Blad.  I'm not sure if it's due to the reduced clarity, different aperture, or different lens used, but it's definitely noticeable.

Still, if you only need 8x10 prints the results are usable.

my hope is if all you need is 8x10 prints - you won't be using either over prices machines for a 8x10 print. lol

I wouldn't be surprised if I didn't get such a good frame shot from a $80K video-camera. Yes, a possibility, but I believe in the future (not the near future) - maybe when we are done comparing Nikon with Canon era? Haha

I've been both a professional photographer and videographer for a very long time.  Because of the costs associated with them, it's going to be quite a while before the average photographer will be using either of those cameras. A related comment: I've worked with Kino Flos almost since they first appeared as production lighting tools. While there's many benefits to shooting with Kinos, controlling their light or creating drama with them isn't one of them. Since all portraits, even headshots, aren't best shot with even, flat lighting, photographers who wish to use constant light sources are still left with hot lights if they want to create dramatic lighting.

Lee Morris's picture

There is no doubt that the Hasselblad is still sharper but on a simple 8x10 print you really can't see any difference. I've been wanting to do this test since I first heard about the Epic and I was honestly shocked by how well it did. 

I always thought 5k meant 5mp... I was very wrong.

 Yes I agree. I'm impressed but 70K of images is not business smart vs 100 images. That said there is a beauty to pressing the shutter button and capturing a moment in time. This is a skill and talent. Can you just imagine photographing or capturing video for a wedding? Over a few million images to sort through.

Anyway... Great video! Thanks Lee.

Most  micro 4/3 cameras would look the same on a 8x10. At the end of the day the image quality of the medium format matters otherwise we would not bother with them. 

What we have to all remember is yes the Hasselblad is noticeably sharper when magnified but the RED is designed as a video camera.. its doing something here that its not designed to do and Its doing about 100 times the work that the Hasselblad is. The fact that it can even compete is amazing!