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.

Log in or register to post comments

112 Comments

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!

Interesting idea, and great job pulling it off.  But I think Peter touched on some of the main problems.  Obviously the quality is nearly there, and will only improve even more, but the post-processing is just way too slow and cumbersome.  I'm sure the software end could be improved, but I think part of the art of photography is finding those moments as you're shooting and interacting with your subject, not while you're hunched over a display scrubbing through thousands of frames of video.

And I think the main drawback for me would be the changes in how you interact with the model.  That click of the shutter and flash of the strobes helps you connect with your model and get into a rhythm.  Each flash is an affirmation to them that they're giving you what you're looking for, and each flash gives them that moment of rest before the next pose.

I was also surprised by the kind of abrasive and obnoxious way Hurley interacted with his model... Is that his normal way of communicating with his subjects?  Cause she didn't really seem to be enjoying the whole thing much at all...

I doubt very seriously the lady had a problem with Peter's method, she was laughing here and there. Besides, he's world renown friend- I think he knows a thing or two about how to interact with his talent! You do realize who you're talking about, right????

Ya, I'm aware of who he is and that he's very successful and well-respected.  But that doesn't mean that his techniques are beyond critique.  I've seen other headshot photographers, whose work I actually find more appealing than Hurley's, who interact with their talent in a more collaborative and encouraging way, and I've always tried to work that way myself.

Honestly though, I think maybe it's more of a NY culture thing.  For a NYer, I'm guessing this is actually a pretty gentle tone.  Just not what I'm used to.

Michael Tapp's picture

Cinema vision lent you a camera but they wouldn't lend you a follow focus setup???

Patrick Hall's picture

Peter manually focuses....plus those cine lenses have a very long focus pull so the focus setup isn't really necessary.

I know! Software that would, by a click, separate the frames so you could pick them out individually would be the answer. Still a lot of images to go through though.

That was pretty cool........now lets see  the battle between 18 megapixel image from my t2i with 50mm 1.8 vs the Hasselblad H3D-22. I want to see Peter do a shoot with less than 1k in equipment! and then post the results...... lets see if the camera thats 10x more expensive gives 10x times better the results!

Michael Kormos's picture

Some differences:

Video is mostly shot at 1/50th of a sec (unless you're shooting 60fps or higher).  This is simply too slow and results in substantial motion blur.

current dSLRs rely on contrast detect autofocus (with the mirror up).  This is both inaccurate and slow, and doesn't perform well in low light.

Even the 1920x1080p video in latest dSLRs is far too low in terms of resolution.  One day, when cameras as small as dSLRs can shoot video at, say, 20megapixels/frame, maybe then can this discussion have any merit.

Lighting:  Weddings or any other types of events are much more easily lit with flash.  Put forth continuous light, and things get difficult in every respect.

Personally, I don't think professional photographers are going to be using video cameras anytime soon :-)

Patrick Hall's picture

Peter shoots his hasselblad at 1/60th so I think it's a mute point....they are both on a tripod and Peter directs them to find a pose and hold it

 Shutter angle is adjustable on the Epic, like all video cameras.  Down to 1/2000 sec.

 quote "current dSLRs rely on contrast detect autofocus (with the mirror up).
 This is both inaccurate and slow, and doesn't perform well in low
light.

Even the 1920x1080p video in latest dSLRs is far too low in terms of
resolution.  One day, when cameras as small as dSLRs can shoot video at,
say, 20megapixels/frame, maybe then can this discussion have any merit."

Did you even read the article?  We're talking about a 15 megapixel camera.  And it's not using autofocus (though it will autofocus Canon lenses... VERY VERY fast.)

You can also put the epic in HDR mode and shoot two tracks at the same time with different shutter angles. This obviously effects lighting, but if you know how to use the camera you can pull stills from the X-track (as well as protected highlights) and motion from the A track. This is not a theory- there are photographers doing it now on a regular basis.

Martin Tosterud's picture

Although the results from the epic is impressive, there are still som drawbacks to consider. The epic is shooting at 1/120 (max) and will not be able to use flash. There are many scenarios where you will need flash to get that sharpness in the whole scene, if you are shooting a big setup in a studio. There will also be situations where 1/120 isn't fast enough to produce sharp images. How is the dynamic range of that raw video? The discussion about the "awkwardness" Peter mentioned is also interesting. How does video vs stills affect the connection between the model and the photographer?

 Wrong.
Folks... let's not spout stuff that you know nothing about.  Shutter speed is as fast as 1/2000, and it DOES have a sync plug to shoot conventional stills with strobe.

A limiting factor for the red epic?
saw this here: http://blog.9shooter.com/2012/05/9shooter-vs-red-epic-red-scarlet.html 
A major bottleneck and limiting factor in the RED EPIC's simultaneous capture of photographic stills and video is that stills and video oft must be shot with different shutter speeds for optimum quality.  For instance, in shooting atheletic events such as football, soccer, surfing, or tennis, or artistic events such as ballet, shutter speeds are oft kept around 1/1000 s.  On the other hand, video usually utilizes shutter speeds closer to 1/120 s--about a factor of ten difference, or as we say in physics, an order of magnitude!  Although the RED EPIC is said to have shutter speeds as fast as 1/2000 s, does anyone use this such fast shutter speeds to shoot quality video for film or TV?  As Kevin Arnold states at aphotoeditor:
The bigger challenge – especially when shooting fast moving lifestyle or sports action – is achieving fast shutter speeds. The great majority of the frames we shot were soft due to either camera movement, or subject motion blur. This is the single biggest issue with pulling stills from video. The fact is that video looks best when shot with a shutter angle of 180 degrees, or double the frame rate. Shooting at 120 frames per second, means you’re really limited to about 1/250 of a second– not nearly fast enough to achieve 100 percent sharpness on every frame. In theory, you can crank up the shutter speed on the EPIC to freeze motion, but the video will suffer as a result. Moreover, motion blur is actually what makes video look smooth and pleasing to watch.One way around this for the RED EPIC would be to use two cameras--one RED EPIC for stills with a fast shutter speed, and a second RED EPIC for video with a slower shutter speed.  I'd be happy to sell Jim Jannard a 9SHOOTER bracket so he could rock it! :)

Pages