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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Previous comments

You can also put the epic in HDR mode and shoot two full resolution 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. For every frame the camera captures a fast shutter track and a slow shutter track.

Elliot McGucken's picture

Thanks J.D.  Who are these photographers "doing it on a regular basis?" Where can we see the results.

Here is one who says it doesn't work so well: http://markwilkinsondirector.com/?p=1121

"Aye, look at the close up frames and you’ll see the rub. There is virtually no grain in the primary A Track images and there is significant grain in the X Track images. Even in the first running shot with the X Track at 1280 ISO it is significant and probably renders it unusable in many situations. Or at least a questionable solution for something like Wedding photography."

edw's picture

i'm studio manager, and we did the same versus (H1D22 vs REDone), the print was crazy and very interesting ! the red was a bit small for >A4 print but it was the crazy to did it !

i think the "revolution" already begin, look a the Nikon J1/V1 it shoot very fast a lot of frames and let you chose the picture you want !

today it's a bit expensive to do it, but in 5/10years i'm sure we will use that kind of system !

Adrian Zaharia's picture

Huge diference! Huuuge! I mean if you are a pro you can't be happy, at least in digital format, with the quallity of that red shot! For me it looks like that frame was shot with a cheap dslr or a compact camera.


Rohit kothari's picture

wow 14mp red is having great detail then hasselblad how could it be possible i m great fan of hassel 

Jon-Mark Wiltshire's picture

The RED is noticeably softer.

Kemalettin Sert's picture

dont know shit about hassy but Red Epic shots 96FPS !!!!! whats max framerate for hassy? lol :) 

For those of you discussing motion blur and shutter speed, if you know you are shooting for stills you can always increase the shutter speed. In his shoot from the preview frame grab of the video, he is shooting at 22.5 degree shutter. That equates to 1/384s shutter speed at 24FPS. Not a shutter speed you would typically use in  video, most cases you would shoot 180 degree shutter or 1/48s at 24FPS. 

The downside to this is you need that much more light, and with continues lighting it can generate a lot of heat compared to strobes.

Soon is a relative word, so really it's up to anyone's guess when or if photographers will eventually just shoot video and pull stills. What this does say is that there is definitely potential in this kind of workflow in still photography. 

One note on the Epic is that eventually (when Red includes the feature in their updates) you will be able to tag points in the video as you shoot, setting markers for where you normally would be snapping a still shot. From there all those points show up in the Redcine-X program and from there you can choose to use that frame or look to see if any other frames nearby is better. 

I have captured much sharper RED EPIC images then this one. That lens isn't the best in sharpness. Rent out Zeiss Master Prime Marco 100mm and you will get Hasselblad sharpness.

Lee Morris's picture

That's interesting... You think the lens is the bottle neck? The rental house said it was their sharpest lens. I would like to see another example now. 

Well, that's a little much...  You'll still never get the same sharpness without having a 22MP sensor on the Epic as well. 

Patrick Hall's picture

I know Peter nails the focus most of the time but it is possible he was off just a bit on this example. On the prints you cannot tell a difference

KGB's picture

Just zoom in on the hairline, the Red goes to mush. No surprise there.

Joey Buczek's picture

The hasselblad won out IMHO. The Epic did nice overall, but it's still not quite there quality-wise compared to the hassy (in this particular test.).

RUSS's picture

 Red Epic Vs Hasselblad...
Both cameras I cannot afford.
If I hit the lottery,,, I'm buying one of each. :-)

Puuuh my H3dII-31 is not dead yet :-) But what if Medium Format Cameras get video?  They are probably not far from it.

Runolfur Gudbjørnsson's picture

I have been trying to tell my clients that this is the way we are going to work on many cases in the future, but I have been having a tough time convincing anybody.. now I can just show them this video :)
But.. lets not overlook that the high sync speed of hasselblad is outstanding. It is going to be tough to catch a sharp frame when things are moving. doubling the framerate will compromise and lower the quality.

Thomas Hollænder's picture

The exif on both images says Hasselblad....?

Patrick Hall's picture

really?  Oops, I threw the Red image into the Hassy file to check the colors and then flattened it....I don't think the original Red image had any EXIF data

Nicholas's picture

Wonderful video! I think if image quality results are what artists are solely going for, then sure, video capture for stills can and will happen. But based on the video here, there is an advantage to shooting stills in terms of... well... just shooting for stills. I think this video reaffirms why photography and the skills needed to seize a moment in time, will never die.  

JimmySchaefer's picture

I think the video is gonna be super good to use for the photographer but post production like Peter said is gonna take forever cause of how many frames your working with. The other thing is video render times at that resolution takes a longer time.  The only real issue I truly see with video is unless its non tethered if something happens while recording to the flash card you essentially lose the entire shoot. I don't know the RED enough to know if you can record it directly to a PC in the highest 4K quality. 

Scott Auerbach's picture

As someone who's been working in both still and moving picture for 30+ years (everything from Leica to 8x10 view camera), and who owns an Epic, I'd like to ground this conversation in something different: reality.  I'm reading a lot of stuff slung around on this page that bears no resemblance to fact.

Epic has a wide range of shutter speeds: 1/8 to 1/2000.  It will shoot stills with strobe (in a future firmware update), though not with as fast a sync speed as a Hasselblad.  You don't have to increase the frame rate to get faster shutter speeds.  You don't lose any quality when you use a higher shutter speed.  Even though Epic has a fairly conventional maximum sync speed, the only time I've ever needed sync speed above 1/100 is shooting outdoors with strobe fill.  In a typical studio setting, the strobes provide all the light, and are capable of freezing typical action.

Sharpness: This really needed to be an apples-to-apples test.  The difference in lenses between the two cameras may (or may not) have been critical.  Will a 15 MP frame be as sharp as a 22 MP frame?  Of course not.  Is the difference *significant*?  That depends on what you're doing.  Bear in mind that Epics are routinely used for Hollywood feature films where you're viewing the image blown up to billboard size.  How often do you sit in a blockbuster 4k digital movie and think, "boy, that's not sharp enough"?

Depth of field is significantly different between the two.  But fast (Zeiss T/1.3) lenses can get you back in the ballpark of f/6.3 on a Hasselblad.

Peter does bring up two good points: for someone used to quickly toggling through only 100 or so still images, scrubbing through video can be time-consuming.  And the drive space needed to save the camera-original R3D files is massive.  That said, drives get cheaper every year, and Epic does have a way of marking "I liked this moment" in-camera as it rolls.  Apparently Peter didn't know that. 

And for Adrian, who thinks Epic looks like a cheap compact camera, I suggest you look at another few frames posted online:


Fetching image ...


Be sure to download them and view at actual size.

Is motion picture the end of still photography?  Of course not.  (But not for most of the reasons I've read in the comments above.)  I will say this, however: I just completed a massive 2-week job on Epic, for both video and stills, eliminating the stills photographer they'd originally planned on hiring.

Well said

m_v_s's picture

The still photographer still should've been hired, there are other considerations such as different angles to the shooting camera, different lenses than the shooting camera and being able to document the process of the production. Stills photography isn't just about replicating what happens when the camera/s are rolling.

Julian Jones's picture

I could be wrong, but when you export a frame from an R3D file as a .tiff, and open it in Photoshop, it's document size resolution is 72 pixels/inch. This is something that I've noticed in most videos from DSLRs cameras when I frame grab. But the document size resolution from a Hasselblad still, is somewhere around 240-300 pixels per inch. With that being said, I believe that there's greater resolution and image control from the Hasselblad image as is, un-resized, than that from the Red. But, I do feel that this kind of technology is getting close. 

Also, shooting video, one would have to break the habit of  1. pose/frame 2.shoot, but to be more like do this motion for like 10 seconds. Also, I would think one would just trigger a flash manually and see what results one's achieved.

Patrick Hall's picture

no 72 is just the default dpi for photoshop.  It doesn't matter at all, you can change that to 300 to figure out the optimal print size.  

proweddingphotog's picture

Interesting but until technology enables production costs to come down to what most clients are willing to pay, then no video will not kill stills. All the wedding clients I book in a year won't justify the ROI of adding Red to my overhead. ROI trumps image quality.

yoink32's picture

Why do both of the shots contain metadata that says they were taken with the Hasselblad?

KGB's picture

if you watched the video carefully....

In the end you'll notice that Peter didn't say "I'm buying me one of these RED cameras". 
Says it all doesn't it?

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