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

Really cool experiment.
May be not now, but after 10 years - that's gonna be the story.

Elisha Yopp's picture

I think the main point test was to see how far video cameras, and photo cameras have come. The point of it wasn't saying, go out and buy a red epic because it's almost as good as a hasselblad. It was to see how close they are to each other as far as quality now a days. Technology has come along ways. I think one day photo, and video cameras will be the same thing. 

I mean, who would have thought 20 years ago we would be recording video on Digital SLR cameras? Does it mean a HDSLR can replace a real video camera right now? Of course not. But they're pretty damn good. :)

P.S. Is that a dead pixel on one of the cameras you're recording with? Cause that spec is driving me crazy. lol (Side view of Peter at desk: time 3:11)

I think there is a big difference in quality, especially in sharpness, the RED feels more smudged. Impressive non the less. 

Denis Korotkov's picture

What abt cheaper Red Scarlet - same form factor... less fps... less price... from 12 K for body.

Akhil Menon's picture

the catchlight says it all for me .... medium format wins this round :)

A lot of people mention resolution as an issue (it's not, 14MP is fine, not to long ago I was using a Nikon D2h...), but the biggest reason why a video camera will not replace a still camera comes from 3 things: 1) Time. Who wants to sit down and scrub through thousands upon thousands of video frames to find the one still image you need (when normally it would only be a few hundred at that). 2) You can't shoot natural looking video and clean stills at the same time. Nobody has mentioned that he's using a 22.5° shutter angle at 24fps. In order for motion to look natural in video, it needs motion blur. Generally the 180° shutter angle comes into play here. So for 24fps video you shoot at 1/48. In this case a 22.5° means he's shooting 3 stops faster, or equivalently, 1/384. So the stills may turn out clean, but the video will be choppy and uncomfortable to watch (think Saving Private Ryan). 3) Ergonomics. The RED Epic is very small in size, but as you can see from the video, it's still a beast - a beast with no real good way to handhold without turning it into more of a beast. And finally, don't forget the price tag.

Tam Nguyen's picture

No sarcasm here, but that whole thing you wrote with the "22.5° shutter angle at 24fps" just made my head implode with information.

Patrick Hall's picture

yeah we know very little about video technicals, the guys from the rental house gave us literally a 30 min run down before they let us loose....glad to know a 22.5 degree shutter was good for sharp stills though.  I think the real reason for the slight softness of the Red is the slightest misfocus on the lens.  

It's funny how people are complaining about the resolution though when the RED is pulling 14 MP images out of video!  That's crazy....1080 screen captures were only around 2 megapixels!  

Jacob Abrams's picture

 22.5 @ 24fps is way more than enough for someone standing still. For something like headshots you'd be safe at 90 degree shutter at 24fps (1/96). You may want to read through the wiki, it does a decent job of explaining it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shutter_angle

One major technical reason why film still hire still photographers instead of just grabbing frames is due to the shutter speed being locked at 1/48th for 95% of the time. That means if anyone is moving motion blur is going to be a big problem for a billboard size print. I shoot stills for films quite often, and even in low light I try to keep my shutter speed at around 1/125 or more, which requires fast glass and the latest camera bodies.

Keith Bradshaw's picture

Pulling stills from a video would be awesome. Sign me up. 

The ability to pull stills from a video would be COOL!

But from this very test, the red is no where near the sharpness of the Hasselblad. Also, since we know (thanks to Peter) that interaction play a HUGE part in getting the right expression, I don't think it's anytime soon that people are going to get comfy posing for a picture....without a shutter going off.

Andrew Davis's picture

The Red Epic is a nearly $60,000 camera, the H3D is under $10,000. To me this is yet another comparison that has very little real world value. Yes, it is cool that you can get a 14MP still from a video, but unless you are shooting video anyway, I see no reason to spend $60K to get 14MP stills when you could get 80MP for under $50k.

Keith Bradshaw's picture

Yea, I'll just have to wait on the iPhone 7s.

Max Leitner's picture


Yes,for 100 years,stupid comparison

Christopher Stephenson's picture

So it's Ok for photo-cameras to shoot video, but not Ok for video-cameras to shoot photos?

Imagine the "Photo"-version of the Red Epic, where pressing the trigger/release Tags a frame as a Photo.  Then open up your 70,000 images in your fav editing prog, and just preview your 100ish Photo-Taged frames.  Missed it by a bit, scrub a few frames backwards/forwards till you find your perfect frame.

This gets you 1 step closer to Peter Hurley's talent... 'when to press the button' ... you may still be other-steps away.  ( I say this in a friendly way )

Between these 2 grabs, the Hassy is better. Larger sensor, more MP, designed to shoot stills - seems logical.

The EPIC's frame grab is a bit mis-focused or maybe due to a not-so-sharp copy of the lens.
Skin tone on the EPIC is a bit off - the left side (the model's right-side) is a bit yellow.

The specs listed on the article are incorrect. Both cameras can record 16-bpc files, and while they don't publish full info about the actual sensors, there's a high probability that both use sensors with an effective depth around 14 bits.

Not that the specs matter much, since the Hasselblad H3D isn't even manufactured anymore. Also, RED doesn't make "video" cameras, they make digital cinema cameras. The difference is in the semi-HDR / raw abilities. The workflow is completely different from a video camera (or even a dSLR, since those are artificially limited by the manufacturers to avoid competing with their own digital cinema solutions).

Finally, why does the Hasselblad's link point to a site *selling* cameras? Couldn't find the actual product page or at least a review?

Overall a pretty poor article, seems written by someone who didn't even read the specs, let alone understand what they mean or how those cameras are used in the real world.

Regarding the original question, and without going into artistic issues (such as slow-shutter effects), shooting 24 frames per second (or more) is a waste of space and time for most photographers. If you're hired to do a photo session with some celebrity, the last thing you want is to have to go over thousands of frames to pick the "best" one. If you're shooting something unpredictable, then a video camera gives you a better chance of catching the important moment, at the cost of extra storage. And if you need that _plus_ the flexibility of semi-HDR / raw formats, then a digital cinema camera will give you that, but will require even more storage. 

sure- there is always a trade-off, and storage is the trade with the epic. however you can crank the fps down to 8 per second and tighten the shutter if you want. there is a lot of room to play.

And you can take 8 FPS with DSLRs like Canon's 7D. But most people don't, at least not continuously for long periods. It's a different workflow, and there will always be tools optimized for each job. 

This article seems to suggest this is some "new  thing", but photographers have always had the option to use movie cameras (even before digital), and in some specific situations they did (and do). 

Still photography has coexisted with cinema for 130 years, and one hasn't "replaced" the other, because they aim at fundamentally different goals. 

Remember when the debate was "will digital cameras kill film cameras?"
...they didn't......each now have their place, even if film's is smaller, and that was a waaaay bigger change than going from dslrs to hddslrs to something like the epic.

My point being, these ridiculously melodramatic and hyperbolic headlines that f-stoppers is flooded with just create pointlessly dualistic bicker-fests instead of fostering a reasonable discussion of what each camera is good at and how ALL tools available can be used to contribute to photographers' development and execution of their artistic vision. 

Having gotten my trollish comments out of the way, here are my thoughts, which will hopefully found to be somewhat constructive:

Even if the Epic can't quite match Medium Format image quality, there are clearly going to be cameras soon that can hit that quality at absurd speeds, which means that when a photographer is choosing to use one camera or the other it will be a decision of timing. If you're shooting sports, news, weddings or other subjects where a critical moment cannot be missed, the frame rate of the Epic is clearly very beneficial, just as dslrs hitting 8fps and other lesser bench marks was a huge deal at one point. But for other photographers, the pace of medium format is part of it's draw, even now it's a format almost never used for those more documentary purposes. For those who want the more studious, thoughtful compositions and put more emphasis on the exact importance of choosing the moment of exposure, still cameras will remain the choice.

The simple fact of the matter is, you can use a large-format film camera and make 4 pictures an hour, or a Phantom and make 1000 every second, or use one of the almost infinite range of cameras in between, with each format having a particular time, place, use and style that it is suited for, and each should be respected for that.

Absolutely- you are correct that having the right tool for the right job is essential. However the epic is a pretty versatile camera, and versatility is an interesting metric to think about as well.

Josh McDarris's picture

I think this proved that shooting video to capture a still is no bueno. You'll notice in the sample images that the Red isn't nearly as sharp. And the big point Hurley made was that scrubbing through footage to find a single image is ridiculous. It's fine if your original intention was to shoot video then later grab a still for a promo, but the other way around just doesn't make sense. Besides, the price tag on a red epic is crazy to even consider using it as a still camera (okay, the Hasselblad is pretty expensive too).

We could argue the pixels to no end, but what I'm most interested in, is the new way in which you could work with a headshot client... with some practice, it would be such a fluid and natural way to work.  More focusing on expression and direction, and not being behind the camera for the 'decisive moment'.  As much as I've spent timing honing that skill, I'd be happy to try something new.

Try something new- I agree completely, and that is the key to not getting stuck in the past. There is a place for stills and prints. There will always be, but eventually motion will take over in this YouTube generation, and the technology will be there to support it.

Interesting.  The real magic is in the way Hurley poses and interacts with the model.  Headshots are not very resolution in intensive. The d3200 is probably plenty of camera for an 8x10 headshot.  If I were looking for a totally "different" look I would probably forget about digital medium format and use a large format camera.  I might do contact prints.

Kevin Karbon's picture

it might be a "fun fact" to know that red is updating the epic over the years (you send your body back, pay for the update, get a new inside with new specs) - this year the dragon sensor will be released - inkluding 6k recording and higher dynamic range... in the end red is going for 28k in the epic (will take a few more years, if the go that far)... so it's kind of a future proof camera i guess... 

i'm a epic owner my self (for film only - no stills) and i see it mainly as a cinema camera - that's what it's build for - but i love the abbility to pick a frame and print it if i need it and it's also cool to tell a client (if he licked a shot) that he could get a grab ready for print if he likes - no extra charges ;)...

it is suerly not a photographers number 1 tool at time - maybe never - but the direction they go is amazing... 

Considering that the Hassy is a medium-format and the Red is a APS-C format, the assumption that I would make for the softness, is diffraction.  Not operator error.

Until video cameras have sensors as large or larger than still cameras (which is very unlikely in the next 10-20 years), they will still not have the same quality.  That's optics, where an 8in scope will always outperform a similar 6in scope simply because it collects more light.

Just like how the 4x5s will always be better than the medium formats.

As for if operators are willing to lose that quality to get the benefits of video?  Well, probably at some point.  The history of photography is filled with steps to worse quality in the name of simplifying workflow.  But judging the *quality* of the Hassy vs the Red is a fools errand.

Mário Guilherme's picture

The Hasselblad wins by far but the RED Epic is still amazing when compared to the high-end DSLRs

The RED Epics resolution is 14Mp for a 16" x 9" image, so the reality is that for photographic use it's resolution is less than 10Mps. So not sup prising then that the image is softer than from the Hasselblad, not too mention that it's not capable of the same colour depth.

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