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

I noticed in Peter's image it is missing his normal strobe that lights the background.  Usually I see his work with a bright white background, which would be hard to do with the video wouldn't it because you would have to use constant light to light the background, which throws off the iris?  I am no videographer but maybe someone else can answer that.

it seems nice until u zoom in and see that the sharpness and color on the red epic dont have diddly squat on the hasse. It will be atleat 2-3 decades before photographers are done for :p

WTF! who cares? boring.

No comparison here,the Hassy is in another league.. a canon G series could give a better still than the red..  and this is only a 22mp Hassy.. the H4d-60 would take it to an even higher level.. also I bet the hassy is much better at pushing/pulling highlights and shadows...

Michael Khachadoorian's picture

Sorry.. see below.

Michael Khachadoorian's picture

Enjoyed your video, thanks for testing! In my opinion, it's night and day. The Hassy image is sharp as a tack. The RED images is muddy. This confirms what I already guessed and hoped.. you cannot beat the stills off a medium format camera. Add to that the awkwardness of the model and photographer wandering through time without the click of the shutter to know to move onto the next pose. Add to that the countless hours wasted muddling through the thousands of frames. I'm sure the RED is awesome at shooting films. But if you're shooting photos, stick with the stills camera. 

wait, what? Sure we can do this, but why are we even doing this comparison when you can get the same for much less.

Shoot a Canon 1Dx at 14fps, get better image quality for alot less, and make damn sure to scare the shit out of your subject with that shutter noise.
You can even raise the ISO for less motion blur without tradeoff in noise too.If anyone changes his/her mind to use my recommendation, Do send in the spare cash to me ;)

KasumiY's picture

Going through video to pull frames seems time consuming and impractical. It's cool to go through and rewind and watch and rewind just and got frame by frame.... SMH

Henry Stradford's picture

Mark my word.  November 21, 2012...I see the future!  I just have a problem with the stray hair sticking out of the top of her nose, between her eyebrows, LOL :) :)

The Red's image looks a little flatter because of the way it "extends" the dynamic range to allow for color correction and grading. This effect is most appreciable when looking at video from a DSLR. You'll notice that the image looks muddy and sort of grey. Now some of this is due to the color loss from the 4:4:0 compression, but most of this is to allow for relatively high amounts of color grading and correction.

I am just gotta put this back into place for a moment. 

This camera is more expensive. But since it isn't a still camera, we shouldn't expect delivery to be 10 times better.This video was extremely well made and well executed. This photographer is talented and more importantly, curious, which I believe is important in any kind of creative industry. Now, realistically: Hasselblad is a still camera. Red epic is a motion camera. The workflow isn't the same.Shooting 5K, RC 3:1, means that it takes 14 minutes of footage to fill up a 128 Gb card.Storage won't be the same, workflow, and delivery times either. 
Film is different than picture. 
Lens are different.
Crew is different.
Lighting is different.

We need to adapt our equipment following our need. Using the Epic for a still shoot will obviously slow you down and mostly, if you don't have a crew there working with a good system.

My best example would be : Canon 5D.  I am and always will consider this camera to be a still camera, even if it can deliver videos.

Epic can deliver stills. But it is and always will be a film camera

Ash Bobye's picture

Crazy, ridiculous idea that would never happen... BUT
What if you could have a setup with both the Red and the Hasselblad (Somehow they'd have to go through the same lens or something to get the same angle) but every you hit the shutter, it gave you the picture and marked the timeline of the video so that you could scan through, frame by frame, for those all important angle adjustments just before and after the picture was taken.

Brendan James's picture

Viewing this on a MBP Retina Display, the Hasselblad appears dramatically sharper. I'm wondering if anyone else notices this?

That reminds me again why I love my Hasselblad.  The color rendition I get from my H4d-40, the sharpness and the tonal transition are amazing.  Yes it is very expensive.  But it delivers.  I also own some Nikon bodies and lenses but when I want top quality and I don't need flexibility, I will go with my Hasselblad.

Seth Reddington's picture

No contest- still impressive that it's getting this close, though.

Peter Proniewicz-Brooks's picture

Epics getting a new 6k sensor soon

Thomas Shue's picture

To me it is not even close. Z-Blad kills it.

Oscar Rendón's picture

So much more sharpness in the HB, but for life size prints, it would be ok any of them.

Oscar Rendón's picture

A technical question:

Why the HB is limited to only 8 bits per channel?
To have even field because de Red can not display 16 bits per channel?

"The idea of putting the Red Epic to a still shot, is pretty much like
asking a Bugatti Veyron to work as a cab in New York and complain that
it doesn't just quite delivery it. Workflow-wise, it also calling the
driver (photographer) lazy and slow with it. :)"

i wonder how many of you seen a photo pulled from a red and didnt notice - on a magazine's cover.. vogue, elle, esquire, surf - just no name a few...this stuff goes back to 2008 my dear photo-only friends :)

Digital PhotoPro magazine has been touting the "hi-res video will kill still photography" for years.

I don't think still photography is going anywhere, anytime soon :-) Some simple facts to consider:

1) Hi-res video (4K+, or anything else usable for a 20x30 print) takes up waaaaaaaaaaaaaay too much room on a hard drive/memory card. Even with prices falling, I am not going to be shooting a video that eats up 128Gb anytime soon.

2) Focusing :-) I shoot portraits, and shooting video at f/1.4 with the eyes being in-focus in every frame. Well, it's nice if your model is well behaved and sits motionless in a chair, while you control your camera from a tripod... but for the 99% of photographers, this simply isn't the set-up they work with (nor would they want to). In movies, this person is called a focus puller. It's a job dedicated SOLELY to ensuring focus on moving actors. And I assure you, no motion picture is being shot at f/1.4 :-)

3) Time spent curating. Consider spending 30 minutes curating 400 images down to the final 30. Now consider going through 30fps video footage (translation: thousands of stills). Time is money folks, one way or another!

4) Cost: Buy a 4K camera with excellent focusing? I betcha that's gonna cost you more than the average $3k semi-pro dSLR, especially if you factor in the external monitor, batteries, support, etc.. Nevermind the manual focus lenses you'll have to learn how to work!

5) Slow shutter. Video (NTSC, 29.97fps) is generally captured at around 1/50th sec. shutter? Putting aside the action scenes from Gladiator, this is nowhere near fast enough to freeze most photos, and eliminate motion blur/camera shake. I shoot my D4 at 1/500, and not a millisecond less. And if you do shoot video at that high a shutter speed, your end result is going to be just choppy and unusable anyway. So why not use a much cheaper dSLR, with fewer shots, most of them in actual 100% focus, and spend less time curating? Frankly, I don't see a single reason where the title of this article would hold any integrity :-)

Video killing still? They've been trying to do that for over 150 years :-)


Old, thread but anyways my two cents on this theme. The problem with the idea that video cameras will soon 'kill' photo cameras isn't based only on some tech issues, but also in different fundamental principles of taking still images or capturing something on video. As it goes for taking stills, when taking video, one can not afford to change angles in an instant or zoom in or zoom out to make better video. In some art fields (movies, fashion, portrait, commercial photography or videography,..) where the enviroment and the happening is pre aranged and controled, some of this differences in capturing video or stills could be avoided to some degree, but when it comes to capturing more or less spontanious unpredictable real life events (reportage, news, sports, vedings, etc.) there is no way one could make video and simultaniously photographs that would exibit craftmanship equal to someone who only takes photos....