Dragon and Alexa – Looking at resolution – Part 4: Resolution, does it matter?

(6k low-compression .jpg pops up if you click the image)


To me, an image can technically be broken down to these aspects:

  • Dynamic range
  • Color cleanness
  • Color fidelity/Saturation
  • Resolution
  • Delivery formatAnd as a final parameter:
  • Is the camera available? (!)

All these aspects of an image/camera are part of the matrix that makes us choose one over another for a particular production.
After these (to me) these more emotional points come in:

  • Ease of use on set
  • If it works well for the shot I want to get
  • Price of use (Total, including on-set and post)
  • If I “like it”
  • If it works well with “other” technical parts of the production (like sound and post)
  • Workflow in post and confidence that I get the desired result
  • If it “feels” good
  • Confidence at customer-level

If you start to weigh the different aspects of a camerachoice for your particular production, you will probably end up with a gopro 8k with a T 1.3 zoom as the obvious answer…

Or: An other example from the CML test:
The SinaCam did not fare well on a few parameters. Dynamic Range and how it overexposed/started to distort when exposed to a lot of light, comes to mind.
Still: It’s advantage is its size. If you need to film from a breadbox, or in between the feet in a car, you just use it and light for what it can, and it will probably look perfectly good.

In this writeup, though, resolution is the only focus. So the question remains:

Does resolution matter?

Clipped highlights and unusable lowlights suck. And if you cannot control those, resolution probably takes a diminutive order.
Still, from what we have just seen, even at 1080 delivered and oversampled source-images from both cameras, the higher captured resolution, gives the higher resulting resolution.
So I guess we could conclude:

  • If you can control exposure, originating resolution matters quite  a bit.

Next… When does not in-camera resolution matter that much (soft images scale after all better than sharp images, as a reference to my “Frozen” experience)

  • Resolution does not matter a lot if most of your image is soft

Ouch… That sounds obvious, right?
BUT given the (past) trend of shooting S35mm at T1.3, that actually is a valid point.
When shooting at low aperture, whatever is sharp in the image will appear comparatively sharp, no matter which camera you shoot with.
And the out-of-focus part of the image will inevitably camouflage whatever lack of resolution there is.

I would to some extent argue that the “I shoot everything at T 1.3″ trend is somewhat related to what the cameras are capable of capturing. Lower resolution cameras simply “look better” when a lot of the image is out of focus. (And it is a cost-effective way to compose and clean up shots…)

Lack of resolution becomes distracting when you have a high level of detail in a shot and that is important, and if you get a high level of moire and softness as consequence of camera ability.
Now which shots are these?

To give a general idea, that would be wide shots with tons of important info at higher T-stops.

But that sounds so unfilmic, does it not?

Not really…


  • The fighting sequence of RAN (Akira Kurosawa)
  • Anything but the T 0.9 shots by Stanley Kubrick
  • Whatever in “The Dark Knight”
  • The Godfather
  • Anything by Jaques Tati (Thanks Brice!)
  • Acopalypse now
  • Star Wars IV-VI
  • Kinda most of the “classics”

Low T-stops does not equal “filmic” IMHO.
And: With higher T-stops, you need the detail.

The most frequently quoted arguments for high resolution I see are these:

  • Re-framing and stabilisation
  • VFX/Compositing
  • Oversampling to lower formats (like I looked at in the previous chapters)
  • Reduced noise in delivery-image
  • If you need to pull print-size stills from the film-sourced material (Yup, people, including me actually do that…)

I would add to these:

  • The option to compose complex images with many levels of storytelling and high detail.

Back to the example I mentioned in the 1st part of this comparison, “Frozen”, by Disney.
Digitally animated films are a type of high detail imagery with tons of lines that even though they are Computer Generated, do NOT lend themselves particularly well to a 2k screening.
Yet I have seen lots of good 2k screenings. Thus:
If the images are shot anamorphic, handheld and at low T-stops, detail is not THAT MUCH of a significant factor. Resolution will add to smoothness and gradients, but not as significantly as with a high detail image.

So, let us use the above example to simulate a few scenarios.

For print, UHD and 1080 delivery.

The reference will be “print” 1:1 pixels.
I will look at the same part of the image, but treat it differently.

From 6k to UHD, 2880 and 1080 with the 1:1 6k crop as a reference, and scaled back to match FOV, all images scaled down and up with the “best for” option in Photoshop from 16-bit uncompressed TIFFS.
(Thus the results are better than you would normally get in an “average” image/film workflow)


You need to click the image to get a fullraster 1:1 example





I will only use the 6k delivered as references, as I guess these three examples pretty much show the tendencies.

I think the Alexa comparison show that captured resolution makes a difference, even for 1080 delivery.
This example looks at the flexibility of usage fields, but the examples are all sourced from the same frame.

And the conclusion… ? Does resolution matter?
I’ll leave that to you!


If you want to now why I didn’t bother going through ALL the cameras the same way, you can find the answer in my comparison with F55 here

You can download the original R3D for this example here.
I deliberately did not use ADD in the development of these examples.







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