Approaching ISO 1600

Exciting things are happening in digital film cameras, as both RED and Arri are rolling out new sensors rated at ISO 800, with relatively noise free boosting to at least ISO 1600 (looking forward to see this in full resolution in a cinema). This is more than one and a half stop higher than the currently most light sensitive film stock, and looks to be a golden number in terms of what you can actually “see”.

Yes we’re talking unlit night scenes again. The first RED ONEs are having their sensors swapped at this moment, and the first Mysterium X sensor will reach Norway and Eirik Tyrihjel this month. Footage from the Mysterium X has already surfaced on the internet, and shows:

1) Leonardo DiCaprio lighting a cigarette and himself with only a matchstick (direct download)
2) some people walking around the city at night, filming the scenery and each other (direct download)
3) people in industrial settings, cars in the dark and longboarders (direct download)

Leonardo DiCaprio with a matchstick as the only lightsource. ISO 2000.

Seems like ISO 1600 with a wide open prime lens is what’s needed to look around a city at night, like countless HDSLR shooters have been showing us for the past year or so. What might be more interesting with such a high sensitivity is how you can control depth of field, especially when shooting miniatures or high-speed work (not to mention miniatures in high-speed). Also, it’s interesting to note that HDSLR started this race, and now the big players are following their lead, as digital acquisition builds a real competitive advantage over film.

Arri are still building their next generation cameras with the new ALEV III sensor, but they should also be released during 2010. Footage has yet to show up online, but needless to say, it should be a potent match to the Mysterium X. It will find it’s way into three different cameras with different features and pricing. They are not planning to upgrade the D21, but an Arri representative at Gothenburg International Film Festival last week claimed that it would still be top notch in their lineup for at least 2-3 years. Then again, productions that can afford the D21, can usually afford a few lighting units as well.

Is this a sign of things to come? Digital for sensitivity, film for quality? Or will digital catch up in latitude and color depth as well? At the very least, the DoP will have more freedom to focus on the creative process as limitations get fewer.