RED released an image which represents a breakthrough in development of motion imaging technology. It is 21 stop DR chart (DR = Dynamic Range) with unprocessed, engineering image sample which clearly shows at least 18 stops of NATIVE dynamic range, coming of a ultra high definition motion imaging sensor.

RED Dragon Sensor test image, capturing no less than 21 stops of dynamic range

We’ve written about the DR range from Red Epic camera in a HDR mode before, which at the time was a remarkable achievement. The new sensor outshines it, as well as achieving many other technical breakthroughs in digital motion capture. This time new Red sensor, named Dragon, pulls off natively.

That’s right. This surpasses film DR (by a significant margin). The good old film tape was first handly beaten in resolution (the first Red One, 4520×2540 pixels). This time Dragon sensor is upping the stakes offering a resolution of 6K (6144×3180). This gives you around 20 million pixels of high quality motion imagery, capturing larger range between shadows and highlights than ever captured on a celluloid film.

In the past, we’ve seen HDR capable sensors (industrial lower resolution sensors) or higher resolution motion imaging (NHK 8K Super High Vision) but… nothing like this. One camera will offer Ultra High Definition, high color precision and native high dynamic range – all in one camera. How high? According to Red, Dragon natively supports 16 bits per color, or 281 trillion color variations. When you imagine that 10-bit color is just a bit over billion colors, you can imagine just how ahead Red wants to jump.

Technically this represents the new frontier. One might say that worries for loosing highlight data are going to become a thing of the past. And oh yeah, the Dragon sensor operates in ISO2000 range (roughly estimated) in the current stage of development.

The sensor uses a new design and new camera ASICs had to be developed and optimized. There is quite a bit of work left, before this historical achievement arrives in Epics around the world. Engineering team still needs to tweak the sensor and the camera’s capture system. Once development completes, tens of thousands of Epic users will be able to upgrade their cameras with Red Dragon sensor. While exact pricing is still unknown, last information was pricing Dragon sensor as a mere $6K upgrade. Unfortunately, since the new sensor requires replacing practically the complete infrastructure of the Epic camera, it is said the upgrade price will be increased. Still, the Epic camera will follow the "Obsolesce Obsolete" mantra and support the sensor upgrade. If you own a Scarlet camera, you’re out of luck, as you will have to upgrade to an Epic Dragon camera, with yet unannounced pricing. 

However, in order to stay at the bleeding edge of technology, sacrifices might be needed. As Jim Jannard, CEO of RED Digital Cinema Company says in a recent blog:

"The RED Dragon sensor needs to be directly compared to 65mm film.

The Dragon has more resolution than 65mm film when scanned at 4K.

The Dragon has more dynamic range than film… by a lot. 65mm film has about 14.5 stops. The Dragon has an easy 16 stops… without sweating.

The EPIC Dragon will shoot nearly 100fps. 65mm film cameras… not so much.

Cost to shoot the RED Dragon vs. 65mm film… ridiculously not close."

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