My Alpa Platon Experience

by Florian Friedrich, February 27th, 2019

The Alpa Platon project is dedicated to adding everything a filmmaker can dream of to a Hasselblad H6D-100c camera. But let’s start from the beginning…
Have you heard about large sensor digital filmmaking yet? The usual sensor size in digital filmmaking is Super 35 (S35 ~25mmx13mm, depending on the camera and aspect ratio) and some cameras like Sony Venice (36mm x 24mm) started to use full frame or bigger sensors recently. A larger sensor in general means that you can capture more pixels of the same size or increase the size of pixels on the sensor. While both approaches have their specific advantages (resolution or noise level), the downside is that you need bigger lenses to fulfill the needs of a larger sensor. So, of course, the cost for appropriate lenses considering all the high-quality glass and optics can be tremendous and must be well considered.

This is what a rigged ALPA Platon system may look like. As with all professional camera systems for motion picture, there are a lot of options on how to attach additional elements such as preview monitors, focus gear, alternate power sources and more.
This is what a rigged ALPA Platon system may look like. As with all professional camera systems for motion picture, there are a lot of options on how to attach additional elements such as preview monitors, focus gear, alternate power sources and more.

Where I come from

My special field is picture quality, where I’m always most concerned about dynamic range, color management and resolution. The camera of my choice which I’m using personally for some years now is the unparalleled Sony F65. Technically, this camera has everything I always wanted: massive resolution (8K x 2K), huge dynamic range, ideal color management (it’s THE ACES camera), 16Bit RAW recording, perfect reliability and great lenses available (PL-Mount). All that being said, the camera has one major disadvantage: It’s heavy and bulky like no one’s business. Also, the memory cards are hugely expensive (a 512GB SRmemory card can easily cost a couple of thousand Euros). So, having such a bulky camera, I face situations where I can not carry it with me. You can’t pack a F65 and make sure you have everything when you need to leave in 5 minutes. You can’t carry it long ways when you want to do a mountain hike or a bike tour.
I played with a lot of alternatives that I owned already: A Sony FS7, a Panasonic GH5 with external recording on the Atomos Shogun Inferno, Sony Still Cameras like the Alpha 7R III and so on. But quite honestly, nothing gave me the combination of quality, flexibility and creativity I wanted to have as an alternative to the F65. A camera system that can’t do extraordinary HDR or has a lack of resolution or where I have to deal with compression artifacts is something I need to avoid. My company can’t be developing high quality post-production tools for HDR and then compromise image acquisition when it comes to producing test- and demo materials. Hearing about the Platon project, I got fascinated. VERY fascinated.

Some HDR-graded footage from the Alpa Platon / Hasselblad H6D 100c system running on a Consumer HDR-TV.
Some HDR-graded footage from the Alpa Platon / Hasselblad H6D 100c system running on a Consumer HDR-TV.

The large format WOW-factor

Those of you who are real fans of high-quality photography should be very familiar with the benefits of the large format sensors (considering large format starts above 35mm). Some of the most pristine and exquisite digital cameras ever came from Leica, Phase One, Pentax, Mamiya Leaf and – of course – Hasselblad. I’m personally a fan of Hasselblad since the late 90s when I got a Hasselblad 501cm to play with. Even digitizing the old analog exposures a couple of years ago resulted in some stunning memories with a creative quality I still appreciate compared to most of the cameras I used to work with. And I will say that I got a lot of cameras to play with in my two years of being editor-in-chief for a German photography magazine “Foto Digital” before it was sold to another publisher.
One of the latest cameras Hasselblad has to offer is the H6D-100c with a sensor size of 53.4 mm x 40mm where the width is very similar to the Alexa 65, a digital motion picture camera from ARRI that has recently made some noise for the fact it offers the long desired large format in a digital age. The large format offers numerous unparalleled benefits like a bokeh to melt away, less distorted wide-angle shots, a more analog feeling when looking at the imagery (closer to the perception of the human eye) and a completely different choice of high-end lenses. My main point of why I love good large format photos or motion pictures (like some IMAX productions) is that I look at the imagery and don’t know why it is so much more captive then most of the images I usually see. This benefit becomes more and more obvious as the size of the picture increases. It’s a clear advantage in the Cinema, but considering that large format TVs like 75 inch LCDs are available for relatively low prices compared to a couple of years ago, we can bet it attracts viewers at home as well.

Scenic images like this one here from a ferris wheel in the munich olympic parc work very well on large format.

Hasselblad’s unexpected move

Whatever triggered Hasselblad to implement some motion picture RAW-recording – I’m really happy they did it since it is a wonderful idea! Never before I have seen such a compact powerhouse of image quality! I mean come on, 100 Megapixels, large format, RAW photos and RAW videos in the palm of your hand – it still completely blows me away!
Sure, it at least sets you back at least 40.000 bucks which are a serious investment even in the motion picture business. And yes, the RAW video seems to use pixel skipping (not full sensor readout plus scaling) and it is restricted to 4K with 24 or 25 frames per second. But given the fact that the results are on a different level of creativity, many productions can benefit from it.

Isn’t it fantastic? A camera like the Alpa Platon is compact enough to carry around everywhere and take pictures of playing kids for example.

Alpa Platon Camera System

Only combined together with the Alpa Platon accessories and solutions, this camera becomes useable for the professional motion picture productions. It’s not only the PL mount that makes it a motion picture camera… To me, the stable, flexible and easy to use housing together with the stabilized power supply and active cooling are the core elements of the Platon system. I’m not sure if there’d even be some recognition of the Hasselblad camera’s motion picture abilities without ALPA making it usable for professionals. Trying the standard battery and no cooling system led to dropouts and short recording times for me. In the Platon world in contrast, everything worked like a charm.

Here you can see the cooling system of the ALPA Platon – a relatively big fan, moving slowly for low acoustic noise while improving reliability and internal signal noise (affecting image quality).
The camera system around the Hasselblad body is built for a maximum of usability and protects the otherwise sensible connection sockets.

Some quality analysis

In order to see what the camera system is capable of doing, I used some of the RAW footage I shot for that purpose and started HDR colorgrading as well as image analysis utilizing the tools in our HDRmaster Toolset. HDRmaster 8K is capable of opening the DNG sequences directly.

Resolution Test Chart (filmed in video and exported as a still frame) . Click to enlarge.
Even the finest details in the resolution test chart are represented very well due to the capabilities of the lens and camera.

In general, I found that there are situations where the dynamic range results to be more compromised than I expected and where there was more noise in the dark areas than I expected. The footage appeared to be very useful for HDR, without any tendencies to introduce cause banding or deficits in resolution. In fact, the camera recorded the highest possible frequencies up to Nyquist of 4K or single pixel transitions with full contrast if you want to put it that way. In general I would say once you know what the camera can do in terms of dynamic range, color and resolution, a very attractive creative process can start. At this point I would not say the camera is perfectly suited for reproducing all levels of light or resolution without side effects, but I still really liked the results. It’s a camera with character!

Even better in future

We could keep our faces to the sun and ignore some shadows but I don’t want to leave unmentioned that I have discovered some aspects of the system where I hope they’ll get better over time. So first of all, the RAW format requires Hasselblads “Phocus” software to convert the video files recorded on the CFAST cards into something you can actually use in post-production and editing. Actually, I don’t get why Hasselblad did not share some SDK or detailed specs for the RAW format since it has the potential to not only increase speed significantly but also it might increase quality (referring to color management and dynamic range).
Among the options the Phocus software has to offer for converting the video files into something you can actually use is different flavors of ProRes and DNG. My short advice here: The ProRes implementation might sound good in theory, but it is wasting a lot of image quality – at least with the current implementation the software is using. The only way to go for now as of Phocus 3.4.1 in early 2019 is to render Cinema DNG file sequences. The conversion process in the phocus software does not utilize the potential of GPU optimization, so it is too slow on powerful machines.
I’m optimistic Hasselblad is able to further improve the workflow and resulting image quality as some improvements seem to be software related only. I hope the developers are listening to comments like mine here to make a great camera even greater.


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