Bayer Market

(This post is based on a recent post of mine from RedUser.)

There’s a lot of counterproductive elitism in the film world, and one of the silliest examples of it is that right around the time the Red One started shipping (this is pure coincidence, I’m sure), some people suddenly decided that Bayer pattern sensors (see Wikipedia article if you’re not familiar) like the ones used in Red cameras are somehow unacceptable for motion imaging.

This, of course, has essentially no basis in reality.

Bayer is virtually the only technology used in the stills world these days, from the cheapest consumer cameras to the most expensive large format digital backs. Bayer sensors are used by probably tens of thousands of pro photographers every day to shoot images that sometimes get blown up to billboard size, and as stills, tend to be examined with far more scrutiny than individual frames in a moving sequence ever will be. And yet somehow, Bayer has been presented by some people in the motion imaging world as some sort of weakness for the Red One, as if Red is somehow cheating.

The truth is, Bayer is so widely used because for a given photosite count, with proper processing, it delivers a better image than anything else. Three chip designs or striped sensor patterns deliver at best 20-25% more visible resolution using 300% more photosites; in many cases it would make much more sense to just build a higher resolution Bayer sensor.

The real reason why Bayer isn’t already widely deployed for high-end motion imaging is not that it’s somehow unacceptable for that purpose, but that high-quality Bayer processing is very computationally intensive. The Red One gets around this by recording a raw image, so this computation doesn’t have to happen in real time — but as the RED Rocket and the 1080p RGB recording modes on the new cameras demonstrate, it is now possible to build ASICs which can do such processing in real time, which allows Bayer sensors to be used even in workflows that require high-quality live output.

I expect that as a result of this, we’ll see large Bayer sensors increasingly become the dominant technology in high-end motion imaging, just as they have in the stills world. Arri’s new cameras all use them. (Though whether this will clue in the industry snobs is anyone’s guess. A friend of mine was having a chat with someone at an LA rental house a few days ago who explained they’d be buying into Arri’s new system rather than Red’s because “The Red uses a Bayer sensor, and is really only a 2K camera”, apparently completely unaware that the Arri cameras are also Bayer, and Red’s S35 cameras are 5K to Arri’s 3.5K.)

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