"There’s better low-light information," adds Aaron James, technician at Video Equipment Rentals in Los Angeles. "The results are definitely better with less noise. When you’re dealing with RAW files, the results can sometimes be wildly unpredictable, but there’s less ‘secret sauce’ on the workflow for customers and less guessing, which makes the results more predictable."
The issue of camera heat was overcome, thanks to a new generation of heat sinks for superior cooling abilities. "The camera doesn’t generate as much heat anymore," explains James. "Heat causes the image to do funky things; overheating changes the shape of the pixel photosites and basically affects the way they capture light, so the cooler system is definitely a good thing."
The sensitivity of the REV-B sensor in the GOLD is still officially 600 ASA, as measured through the industry standard "ISO 12232" test that measures the entire camera system to rate its EI (exposure index). The sensitivity in real-life scenarios differs from the ASA 600 measure, for obvious reasons. With a digital camera, one needs to shoot for the darks and not overexpose, leading most Phantom users to shoot in the ASA 300 to 400 range. You almost always can pull detail from the blacks, while saturating a pixel means there’s nowhere left to go.
Another interesting fact about the camera is that the sensor doesn’t window horizontally when changing speed and resolution, only vertically. "It’s always using the 2,048 horizontal pixels of the resolution across the chip and using the full width of the line," says James. "And then, depending on the specific resolution, it changes its vertical sampling, so you do end up with extra data." A 2048×1112 resolution yields a 1.85 frame and a 1000 fps top speed.
Up to 32 GB of internal memory is available to use on the camera, although it’s hardly ever completely used. "With high-speed work, it usually happens so fast it’s over in a heartbeat, so you’re not really using the whole internal RAM," says May. "We also trim the shot before we save it to keep them to their minimal size."
External solid-state CineMags are extremely useful when situations require shooting action untethered. There are three different models available—128 GB, 256 GB and 512 GB sizes—that all fit snugly onto the camera. "I’ve had the Phantom using CineMags on Steadicam, on motion control and in the water," says May. "It really is a versatile unit. You can take it anywhere, and it adapts easily to any run-and-gun situation."
"CineMags are one of the most brilliant developments in digital cinema, next to the CMOS sensor, of course," says L.A.-based cinematographer Jim Matlosz (Final Run, Fragile). "The Phantom is the only camera in the world with this capability. The flash memory is more stable, rugged and durable than any other memory storage available and streamlined to fit snugly on the camera virtually unnoticed."
Played back at 24 fps, a 512 GB CineMag can hold 132 minutes of 1920×1080 material. CineMags can be hot-swapped on set just as one would a film magazine. Using the CineStation dock, the CineMag can be downloaded through a computer to a hard drive or feed Rec 709 HD video directly to a deck or workstation.