I have wormed my way into the RED ecosystem over the last year and have found out a few things that have helped me along the way to learning a new system. I want to share some of my thoughts and experience to why I ended up carving myself into the RED ecosystem-stone. I will talk about my evolution as a DP/Photograher/Creative throughout this little article and I will give some insights to my decision to back the RED systems. Believe me when I say that I’ve tested out many camera systems and I am by no feat closest to trying them all. So my POV is purely subjective to my experiences and what I’ve read online and tried out with my own eyes and hands.
It is often a long road to work your way into understanding all the technical aspects of filmmaking, as well as the numerous options available to us on all ends of the spectrum. It is an exciting time to be alive, as well as a daunting one, when you want to work in an industry that churns out mega amounts of video / image content, it is a little hard to keep up, as well as afford all of it ~ that is actually impossible. That is why it is good to reflect a little upon all of this and figure out where you have started, to where you are now at this point in time. For now, I will reflect upon the choices I made in choosing a tool for the job and why.
For a long time I have been working with Blackmagic Design cameras and being Australian I wanted to be a supporter of my fellow countryman’s creation, however, I found myself often grinding my teeth over some issues that the BMD cameras had given me over the several years of use. This is by no means a bashing of the BMD product, as they have made accessible to the budget-friendly filmmaker some amazing tools, without a doubt ~ and that is to my defense here, as I have a long history of purchasing new and used BMD products. I am really grateful for what BMD has given us to do the jobs we want to do at an amazing fraction of the price.
Here I am talking about the BMD TV / streaming madness. The ability to connect 4+ cameras to a button clad mixer which can record internally and stream at the same time as everything, was for me revolutionary and gave me the chance to earn some amazing experiences and streamline most of my live multi-cam contracts into 1 day’s work rather than 3! Not to mention the use friendly approach BMD has created to all of their products. Everyone knows this. I am an avid fan of BMD, however, I have sold off all of my BMD cameras and switchers. Why you ask?
Well, before BMD, I was always attached to the hand with Canon cameras. My first “Cinema” camera was the C100 mk1 and that was a little tank in the hand with all things needed in a ergonomic box. The only real issue was the codec in that camera, the rest was awesome. I then bought myself the Video Assist 5″ monitor to record a ProRes out of the camera via the HDMI of the C100 and that worked, sort of. I was able to colour grade a little better, but it wasn’t much better. I found myself at a limitation and got frustrated that I couldn’t go beyond. I held on to the C100 for as long as I could and tried to learn to expose the image well and when I did get a good result, the image was nothing less than magical. That is where I understood the working around the gear you have and learning that tool to obtain the maximum potential. Internal ND’s was an amazing feature for me and I used that religiously and loved it!
When I sold my C100, I had already begun my way into the BMD world. I had purchased a Cinema Camera 2.5K with the EF mount. I then understood the power of Cinema DNG’s. I ended up with three 2.5K cameras as I loved the image coming out of that camera so much that I wanted that to my multicam work. The ease with SSD harddrives, the simple menu navigation and the adaptation of any lens opened up my mind. I was hooked on the ability to pull and push my image with the “Raw” image. I then purchased the URSA Mini 4K. The reason I purchased the UM4K was for my first real documentary job here in Norway, as the C100 didn’t record RAW or 4K and that was a prerequisite for the job. That is what pushed me for the switch. I couldn’t use the CC2.5K’s as the battery situation was terrible and the ergonomics were non-existent.
The UM4K had a shoulder rig and was easy set up on sticks. I also had the SSD Caddy which saved me from using the CFast cards, which cost a few chicken dinners. I was really getting to know the UM4K on that job and I really liked the images coming out of that camera. I like the fact that it had global shutter, which made my movements natural and spinning things and flashes appeared normal, which I go used to. However, I discovered many issues with the camera that ultimately tuned me off the Ursa Mini and the biggest and scariest for me was the FPN, or Fixed Pattern Noise, which the sensor suffered when hot and underexposed. I shot a music video last with that camera and then handballed it off into Oslo somewhere where it is being used in a light studio.
Limitations, limitations, limitations. The UM4K was replaced by the Pocket 4K with the whole kit: speedbooster from Metabones and full rig from SmallRig, as well as a shit-hot Hawk-Woods mini V-Mount battery assembly. That costed more than the Ursa fully rigged. I found a nicer image coming out of the P4K and was pleased, up until I got myself more run and gun jobs, where I met the extreme limitation of the p4K. It is a camera that is great at many things and a failure at other things that can be quite important when on a shoot. I couldn’t rely on the camera outside for an extended period of time in the cold as it just froze on me, whilst being still on even after switching it off with the main switch and it not responding… batteries out and loss of recording information to the SSD. Plus it was a whole lot of cables and mess. It was sold happily.
That is when I found myself in the office of the seller of the RED Scarlet-X in Oslo. I wanted a camera that could hold itself together. I bought this camera without much research. I also felt that getting into the RED ecosystem was going to be a few more years later that what it was. I took the camera out and tested it as much as I could and in all scenarios! The winter in Norway didn’t bother her, not one bit. I was pleasantly surprised here. Everything worked and still does.
I later sold off my BMD gear and reduced my package down to the items I really need on a job. Mind you, the reduction wasn’t really much, more just a re-distribution of gear and refining the tools that I use on a job. Each job demands the basic things, really: good camera, Good lights, good audio and good recording options all with ease of use in good quality. If I shoot a multi-cam job these days, I just rent myself an ATEM Mini Pro. The jobs I am going towards are often advertising, documentaries, company / information videos etc. I moved away from the music scene as much as I can, as it was making me poor. However, I am happy to have those experiences under my belt, because I can apply that to any of my work today.
My big focus now is working on proving a high quality image through understanding light, composition and subject matter. I really push myself to use and manipulate the light wherever I am and however I can! I love to film in full sun and use a diffusion and neg to shape my shot, as well as making a sun shiny day on a dark overcast one. So, lighting has been my muse and I feel that it has helped improve my overall skills. That is where RED has pulled my strings of interest here. I haven’t yet earned enough cash to invest in the DSMC2 systems however, I have invested in the DSMC1 ecosystem and I am very happy I have. I know that some of the items I have are cross-compatible with the newer systems, so when it is time for me to invest in the next stage, I have a good start.
Let me talk about image quality and characteristics of sensors a little. I am working with the Mysterium-X Sensor, which has evolved through the RED ONE M-X into the Scarlet and Epic cameras, then they evolved into the Dragon Sensor which still lives on in the DSMC2 bodies today. The M-X sensor is a beautiful sensor and renders details that I enjoy. Paired with great optics, the sensor produces images that are comparable with the best sensors on the market today. 4K from the Scarlet ( a cropped window) and 5K from the Epic is more than satisfying for 92.3% of the production requirements of today. I also own the Epic M-X, which I later purchased to get the higher frame rates and the use of the full sensor, which the Scarlet-X doesn’t provide in normal filming mode (shame). Also looking at the age of these sensors, technology, cameras, they are on the aging side, however, good quality is always good quality and when you know how to use it, then there is no issue, I believe. I fall in love with the images I capture each time with the M-X sensor. I don’t feel the limitation by the camera either. I feel that the rigging up and down and all the configuration of the DSMC cameras to be very fitting to my world of work. It is for me the perfect balance between mobile and production heavy.
I feel now that I am comfortable with the RED camera system to deliver me the next wonderful creations. I can rely on the cameras to capture the image I want in camera as well as having that flexibility in post (which I don’t rely on, but is nice to have). I know how much the cameras need in terms of light and I also really enjoy the deep blacks when I get contrast heavy scenes (without having that scary FPN!). I really enjoy the modulatrity of the cameras too! I can get beefy or nimble and use them in almost every situation that I work with, which I find priceless. Also, I know people often complain about the start up times of these cameras and although they have a much slower time than other cameras out there, you can just learn to work that into the prep time. I haven’t really noticed the delays, as long as everything is prepared before the shoot, then there is no real problem. That just is what it is. If one can learn themselves into the flow of the RED and prepare the camera for the job, then most of the experience after that is more than pleasant. Taking time to prepare is a form of mediation, well, that is the way I like to see it.
It just goes to show that one can make a beautiful image from any sensor. However, how one can work with a camera everyday can change the need for a more robust system and that is why I wormed my way into the DSMC ecosystem as it fit my exact needs as an operator and DP, as I work on a myriad of different jobs, which demand all different types of tools for the job! I am thus far super happy with my decision to go with RED.
- Patrick Webb, Director of Photography for Heapsgood Prodcutions, Trondheim Norway.