The Red Camera - Introduction
In 2007 Red dropped a bomb on the camera industry when it began shipping its revolutionary ‘Red One’ 4K camera. Five years on, Red’s second-generation cameras, the ‘Epic’ and ‘Scarlet’, are becoming increasingly popular within the industry and being used to shoot everything from Hollywood blockbusters to Natural History documentaries.
The cameras offer a unique range of possibilities, but also require a slight shift in approach, in both production and post-production.
What’s so special about the Red camera?
Red’s second-generation cameras are remarkably small; packed with features and capable of delivering superb imagery.
Perhaps the most obvious characteristics of Red footage are sharpness and clarity. Imagery is captured a 5K (5120×2134).
Size and Weight
While the original Red One camera was quite a beast, the new Epic and Scarlets weigh in at around 11 lbs (5 Kg), when fitted with a small zoom and matt box, making them well suited to handheld filming, 3D rigs and one-person operation. A simple camera kit can be loaded into a backpack or hand-carried onto a plane.
The Epic has a dynamic range of 13 stops, which is enhanced by the fact that it shoots in RAW, giving greater flexibility in post-production. The camera also has a unique HDR (High Dynamic Range) capture mode, which records two, simultaneous streams of video at different exposures, which can then be blended in post.
The camera is generally rated at 800 ASA, but offers the option of anything from 250 to 12800 ASA, although digital noise increases at the higher end.
The camera has impressive capabilities at both ends of the frame rate spectrum; from 1fps time-lapse to 120fps at 5K (5120×2134). By reducing the resolution it can shoot up to 300fps at 2K.
The Epic and Scarlet both have two mic inputs, on the front of the camera body. Audio can be recorded directly to the camera, either from a mic or mixer, although for higher level productions most people prefer to use a dual system, record audio separately and synch in post production (either through locked timecode or post-synching tools such as PluralEyes).
Red cameras shoot R3Ds, a bespoke file format, which can be opened directly in some editing software (including Avid and Premiere). As the file sizes are large most people prefer to transcode the original media (using Red’s free Redcine-X software) into more workable file format, such as Prores for editing in Final Cut of DNxHD for Avid, and then return to the original media for a final grade and conform.
Lenses and Accessories
Red make three, switchable lense mounts; PL, Canon and Nikon, so there’s scope to use all sorts of lenses, from cheaper stills lenses to the very best PL-mount cinema lenses, along with a huge range of matt boxes, follow focus, handles and supports. The cameras are designed to be modular and can be built-up for simple, lightweight use, or as complete studio cameras, with every imaginable accessory.
The Real World; Pros and Cons
Having worked with Red cameras for the past four years (as both a Red One and Epic owner), from the deserts of Saudi Arabia to the ice fields of Norway, I have developed a real understanding of how good and bad the cameras can be.
Over the years I’ve struggled with the camera’s weight, had problems with both noise (from the cameras fans) and overheating, but I’ve always been thrilled by the quality of the imagery.
There are certainly easier cameras to use, but there can be no doubt that Red cameras are innovative and interesting; used correctly they can deliver superb imagery that rivals any camera on the market.
Red is a company that is built on innovation and invention, along with some impressive PR. There is already talk of a sensor upgrade for existing cameras and the company is forever whipping up a sense of anticipation about as yet unspecified wonders to come. Some apparently ‘designed on Mars’; amongst the hype there are sure to be some groundbreaking ideas and innovations that will keep the entire industry on its toes.