I was lucky enough to work on a little commercial recently. I’m not allowed to name the client, but it was great fun. It was a studio shoot and we had the amazing Red Epic to work with. This was my first job with the Epic, I’d been playing with the camera at S+O Media for a couple of days and I made sure that I knew the capabilities of the current build and menus before I got onto set. I was incredibly happy with how the camera performed.
The look the camera produces is very similar to that of the original Red One; just that little bit cleaner and much “nicer!”. The camera responds to light in a very similar way and anyone who is comfortable with the Red One will feel at home with the Epic. This is however, quite different from most other video cameras.
One of the biggest selling points of Red’s line of cameras is also where the biggest confusion lies; shooting RAW. On a normal video camera the light will enter the lens, go through all sorts of processing to correct white balance, sensitivity and gamma curves and then be burned onto the camera’s tape or memory. The Epic works a little differently. The information comes straight from the camera’s sensor and is recorded onto the cameras digital magazine. The processing is then applied only to the monitoring outputs of the camera. The beauty of this is that the footage from the camera has huge scope for grading, things like white balance and curves can be changed once in the grade and anything you apply in camera on-set is done in a non-destructive way. Any settings you change on camera, white balance, sensitivity, contrast, saturation etc are saved as metadata attached to the video file. When you open the camera files ready for the grade, they will appear with this look applied, again this is only done in a non-destructive way so you can go back to the RAW at any point.
Even simple things like exposure are affected by RAW. For example the sensitivity of the Epic is often given as 800ISO, the same as the Arri Alexa. The truth is that the camera is somewhere between 200ISO and 1600ISO, depending on how you want the camera to behave. If you rate the camera at 200ISO you will need to feed it with a lot of light, you’ll find skin tones look glowing and beautiful but that your highlights clip sooner, as you have far less headroom. If you rate the camera at 1600ISO you’ll have a noisier picture overall but you’ll be protecting your highlights from clipping, allowing a film-like curve to be applied in post to roll off those white clouds or bright lamps in your shot. It’s very similar to pushing a film negative. If you rate the camera at 1600 you’ll be pushing the exposure of the image by around three stops. It’s testament to the camera that you can do that without it having a detrimental effect. It may not seem like common sense, but on a bright day exterior rating the camera at 1600ISO might be the way to go.
As a general rule of thumb if I’m shooting on location with a Red One I’ll rate the camera at 800ISO, but in the studio I like to rate the camera at around 200ISO. After shooting a couple of little tests on the morning of my recent shoot I rated the Epic in exactly the same way. Shooting in the studio means a controlled environment and the more light you can plough into the sensor the cleaner the final image will look, giving lovely high-key skin tones. Shooting 800ISO on location is simply a trade off on noise versus highlight protection. Like any camera the higher the sensitivity the higher the noise, but on the Epic a higher sensitivity more importantly means better highlight protection. However, shooting 200ISO you have to be very careful about the dreaded digital clip. A step towards the light and our beautiful model will suddenly develop a very pale complexion.
It might not be the most complicated of theories but it’s an important one none the less! I’ll be at S+O Media next week testing HDRx mode. I’ll post my findings here along with some stills and videos.
Benedict Spence has been working as a lighting cameraman for nine years and a director of photography for the past three. Ben’s dishing the dirt on his experiences with Red’s new Epic–M, on behalf of broadcast and crewing facilities company S+O Media.