Now, however, its RED who is looking to storm back into the market strong with their newest camera, the DSMC Epic, and take back a big part of the digital cinematography pie. So, let’s take a look at five features to look forward to from RED and their Epic camera.
1. Increased Image Capture Performance
A no-brainer for those following the Epic’s progress through the RED pipeline, but an important feature to mention nonetheless. In fact, this category lumps together a whole slew of features from HDRx to software that enhances an already robust Mysterium-X sensor. Against its first generation brother – the Red One – Epic stands to pull away in every single category. The camera will be delivering a 5K resolution with compression modes almost 6X higher quality than the Red One; an increased dynamic range with an advertised 13.5 stops (or 18 stops with HDRx enabled); and improved color profile software that fully utilizes the sensor’s low light sensitivity. Not only that, but these settings are more than capable to be operated at Varispeed frame rates.
Some filmmakers, like Roger Deakins, decry the talk of stats when discussing digital and instead opt for the more abstract comparison of the “look.” Numbers are, however, tangible and a good indicator of what “look” can be achieved. As a resolution, 5K is impractical for a finished format, but “downrezzed” to 2K and 4K resolutions can make the images appear crisper and sharper. As Adam Wilt of Pro Video Coalition said, “It’s as mesmerizing as 3D, but without the funny glasses, the eyestrain, and the arguments over interaxial spacing and convergence.”
2. Faster Boot Time
What should seemingly be something so inconsequential – the camera boot time – is actually a major issue with the Red One camera. As I said before in my 10 Things Every Camera Assistant Should Know About the Red Camera article, “the boot-time of a Red One is excruciatingly slow, especially when the entire production is waiting on it. Nothing is more frustrating for a DP or director to have to wait 90 seconds for camera because the battery was swapped right before the take, or worse, the camera shuts down during the take.”
Luckily the Epic has been clocked with a boot time of 7.5 seconds according to Jim Jannard. That’s a 1200% decrease! While not really a feature, per se, this improvement will significantly speed up productions shooting with the Epic and make everyone less annoyed at a camera assistant who has to wait idly while a Red camera starts up. In an industry that squeezes every second out of a crew and equipment, the extra time this will save could mean a couple more set ups a day which translates directly into production costs.
3. Modular Design
The Red One camera initially started with the concept of making it modular. This way the camera could be replaced in pieces instead of having to upgrade a whole new system. That meant a sensor could be swapped out, a CF module could be replaced, and even different configurations of the camera could be compiled depending on its purpose. While this idea never came to fruition for Red’s first camera, the company kept with the plan for its Epic camera.
Besides the advantages mentioned above, a modular design also makes for easily repairable parts and a product that can be manipulated beyond what many have come to expect from a film camera. Modules can be taken off, added on or moved around to accommodate the camera for Steadicam, 3D rigs or car mounts – as a few examples. But by far the biggest plus to this type of construction is the ability to upgrade parts incrementally as they are designed and released. Though the Red One did experience the Mysterium-X upgrade, it largely stayed the same camera. The design and modules makes the Red Epic an investment with a much higher return than the Red One.
4. More Rugged and Capable Housing
The Red One camera is certainly a rugged camera because of its weight, but the camera is sensitive to high temperatures and precarious conditions. When it comes to on-location shooting, having a camera that is dependable and reliable cannot be overstated. The Red One camera was finicky and fickle, often picking and choosing which features it would load. Because of these weird quirks, the Red One had to be treated like a computer.
The Epic looks like its much less computer and much more camera than its predecessor as John Schwartzman, ASC has discovered. Schwartzman is the cinematographer shooting the new Spiderman reboot on the cameras and has slugged them through rain, on Steadicam, and in the tight spaces of a subway with nary a problem, according to the DP. Having the knowledge that the camera is capable of traveling through hell and back is a welcome feeling to camera assistants around the world who have feared for their jobs everytime they nudge a finger onto the “Power” button of a Red One.
5. Better UI
Take a look at that picture right there which is a screenshot from the Epic camera. It’s cleaner, it’s neater and overall more pleasing to look at. While I’ve tried scouring forums, blogs and the RED site for any mention of the user-interface, I’ve come up short except for this picture. See, to me, one of the biggest problems of the Red One was its convoluted and confusing menu system. A system that was frustrating to pros and impenetrable to those new to the camera. That wasn’t to say it couldn’t be tackled, but it definitely took some getting used to.
The feature that I am hoping for most with Epic is an improved UI to go along with the sleek screenshot and smooth body of the camera. As a camera assistant, having a simple and easy menu system means the world. The Arri Alexa provided one that allowed me to change settings in a heartbeat and that sped up my job and the production in general. The only information that I can confirm for Epic’s UI is the use of the REDMOTE as its main control system. The REDMOTE is a part of the modular design that fits onto the back of the camera and is used to scroll through menus, change settings, etc. It can also be removed and used as a separate remote (surprise, huh?). And while I cannot confirm a change in the menu structure or access, I can hope that like any electronics product that it would improve from generation to generation and I think it’s safe to assume RED put some work into this area.
It’s going to be interesting to see the digital cinema camera market play out in 2011 and part of the reason is the RED Epic. I can’t help but think that this camera will help RED become a Tarantino of sorts for the digital industries. The RED One, like Reservoir Dogs, was pretty good, but it was Tarantino’s second film, Pulp Fiction, that blew everyone away.