Since its release, the RED Epic has been pumping out tons of test footage, chart samples and eye candy on Vimeo. It has also been busy shooting well-known features like the Spiderman reboot and Ridley Scott’s Prometheus.
But while the camera stands to improve on its predecessor, the RED one, in both technology and price, there is a cost hidden within the complex circuitry and 5K sensor of the camera.
This isn’t the cost of time or quality — it equates to real money — so if you’re stretching your budget thin already, you might want to pay attention.
Dollars for Data
It was a distant spec in the rear view mirror of those driving out towards the wild west of digital cinema years ago with the RED One, but now more than ever, the threat of dollar bills taken from a film’s budget looms with the RED Epic.
What many are underestimating, or don’t realize, is that Epic is going to balloon the amount of data productions will move by double, possibly even more.
This is directly the effect of an increase in resolution and the lowering of compression.
Estimates are showing that, “At 5k 2:1 and REDcode 5:1 (which will likely be what most features shoot with), a 64GB SSD will be about 12-13 minutes,” said Deanan Dasilva from RED.
That’s about half of what you get at a similar aspect ratio, 4K, Redcode 42 compression ratio with the RED One.
Over on the REDuser forums, Jim Jannard released this chart (as an estimate) of time that a 128 GB RED SSD will hold of footage:
As you can see, the amount of time is minimal for the large amount of storage. Compression and resolution come at their price.
What Jim Jannard and others have said is Epic isn’t going to be about shooting the highest quality all the time, but instead about finding a perfect compression sweet spot. Jannard recently said on the forums:
The truth is that there is a steep curve of improvement with lower compression starting at 20:1 (acceptable) to about 7:1. After that the curve noses over. While there continues to be improvement to 5:1, it becomes almost impossible to see much of a difference from there to 3:1… just more data to deal with. So when we say 5:1 is the “sweet spot”, that is the very best image we can get at the best data rate. Others will argue (successfully) that 7:1 or 8:1 is just perfect. And at a much lower data rate.
To give you a comparison, the RED One’s best compression rate, REDCODE 42, is about a 7.5:1 ratio.
And while Jannard acknowledges that the curve noses over after about 7:1, there is going to be massive data for minimal compression gain as Brook Willard, Digital Imaging Technician (DIT), points out:
With the Epic, your compression choice will have a much larger impact on data rates. The data rate difference from 10:1 to 8:1 is not that great… but the data rate difference from 6:1 to 3:1 is HUGE. As such, I think it’ll be more about finding a balance than it will be ALWAYS shooting the best. It’s sure nice to have it when you need it, though…
Essentially, the curve of visual improvement will instersect with the curve of data rate inversely. A better image is always going to equal more data, but at the tip of the visual end is going to be a massive wall.
A Laptop Won’t Cut It Anymore
What this all comes down to is that data comes at a price, specifically in equipment and personnel. With the RED Epic, unless you sacrifice image quality, gone are the days of a Macbook and a few portable hard drives.
On most RED shoots I’ve been on, the production has gone through about 100 GB a day on a single camera. With Epic halving footage times on its storage, expect to run through twice as much data in the same amount of time.
EPIC will easily encroach on 200 GB a day. For one camera, no less.
If we multiply that same 200GB a day by 20 shooting days, you end up with 4 TB of data. Add a camera, double that. Add more days to your schedule, keep racking up the data. Add long takes of “keep it rollin,” expect more data on your drives.
More Data Means a More Serious Rig
Of course, data, though it exists in some ethereal realm, has to go somewhere. While hard drives are becoming cheaper all the time, that’s still a hefty amount of storage when you consider the standard practice is to have at least 2 backups, if not more.
And then the transfer takes time even with the most advanced and accelerated systems.
Steve Fairburn, another DIT, gave a fairly specific estimate that “14 minutes and 20 seconds is a rough offload time for a full 128GB SSD. “Those are about the times I see now for 16GB CF cards when using a basic setup most low budget productions provide. If you are expecting to use anything less than eSATA or Apple’s new Thunderbolt transfer system, the time it takes to backup footage is going to be out of control.
Already it gets to the point where there can be 45 – 60 minute offloads at the end of the day, but with RED Epic’s vacuum effect on data, these times could be much, much longer.
These advanced rigs aren’t going to be cheap either. As the data consumption of cameras grows larger, accelerating computers to handle this data is getting even more expensive.
Take for instance this data transfer station which is estimated to rent at around $750 – $1,250 per day. That’s about the same prices as some rental houses offer RED One camera packages for.
And then once you get something as serious as the cart above, you need a crew member who knows how to take full advantage of it.
The true hidden cost of the Epic are the tools and people you have to surround yourself with to properly handle the workflow.
The producer’s laptop and a PA trained the morning of the shoot day isn’t an approach the RED Epic will be friendly towards.
The Bottom Line
When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life; now that I am old I know that it is. - Oscar Wilde
Though Mr. Wilde’s quote is sarcastically humorous, it jabs at a tough lesson you learn in the filmmaking world. It seems things can’t be done without money. And while an enormous amount of money doesn’t guarantee a great movie, lack of money can hinder a story that needs to be told.
Don’t believe me? Ask a director forced to cut script pages because a shoot is going overtime. Ask a producer who has to calm a cinematographer’s vision because they can’t afford a dolly.
You get the point.
In the near future, an upgrade of digital quality will be equitable to tangible funds.
For the longest time, digital impressed filmmakers because they could shoot at high qualities at a relatively low cost to film. While all the money in a budget shouldn’t be shoved towards cameras, the cost of it will grow as the data consumption of the next generation of digital cinema cameras rise.
The RED Epic will be the flagship leader in this charge because of its large resolution and low compression options.
With indie filmmakers eyeing Epic for its price, size and RED logo on the side, the hidden cost of data is a threat that could sneak up and threaten the bottom line of film budgets.
Want to be armed with the knowledge about the data rates of the RED Epic? Then get your free copy of the RED Epic Pocket Guide.