Shooting with RED Epic #1: How to Properly Calibrate Black Shading

Shooting with RED Epic #1: How to Properly Calibrate Black Shading

When RED announced the Epic's boot time had been whittled down to a mere 7 seconds, many celebrated the achievement. But now, with Epic, there's a different time wasting culprit -- black shading calibration.

From our ongoing exploration of 10 Things You Should Know Before Shooting with RED Epic:

1. How to Properly Perform Black Shading Calibration

The bane of any camera assistant’s existence with the RED One has always been the long boot time — around 90 seconds of pure agony while the entire production waits for the camera to power up.

So when RED announced the Epic’s boot time had been whittled down to a mere 7 seconds, many celebrated the achievement.

But now, with Epic, there’s a different time wasting culprit — black shading calibration.

What is Black Shading Calibration?

You may have never heard of black shading calibration before unless you’ve already worked with Epic, own one, or work within a rental house. That’s because with the RED One, black shading calibration was mostly reserved for after a major change in the camera’s software such as a firmware update or factory reset.

Epic is different, though.

In the Epic manual itself, RED recommends doing a black shading calibration in certain instances like:

  • When shooting long exposure (about more than 1/24 sec) or high-speed framerates
  • When there is a “significant” temperature shift to the sensor from the prior calibration
  • After major software changes (not mentioned by RED, but generally recommended)

Granted, this won’t be something you have to do every day, but it will crop up much more frequently than it ever did with the RED One — especially if you switch between studio environments and exteriors where the temperature change could be drastic.

At the very least, you should perform one during your first use of the camera (whether that’s prep or Day 1) since you won’t be sure what the calibration was like before you got your hands on it.

How Long Does the Calibration Take?

The RED Epic Operations Guide says black shading calibration takes “about 10 minutes,” but this information is outdated both in my research and my own experience.

While reading through forum posts and articles, I consistently found other AC’s or operators complaining about the process being ballooned to a 30-minute time-suck. My own black shading experiences have lasted around 20 minutes or so.

You can mitigate the amount of time spent calibrating, however, by saving different calmaps (calibration maps) in the camera for common shooting scenarios.

What’s the Process for Calibration?

The good news is that black shading calibration itself is fairly straightforward.

Like the slow boot times for the RED One, once you put the Epic black shading calibration in motion, it requires very little maintenance on your end. You just have to make sure the lens port stays firmly covered and the camera has enough power throughout.

I suggest you follow this process as described by REDuser.net member Phil Holland:

Proper Black Shading Technique

  1. Attach the Red Body Cap to your lens mount and secure the cap with the locking collar on the mount.
  2. Place your camera in a dark place or cover your camera with opaque fabric. Do not cover the vents.
  3. Power up the camera. A/C Power is preferred. Black shading currently takes over 20 minutes.
  4. Wait for the camera to come up to operating temperature. Usually takes 10 to 15 minutes.
  5. Set your shutter speed to suit the project that you are shooting.
  6. Begin your Black Shading Calibration.

After it completes you may want to verify things are okay. Leave the Red Body Cap on and crank the ISO up to 12800 and make sure your focus assist tools are turned off.

What you are looking for is an even black field. If for some reason it is not, likely light has some how leaked in.

To perform the actual calibration itself, navigate to SETTINGS > MAINTENANCE > CALIBRATION. You have two options at that point:

  1. Black Shading (Default)
    Use this to calibrate at fixed factory settings of 24 FPS @ 1/48 sec shutter speed
  2. Black Shading (Current FPS/Exposure)
    Use this when calibrating for Varispeed/longer exposure shooting scenarios.

Once selected, the screen seen at the top of this post appears — select “OK” and wait.

Even though it is a simple process, black shading calibration is an excruciating thing to do because of the amount of time it takes — especially if you’re working on a production with little time to spare.

Now let me turn it over to you…

If you have experience with Epic, how often do you calibrate the black shading? What tips do you have to make the process more successful? And do you have any horror stories about it?

Share your thoughts in the comments!

Update: Since this post was written, RED has released official instructions on how to calibrate black shading. The instructions are the same as those listed here, though RED provides additional details on the technical processes you may find interesting and informative. Read their post here.

  • Derek

    It should be added that this process is also suggested when using a Scarlet. 

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Haven’t worked with one before, but I get the feeling that a lot of advice that goes for Epic can be transferred over to Scarlet as well?

      • http://www.facebook.com/Volstraav Kevin Marshall

        That’s been true in my experience. They’re built on the same foundations both with hardware and software.

        • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

          Yeah that’s what I figured. I just don’t like to give advice out for camera I’ve never personally touched.

  • lancemokma

    great post. i recently black-shaded and didn’t check after for light leaks by spiking ISO. would have been good to secure a proper shade.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Yeah the light-leak check is something I was illuminated (pun?) to as well while writing this post. Great tips by Phil from that thread.

      I wonder if AC’s will suddenly have a purpose again for those changing tents on Epic shoots now!

      • lancemokma

        haha, i suppose so. now that you can fit the whole camera inside

  • Benjamin Tubb

    On my last Epic job, we started black shading, it took about 20 minutes, then FAILED, then we had to do it again.  About 45 minutes gone.  *shudder*.  I’ve never seen it fail before, but apparently it can do that.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      That’s awful. I have heard about that happening, but was glad it didn’t happen to me. Any indication as to what the failure was caused by?

      • Benjamin Tubb

        No idea.  We did dismount it from sticks and move it onto the camera cart while it was going.  Maybe it doesn’t like being moved/touched?

    • http://twitter.com/Zacatac Zac Crosby

      Any reason for black shading on a shoot day? I’ve had a few failures on 2 Scarlets I worked with, but I did them the day before, and it only inconvenienced me.

      • Benjamin Tubb

        Not an ideal situation, but sometimes you get hired by an out-of-town crew coming in and insisting that you prep day of.  (1/2 day prep, 1/2 day shoot)

      • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

        For me, at least, I did so because we were shooting outdoors and I wanted the camera to be in the temperature conditions it would be for the whole shoot. Otherwise, I would imagine the day before is more than fine.

  • FB

    Ironically, the never ending black shading time (aka the “20-minutes-long-camera-coma-that-kindly-replaces-the-90-seconds-Red-One-boot-time”) is one of the arguments I’ve heard the most against using the Epic here, from rental house people, ACs and DPs, especially when choosing a camera to shoot at variable frame rates. Kind of pointless to market the high frame rate of the camera if it takes that long just to change from 25fps to slightly higher or lower frame rates, especially when people interested in that feature are the ones who really do care about every single minute wasted on set. Just my 2 €cents….

    • http://www.facebook.com/Volstraav Kevin Marshall

      You don’t have to black shade that often, though. Only every new camera build, and when going to very long exposure times (i.e. night timelapse). Going from 25fps to, say, 50 or 75 or 100 fps (or 12fps) doesn’t necessitate a black shade. For reference, posts from the Red team:

      bit.ly/IUQ1Cx
      bit.ly/Ju84Pe
      bit.ly/Ju8cOS

      Note that originally they recommended for short exposure times, though now they’ve consistently moved to only mentioning long exposure times.

      • FB

        Kevin, the problem is that it doesn’t work all the time. In other words, on one Epic you change the fps and everything is fine, then after 2 weeks you shoot on another Epic, from another rental house, with the same firmware, and the footage looks noisy. Black shading, and voilà, 20 long minutes later, the problem is gone. So, at least here, some assistants perform the black shading anyway when changing frame rates, just to avoid shooting something only to realize later they have to re-shoot. Testing the camera before the shoot usually helps, because you find out what kind of “behavior” it has, so it’s not a huge problem, it’s just something people should be aware of.

        • http://twitter.com/Zacatac Zac Crosby

          Black shading has a TON to do with when you doing it in regards to the tempuature of the Sensor. I usually wait 20-40mins after I turn the camera on before I black shade it. I tend to deal with a lot less noise, and end up with cameras matching a lot better.

          • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

            I think we can all agree it’d be nice for RED to put out a white paper on this with best practices instead of expecting everyone to dig through their forums to find their suggestions. It barely says anything informative in the manual!

  • http://twitter.com/Zacatac Zac Crosby

    I was just on a shoot with 3 epics, and 2 scarlets, black shaded them all the night before the 2 week shoot. Never had to do it again, and had no problems with noise caused by the black shading.

    The whole deal with black shading when changing shutter speeds below 1/20th really only come into play when shooting at night. If you’re shooting below 1/20th during the day, and you expose correctly, you shouldn’t be dealing with the amount of noise as shooting an underexposed shot at night.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      I wasn’t worried so much about frame rates, but sensor temperature. I didn’t want to calibrate it in the air conditioned room of the camera rental house when I was shooting for two days outside. And I wasn’t sure what kind of temperature shift is significant enough to warrant re-calibration.

  • Mike Muschamp

    hey mate,been following your blog for a fair old time,I am a d.o.p.working in south east asia,an we are about to shoot a feature on the “scarlett”I come totally from a film background..last 4 features I shot were on s 35mm,so Red is TOTALLY alian to me..an to be honest I am a little worried,cos I,m not sure If the a.c.,s here are really up on there camera,s,where can I research shooting on the scarlett?.
    thanks mate,for ALL YOUR DOING..IT REALLY REALLY HELPS!

    all the best
    mike

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Hey Mike — As far as I understand, shooting on Scarlet is very similar to shooting on Epic. So I would suggest your AC’s read this series (nice promotion, huh!) and then read the manual for the Scarlet. There may be some slight differences, but overall the experience is very similar.

      • Mike Muschamp

        Hey Mate,
        thanks sooo much for getting back to me,it is very handy to get the latest level tech info out in south east asia,sorry to ask but how about “hte alexa”have heard it is straight forward to shhot with and that film d.o.p.,s love it??,and useful stuff my a.c.should read?. again thanks so much for your help!

        mike

        Subject: [theblackandblue] Re: Shooting with RED Epic #1: How to Properly Calibrate Black Shading

        • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

          With the Alexa, you just need 5 minutes to play with it and the manual.

  • Michaela

    As to be in camera department, I have worked with several DPs with Epic, some of them always prefer to calibrate every morning before we start shooting and some DPs they don’t care about that. I never have any problem with black shading though. But I am pretty careful of what I have/work on, so I prefer to do calibration just to be safe.

    Btw, whenever we do calibration, we should put one media card on the camera, correct?

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Yep there should always be a card in the camera as the Epic uses the storage to save some calibration data as it goes on. In terms of what you said about calibration preference, I really wish RED would come out with official recommendations instead of vague ambiguous suggestions on their forums…

      • Joey

        Evan,

        If the RED saves calibration data on the card, shouldn’t you calibrate with each new card?

        Also, I was taught to black shade every time I add or remove a layer of clothing (as a general temperature rule). Has any of this stuff improved since you wrote the article?

        • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

          The calibration data saved to the card is only temporary while the calibration is actually happening. So you do not need to do it each time you swap a card.

          Some of it has improved, slightly. Mostly with the fact that RED posted their own instructions: http://www.red.com/learn/red-101/black-shading-calibration

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Merlin/1277071487 Brian Merlin

    Really informative series, thanks so much!

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Thanks for reading Brian!

  • Nick G

    Thank you for this. I was getting frustrated with my footage because in some cases my blacks had noise. The footage was properly exposed and I was beginning to doubt the quality of the Scarlet. This issue should be printed on the side of the camera because this is the first I am reading about it.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Agreed. I wish RED would be more open about this (I don’t consider hard-to-find forum posts open). A separate quick-guide on their recommendations for this process would be nice. Hopefully you can start getting great footage now though!

  • Conner McCrea

    In a case where you may be shooting both factory standard 24 FPS 1/48 and slow motion throughout the day, would you find it necessary to calibrate when switching between those or does one calibration at the beginning seem fitting?

  • Alex Lamburini

    Hi Evan,

    Just to clarify, I’ve heard that the boot up time on the RED ONE is attributed to the camera calibrating black shading. Is this true or do you have to calibrate for black shading on the One as well?