Shooting with RED Epic #10: It’s a Computer Inside of a Camera Body

Shooting with RED Epic #10: It’s a Computer Inside of a Camera Body

Sometimes we forget what we're dealing with. As our series on the RED Epic comes to a close, it's time to take a look at the most obvious, yet most often ignored part of the camera.

This is the last post in our exploration of 10 Things You Should Know Before Shooting with RED Epic:

10. The RED Epic is a Computer Inside of a Camera Body

As our series on the RED Epic comes to a close, it’s time to take a look at the most obvious, yet most often ignored part of the camera.

When I say ignored, I don’t mean people consciously choose not to acknowledge this, but more like we sometimes forget what we’re dealing with:

…a highly-sophisticated computer smooshed into the casing of a camera body.

It’s easy to look at the body of the Epic as a whole piece that slaps together with a lens, some monitors, batteries, and accessories. Configured correctly and mechanically pieced together to fit, the Epic gives us the opportunity to make amazing images.

But inside that one piece, the body, is a multitude of technological complexities you and I are unlikely to ever fully understand.

Taking the Mindset of the Camera as a Computer

So what impact does taking this mindset have?

Well, first and foremost, you have to treat the camera as a piece of digital technology rather than a mechanical machine — you can’t just open it up to fix a part or re-solder some of the circuit boards to patch up an issue.

That will be easy for those of you who have grown up shooting video or cut your teeth working with digital cinema, but for many camera assistants or operators used to dealing with film cameras, this mentality can be restrictive.

In all likelihood, the Epic is a camera that you or I will never fully grasp the true inner workings of without first earning a degree in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering.

This isn’t a camera that runs on milled metal and oiled pieces. To capture such high-quality images, the Epic has to work through so many technological hurdles.

Once you understand the theory behind this mindset, a few practical concerns rise to the surface:

  • The risk of over-heating in extreme environments.
  • Computer internals are much more sensitive to physical impact or movement than mechanical cameras.
  • The software will, at times, require patience. Computers never work as fast as we want them to and rarely work as flawlessly as we hope. The RED Epic, at some point or another, is guaranteed to give you some frustrations.

I’m not going to pretend I’m not pointing out the obvious here, but that shouldn’t undermine the truth that having this fundamental understanding of the camera is essential to operating it correctly — especially when dealing with troubleshooting (you shouldn’t rule out fixes from the computer playbook like reboots, swapping power, etc.).

If anything, the Epic is a machine of a few types: general mechanics, video camera, and computer.

The key to operating the Epic successfully and troubleshooting it correctly is to identify which area your problem lies in. If the lens isn’t mounting correctly, that’s a mechanical issue. If the white balance is off a bit, that’s a video issue. If the media is failing to format, that’s a computational issue.

Being able to wrap your head around each of those will help you approach the problem from the right angle and use your experience with each type of machine to apply the appropriate fix.

An Evolution of the RED One

For all its K’s of resolution and Oakley design aesthetics and ability to mount the highest quality lenses on it, the RED One camera still boils down to being a computer inside of a laser-gun like casing. Its inner workings are full of circuity, cooling fans and cable strips.

I wrote that sentence almost two years ago as the last in a list of 10 Things You Should Know About the RED One (see what I’m doing here?).

The Epic is a natural evolution of the RED One in a positive direction — a lot has changed with the Epic — but the idea that it’s a computer pretending to be a camera hasn’t.

If anything, it’s even more crucial to understand that the RED Epic, despite the gorgeous images, incredible high resolutions, and mind-blowing slow-motion, is just a computer living a camera’s life — more so than its chunkier little brother.

A large portion of the posts in this series can be tied back to the Epic being such a sophisticated piece of technology — from specific issues like black shading calibration, REDCODE compression, and monitoring capabilities to more generic computer matters like firmware updates, battery power, and LED status indicators. Though it’s true that the Epic still embodies a certain ethos of camera in its auto-focus and high-speed functions.

Ultimately, the Epic is a camera built on many technologies of many types. It’s a computer, a camera, and a tool.

As a final piece of advice, I implore you to remember that while the Epic gives us the opportunity to make an amazing image, it’s still up to you to do most of the legwork — you operate the camera, not the other way around.

How Did You Like This Series?

I never thought I’d donate two weeks of my blog to the RED Epic, but in the end, I’m happy I did. These are issues, how-tos, and problems that are practical, common, and likely to pop up if you shoot with the camera.

But I want to turn it over to you: what’d you think of the series? What did I miss? What would you like to share with readers of The Black and Blue that is crucial to shooting with Epic?

Sound off in the comments below and be as honest, mean, or congratulatory as possible (especially congratulatory :-P ). Thanks for reading through this with me and I hope you managed to take away at least one useful piece of knowledge from the series!

  • Lance Mokma

    was very happy about this series, evan. although i personally knew a majority of it, there are ALWAYS little things here and there (firmware updates!), tips, or ideas that can change a workflow, which, in my opinion, you need once the fundamentals are understood to become truly proficient.

    • Evan

      Thanks Lance! I’m glad some of my readers like you already knew what was in the series. It made the comments that were left throughout much more helpful and added more depth to the posts.

      I agree — there are always tiny details that will put you over the top after you learn the basics.

  • Paulo Eduardo Uchoa

    You covered the Epic pretty nicely. Now I think its only fair to do a series on the Alexa, it would be a good contrast from the Epic and all the problems and workarounds it has to the Alexa which could be said “It’s almost a perfect camera.” :)

    • Evan

      I’m not sure if I could do 10 posts on Alexa. It might just be 10 Things That Are Awesome About the ARRI Alexa

      • CinnaOne

        Hell, why not? Until I saw this thread I was wondering incredulously why there’s barely
        any information about it, especially when you’re so comprehensive about RED.

        Seems to me that Alexa has become the industry standard for digital or at least in NYC that’s the case. I wouldn’t say NOBODY here is shooting RED, especially
        since I don’t know many people in the commercial or low budget circuits. Still I haven’t seen a RED on any job in my four years in the business, and considering the popularity of the Alexa I’d be shocked if I ever work with one. My last job shot on Panavised Alexae (no one can convince me that’s not the correct plural form) – even the competition is on board!

        That said, thank you for being so comprehensive about RED, because I could certainly be eating my words if I stumble into one on my next gig…

        • Evan

          Sorry for the late response (I am working on a backlog of comments here):

          First of all, you’re welcome. Hopefully if you do stumble into one, it all comes in handy!

          I’d love to do a series on Alexa, but I have to find the right hook for it. Right now, there’s not much about Alexa that isn’t just answered by reading the manual or playing with the camera for a few minutes.

          That’s opposed to RED which has so many quirks, gotchas, and secrets that you have to be told about. That’s why I usually cover it — there’s so much more to inform people about that they can’t find anywhere else.

          That said, the cheering for an Alexa series has been noted ;)

  • Paul Morin

    I agree with the previous comments. Excellent series, lot of pertinent information. And yes, something about the Alexa might be nice :)

    Anyway, I’m to work on a shoot with the RED Epic in the upcoming months (as DP this time). Timing couldn’t have been better and I’ll get my ACs to read these blog posts!

    • Evan

      My timing is always impeccable ;) As for a series about Alexa… I’ve thought about it, but I’m not sure what to write about — it’s a lot more straightforward camera. Less to complain and or find wrong with it haha

  • Alex Herter

    Thanks for your work with this series Evan. I found the information about the varispeed and RED ratios quite helpful.

    • Evan

      Your most welcome Alex. And thanks for the kind words. I actually found it helpful as well to do an overview of RED ratios. Overall the series helped me learn some stuff too

  • Lliam Worthington

    Really enjoyed it. Cheers Evan.


    • Evan

      Thank you Lliam! Really happy you liked it.

  • FB

    Yep, great series, Evan!

    • Evan

      Thanks FB! Surprised you gave it the time of day since it’s not celluloid :P

  • Aslan

    10 Things you should know after writing a useful series like this:

    Thank you Thank you
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    Thank you Thank you

    • Evan

      Thank YOU!

  • Aquiles Merchan Shields

    Hi Evans, I want to thank you for all the information you have given to people in your blog, i founded very useful! I studied still Photography in the States, and now i have worked as a DP in two short movies and i have to admit, i love movie making a lot, now I have being offered to work for a long movie as an PD of course, and they will probably give me a RED camera to work with, i´m exited but have no experience at all with it, and for the moment i have teach my self about working with this camera. If there is any other suggestion you can give me to keep learning more, i will appreciated a lot! thanks again!!

    • Evan

      Just keep learning is the important thing! Never stop. There’s always going to be new cameras, new techniques, and new processes. Always be on your toes.

  • Daniel Smukalla

    Thank you so much for these articles. They have been very helpful!

  • Luke

    Hey. Thanks so much for this. Really great work, and very helpful. I’ve worked with the RED One a few times, and have a shoot tomorrow that was supposed to be the RED One, but they just emailed saying they swapped out for the Epic, which means I have a few hours this evening to be solid on it. Which really means, your post answered some quick prayers. You rule.