I was starting to sweat. It has been 45 minutes and I’ve tried every button, every combination.
Sitting in front of me was my dream camera, the RED Epic.
Behind me was my two DPs, eyebrows furrowed in frustration. Further down the hall sat my talent. We were supposed to start filming a hour ago but still couldn’t figure out how to change the settings on the camera.
I gave up trying, it was time to humble myself.
I texted Alan, my friend who gave me a sweet deal for renting this beast of a camera.
Reading the text, my heart dropped.
Apparently it’s a touchscreen.
Three magical days later, I’m proud to report that I am now a RED convert.
Below is my review/informative breakdown.
I’ve been a disciple of HDSLRs before it was popular, that’s about three years now starting with the 5D mark II and more recently the 60D. Knowing this camera inside and out proved invaluable because if you know how to use a HDSLR then you know how to use the RED Epic also.
Same settings. Same concept.
Break it down, feature-wise what does the RED Epic have that the HDSLR cameras don’t?
Actually, it goes both ways.
First up: What the HDSLRs have that the RED Epic doesn’t or is lacking-
This is not a joke, you cannot playback footage at all on this camera. I think it’s ballsy. Real film cameras don’t have playback, so it’s no surprise the RED development team focused more on bringing the other features to the camera but according to the man himself, Jim Jannard, the feature is coming.
I can see why this is important in some scenarios like if filming for a client, they get worried about the footage not turning out well etc etc.
But honestly, it does save time/money on set not watching every shot until you’re finished with the production at least. Plus the big touchscreen screen is plenty of viewing room for composing beautiful shots.
This one was annoying. I have a external 7” monitor I wanted to watch as the director’s viewfinder/montior but for the RED Epic M the feature has not been enabled yet but will be with the next firmware release.
Pretty much most HDSLRs have HDMI out but not full HD or crop ratios on several DSLRs. Still no clean HDMI out!
Canon could really blow their competition out of the water if they finally release a HDSLR with clean hdmi out. (Clean hdmi out means with no red recording button on the screen and the ability to use a external recorder for raw/uncompressed video)
I know the RED Epic is small. I’m not denying that, but with my set-up we were using the big RED ONE power bricks. The battery pack itself might weight more than the EPIC itself, I’m not sure.
Add a top-screen attachable LCD that needs to be screwed in every time and big RED prime lenses you’re already looking at three or four times the weight of the same kind of set up on DSLR cameras. (non-prime lenses)
The DPs had to switch back and forth because the set-up was heavy and killing our shoulders.
Oh and the start up time is something like 10 seconds which seems like an entirety compared to the near instant start up on my 60D.
This caused a slower set-up time than our DSLR set ups… I’ve used other professional cameras and can easily assure you that the RED Epic is the king of portability in the professional pack.
After working with the RED Epic, I fully understand now that HDSLRs aren’t in the same playing field if the project is meant for the big screen. For internet use, it’s actually comparable because of how compressed the files get anyways.
(included one DSLR shot in the reel, guess which one it is! First person to guess correctly gets guesser credit in this post and the vimeo/youtube page. Post your guess as a comment)
Yes, there is a smaller battery available for use with the Epic but according to forum posts online they last an average of 20-30 minutes which seems pretty harsh compared to the 2-3 hours I was getting from each power brick. I’d rather go with added weight for the longevity.
Oh but it does have a DC power cord, so if you’ve got a wall outlet, plug away!
Memory-wise, each 64GB SSD drive holds probably 30 minutes of footage which forces you to be much more economical as opposed to HDSLRs which can easily hold hours of footage on one 32GB card.
Low light performance.
I wouldn’t call it strong since my 5d ii seems to have silmar if not better low light performance. One thing though, the ‘ugly’ gain actually looks filmic on the RED Epic. The above screen-grab shows the gainy look higher ISO gets you.
I’m not complaining though, if you’re using a professional camera you should also have professional lighting. However if the RED scarlet proves to be a real low budget contender perhaps it should have stronger low light performance because it’s could be great for documentary work and other improv stuff.
Red files are big gluttonous beasts that require massive hard-drive space and processing power.
My total of 448 GB of recorded RAW material ended up in the ballpark of 600 GB after converting the files into pro-res.
Oh, did I mention the file conversion alone took me a week?
There’s a 99.9% chance your computer/laptop can’t playback the RED files natively, that is unless you bought the 5k video card, RED rocket, for your computer.
Yes, premiere cs5 is supposed to be able to playback the .R3D files naively but I couldn’t get it to load more than half of the files. Might have been an error on my part, not sure.
So my only option was to convert the big files into compressed files I can actually watch and edit with. I used the free RED editing program to open the files. Something strange caught my eye as I started playbacking my footage… you can adjust the ISO and even color balance right from the source file.
I didn’t think it was real at first but I moved the ISO bars and stared in shock as the image got darker and/or brighter perfectly just as if I did it in camera. Looking online, my suspicions were confirmed.
The RED Epic basically shoots at all ISO levels so like real film you can grade/adjust it in post. (white balance too)
Think about how much time you can save or footage you can save using this setting in post after you get a decent enough exposure.
With HDSLRs, you can just start editing after the files are copied.
As long as the RED workflow is, I like it better because of how much more freedom and control it gives me with color and exposure. Plus it’s just plain cool to grade footage the same way you would with film.
Processing power should be a big consideration when using this camera because even my beast of a hackintosh took quite a while to convert and processing power to playback the clips in REDCINE X. If you don’t have a super fast computer, try downloading and playing with some free .R3D files from the company itself. Don’t forget to use REDCINE X to grade the files. Try sliding the color balance and ISO around.
Despite all of these difficulties/frustrations/time sinks, the reward makes it seem like nothing.
Onto the features that the RED Epic has over HDSLRs-
This is a whole new world. Sport shorts and films are getting more punch out of the footage with creamy slow motion. This is a new tool, pricey but worth it.
Is 300fps that much better than 60fps? I can already do 1000fps on my HDSLR with motion!
Yes, you can make artificial 1000fps on the computer, but that’s a difficult thing to pull off with no jerky or blurred footage. It’s oftentimes more luck than skill that gets the money shot.
However… using the same program with 300fps footage is a whole different ballpark.
Know how you can slow normal stuff down to 50% its speed with no extreme blurring? Well imagine slowing down 300fps to 50% that’s 600fps as opposed to the 120fps you would get slowing 60fps footage.
Put simply- you will increase your odds (of getting perfect 1000fps footage created by software) by tenfold if the source footage is 300fps rather than 60fps.
I didn’t slow it much more actually. My jaw dropped the first time we got 300fps to work.
Unfortunately I didn’t unlock 300fps until the very last day with the camera since figuring out that HDRx needed to be off for the option to even show up. Seriously though, this is the biggest thing I miss about this camera apart from its picture quality.
Fun fact: The Arri Alexa can only get 60fps natively. However you can pay for a firmware update which gives you 120fps in pro res. Yeah… you’re not the only one who’s unimpressed.
Fun fact II: The RED Epic slows them down automatically so once the file is on your computer it’s already in slow motion! (with HDSLRs you need to convert 60fps into 24fps for slow motion or slow it down itself)
Fun fact III: I never used a tripod the whole three days with the camera…. 300fps is a stabilizer in itself My weapon of choice was my trusty shape rig. (review coming soon)
Ladies and gentlemen, the RED Epic is all about control. Especially in post.
As mentioned earlier, you can adjust pretty much every setting in post including the ISO and white balance. But not only that, because the quality of the file is so big you can zoom in and crop it to whatever frame you like without worrying about losing much quality.
In the reel, there’s one shot of colorful Jenga blocks falling, I was able to zoom in on just the top tipping over and zoom out to the whole thing, preventing the audience from seeing my hand pushing it over.
If I did the same thing on my DSLR the zoomed image would have been blurry and pixelized.
This is primarily why the RED Epic has 3-5k resolution modes. There’s only a few movie theaters in the world capable of projecting more than 2k. Hopefully that changes soon but according to other people on reduser.net, downscaling 4k to 2k will give you better looking 2k footage as opposed to filming in just 2k.
I can’t remember but I’m pretty sure 300fps is only active in 2k mode… another thing I didn’t know is that when you switch the camera from 2k to a higher resolution the screen size increases. (2k mode looks cropped or zoomed in)
Kind of the same concept with the DSLRs, most of canon’s line-up has a 1.3x crop but the 5d mark ii will give you more bang for your focal length with no crop factor.
I think it’s great that the different resolutions are cropped so you can get more out of one lens. Having a RED 25mm will become a 50mm in 2k mode but looks like 25mm in 5k.
It was also my first time using PL-mount lenses. I used the RED 25mm, 50mm, 85mm, and 100mm. All of them have smooth aperture rings which is simply phenomenal. I don’t know any DSLR lenses with smooth aperture rings that cost less than 4k.
Having smooth aperture control opens up more possibilities like panning from a bright window to a darker interior without worrying about choppy exposure changes.
No contest here. The Epic has 18 stops with HDRx enabled which means it’s a pro at pulling details from shadows and overexposed places.
With the DSLR the over/underexposed area become all white or all black while the RED Epic would retain all the details. Ever shoot indoors during the day? Notice how you can’t see anything through the windows except for white. Well you can see everything out the window with the ARRI Alexa or RED Epic.
More information=more flexibility in post=better films.
Seems to be the company mantra for RED and it’s a damn good one too.
Obviously this is the most important aspect of any camera.
I’ll cut to the chase, the below reel we shot is roughly ⅛ of the original file’s quality.
I have NEVER seen any of this footage at full quality, the most my computer could handle was ½ quality and that was enough to blow all of us away. I almost cried the first time seeing it myself.
My friend Ryan put it quite well- “It looks better than real life.”
If someone said I could have any camera in the world, I’d undoubtedly pick the RED Epic. The ARRI Alexa isn’t even a close 2nd. Don’t get me wrong, I have tremulous respect for ARRI as a company. Their lighting/lens/film products are second to none…. but digital cinema is a new landscape with different approaches.
ARRI chose to make their digital camera as ‘filmic’ as possible and it does have the best skin tones along the top tier cameras.
RED chose to focus on maximum flexibility along with all the tools you could need for your project. 300fps, flexibility, higher resolution, portability and performance are way better than some nice skin tones which you can easily get with color grading.
The bar has been set and it’s RED.
We’re always looking for new projects, commercials, shorts, videography, etc etc so don’t hesitate to contact us!
None of this would have been possible without Alan Thornton. Thank you for giving me one of the best experiences of my life. If you would like to rent a RED Epic I suggest getting it from the same place I got it, trust me, they’re cool.
What about the new RED Scarlet and Canon C300?
For information/analysis about these two cameras then head over here.
Without further ado, I present the reel: