The Red Epic has landed

Finally the Red Epic has started to appear in facilities companies around the world, S+O Media is one of the first in the UK to receive a handmade Epic-M. I’ve taken the camera out on a couple of shoots and I have to say I’m pretty impressed.
I’m sure everyone is aware of the Red One, the first camera from Red. Billionaire Jim Jannard decided he could make a camera, one which would change the face of the film industry. Although the Red One wasn’t perfect it was definitely a catalyst for change. For example without the Red One, Arri wouldn’t have produced the Alexa and Sony wouldn’t have made the F3, both of which are excellent cameras.
The Red One combined a Super35 sized sensor with 4K resolution, multiple frame rates and cheap recording media. Thousands were sold round the world and used on everything from low budget music videos to big Hollywood features. However, the Red One wasn’t perfect and after cutting through the hype, it wasn’t the most reliable camera in the world either. It was awkward to use and the 4K RAW workflow, although powerful, took time for people to get used to. The Epic is Red’s second camera – people have been waiting a long time for it and are understandably sceptical.
For those of you who don’t yet know, the most important aspects of the Red Epic are:
Its 5K RAW capabilities: The camera can shoot at an amazing 5,120 x 2,700 pixel resolution - 30% more pixels than the Red One. This gives an incredibly sharp and clean picture, future proofs the footage and gives great options for cropping, stabilising and reframing in post. For example HD TV is 1920x1080; 5k is over six times that resolution. The Epic’s sensor responds to light in a very similar way to the Red One – if you’re used to working with the Red you will know what to expect. However, the picture from the Epic looks noticeably cleaner, and “nicer” than the Red One, both on the camera’s monitor outputs and once it’s in the grade.
Size and modularity: The bare-bones Epic is very small. Sure you can dress it up like a grown-up camera, but without anything attached it’s smaller than a Sony F3, albeit a little heavier. This small size has made the camera the number one choice for 3D feature film production around the world with films such as The Hobbit and the Ridley Scott Alien prequel both shooting Epic. The modularity of the camera is a double edged sword. Being able to cut the camera down to a very small size is incredibly handy, you can fit it onto Steadicams, car mounts and even clamp it to polecat with ease. However, it means that the camera isn’t particularly ergonomic straight out of the box, as it’s so new Red and other third parties are quickly making various accessories to make the camera work in different configurations. Knowing what is out there and making sure you get a camera with the correct accessories is vital for a smooth shoot. I’ve been working with S+O Media to try and work out the best possible options. Accessories still due to arrive include a Pro In and Out module with a full set of XLR’s inputs, BNC outputs, tiny onboard batteries and various proxy recorders have been hinted at for recording ProRes or H264, at the same time as the RAW.
Highspeed shooting: The Epic is capable of shooting at 120 frames per second using the full sensor and 300fps at reduced resolutions. Having these sort of frame-rates on hand is an amazingly powerful creative tool for a DP or director. It’s not quite bullet-through-an-apple high speed but it is far beyond what all but the most specialist cameras are currently capable of. Not having to crop the sensor to shoot 120fps is absolutely brilliant. As a DoP it’s hard to go back to other cameras which don’t offer those sort of frame rates on tap. Do be warned however, shooting 120fps at full resolution will absolutely chew through the SSDs which the camera records onto. The highest data rate the camera shoots is over 200MB per second (yes that is Mega bytes). You and your DIT will need to pay attention or you could find yourself running low on stock.
HDRx: High Dynamic Range shooting. For every frame that is captured the camera will also take a second, but with a higher shutter speed. The second frame (or X frame) can be used to protect highlights and with HDRx turned all the way up the camera has an extraordinary 18 stops of latitude. The original image and the X frames need to be combined in post, the power of this type of feature is only just being realised. My view is that it will likely be reserved for complicated or difficult to control shots, but the possibilities are fantastic. The Arri Alexa does a similar thing with its Dual Gain Architecture combining both high and low sensitivity pixels, which allows its high latitude. Enabling HDRx on the Epic will double the data rate so again keep an eye on your stock.
While stability and useability are the biggest issues with the original Red One, the Epic is far more stable and well developed. It boots up in seven seconds and everything from the PL mount to the SSD media feels solid and well designed. The menu system, accessed via the touchscreen LCD, is a joy to use. The menus are simple to navigate and just make sense. One word of advice though is to not to rush through the menus; being touchscreen you need defined contact and movements. The touchscreen is another part of the Epic with enormous potential, an electronic lens mount is soon to be released and Red has already released videos of the touchscreen being used as a touch focus device. This opens a world of possibilities with otherwise impossible shots and modes of operating. The Redmote also deserves a mention, the little mobile phone-sized remote control which comes as standard with S+O Media’s Epic-M. The Redmote not only displays all of the camera’s information from sensitivity to remaining record times, but also allows full control over the camera from simple things such as cutting and recording to more complex picture control such as changing the white balance. The Redmote, like the touchscreen, is still being developed; it will only continue to get more powerful as Red updates its software.
However, as good as the camera is, it’s still unfinished and there are a few hurdles to overcome. The workflow is the same as the original Red One, although the camera-generated proxies and in camera playback have not yet been implemented. I’d highly recommend grabbing a Nanoflash or a similar HDSDI recording device when you hire the Epic, and using that for playback. Redrocket cards do speed up the post production process but again currently they will not do a full debeyer in real time. The proxy and playback issues will be fixed in future camera builds; although awkward now, it’s important to remember that the camera is still in a Beta stage. From a DoP’s perspective, one of the more powerful tools on the Epic which is still yet to be enabled, is to set a look within Redcine and export that to the camera. The Red One never quite delivered in this respect, but it’s been promised the Epic will.
Also be warned that the slightly-larger-than-super35 sensor on the Epic can lead to lens coverage issues. Many cine lenses are designed to project an image 24.8mm wide (Super35) whereas the Epic’s sensor is 27.7mm wide. I would suggest a prep day with your favourite lenses before commencing any production with the Epic, I tested a Cooke S4 18mm the other day and there was a very small amount of vignetting at the edges. All the longer lenses in the set I had seemed fine, apart from that. The flip side is that lenses will appear wider on the Epic, so your 21mm lens will give you the field of view of what you would normally expect from an 18mm.
Overall the Epic is an exciting camera and a leap forward for Red. It’s not a simple camera but the complexity comes from its flexibility and power rather than its poor design. The Epic can produce some beautiful images and even in its unfinished state can do some unique things, so watch this space!
About Ben Spence:
Benedict Spence has been working as a lighting cameraman for nine years and a director of photography for the past three. His experience covers a range of factual & entertainment series including the BBC’s John Bishop’s Britain and E4’s The Only way is Essex. In that time he’s also notched up some promotional and commercial work for high flying brands including Beth Ditto and Armani. Having tried and tested any camera worth knowing about over the past nine years, Ben will be dishing the dirt on his experiences with Red’s new Epic–M, on behalf of broadcast and crewing facilities company S+O Media. As one of the first hire companies to get their mits on what’s rumored to be the camera of all cameras, S+O know what they’re talking about when it comes to shooting and the technology involved!

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