I am surprised.
I am surprised by how much i like the RED Scarlet. Like is too soft a word. I adore my RED Scarlet. This comes as a surprise to me not because i was expecting a bad camera, i just wasn’t expecting something that i would come to be so fond of.
I will return to this point in a minute, but first, I want to talk about the path to RED, and why i chose to purchase an additional pro level camera.
For this past year I was happily shooting on the Sony F3 with sLog. The F3 is absolutely astonishing. I recently shot a feature film with it, and it performed amazingly well, beyond belief. The shoot took place from october 15th though November 10th. The Canon/RED November 3rd announcement hit during our closing weeks of production and my DIT and I discussed the offerings from the big players. The choice seemed clear, 4K for $20,000 all in. The F3 had certainly earned its keep and is still one of the most flexible tools i’ve ever owned. However, as a business owner, I want Tstop Cinema to remain on the cutting edge of cinema technology. Not that i was at all unhappy with the F3, but I have a formula, If (Rental Cost) X (#of times used per year) > (1/4) X (Item New Purchase Price), i buy it. I had used a REDMX and Epic 9 times this year. Thats around $11,000 in rentals. The formula said get a RED. I put down my deposit and waited……
Some weeks later before I received my camera, I tested a RED Scarlet with Ryan Koo of No Film School. This accomplished a few things, first since I had not yet received the RED, I had a chance to see if I even liked it. Should I change my mind I can always get a refund from RED, they are really good in that sense. Second, I got a chance to see what it was capable of interms of image, ergonomics, functionality and over all performance. You can see the film we wound up shooting on our first outing here:
I liked it. Yet, i wasn’t completely sold. There were some issues. The camera does not come with a standard thread spacing on the base, so using my basic accessories proved difficult. MatteBox, Follow Focus, filters, additional monitoring etc… all out the window. The RED needs additional accesories to make it function in a basic manner. Nothing too horribly expensive, but still. Really? I need a $100 riser to make it “standard”?
I decided to keep my order, and play it by ear. Since I had a low order number, I’d at least have the ability to sell the camera for cost in the event I wanted to get rid of it after it arrived.
Finally, three weeks ago, my Scarlet arrived, with the 5″ LCD. I purchased the Wooden Camera Anton Bauer back plate. I had originally planned on using the RED base production pack to remedy the lack of standard mounting points on the bottom. Waiting for it to arrive, I put the scarlet to good use, and started day one on a eight day shoot. The setup below, is without the base plate riser, with the camera bolted directly to a Element Technica 19mm Hybrid Plate. This presented a quick solution, and massive problem. Yes the Cooke 18-100 T3 Varotal, could now mount…. however, the camera was positioned way too low, and thus neither matte-box nor follow focus could fit under the lens. My 1st AC improvised, and turned the Obox into a clamp on Matte-Box.
This problem had to be remedied. I cancelled my base production pack from RED and had the Easy Riser, Rubber handle, and Easy Stick over nighted from Wooden Camera. I could not be happier. Ryan at Wooden Camera has been nothing short of spectacular with regards to customer service.
Day one of this production, “Where is Joel Baum?” a film from blossoming director Pearl Gluck, required a carefully rigged car mount. Seen above and below, Key Grip Rob Smith, made us a courtesy blind to cover up the camera while it was rigged to the back of a pick up truck to avoid unneccesary attention. 1stAC Ali Cengiz peeking over the blind looking for his Donuts, and double checking the rigging. We used as a focus monitor the SmallHD DP6 monitor. This was invaluable, because the RED 5″ LCD does not articulate in the most convenient way. Having a fully flexible, 720p monitor made focus a breeze for my AC. The Scarlet outputs a full debayer clean 1080p signal, looks amazing on the DP6.
One Quick note, just as a bit of perspective, i carried the RED to set this day in the same bag i normally take my 5D in. The ENTIRE Scarlet fit in a Canon DSLR bag, WITH batteries! The small size and light weight really are huge help to 1st ACs who have to wrangle the camera all day.
Despite the crude build that first day, we got some great images!
The Rest of the film just looks spectacular!
Once “Where is Joel Baum?” was finished, I immediately used the RED on a commercial for a national cable TV provider. Green screen, 4k Quad HD, and full DIT on set. Here is where some of the pitfalls of RED come into play. The huge data rate mixed with the transcoding step had left us a bit backlogged. The director wanted 4k ProRes4444 at the end of the day. We had a little glitch with the Rocket card and the current RCXpro build, and with some overtime, eventually fixed the problem and delivered the footage on time. When using Green Screen, I think its particularly important to shoot on primes. The flat illumination (no vignetting) of the iPanchros, mixed with the massive resolution and 16bit REDCODE RAW; made for some excellent plates that keyed flawlessly.
Thoughts on Exposure:
The Scarlet has the latest incarnation of the Mysterium X sensor. Red rates it at a very healthy ISO800. While i dont disagree with the rating, the nature of RAW recording lends itself to a few quirks. The truth is the camera is a ISO320 camera, but its a clean 320…. meaning boosting the signal up to the equivalent of ISO800 gives little noise penalty. This is where exposing for a RED gets interesting. What your essentially doing by rating and shooting the camera at ISO800 is “under exposing” the sensor at its native ISO320, thereby protecting the highlights, and then artificially boosting the signal back up to “ISO800”.
There is no other ISO other than 320. In fact, with RAW, the only control you have is focus, aperture, frame rate and shutter speed. EVERYTHING else is meta data….. Dont go thinking that by setting your ISO @ 250 you are going to get around the need for ND filters. All you are doing then is over exposing the sensor at its native 320, and clipping all your highlights. Nothing is for free.
That said, the camera is quite the performer. The highlight roll off is very natural, and the dynamic range is quite useable. I dont think its anywhere near the 13.5 stops that RED claims. It feel much more like my F3 in non LOG mode which is about 12 Stops.
Remember, If the situation ever arises, HDRX can always give you a helping hand if your contrast is surpassing the capabilities of the sensor. Its not perfect for every scene, but it has its uses. I will go into FAR more detail on HDRX, and the Scarlets minutia in the next post.
Now to return to the Title of this post. The Scarlet: The Gateway Drug. The RED scarlet for all its capability, makes you want an EPIC.
I will tell you why. Ever since i got the Scarlet i have not stopped using it. Photography work, commercials, narrative films, corporate, cine-doc, you name it…. there is nothing i’ve come across that it hasn’t been perfect for. That said, there is always that moment when you need just a little more… 5K, high Fps, HDRX in all frame rates, lower compression….. etc. I came to this realization when shooting some stills for a group of dancers. (see below) I shot in 12FPS 5k to get the maximum resolution and quality. The yearning for 48FPS HDRX was great. I think RED has gotten themselves a future Epic customer.
Some 5K Stills: Shot in 100% natural light. No modifiers at all. Not a bounce, not a flash, not a light. just the sun and the space. The Scarlet may not have the most dynamic rane in the world, but its highlight rendition is just wonderful!
Thanks for checking out this lengthy (but BRIEF!) over view of all the Scarlet has to offer.
Please feel free to follow me on twitter @timurcivan and @tstopcinema
Thank you for reading!
If you are interested in supporting the “Where is Joel Baum?” project on Kick Starter, please click HERE!
More on the details of the Scarlet, and a comparison with the Sony F3 coming up!