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Production Equipment Reviews: RED ONE MX Camera (a working review):
How did the completed film look on a large theatre screen? See last paragraph for comments on the completed film and how well it looked on the big screen at its premier. Film will be released in Spring 2015.
RED One MX Behind-the-Scenes Shoot:
With our feature production well on its way, we have been using the RED One MX and RED RPP lenses in a range of locations for a number of months and thought it would be good to give a working update, particularly as the RED One has recently found new life amongst budding film makers with so many questions.
At present, due to production restrictions on this particular feature, we are unable to disclose actual frame grabs or film clips.
To the New Film Maker:
The RED One opens up many opportunities to those who will take the time to research exactly what’s involved in an end to end production - if unfamiliar with high-end formats. However it must be stressed that, do your homework methodically or you will face hurdles along the way whereby you may regret the purchase. Download and read the manual from the RED website and watch the tutorials – don’t be lazy! Don’t worry if you can’t understand things right away – just familiarize yourself – it takes time.
The RED One Camera Operator on Set:
We have a small number of people cleared to build-up/break-down and operate our RED camera system. Each person has undergone training at our studio so that they follow a systematic workflow – to date this has ensured the safe handling and use of all parts and trouble free data capture. We have a methodology that suits our crew and production schedule, it’s a good idea to work out your own.
Before Putting the RED One into Production:
Read the manual before purchasing a camera; get familiar with its workings. Once in your hands, hook up to its LCD display with the RED manual displayed on a PC Monitor. Systematically go through every menu. Once happy with the camera layout take the camera through a series of tests required to cover the areas of production you will encounter during your project. Spend time testing a range of shutter speeds and RED Code values. Film under tungsten and daylight temperatures; to work out a preferred methodology for lighting.
Has the RED One been Reliable?
The camera system is tried and tested and to date we have had our camera in some pretty awful environments – muddy, raining, damp, windy, hanging from cable rigs, various cranes and so on… we have had not one problem. As I have mentioned before, it’s a computer and if you switch out cables or press buttons at random then you will get the system freezing or displaying an anomaly which sometimes requires a simple re-boot to clear.
RED One Spare Parts Required?
As a matter of course it’s wise to carry certain back-ups or spares – as we had heard that the RED cables (although well made) were prone to malfunction if consistently connected and disconnected, we purchased a spare cable for every attachment as well as a spare Mains Power Unit – to date we have not needed them.
Travelling with the RED One:
We purchased a Flightcase that allows the RED camera complete with Mattebox, Follow Focus rails and LCD to be put away in one piece. We remove any lens attached to reduce strain on the PL Mount. We have other small cases that hold accessories and tools which go in the box and keep the camera in position. The case has a double floor lining of dense foam for vibration protection. The EVF, Follow Focus, Battery Unit, Filters, Drives & Cards all fit in the box. We have a separate Flightcase for 5 RPP lenses and one for the 300mm lens.
When working in environments where wheeled flight cases can’t go, the camera is built-up and then carried to its location whereby construction is completed.
Battery Power Consumption with RED One:
On all our exterior and industrial interior shooting we have used a mix of RED and IDX batteries. Wherever we set up, we establish a power recharging station so batteries can be replenished by rotation and this works well. In a days shooting we generally use 2 RED bricks and 1 IDX Endura Elite (similar to RED brick) with the RED bricks at times having been ready to use after re-charging.
Similar to Sony XDCAMHD optical disc cameras we notice that it can be better lo leave the camera on, as opposed to constant switching on and off within a short period – it’s the power spikes that discharge the batteries more quickly.
Once again, utilising a good filming protocol, it should be noted on the LCD display how much power is remaining (displayed with RED bricks only) or media space is available so as to avoid any possible data corruption. We were caught out at least twice – however, there was no data corruption.
RED CF Cards, Drives & SSD Cards – Any Issues?
We own a dozen RED 16GB CF Cards and three RED Drives. For many of our action scenes where a particular scene is complex to set-up for various reasons, I find it more appealing to be able to shoot a scene on one or two cards, check them on replay, and regardless if there is still plenty data space - remove them – red tape to seal the card container – store in a safe place for download. To date we have not encountered a single problem.
RED Drives on the other hand are excellent for lengthy dialogue scenes where you do not want to break the actor’s concentration, but not recommended where the camera is in an environment where vibration could cause problems. Again we have not encountered a single problem.
We do not have any SSD Cards, and I personally don’t see any need for our production to upgrade from CF cards to SSD cards. Of course if you purchase the camera with an SSD module that’s all well and good, clearly you should purchase SSD cards to suit your shooting requirements.
Red One & Exposure:
Everyone has there own methodology, however once you understand the RED One tools available, they are easy to use. The meter within the camera is taking a wide reflected reading depending what you are pointing at. If you have a wide lens attached and the sky is in shot, the meter will be influenced by the sky or whatever the brightest source of light is in the frame – point the camera to the ground and you will see the meter drop. If you point at something predominantly black (Dark) or white (Light) and or a highly reflective surface you will get an incorrect meter reading. If you don’t understand basic lighting and exposure - get a good book on the subject and start testing.
Generally, I point the camera at a non-reflective surface (closest to 18% grey card) and adjust the iris until the meters are around the Green bar indicator (do not go by the image you see on the EVF/LCD screen!). If shooting a contrasty subject I check the image with the over-under exposure False Colour tool to see what is happening. If interested in a particular scene within the frame I will go in close to fill the frame with that scene, and read from a neutral subject – this may require holding up a large grey card in the same lighting to get a safe exposure – depending on what mood is required the exposure can be altered to suit, but use the Histogram and False Colour tools to check for problems.
At the end of the day, you are looking for a correctly exposed negative – keeping an eye on the exposure range within your overall image. Regardless of perceived dynamic range of the MX chip – get your lighting right and you end up with a nice image to play with in Post Production.
To date, I have not found any problems with using the on-board metering in the RED One – sometimes you can be caught off guard if you have the lens doubler feature on, as this will effect the meter operation. It must be noted that we ran a wide range of exposure tests viewing back in post, on high quality monitors to be assured that there was no problems with the on-board metering tools.
RED One Colour Temperature – ASA Settings?
Generally I have the camera set at 800 ASA and balance lighting around 5000k – 5600k unless I deliberately want coloured lighting effects. To date we have captured very clean footage with a good range of latitude to be able to grade in a range of ways without image corruption.
However, on one large industrial scene where ambient lighting had decreased dramatically and our tungsten gelled heads were starting to create a range of specular highlights, with lenses wide open at 800 ASA I began to notice noise that I had not seen before. Back at the edit suit I can see that our grading options are still okay but definitely reduced. The RED One is capable of a great image but should not be confused with the latitude of film. If you are going for dark moody scenes just make sure you have the lighting power to be able to control the dynamic range of the scene – when you come to edit you will be glad you did.
There is certainly some confusion over the RED One’s ability to shoot in tungsten light – I have found that it does so, very well – however I personally prefer working with daylight corrected sources (having worked many years with various film negatives, positives and specialist types) as I feel it gives me a cleaner image to work with that I can easily tint without any tonal corruption. Once again this can be purely personal and project/image dependent.
What about RPP lenses with the RED One?
I do a lot of documentary work and high quality zoom lenses are a joy to use, production can be achieved so much more quickly than primes. While I was tempted to purchase the 2 Red Zooms on offer at the time I decided to go for 6 Red Primes (25mm -300mm) and to date the most widely used are the 25 and 85mm lenses – however the 35, 100 and 300 are also used. I think we have used the 50mm once, so far.
The lenses are sharp and good in low light; however for some, you may want to apply Unsharp Masking in Red Cine X Pro as it certainly lends itself to particular scenes where there is a lot of detail.
They are fairly heavy and lack finer measuring increments on the lens barrel, but to date I have no complaints – the image is sharp and clean and the build quality is solid. Once again we have a good lens changing protocol for quick and safe change-outs. Early on we toyed with the idea of fitting lighter Nikon SLR glass to the camera when used on certain lightweight cranes and flying fox rigs – but we found it was not necessary.
Red One & Focus:
If using a long lens, focusing is certainly easier and using the doubler feature is a must. Regardless of lens choice we always use the doubler feature and while the 7” RED LCD is good, checking with the EVF is very helpful in poor lighting conditions. If we are using filters in the tray of the Mattebox, this is swung away for focusing.
I can’t stress enough, depending on your aperture settings you must pay careful attention to critical focus, there is nothing more depressing than seeing a beautiful shot ruined by focus that is slightly off. Maintain a strict focus protocol.
Red One & Focus Pulling:
We have found that, despite lens collimation, we have had anomalies when changing out lenses and using the lens barrel measuring method where you use a tape measure from the focus plane to your subject and set focus on the lens accordingly. To avoid focusing errors we do the following -
Example 1 - wide lens: Following a car towards the camera (camera on dolly track) – we got the vehicle to move through a succession of stages towards and passed the camera, focusing on the registration plate and marking off on the focus puller wheel. To aid the focus puller, he would take note of objects that the car would meet on its journey towards the camera.
Example 2 – long lens: A person running towards and across the camera line of vision. – we got the person to walk through the journey to be taken with the focus puller putting a number on the puller disc at key points along the way (stopping at each point and using the lens doubler to re-focus). An assistant who would then call out the numbers as the person ran through the scene. The focus puller would listen out for the numbers being called and make the appropriate adjustment.
We have used that method to date for most of our scenes and focus has been tack sharp.
What about IRND filters – PANCRO, Schneider, Tiffen?
As I have mentioned before, you must have a set of IRND filters if you want to control the amount of light and the infra-red pollution that comes with that issue. We use the PANCRO IRND’s and we get mixed results in regard to ghosting or reflections coming back on the lens. Despite trying various methods of filter mounting and shading we have had the dreaded ghosting that other users have spoken off. As far as colour shifting goes (which both Tiffen & Schneider have) the Pancro’s are perfect but the ghosting that can happen for what seems to be no apparent reason is a serious problem to which PANCRO has at present no answer. As we have been shooting our exterior scenes in mainly overcast days with studio lighting heads and panels used to create the desired lighting – we have managed to get away with it by controlling the light – definitely not an ideal situation. We will take a look at trying to get a couple of Schneider filters which will hopefully be back in stock.
The RPP lenses are sharp so I use Schneider Classic Soft Filters to get the feel I am looking for. Certainly you need to be careful when using these outside and or with moving subjects – I highly recommend testing before any actual shooting. The quality and direction of light will have a major effect on what the filter will do to your image, yet in some circumstances you will wonder if the lighter filters are having any effect at all. Do not over-filter, seeing the filter effect on a small production monitor will be very different from viewing on a large screen.
What don’t you like about the RED One?
All in all – I don’t have any real complaints regarding the Red One. A good working methodology on-set with a crew who know what they are doing and it’s just another camera system that will produce great results in the right hands. For those not used to this type of workflow – production time will need to be well thought out as you will likely achieve far fewer shots than you perhaps hoped for in a day of filming.
General points that may urk some people…
It’s heavy - if you are trying to achieve a number of shots over a day you need to take this into consideration, especially if you are paying for crew, actors, locations, hire equipment and so on.
An excellent tripod and head is a must with a fully kitted Red One with PL lenses, Mattebox etc. Shooting from a dolly on the move with a longer lens with anything less than a good quality head will result in disappointing shots. So once again, heavy support equipment will require time to move from one scene to the next.
Some people don’t like the 60 second boot time but to be honest I never really noticed – the camera would be switched on and there were so many things to keep an eye on within the production that it made no difference.
Occasionally, I would accidentally re-set the colour temperature (top side button above focus doubler) which we always kept at around 5600k (many of our exterior scenes were in-filled with lighting – both daylight LED panels on close ups and Arri tungsten units gelled to approx 5600k). The buttons on the EVF would be accidentally pushed (a design issue resolved with the later “Bomb EVF” units), changing colour or RAW/Colour information (Do watch out for this happening – it can cause confusion when looking at the LCD screen image in Colour Mode one moment, and then after accidentally switching over to RAW Mode, seeing a different image. Having a methodology for filming which entails the LCD information being read out before shooting picks-up on any setting errors.
While I come from a film background, I have been so used to video cameras having built-in ND filters, so having to use IRND filters in a Mattebox is a pain, especially when you are trying to keep a rig as lightweight as possible.
Some people wonder how well the RED fairs on a lightweight crane system and here you can see a few pics of two cranes we have used so far – one of which is a Kessler 8ft crane mounted on Manfrotto legs. Its not rocket science; just make sure whatever you use can handle the weight.
RED One footage at 4k – Very Important:
Most people will not be able to view there footage at 4k and this is very important. For those who intend for their project to be seen on a large screen it is important to be able to get an idea of what your footage looks like other than what you may be viewing on a small production monitor or computer display. Using the Red Player will enable you to view your footage at 100% thereby allowing you to see how accurate focus is and what effect filters may be producing. It does not compare with seeing your footage on a large screen but is can be a useful check method.
RED One footage & Film Software Conversions:
While we are still at the early stages of editing, nevertheless it is something that should be planned for in advance. We have been toying with the idea of putting the RAW footage through Film Convert and to date early testing has certainly been very interesting. We are holding off from making a final decision till later in the year.
What About Sound on the RED One?
While the audio works well enough on the camera and is more than capable of capturing professional audio; as we are shooting a feature, the audio is recorded separately. Slating with a clapper before each take and using RCX-Pro to join the film & Audio tracks together to choose the required take when dealing with scenes with dialogue.
RED One Data Download – Any Problems?
After a days shooting, all cards (sealed with Red tape) are loaded into the Red CF Station – once on the desktop, the clips are checked using Red Player and dated/titled/numbered according to clapper information and then the R3D software is opened and the folder is copied to three drives.
Occasionally (rare but it does happen) – we have noticed a card either – not mount visibly on the desktop or disappear and or the file viewing alters. The simple solution is to either un-mount the card or shut down the computer (then remove card) and re-boot or re-mount. We have noticed that if we are quickly choosing clips in the RED player - what appears to happen is a bottleneck in the system which causes anomalies. It can be easy to forget that you are dealing with large file sizes.
We use decent quality drives – One is a working drive while two others are back-ups. To be honest, if you can’t afford decent drives (and they are relatively inexpensive compared to everything else) then something is amiss in your production.
Housekeeping; once shots have been chosen where there have been a number of takes of a given scene – all faulty takes or poor takes are deleted from the drives. To date we have not encountered any issues.
FINAL COMMENTS 2015
Our latest feature film The Daniel CONNECTION is now complete and in the hands of American distributor California Pictures at Paramount, Hollywood. The full length feature film (90 mins) was finished in Final Cut X as a 4K Raw master and transcoded to an Apple Pro Res 4444 4K file for distribution. www.thedanielconnection.tv
At the films premiere at Cineworld in Edinburgh, Scotland on November 22nd we decided to use a 1080p Blu-ray down conversion from the master 4K file instead of a DCP (J-ped 2000 file), long story…
How did it look on one of the largest theatre screens?
How did it look on one of the largest theatre screens? Excellent, while I would expect the image at 4k to be first class, I was surprised at how well the blu-ray down conversion held together, even the theatre manager commented on the impressive high quality of the image. If you are in any doubt that the RED One can produce top quality imagery for theatrical production… don’t be… see behind the scenes premiere short film
RED Gear For Sale:
PS: We have sold off most of our kit but still have the odd accessories for sale – go to our for sale page to see what we have left. Why did we sell the RED system off? No reason other than to finance the ongoing legal and marketing costs for the film. When and if we come to another film project we will purchase what we require when we require it.