RED DIGITAL CAMERA COMPANY
The digital camera that has taken the television and film industry by storm comes from an unlikely source, the founder of Oakley’s, Jim Jannard. How that unlikely start up was made I can only wonder, however when you start to take a look at the camera styling, maybe it starts to make sense.
The Red Digital Cinema Camera Company founded in 1999 for the express ideal of manufacturing digital cinematography tools. The company primarily produces Digital Cinema Cameras but has also announced plans to produce a Digital Cinema Projector System, which interests me on many levels so I believe the company is very much one to watch in digital film. Especially as their cameras have made incredible in roads within the industry on a very short timescale, which I think is unprecedented.
THE TECH BITS (COURTESY OF WIKIPEDIA)
The Red One M sensor is an 11.5 megapixel Bayer pattern CMOS sensor. The sensor, called Mysterium, measures 24.4 mm by 13.7 mm, and has 4,520 by 2,540 active pixels, though the camera only records a window of those pixels in normal operation. The sensor is about the surface area of a traditional Super 35 film frame, creating a similar angle of view and depth of field as the Super 35 film format. When shooting at 2k resolution the used sensor window is the same as Super 16 film. This allows the camera to be used with Super 16 lenses.
Red specifies the sensor's signal to noise ratio at greater than 66 dB, with 11.3 stops of total dynamic range. The default sensitivity is ISO 320. Red later shipped new cameras with the Mysterium-X sensor with higher signal to noise ratio and a native sensitivity of ISO 800 and improved dynamic range of about 13 stops, which had the same dimensions and pixel count as its predecessor. They also offered an upgrade program for older Red Ones to replace their Mysterium sensors with the Mysterium-X.
The camera has an interchangeable lens mount system allowing for the use of industry-standard lens types. The default lens mount is a PL mount, the most common mount for modern 35 and 16 mm motion picture cameras. Adapters for 2/3" B4 lenses and for Nikon F-mount lenses have also been created.
Already as far as a piece of kit performs we have a very industry savvy and friendly camera. Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel like so many cameras before it, latches on to Cinematographers box of tricks that they already have – in my humble opinion a very canny move, which has certainly paid off.
The camera can record at several resolutions in a proprietary video lossy format called REDCODE, all recording is progressive scan. Lower resolutions are achieved by windowing the sensor. Despite variable frame sizes, the Red One does not allow capture at standard definition or high definition resolutions which does seem like its only strange rebuttal to the industry. However, as part of the process of delivering the REDCODE data recorded by the camera, RedCine-X can be used to downscale to these resolutions for purposes of proxy editing or final output, which I guess is at least a good workflow compromise. Working in a higher native resolution and then resizing after the fact will give a much crisper picture and from what I have experienced it does. After the required debayering (read PDF) process, the images resolution of the Red One is approximately 3,200 lines for the Red One M sensor and 3,700 lines for the Red MX sensor. The resolution advertised by Red Digital Cinema is the resolution of the camera's sensor, not the actual amount of resolvable pixels.
Red began shipping cameras with on-board software capable of adding additional features and bug fixes over time, via the camera's software updating mechanism. Since the initial release of the camera, new firmware releases have enabled sound, higher frame rates and better image quality, among other features.
These simple updates give confidence in the product, as they are moving forward fixing issues and listening to their clients. Having worked for a manufacturer and had my own facility I have seen how these issues can affect you and to be able to get a software/firmware fix literally overnight gives total confidence in a piece of equipment. That is the difference between investing in one manufacturer over another, I wish all manufacturers would adopt this mentality and maybe the confidence (some would say arrogance) many show about their products, are deserved.
Unlike virtually all HD video cameras, the Red One does not generate a video stream in-camera which represents its final product. Its real time monitoring outputs do not reflect the resolution and dynamic range captured in the raw files it records. The camera's live outputs are intended to be used only for on-set monitoring, similarly to the way a video tap is often used with film-based acquisition.
The Red One was announced in 2006 at NAB and released in 2007 as the first camera produced by the Red Digital Cinema Camera Company
As with many CMOS-based cameras, images captured by the camera may show rolling shutter artefacts. Such cameras read data from the sensor line by line over a short period, rather than all at once, so each frame in an image sequence does not represent a single instant. Rolling shutter artefacts can cause vertical objects to appear to lean as the camera pans them horizontally and can also cause strobe effects like camera flashes or lightning strikes to appear only on portions of frames, creating a "tearing" effect. The effects of the rolling shutter have been improved in recent versions of the firmware, but have not been eliminated. Rolling shutter also appears on some film cameras, but they are not subject to the "tearing" symptom which is a digital acquisition problem.
THE KINGDOM AND THE BEAST
When the Red One was released I first used the material by grading a few adverts, which had been hastily/badly shot and my opinion of the camera remained optimistic but not overly impressed. Like all CMOS sensor cameras I felt it had its own individual unique digital look, which as a bit of a grain snob disheartened me slightly. Plus at the beginning I always seemed to encounter material that was either shot really badly or had other deeper technical issues, this did not instil me with confidence. However the camera definitely seems to have come of age especially with the number of films that are being shot using the Red brand.
The first project I was involved which was longer than a 30 second commercial, was a labour of love and I was asked to take a look at it via a friend. I loved the piece and was blown away and very moved by its content, so I set about reconstructing it from scratch using the raw data and finished the piece, editing and grading it to finish. The one thing I loved about this piece, other than its heart wrenching intensity is the different materials it used, not just the Red camera itself which gave it a vibrancy and passion, even if the subject matter was quite dark. With kind permission the Director has allowed me to share it with you - I hope you enjoy it, as much as I did working on it.
Red have driven their product forward in a very short time scale within the industry, particularly in comparison to other companies I have witnessed over the years. Which I fully believe is their continuing success. I am impressed on many levels, not least its image quality.
They have launched the Epic-M and Epic-X which records 5K - 5120 x 2700 pixels using a 14 bit CMOS sensor. The shutter speed can be set to any value that would correspond to a shutter angle of 1° to 359° in a film camera without creating the artefacts that a mechanical shutter creates in such a camera. Rolling shutter artefacts have been reduced significantly by the faster readout of the sensor compared to the Red One.
Framerate on the Epic can also be brought down to 1 fps to shoot time lapse footage with a user-definable shutter speed, which could narrow the market even further for them. The firm has also announced the Red Dragon 6K sensor as the first from the Monstro sensor family. They continue to push the envelope.