PRESSURE MAKES DIAMONDS (my introduction to RED digital cinema)


If you're reading this, you'll most likely recognise the logo above and I'm betting that along with your recognition comes a strong opinion about the company it stands for. There's no doubt that RED have made an impact on the film industry, both at the Hollywood end of cinema and now more recently (with the release of the Scarlet-X) the Independent film industry. Ridley Scott's Promethius - shot on RED. Peter Jackson's The Hobit is being shot on RED (48 RED camera's to be precise) and to name a few more, how about Contagion, Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Social Network and Pirates of the Caribbean? All shot with RED cameras. So that gives them some high end clout, but at $50k for a working camera, you'd expect something pretty impressive...and then came along the RED Scarlet-X...a $17,500.00 camera that is ready and capable of shooting 4K cinema images.

I had been following RED for a few years, actually, since they released their first camera back in 2006 - The RED ONE. But until now, nothing RED really jumped out at me as something I was willing to own and operate. A couple of months ago however, that all changed :) On November 5th of 2011, I placed an order for my very own RED camera, the newly announced RED Scarlet-X. Now, you may have noticed some time discrepancy between my last two sentences....that's because it took over 4 months to actually receive my camera! And that's one thing I'll get into later...just "be patient" hehe....omg.

So enough about my story, what about the camera? Coming from the land of DSLR (a great land, don't get me wrong) this thing is a completely different beast.


When comparing this camera to your trusty 5D Mark II, the one thing you'll notice right away is the weight and size of the "brain", or body. It's heavy (about 2.5kg). And this is the camera without anything attached to it. Hold what do I mean attached? Well you see RED's philosophy is "Obsolescence obsolete", which is a fancy way of saying that once you buy a RED camera, you can upgrade parts of it as technology changes. It's a modular system. So that means that EVERYTHING, and I mean pretty much everything can be changed or taken off of the brain - Like the sensor, SSD module, lens mount, monitor and battery plate. This is pretty awesome because it means you don't have to keep selling your camera when a new one comes out...and if you look at today's market, there's almost a new camera being released every couple of months!

So back to the once I start adding pieces to my brain like a monitor, battery plate, battery, lens and media, the thing is pushing 6kg!! If you're used to shooting DSLR, that's heavy. So yeah it's cool that I can re-live my leggo days and build my camera the way I want it, but holly heck the weight alone changes everything. Take your tripod for instance...chances are it don't cut it no more, and let's not even mention THE GLIDECAM!!! Cos I might just tear up.


In short, the thing is a tank and when you kit it up, it looks like it's ready for war.


Image quality isn't all about resolution right? That's true. Let's not forget dynamic range, colour rendition and weather or not the image is compressed at capture. Back to resolution....just have a look at these numbers for a sec...

DSLR: just over 2 megapixles

RED Scarlet-X: almost 9 megapixels

That's 4 times the size of bluray. Imagine looking at the biggest LCD TV on display at JB-HI FI, and multiplying that by 4. That's the sort of resolution this thing captures. The detail is incredible. Below is quick example of how much detail there really is at 100%. Click on the image below to view it at it's original size (make sure once the image pops up, that you click again to see it fully enlarged at 4K).

[ the soldier above, Tristan Coates was a pleasure to work with during pre-production of an up and coming Australian feature film ]

Resolution and detail are something that you once thought you had with your DSLR...but trust me (ESPECIALLY if you came from a Sony Z1...ahem...), after working with 4k images from your RED, you realize how soft and hideous the DSLR's are when it comes to actual resolution.

I can hear you saying "when will I ever use 4K?" or "We only just started shooting 1080P!!", but here's the thing. If I could shoot at 3K, 4K or even 6K, I would! (RED just announced a sensor upgrade hehe)...why? Even though I've only once delivered a film at anything above 1080p anyway? Even though most of my stuff is for web and bluray? The simple fact is, capturing at higher-than-intended-delivery resolution gives you the crispiest of CRISP images when you downscale it to 1080p AND it gives you the flexibility to stabilize and re-frame your shots, just like above. The advantages of 4K resolution are massive, literally so!


Resolution aside, let's not forget one of the single most important reasons I chose RED. The fact that it shoots RAW. RED records it's 4k images directly to a proprietary "raw" codec which holds 16-bits of information at approximately 43MB/second of footage (4096x2160 at 6:1 compression). That's about ten times more information than a DSLR records, and it's not hideously compressed and ruined by an internal codec, nor is it crippled by miore or aliasing. I'll stop bashing DSLR's in a minute....but it really needs to be stated the ridiculous amount of detail that lives inside one of these RAW files. And let's not forget about colour! Go back to that 16-bit number again. A DSLR shoots 8-bit 4:2:0. The Scarlet shoots 16-bit RAW (which when converted is equivalent to 4:4:4) The difference between those numbers on paper may not seem like much, but in reality, they are galaxies apart - this is what makes the world of colour grading/colour correction so much more flexible and fun....but the fun doesn't stop there!

Shooting RAW means you have access to things like White Balance and ISO AFTER the fact. That's right, you can download your footage from the day and play with the white balance until your heart is content, as if that's the way you shot it originally! And, if you shot too hot (like I did in the first clip at 800 ISO), you simply bring it back to 320 ISO and WHAMMO, your highlights are saved. The power of RAW was previously only available to photographers, but now, thanks to RED, cinematographers can play too :)


So what's stopping you? Sell your car and buy a Scarlet! wait......hold on a second.....

If you look at a Scarlet package at the RED store, you'll see a price tag of $17,500USD. This gives you enough kit to start shooting and then play with some crispy 4k imagery. But....the two RedVolts (batteries) that are included are drained within 25 minutes a pop. The media supplied (1 x 64GB SSD) will capture 22 minutes of footage at 4K in the highest quality. And well, yeah. Nuff said? RED gear isn't cheap and to think you'll be up and running after a $17.5k investment is not wise. Let's not even talk about how you will lug the thing around. Custom case anyone?


So batteries were a big problem for me, in fact, I ordered 4 RedVolts and 2 x chargers PLUS a Side Handel because without the Side handle, there is nowhere to put the batteries!! Are you thinking what I'm thinking? US$1,950 (plus shipping and import tax) for a power solution that lasts not even two hours? ummm okay, there's GOT to be a better option. And thankfully there is. I sold my Side Handel, batteries and charger and decided to go with.....

V-LOCK batteries have been around forever. They are bulky and heavy, but they last. For instance, a 190WH battery will power a Scarlet for about 3 hours, some times more depending on the climate, plus, you can power other accessories like a monitor or light with the same battery using what's called "p-tap". The problem is, how the heck do you connect one of these motha's to your camera? Well, that's where it gets stupid expensive again. You need a battery plate and this brings the powering solution back to a ridiculous price again. Thankfully however, there are plenty of third party manufactures out there that can help. I purchased this battery plate from Cinema Oxide and it works fine :) But be careful...remember I said you get to re-live your leggo days? Well, to connect the battery plate to the camera, you need a camera back plate that connects the battery plate.....that connects to the camera.

So finally I found someone locally who had some V-Mount batteries in stock at a great price. Check out - those guys are super helpful and friendly and have a lot of cool stuff (I'll be doing a review on some of their products later this year).

Now I can take my camera out into the wilderness and strap it onto cars and play! But it required a massive amount of research and risk to get it there, especially when at the time, nothing was in stock because everyone was trying to do the same thing. Now, while you're trying to get a cost effective package together, I bet you're thinking about media. 1 x 64GB SSD RedMag costs US$950. Remember that only records 20ish minutes of 4k footage. So what about third party media? No deal. Which leads me to...

The Samurai is an amazing piece of kit. Not only is it a framing monitor, but it also records 1920x1080p 10-bit ProRes 4:2:2 video, straight to a standard 2.5" hard disk. And let me tell you, the quality of these files is simply stunning. In fact, I need to test it some more, but I'm finding I get sharper 1080p images from the Samurai than I would if I transcoded directly from the RAW 4K file in post! It's such a luxury to know that you have a backup of what you're shooting, but also that you have files that are colour friendly (4:2:2 10bit), edit friendly (ProRes) and ready for web/bluray delivery! (1080p). This saves SO much time and processing, but, you know what I like about it most? I like to think that the Samurai turns my RED Scarlet into an Arri Alexa hehe ;) I literally come back to the studio after a shoot and can start editing directly from the HDD I was recording to. I don't even have to wait for files to transfer. It's a genius device and as far as I'm concerned, it's a must for any RED owner, especially those that are worried about 4K processing. Which brings me to....


Working with 4K RAW (10 x data-rate of DSLR files) is a scary thought. Storage space is one thing, but what about editing and working with 4K? Well, as scary as it sounds, it's actually not bad at all. The RED codec has the ability to preview in low quality, so for example you can edit at 1/16th resolution and then grade my shot in full res at the flick of a switch. This works fine for me, and to know that I can stay 4K the whole way through and potentially release my own cinema DCPs is pretty amazing. I work with an i7 laptop and E-Sata drives. Nothing special at all. Software like EDIUS, Premiere Pro, Vegas, After Effects and DaVinci Resolve all work natively with RED's codec. That means no transcoding, just drop your clips onto your timeline and away you go. There are ways to speed things up and edit at full res, but that's when money say hello again....check out the Red Rocket, or browse through this thread at reduser and you'll see what I mean.

For now, I'm happy with my ProRes files from the Samurai. They are more beautiful than anything I have ever seen from any camera first hand. Unless I need to access the RAW info and correct white balance or exposure, or if I have a shot that needs stabilization, the 10bit ProRes files from the Samurai are something you need to see to believe. But of course, I have the option to chose 4K or 1080p, and that's a great option to have!

Finally, remember when I said 4K is four times the resolution of 1080p? I wasn't joking...and that means you can re-frame in post and essentially create a wide and a closeup with the same shot, without losing resolution! Pretty cool stuff right? So don't be afraid of massive resolution, it's your friend :)


The road to RED was a rocky one. At times it was a frustrating transition, but it is one that has pushed me to learn more and more and question my choices as an artist and a camera technician (now days you got to be). If you're thinking about getting yourself a RED, no doubt you'll be nervous. This camera is the opposite of cheap (compared to Prosumer/DSLR land cameras) and it comes with a lot of responsibility. But if you're like me, and demand the absolute BEST image quality and flexibility, then there are no other options. RED really is leading the industry and I'm very grateful to be able to create art with a camera as amazing as this one.

There are no excuses now...I can only blame myself if my work doesn't shine, but I love pressure...because pressure makes diamonds.

Posted on May 8, 2012 .