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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

RED For Still & Motion

With cameras that are making an impact in Hollywood, RED is poised to become a major player with its Digital Still & Motion Camera technology



DSLRs are the primary tools of professional photographers, so we naturally feel like any feature or technology that's built into them is a feature of which we should be masters.

In 2008, the Canon EOS 5D Mark II came onto the scene and perhaps accidentally launched still photographers into the world of motion. When filmmakers picked up on the 5D Mark II, it was as if they were interlopers treading on our turf. DSLRs are ours, and we'll show the world how to use them. Since that camera and Vincent Laforet's Reverie, still photographers have been trying to reconcile our role as multimedia artists. Are we narrative filmmakers, are we video snapshooters collecting bits and pieces of motion to augment still shots, or are we really just still photographers who are being distracted by the siren song of motion?

Following the 5D Mark II, camera after camera has come out with better and better video capability. Each one has allowed the user—photographer or cinematographer—to switch from still capture to motion and make use of that medium. In still capture, you have the full-sensor resolution at your disposal—typically, at least 15 megapixels, depending upon the camera model; in motion capture, most of the DSLRs can record at full HD—1920x1080 at 24p.

The term "disruptive technology" gets overused these days, but that's precisely what motion capture was when it arrived in DSLRs. No one expected it to have the far-reaching impact that it has had. Now as HD video DSLRs are being used to shoot full-length, award-winning feature films, a new twist with the potential to be every bit as disruptive an innovation is emerging from RED, the upstart motion camera company that set out to change filmmaking when it debuted the RED ONE in 2008.

RED founder Jim Jannard is well known in professional photography circles. As the former owner of Oakley, Jannard shot almost all of the ads for the company himself. He's not an enthusiast; he's a professional. Jannard's photo talents have been overshadowed by his business successes, and after selling Oakley, he created RED as a new venture to reinvent the camera industry. In 2008, when RED announced that future products would be built around its Digital Still & Motion Camera (DSMC) technology, it became clear that Jannard wasn't just thinking about Hollywood. In fact, he was thinking about changing the whole concept of imagemaking, both motion and still. In 2011, the RED EPIC, and later in 2011, the RED SCARLET, arrived as the first cameras to incorporate DSMC technology.
 
The term "disruptive technology" gets overused these days, but that's precisely what motion capture was when it arrived in DSLRs. No one expected it to have the far-reaching impact that it has had. Now as HD video DSLRs are being used to shoot full-length, award-winning feature films, a new twist with the potential to be every bit as disruptive an innovation is emerging from RED, the upstart motion camera company that set out to change filmmaking when it debuted the RED ONE in 2008.
 
Conventional DSLRs that can shoot still or HD video can only do one at a time. In HD video mode, these cameras, which were never fundamentally designed to be processing 24 2-megapixel frames per second, need to use significant compression just to keep up with the massive data stream. If you want to pull a still frame from the video, you'll be getting a highly compressed 2-megapixel photo. These images look great on an HDTV screen, but as still photos, they're barely passable, at best, and only in relatively small prints. Contrast that with the RED DSMC method, which is capturing the full resolution of the Mysterium X sensor (one thing about RED, it does have much more colorful names for its products and technology than anyone else in the industry). The Mysterium X is known as 5K because it's 5120x2700 pixels, which, if you do the math, comes out to 13,824,000, or 14 megapixels, at 24 frames per second. Each motion frame is an incredible 14-megapixel still frame!

We said DSMC is a disruptive innovation because it's going to change the whole concept of imagemaking. As still photographers, we've always sought to capture instants in time that represent a nexus where all of the elements come together perfectly. The term "the decisive moment" is all but inscribed on our eyeballs. The DSMC concept trades the decisive moment for the decisive few moments, all of which are captured in high resolution 24 times every second. Jannard and RED president Jarred Land describe the transformation of photographers into directors who will think in terms of seconds or minutes instead of fractions of a second. We won't look at proof sheets; we'll review motion clips and hone in on the perfect single frame.

Still Vs. Video Sensor

Resolution Figures


In the still world, sensor resolution is given in a megapixel count, i.e., 15 megapixels, 18 megapixels and so on. That megapixel count is the product of the horizontal pixels multiplied by the vertical pixels. In the motion industry, resolution is expressed differently. You'll see terms like HD, full HD, 2K, 3K, quad HD, 4K and 5K. Each of these figures is a reference to the number of pixels across the sensor: HD = 1280; full HD = 1920; 2K = 2048; 3K = 3072; quad HD = 3840; 4K = 4096; 5K = 5120.
For now, only the RED EPIC can achieve these numbers, and at press time, the EPIC "brain" starts at $39,500—no lenses, no accessories, which makes it a pricey option, to say the least—but the genie is clearly out of the bottle. This is the model for the future. Back in 2008, RED had announced SCARLET, a lower-priced camera that was to have a 3K sensor. The company is notorious for changing specs whenever it sees fit, and the early specs for SCARLET didn't last long. In November 2011, RED announced a revamped SCARLET on the same day that Canon announced a new Cinema EOS line of cameras. If this version of SCARLET does in fact make it into production, it will start at less than $10,000 and will have the same Mysterium X sensor. Because of a lower data rate, SCARLET X, as it's called, will be capable of 4K at 24 frames per second (4096x2160, or about 9 megapixels), and it will be able to capture dedicated still frames at the Mysterium X's full 5K resolution.

Although RED currently is the only company that's selling a camera with this kind of digital still and motion capture, Canon seems to be moving in the same direction. As the company unveiled its EOS C300 Digital Cinema Camera aimed at the movie industry, it also unveiled a 4K concept DSLR. No firm dates or specs were given, but we expect Canon to bring it out sooner rather than later. Clearly, we're looking at the early days in a new revolution for photography.

Visit Canon at www.usa.canon.com; visit RED at www.red.com.



 

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