Shooting the EPIC-M

Steadicam operator extraordinaire Alan Dague-Green flies the EPIC-M

 

The future of digital imaging has landed in Colorado, and it is EPIC! 

The first EPIC-M camera, the second-generation imaging system from the RED Digital Cinema Company arrived in Colorado on June 5, just in time to be battle-tested on Colorado’s biggest locally-produced feature film production, MIND’S EYE

Why is this camera going to be such an important technology in the future of digital acquisition? 

It is the only true digital analogue to film – for several years now, digital imaging was primarily limited to resolutions equivalent to high-definition TV (1080p). The 5K acquistion format of the EPIC matches the resolution possible with the highest outputs of 35mm film (and some would say 65mm film as well). Every other camera, to date, has required a compromise on image quality.

High dynamic range cinematography – Photographers have been enjoying HDR photography for years now. With HDR, you should multiple exposures of your image, primarily targeting your shadows or your highlights, and then combining them into a single higher-quality image using post-processing software. The EPIC is the first camera to bring this capability to moving images. The range between the blackest black and the whitest white that a camera can image or “see” is its latitude. HDR functionality means that EPIC has the most latitude of any digital cinema camera in the world. 

Modular flexibility – most people think of the RED ONE, the EPIC-M predecessor, as a very heavy and impractical camera to operate for most applications besides feature films. But the EPIC-M is light and tight. I can operate it from a monopod easily. It doesn’t require a huge, heavy tripod or multiple personnel to wrangle its accompanying gear. You can shoot the EPIC-M in a very light and tight configuration, for documentary and one-man band style shooting, or you can make use of its complete feature set and build it large for shooting your feature film. It is an extremely flexible unit. You can see from the Steadicam picture just how small it can be.

S35mm sensor – one phrase: shallow depth-of-field goodness!

Lens flexibility – Canon mounts are being battle-tested as we speak. The RED-designed Canon mounts will read the electronic iris and will allow for fast auto-focus response, using inexpensive Canon lenses. This will allow even lighter, faster, and more mobile shooting opportunities. 

Fast Start-up – The RED ONE start-up times (80-90 seconds) seemed to take forever, especially if you worked in a documentary environment. RED has solved this issue with the EPIC. Start-up times are about 5 seconds, the equivalent of almost every other high-grade camera on the market. 

Firmware upgrades – RED will continue its practice of enabling features, milking the power of its camera for all its worth, and passing those innovations on to its users, free of charge, rather than expecting buyers to purchase a new camera, unless they hit the wall on what the hardware itself can do.

Upgrade path to Monstro – once again, RED has promised that they loyal user base will be rewarded with trade-in equivalents on their next generation technology, a full frame version of the EPIC sensor, currently in development. 

Holds its value – as an early RED ONE reservation holder, I have been able to shoot my pair of RED ONE cameras and find buyers who will pay full price to own them, as I have upgraded to the EPIC system. That is essentially like owning the camera for the cost of its accessories over a two-year period. Simply amazing.

REDMote – the camera comes with its own electronic remote, which mounts to the rear of the camera and will eventually (not fully enabled as of this writing) allow the operator to run all features of the camera from a distance in excess of fifty feet.

DSMC function – it stands for Digital Stills and Motion Camera – RED is committed to hybrid technology. The EPIC ships with a battery grip, which gives it the feel of a fat stills camera. It is currently being battle-tested by some of the world’s greatest fashion photographers for Vogue, Victoria’s Secret, Armani, Prada, and a host of others. I’ve always been able to pull great stills from my RED ONE cameras, but the EPIC is designed specifically to serve the needs of photographers as well as filmmakers.

Touchscreen monitor – All of the major functions are easy to access on a touchscreen. No more digging through menu structures. Everything you need is at your fingertips. It’s fast and intuitive.

Battery life – RED has made a quantum leap in battery efficiency. They are selling smaller batteries for the EPIC, called REDVolts, which can be used in the battery grip, or you can run your EPIC forever using original RED ONE batteries.

Half a Pound – RED has already found a way to remove an additional half pound on the camera using new heat sink technology, and they’ll be offering a free upgrade to the EPIC-M body, to make it lighter, once the technology is in place. A ridiculous upgrade, ours for free!

EPIC-M is cute and cuddly – kidding on that one. It is sort of cute, though.

Shooting beta technology always has its challenges. Let’s just get the “cold-bucket-of-reality” issues out of the way:

First: My EPIC arrived with a dead audio board, so after MIND’S EYE wrapped, I had to send it in to be fixed. The EPIC-M comes with a 2-year warranty, which is very nice, so RED is tacking on extra months of service to their early adopters. 

Second: The shipping firmware had some issues with power spikes, which was fixed in an upgrade, and didn’t appear to affect my camera until the very last day of shooting MIND’S EYE, when it caused some shutting down of the camera before we could squeeze out our last two shots. The other EPIC camera which we had on our set, the second camera delivered in Colorado, had some more serious issues with power spiking, but all of those issues seem to have been resolved with the latest (now shipping) firmware upgrade. 

Third: The camera is so small that it didn’t work immediately with my Arri baseplates. The camera requires a riser to work with the old gear, so we rigged a cheap Manfrotto quick-release plate. RED has built a quick-release system which incorporates a riser and allows you to move the camera from tripod to handheld very efficiently, but it comes at a cost.

The Pay-off:

On the upside, all of my older gear – small tripods, sliders, etc. – which couldn’t support the weight of the RED ONE, these are all back in the game with EPIC. 

Working with EPIC is very much like working with the RED ONE in its early days. You have to sort out some things, but the pay-offs are very big. And it is flat-out fun to shoot. 

Image, image, image. I can’t say enough good things about the quality of the image. The images coming out of the EPIC have a texture which is simply unmatched by any other camera. 

And if you don’t believe me, you’ll have to trust John Schwartzman, Dariusz Wolski, Baz Luhrmann, James Cameron, Ridley Scott, Peter Jackson, Steven Soderbergh, or any of the other major cinematographers who have shot or are developing projects to shoot on EPIC-M. The list goes on and on….

If you don’t trust those guys, how about Phil Bloom or Vincent Laforet, the guys whose web videos brought us all to greater heights of shooting with DSLR cameras? They have made the switch as well.

The next move for my EPIC-M camera? I’ll be shooting a long-term documentary project on the EPIC, to be announced soon, as I continue the post-processing on MIND’S EYE.

Exciting times lie ahead. 

 

 

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With Malcolm Mcdowell on the set of MIND’S EYE

Malcolm was a pleasure to work with on our set. He was very generous with the cast, crew, and our young group of Fairview extras. Our footage looks amazing.

Group hug with Malcolm and the MIND'S EYE cast and crew

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Red Pine Studios Acquires First EPIC-M Camera in Colorado

First day with the EPIC-M camera on the set of MIND'S EYE

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Upcoming Events and New Directions

The Red Pine blog has gone into radio silence lately. We have been very busy working on developing a feature film entitled MIND’S EYE: http://www.minds-eyemovie.com/

There’s quite a few moving parts to developing a feature film: casting, location scouting, building a crew, lots of legal and accounting. We will be traveling to Los Angeles next week, on a quest for some big name talent to attach to the film. It should be a good adventure. I will be dragging my RED camera along so that I can capture a short clip of the hillside HOLLYWOOD sign, which we will use as B-roll for the movie.

Red Pine is the manager of the film production but will be doing business under the registered trade name Black Wing Digital. Black Wing will be a separate label for the company to focus on produce its own “mind-bending media” – the types of documentaries and feature films which intrigue us most. Meanwhile, Red Pine will continue servicing our existing client base, and producing corporate, event, doc, music, and other commercial video projects which are the foundation of our business.

We are continuing to push the business in new directions, once again leading the 4K imaging revolution in Colorado. We will be shooting MIND’S EYE on a pair of EPIC-X cameras, the next generation of RED camera technology — part of it will be shot on a 3D rig, bringing this technology into the Colorado indie film community using ultra-high definition cameras in this configuration, for the very first time.

We are very excited to bring MIND’S EYE to life and are assembling an incredibly talented cast and crew. News announcements will appear primarily on the Black Wing Digital dedicated website (http://www.blackwingdigital.com) and also on the recently created Black Wing Digital Facebook page. Join the Face book fun and “Like” the page: http://www.facebook.com/BlackWingDigital

There will be opportunities for all kinds of people to participate in the production. We are always looking for extras to join our silhouette army! So jump in and join the fun. See you at the movies.

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Picture Worth a Thousand Words

I own a 7D – love my 7D!. I can’t afford the $200K Sony F35. We shoot RED cameras. The cleanest image in zone plate testing is clearly the RED. Best at any price point. Least amount of aliasing. Cleanest plate. At the end of the day, real world images mean more than lab tests. And the person behind the camera makes the image, not the camera itself. But it is still good to be able to explain the differences between these cameras and the information recorded by their various sensors.

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Shining a Light on a Serious Issue

Josh Brown shooting human trafficking doc with our camera systems

We do a bit of pro bono work each year for causes that we care about. This year, instead of shooting for a good cause, we lent out a load of gear to a group of young filmmakers in Oregon who are making a feature documentary on the topic of human trafficking. They spent five weeks in Mexico shooting footage and interviews on the topic. I met one of the main shooters, Josh, on an internet forum for RED camera users, and when he said he needed cameras for this project, I didn’t hesitate. I sent him two boxes of cameras, mics, and support equipment. It was an act of faith – I didn’t even know the filmmakers involved in the production. I just knew that I needed to offer them a hand. This is important work, on an important topic, with some obvious risks involved in shooting under tough conditions.

I have spent a lot of time in Mexico, and my daughter was born in Tijuana. In the months that I lived there, the footprint of human trafficking was all around us. There were young kids in the streets, begging and soliciting, the obvious victims of exploitation. It was heart-breaking to witness. It’s a huge problem around the world.

We can’t begin to solve it. But we can try to shed a little light on a serious issue. The group has returned from Mexico, my equipment should be finding its way home soon, and their group has begun post-production. I’ll be very interested in seeing how their work turns out. They have a blog about their experiences at http://justiceinitiatives.blogspot.com/

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UWOL Challenge Long Form Contest Update!

This little hobby of mine, an educational tool called The Under Water, Over Land Challenge, which is a contest designed to help people get out there and learn to shoot with their cameras, just finished its first-ever long form contest. The players, who come from all over the world, sign up at our host site, DVinfo.net, and they agree to make a short 3-minute film within a 3-week deadline. This year, as a separate contest, we called upon the more experienced players to put together a feature documentary (22 minutes or longer) and post it within the year.

 

Canada, image by Dale Guthormsen

 

 

I have to brag a little, on the players who finished. Thirty signed up, originally, and we have eight finishers. Those hardy eight survived computer crashes, wounds, bad weather, good weather (when they needed bad…), the frustrations of the longest edit of their lives, and having to spend a year online, listening to me tweak the rules. We have some great outcomes, some very professional-looking videos and some that will continue to be worked on, into the next year. But all of the players seem to have grown as artists in ways which they couldn’t have forseen. I always have great respect and admiration for people who take on big challenges and follow through.

 

Norway, image by Finn-Erik Faale

 

 

The films are from Canada, UK, South Africa, USA – all over. Even one of our Colorado players down the road in Lyons, put up a great film about Rocky Mountain National Park. The diversity of our group makes it a lot of fun. You get to visit all kinds of people from all over the world. Check out the films at www.uwolchallenge.com and a tip of the champagne glass to our finishers.

 

South Africa, image by Marj Atkins

 

 

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