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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One response to “Shooting the EPIC-M

  1. Pingback: Epic Video Production Lies Ahead! | Boulder Digital Arts Blog

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