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The Best of the Best – RED Digital Cinema

by Matthew Brown on Friday, May 6, 2016

Founded in 2005, Red Digital Cinema is an American company that manufactures professional-grade digital cinematography and photography tools. RED cameras support raw recording of stills and video, in the case of the RED  Weapon Forged CF up to 8K resolution.

The Colour Science of RED Cameras

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Colour management is a process that helps achieve more predictable and consistent colour. Though, the core concepts involve colour science and are often unfamiliar to even experienced users. There are key technologies and best practices that you should know first.

The key is being able to understand the capabilities and limitations of each device along this imaging chain, and then to adjust their output accordingly. This involves some combination of profiling, calibration and software control. With cinema, the limiting device is almost always the projector or home theater display, so the process is relatively straightforward and universal.

 

 

Colour Spaces

imageA device’s capabilities are quantified and visualized using something called a colour space, which is a three dimensional region containing all producible colours. These are typically defined so that horizontal and vertical directions describe saturation and luminance changes, respectively.

To make it easier to visualize, colour spaces typically represented as a two dimensional slice at 50% luminance. The background colours are qualitative and depict a device-independent reference space with the full range of colours in human vision.

Virtually every projector or computer display creates imagery by combining primary colours in various ratios and intensities. The type and response of these primary colours varies, and determines the most extreme colours a given device can produce. Since most displays utilize three primary colours, their colour spaces appear with three vertices (as triangles).
A standard cinema workflow converts two or more colour spaces. The most influential conversions typically happen in the following stages:

1. Developing. This stage interprets the image code values as visible colors. With RED, the REDCODE RAW file gets developed and shown on-screen using DRAGONcolor/REDcolor or REDlogfilm plus custom LUTs.

2. Grading. This stage applies creative color grading using a wide gamut, calibrated display. This is typically done within a standard working space that encompasses the expected output devices. With cinematic releases, the working space is typically DCI-P3; when only broadcast distribution is expected, this is typically Rec709. With REDCINE-X PRO, the display should be calibrated to match the chosen working space.

3. Mastering. This stage encodes the final colour-graded imagery as a single distribution master using device-independent XYZ colour. Although no device can fully reproduce XYZ colours, this ensures future compatibility with wider gamut projection technologies, and avoids unnecessarily limiting the color possibilities in advance.

4. Projection. This stage converts the colors from the master into the projector’s native, device-specific color space. Any mastered colours which are not reproducible are gamut mapped by the projector itself.

The key with any colour management pipeline is to pay close attention to colour mismatches. With cinema, this is most likely to occur during colour grading if the display has a narrower gamut than DCI-P3, or during projection if the master’s colours have a wider gamut than the projector.

 

Why choose Red camera?

RED Scarlet VS Black Magic Ursa

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Black Magic Cameras are cheaper than the RED Cameras, though they come with a lot of disadvantages. Paying for the RED Cameras, like RED Scarlet Dragon, will get you 5k, with decent frame rates, and the ability to record 4k up to 60fps. Black Magic cameras are not capable of  recording RAW at 60fps, only Prores HQ. Image quality wise, RED has a better saturation, overall color balance, and sharpness. As far as weight goes, the URSA weighs in at just over  a massive 16lbs while the Scarlet is just over 10lbs for a basic configuration.

Another drawback is regarding to the URSA media storage. The Scarlet uses the RED Mag which has sizes from 64GB to 512GB, while the URSA uses a CFast card setup that at one point I know were selling for $1200 a card.

Support wise (Tripods/Jibs/Etc.) the Scarlet can have a much lighter rig. If you start adding on all the features of the Black Magic, there would be much of a weight difference. But the benefit of the Red cameras like Red Scarlet is that you could go as lightweight as necessary. On the Black magic, like Ursa, you’re stuck.

 

Red Epic VS Arri Alexa

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Just by Looking at this cameras, Arri Alexa is a small camera. But the RED Epic is way smaller. This makes the Red Epic, a particularly handy camera, the RED Epic has six-times of the resolution of Alexa. (As normally shot). EPIC has five-times more measured resolution comparing best case for each cameras. Both of them have a good dynamic range. EPIC is modular. You can upgrade parts and pieces of EPIC.

The new Alexa Mini or Alexa-M [as shown in image] includes a different type of modular design. You can split apart the sensor and tether to the electronics. This different type of modular design has been criticized for being difficult to use, and work with.

In terms of shots, Epic handles shadows pretty well. These two companies approached imaging from different perspectives. Epic is incredibly clean in the shadows even when aggressively bumped, while Alexa appears noisy in the shadows. Alexa shoots 1080p Prores @ 60 fps to a flash card or 2K uncompressed RAW to a Codex box. EPIC shoots 5K @ 120 fps to an SSD. With a price of 6,000 $ compared to Arri Alexa 36,000. Well, these things makes the Red Epic, epic!

Sources:

  • www.Red.com/learn/Red-101/cinema-color-management
  • www.premiumbeat.com/blog/vt/blackmagic-ursa-vs-Red-scarlet
  • www.provideocoalition.com/Epic_vs_Alexa_dynamic_range

 

Matthew Brown
Matthew started working in the TV and Film industry directly after attending Briercrest. He now has years of professional digital film and television experience both on set, in the camera department and in rental houses, working for companies such as Disney, and on shows, such as: Tomorrowland, Hannibal and Supernatural. Most recently, Matthew has partnered with Tony Creech and now works as a chief operating officer at Citadel Magazine, and Creech League Marketing Arts.