Posted on Mar 24, 2017
The RED Epic-W camera on location showing its massive 8192 x 4320 px sensor.
With some attractive upgrade deals from RED, moving up to 8K with the EPIC-W or HELIUM S35 is within people’s reach. NICKI MILLS reports.
As a company, Ember Films always want to be at the forefront of tech; that’s been a big thing for us so whenever something high resolution is announced our ears prick up. We want to at least understand if it’s the right choice for us. If so, we’ll get it, if not then we can justify why we don’t necessarily need it. 8K is a very interesting proposition. It depends on the application and there are some interesting fundamentals of why we would or wouldn’t embrace it.
In the field the overall storage of the resolution is a major consideration. If you’re on set and you’re doing anything with green screen where resolution is key you want to acquire the largest resolution that you can then you would invest without much hesitation.
The reality is if you want to deliver true 4K images then you should acquire them in 6K because you essentially shrink the image size down and increase the picture quality. We work on a rule of halves, for instance if you want to make really good 1080p pictures then capture in 4K. If 6K is a delivery requirement, then capture it in 8K. The binning of resolution that way, for us, offers really fantastic images because if you look at something in its true native resolution, you are often looking at its imperfections.
Jonathan Jones also used the Zeiss Super Speeds for the test.
We were most keen to find out more about this camera and its frame rates were our main focus, as in what frame rate could it do at 8K, 7K and 6K. Our market is vast, anything from commercials to natural history, and because of this we have gone for REDs over the last six years. They are probably the most versatile camera; though some people knock them in terms of their reliability, we think they are workhorses. We’ve never had any failures, not just with our cameras but also the ones we hired in. And we’re talking about multiple locations across the world. In Planet Earth II we went to the most remote, extreme environments where the cameras were exposed to rain, humidity and sand etc. and they have all been rock solid. What you get in their form factor is incredible; the ability to capture 8K in something the size of half a shoebox is mind-blowing. It contains the recording media, the battery and the processing. It’s an incredible piece of engineering.
The whole resolution argument is really interesting and what we don’t want to do is let it get in the way of a good story. That’s our fundamental.
There’s also other massive considerations like lens choices – what lenses are going to cover the sensor on the wide end?
If you’re already a RED owner with a DRAGON for instance, you have frame rates that work at different speeds up to 6K, for instance 120fps at 4K etc. We wanted to see how this new sensor was going to be affected with 8K; what else frame rate-wise would we get? In reality everything is the same but with increased top-end resolution. Having said that we found the sensor was definitely cleaner. It’s incredibly clean in 8K but when you get down to 4K I started seeing the familiar kind of noise structure patterns coming in. So when using the 4K at 120fps I saw a similar type of noise, but I would have to do some more testing to confirm it.
So we’re getting the same 6K frame rates as we’re used to. At 7K we got around 46fps, which is remarkable, and at 8K super wide I think we were getting 38fps which is truly amazing. In an ideal world we would want to be at 6K but have a higher frame rate options.
One thing I was very impressed with was the offload speed. It was offloading a 512GB card in about 40 minutes which is lightning speed. I think that is around twice as fast as the DRAGON 6K, although we’re still using the 1.8in MAGs. The downside of these upgrade processes is that you always keep part of your old gear. So if someone was investing in the HELIUM WEAPON now they would invest in the MINI-MAGs; we’re still clutching on to what we had. Of course that’s another consideration for someone who is in the upgrade process from DRAGON and doesn’t have the MINI-MAGs. They are going to have to buy new SSD modules and new cards.
When you’re a business you have to account for the spend and you have to ask is this our best investment? Would we use 8K? Yes, I think we would on occasion and maybe when we want to make more use of the width of the lens. What’s interesting is that cameras from RED ONE to RED EPIC were an absolute must; in terms of an upgrade it was absolutely essential. We’ve been in it from the start so we’ve heard all the negatives about the reliability and I’m convinced they were either operator or crew error. Our RED ONE and some of the others that we used were solid as a rock. People must have turned the fans off and they overheated, or have rigged something that blocks the vents.
EPIC was a revelation. EPIC to DRAGON was a slight disappointment as the camera was very noisy, which is why we still have EPICs. RED gave us 6K but they compromised the low end, the 2K is very noisy on DRAGON. The EPIC at 5K was good and the 2K was still usable at higher frame rates.
OPERATING THE CAMERA
When shooting at 8K everything feels the same as our DRAGONs. The menu settings are the same. In terms of operation, the camera’s the same; it doesn’t feel like you’re doing anything different. The camera is lighter which is one thing you’ll notice straightaway from the DRAGON.
Then, of course, you import it into your existing post-process, the 8K didn’t impact at all. Adobe Premiere handles it with ease and brings 8K in natively, storage is arguably cheaper than ever so shouldn’t be problem. So we wouldn’t notice the change to 8K infrastructure-wise.
We did some light scenes, we did some dark scenes, we did a mixture of different shots and it just performed like our normal RED. We were very keen to see what the latitude was. Unfortunately when you’re filming on location you can’t do that very well but with our previous RED experience, when treating it like a DRAGON, we got amazing results.
Another consideration with investing in 8K is our clients’ needs. For example if the BBC is upgrading its REDs then that’s a consideration for us as we try to get our cameras on natural history shoots. We don’t want to find ourselves offering them cameras they have now upgraded. We have to keep up.
A famous DOP friend of mine is very pro-RED and he loves the RED 8K. However, if he could he would shoot everything on 35mm. You could argue that the HELIUM is the very best digital sensor, and there are many benefits to that. When you’re working on commercials and very high-profile projects you have to make sure you have the best. He uses digital when there is a certain shooting requirement like a run-and-gun look, putting it on a gimbal perhaps. His view is, he takes the best out there, and I trust him and it’s helped ensure our involvement with RED.
Jonathan Jones and his Ember Films crew shoot a short film as part of their review.
Improvement wise, the body is now lighter and moving away from cables. You’ve got all the Wi-Fi built in. But I find sometimes you need a cable to release the strain. Wireless is good, but we can’t fix a fault on location like we can if we need to repair a cable. Sometimes having a cable is good because you can have a spare and there’s a little bit of strain relief on that body with a cable. But it seems most kit is going without cables so it’s a natural progression, I guess. Ultimately the form factor is great and all the mounts are very similar.
If you’re going to upgrade then you have to factor in upgrading all your peripherals too. You have to buy all the peripherals, the MAGs, the monitor, readers. But at least then you are at the forefront of the evolution of RED.
The new camera is much quieter than the DRAGON so that’s good news for sync. Some sound guys don’t like shooting with REDs as they’re very noisy; one of the reasons people have problems with them is because they turn the fans off. In this camera you can’t really hear that it’s on and it boots up quicker so they’ve addressed that. So they’ve addressed those little gripes that people had.
Our big thing is owning kit; there’s no other camera that offers the versatility REDs do. The 8K cameras carry on that versatility with a frame that you can reframe in post which gives you great options. That said, I always want to commit to a frame, rather than shooting everything looser so an editor can decide what the framing is later, not to mention the focus issues you can have. We don’t want to lose the artistry which is why we shot everything super wide. We can put the bars in afterwards but I want to see what the width of the sensor is, then that is the framing. If you don’t like it after, tough!
A frame capture from the Ember short
Because the image plane is bigger there are more considerations to the lenses you choose on the wider end. RED has published a list of cine lenses that work with the 8Ks. We use a lot of stills lenses that will cover the sensor because they cover 35mm. The Zeiss Super Speeds that we used for the shoot were great, we shot all the film with the 50mm.
We love the versatility again of the REDs. You may not want to be wide on an 8K but you’ve got all this resolution to play with so go to 6K. A lot of cameras are 4K or 1080 but with the HELIUM sensor you now have 2K right the way through to 8K – that’s a real plus for RED.
After shooting our short film we were interested in seeing what the sensitivity was like and the noise pattern on 8K compared with the 6K and 4K we’re used to. The noise we would get at about ISO 800 on the 8K compared with the DRAGON’s 6K was much less, it’s a much cleaner image. Then when we shot off speed on the HELIUM at 4K, the noise looked similar to the DRAGON. So as you increase resolution you get a cleaner image from what we could see with our limited test which is what you’d expect as the compression is less.
Importing the 8K in to Adobe Premiere we thought it would slow it down massively but it was just like a 1080 sequence. Also the offload speed was massively increased from the MINI-MAG using the USB 3 reader. Cutting from the drive itself wasn’t a problem and adding features like silhouettes didn’t slow it down at all.