February 07, 2009
Camera technology has officially entered LUDICROUS speed. I originally wrote the RED ALRET! 10 Things Red Camera Users need to know blog post back in 2009 since the 4K Raw was the talk of the town and the workflow a lot of my indie filmmaker friends were diving into while I was in Austin, TX. Three years later, with the introduction of DSLRs and other cameras, RED’s form factor has changed with the new 5K Red Epic, becoming much more compact. RED is now going into the 6K realm with their new dragon sensor and with the recent bomb that was dropped at NAB 2012 with the announcement of Black Magic Design’s new $2995 2.5K Raw Cinema Camera, things may be heading into another new direction.
With RED offering 4K-6K and the new BMD Cinema Camera offering 2.5K and a RAW workflow at a ridiculous price, its becoming clear that the camera industry is heading in all sorts of directions. You still have the big boys like Sony, JVC, and now Canon getting into the 4K workflows but they seem to be a bit late to the party. Panasonic is holding back from another year before unveiling their 4K camera workflow. So the questions is, will people’s hunger ever be satisfied resolution wise? Shooting in 4K, 5K, or even 6K in the future, does not change the fact that many movie theaters only offer 2K projection.
Let’s look at a 35mm film’s route from camera to cinema screen. In order to duplicate the original negative many, many times so that it may be shown simultaneously in many cinemas, the picture will have to be copied, photographically, several times.”
A. The original camera master is copied to;
B. An inter-positive print film which is then copied to;
C. An inter-negative film which is then printed to;
D. The release print which is then shown through;
E. The projector lens on to;
F. The cinema screen.
The most common acquisition medium for digitally projected features is 35 mm film scanned and processed at 2K (2048×1080) or 4K (4096×2160) resolution. Most indie features to date have been shot at 1920×1080 HD resolution using DSLR cameras like the Canon 5d/7D. Other cameras like the Arri Alexa can capture 2K resolution images while Red’s Red One, Epic, and Scarlet record 4K, 5K, and soon 6K. But everyone is still forgetting one major thing, the market share of 2K projection in digital cinemas is over 98%. Yep, thats right, 98% of theaters in the USA are still 2K projectors.
One more little stat, 720p is the preferred streaming resolution from Netflix & Amazon. 720p while smaller in resolution still takes up a lot of internet bandwidth, so until the US tried and catch up to South Korea with internet speeds, it doesn’t look like 2K streaming will be available anytime soon. If our delivery mediums are only 720p, 1080p and 2K. why is everyone going higher in resolution? 6K is a little over the top don’t you think?
While you may think the higher the resolution, the better the quality will be, this isn’t necessarily true. Very few people have the bandwidth to support a 1080p stream. Hence, Netflix and Amazon usually use 720p via internet usage because it’s much better to have a lower HD resolution stream at a steady and consistent frame rate than to try and push the resolution as high as it goes with their service. 720p looks great on my 46″ Samsung HDTV.
This brings me to my next point. It is my current belief, as a filmmaker, that we as storytellers are becoming to consumed with the notion of resolution. While the addition of a RAW workflow at under $3,000 is exciting, we seem to be heading into the perception more and more that the CAMERA matters over STORY, and that is simply not the case. Yes, every camera has their strengths and their weaknesses, but a skilled filmmaker knows how to work around those limitation in order to keep their story rich with inspiration. In this day and age, it seems more like a dick measuring contest with people say “well we’re shooting on the Epic, Alexa, RED ONE, Viper, etc” rather than say “I’m using this camera because its the best one I can use with my budget to tell my story.”
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been guilty of this myself. When I first got to work with RED back in 2009, it felt like I was part of this club that was taking on the status quo of 35mm Vs. Red 4K. Nowadays, with the introduction of DSLRs and BMD’s Cinema Camera camera, I’ve started to tell other fellow filmmakers, “you have no excuse anymore, hurry up and shoot your movie, who cares what you use.” Just make sure you don’t skimp on SOUND. STORY AND SOUND IS WHAT MATTERS!
There is a reason I’ve been mentioning Black Magic Design’s new Cinema Camera throughout this blog post and its because this is a small company that is taking a MAJOR risk by bring us a camera that captures 2.5K resolution with a Raw workflow all at a price of $2995. They took RED’s original Scarlet philosophy 3K for $3K and made it a reality. Okay well its 2.5K but thats still pretty damn close. Again, like so many cameras, it will have its strengths and weaknesses. It as a S16 aka 4/3 sized sensor so the crop factor when using your EF lenses will be over 2x, and the internal battery doesn’t look like it was well thought out since you can’t alternate cells, but at this price point, Black Magic Design is doing something none of the BIG boys (Sony, Panasonic, Canon, etc) dared even to venture, and that’s giving us a RAW workflow for under $3,000.
From my old Red Alert blog post, I’ve brought back some images of the Raw camera workflow is and how much control the indie filmmaker now has with their visuals.
While exciting, I pose my question again, what is more important when making a film? Is it the camera, workflow, visual style? How is a RAW workflow going to make your story better? I’ve been very happy using the Canon 5D/7D, the HPX500 & HPX170 cameras to tell my stories because its what I know I can use to get to the finish line and stay in budget. I’ve worked on several RED shoots and after the honeymoon period went away, I realized how much slower and sluggish it is to work with RED.
Even recently on a feature film where I was the Boom Operator, the Red Epic still experienced the same hiccups of rebooting and freezes like the RED ONE did when it first came out. While the RED created spectacular imagery, the production workflow still takes up way too much time. If you have the time and money to work with the RED, go for it! But if your like every other filmmaker, use the camera that will get you in and out the fastest and with the fewest problems and headaches. Put your money in front of the camera. If that means using a smaller camera like the affordable DSLR, then so be it. You just need to make sure you are aware of the limitations of the camera you choose.
I think the video below sums it best for almost all indie filmmakers and the point of the role a camera plays when telling their story.
“Hugo was shot in 1080p and everyone loved it. No one complained about the resolution. Story is all that matters.”
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