Filmmaking Blog: One year with the Dragon!

Posted by on Dec 19, 2015 in Blog, Filmmaking

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Filmmaking Blog: One year with the Dragon!

So it’s been a bit over one year since I first laid hands on the Red Epic Dragon and I think I can start giving an honest opinion on this camera by now. Even if in filmmaking we tend to over-hype cameras and gear in general. Cameras still are one of the essential tools in filmmaking!

To start things off: The camera absolutely rocks! I like the colours, the dynamic range it delivers, the small form factor of the camera, the workflow of the r3d Raw and I mean it’s a Red Camera it’s just fancy! – If you know what I mean… *cough*

“Techy stuff” – Bane of the DoP

Where do you start when giving your opinion on a camera? Well I’m gonna start with the techy stuff – meaning build quality, form factor and so on. This camera is a small modular beast. When you strip the camera down to its key components the camera weighs only about 3,5kg and ony 10 by 15 by 12 cm big – or rather small.

You can get really creative with where and how you mount the camera onto nearly anything:

  • Wanna mount it onto an gimbal like a Ronin or a Movi? – Yup!
  • Wanna mount it onto a small, portable jib? – Yup!
  • Wanna go out and just get some handheld pick ups in no time? – Yessir!
  • Wanna Mount it onto a smaller Steadycam? – Not a Thing!
  • Wanna pull off some interesting shots inside a car with literally no space? – Easy!
  • Hell! You wanna get it up into space? – Sure Red did it already!

The possibilities are endless. Your mind is your limit! To make things clear: I did not get my hands on an Alexa before, however I am sure you can’t do all of this with an Alexa without encountering some pretty huge problems. I mean, an Alexa is BIG and HEAVY – 6,3 KG without any glass on it and is 33 cm by 16 cm by 16 cm big – you can’t just lift this cam off your tripod and put it onto a Ronin, yet even lift the Ronin with the cam and all the needed accessories mounted onto it.

“Image Stuff”

Then there is the most obvious “stuff” when it comes to a camera – image quality. And of course the Epic Dragon is a remarkable camera. Image quality is extraordinarily good – 6K, RAW speaks for itself. Dynamic range is incredible – with claimed by Red 16.5+ stops of dynamic range. Color science is great as well! And Slowmo in 6K is a blessing for handheld pickups in case you need some quickly. Sensor size at 6K FF is slightly bigger than a S35 Sensor, at 5K 16:9 it’s exactly the size of Super 35. And I personally like the skin tones of the dragon sensor – I feel like they’re a bit more fleshy than eg. the skin tones of the Alexa.

So why not to chose an Epic over any other Camera in terms of image quality: Well obviously… pricing. You can get a really good Image with a AS 7 or a 5D for way less money. When money is not the question there is the alternative of a different digital cinema camera or shooting film. Of course film is quite a chunk pricier and there is more challenge involved with shooting film. However if you ask me it depends on which look you want to have. Chosing a camera should be just like chosing a film stock back in the old days – wow that’s sounds so strange from someone who makes films for only just more than 2 years…
But I guess you get the gist. Every camera just like every piece of glass you put in front of your sensor looks different. And that’s great! It gives us filmmakers choice and choice is great!

Workflow

I established that the Dragon has a really good sensor and is a overall handy tool for a filmmaker due to the compact size of its body. But we all know most of our work happens back in the office. How does the Red raw perform in post production workflow?
Well, to be perfectly honest: working with any kind of raw footage is some pretty intense stuff. Your PC is gonna be under a heavy load. This means not only your CPU and GPU will be under pressure when using raw footage, but you will also need to consider bottlenecks of your hard drive read and write speeds. So don’t expect your editing system to easily hold up with 6K raw footage of the Dragon (There might be another Blog about building a PC for video editing in the future, however I will not go into the details right now).

This sounds pretty devastating to begin with, however it’s not. When working with raw footage you really have to consider to upgrade your system, anyways. If your system can hold up to raw footage the r3d raw performs really well. You can online edit it in Premiere Pro with ease. I don’t know about Sony or ARRI raw, however I have worked with DNxHD/HR and this raw format was absolutely no joy to edit in an online workflow. Even with a maxed out MacPro I got too many hick-ups with DNxHD/HR and you might wanna switch to an online/offline workflow – which I think is a pain in the butt!

 

Double-edged sword

I only covered the upsides of our precious Dragon. But we all know “with great power comes great responsibility” or in lame man’s terms: There’s gotta be a catch. And there is – actually quit a bit.

I Just talked about upgrading your editing system. Well, it will cost you. We upgraded CPU and GPU which are the most expensive parts of any PC build. Furthermore there’s the Data. Red Raw or raw footage in general is data intensive… it will eat through your hard drives. To spare yourselves from producing too much data you might wanna think about what you will be shooting in slowmo and what not right in preproduction. I will save you money! (Fun Fact: 6K- HD; Redcode 14:1 r3d files consume 144 MB per SECOND – you can check it out on Red’s Homepage)

Also its small form factor can be a little annoying. A small body means there is not much room to put any connectors in. So there is only one SDI, one HDMI a 3,5mm headphone jack, a control port and that’s pretty much it. Furthermore, if you want to connect audio to the cam you cannot simply put an XLR cable into the camera because there are only 2 3,5mm jacks in the front of the camera. And if that was not enough, red switched hot and cold on the jacks. So in case you have a XLR to 3,5mm adapter – screw you! You still won’t get audio into the camera unless you buy either one of Red’s overpriced adapters or the Woodencamera A-box (which was our choice and we don’t regret it!). If you want more I/O for your camera there is always the possibility of buying the Red Pro I/O module for the fortune of 3,750 €… Seriously Red? SERIOUSLY!

I am not done yet! Still about having a small camera. The moment you put quality glass on the camera you will need more accessories. So you have to build it big-ger anyways. There is just no other way. That means: a heavy base plate, 15 or 19 mm rods, a follow focus of some kind, a Mattebox and so on – we all know the expensive goodies, dont we? So there you go! A clunky 8 – 10 kg camera. Oh yeah, for god’s sake, Red! Why the heck does your  V-mount brick NOT have a D-Tap out for powering a remote follow focus? Some things just let me freak out!

Moving on. So you want to build a Dragon with a Display and an original Red Bomb EVF? Well, decide! You can only use one of both! Unless you buy the Red +1 Module, which costs you 1,250 € on top. Furthermore this module takes away the HMDI port on the bottom of the camera and converts it to a Lemo Jack in order to be used with the Bomb EVF or Red’s touch display. Which is not that bad considering you still have the SDI anyways… yeah that SDI is not really well reachable so better have an adapter with you to use an SDI cable.

To be honest this is sort of the kind of rage I need to let out! Don’t get me wrong! I love the camera! And I would choose it over any other digital cinema camera by now, it’s just these design choices which let me freak out every time I think about them! And Red also knew about these issues! They outright showed it in the way they constructed their DSCM² bodies. The body got smaller and they offer the Base I/O Expander with an intelligent placement of the basic I/Os you wanna have with a Camera of that price range. There are unfortunately still no XLR ins, however the Redvold Expander Module has the XLR ins as well as some handy controls for gain! Thank god! And props to Red, for listening to their customers requests!

Conclusion

So this article started off pretty fanboyish and ended really devastating by pointing out some big problems which occur when working with a Red camera. What’s my conclusion now?

It’s fairly simple. Red Dragon kicks ass. I mean this camera does it all. Raw, takes all kinds of lenses – I did not even mention that before, did I? You can change the mount of the Camera so you can use EF mount for just change it our for a heavy duty PL mount that’s just so damn handy! -, it can be small when you need it to be, colour science is outstanding, the workflow is seemless – however resource heavy – it’s just a workhorse of a camera.

To be honest – that’s pretty much it. There is not much more to conclude. This Camera is a great tool for making stunning films. That’s what filmmakers are looking for. If you can afford it for your production AND if the look does suit your project: Grab it!


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