Friday, December 18, 2009

Dress for Success with RED












"When in doubt, wear RED." - Bill Blass

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While statistically unproven, not having to wear a suit and tie is possibly one of the top 3 reasons people go in to production.

Fashion designer Bill Blass once said, "When in doubt, wear RED." So while he may not appreciate my daily attire over the past 20 years but, he hopefully would appreciate my taste in cameras. In this case the RED ONE digital cinema camera.

As a boutique facility in a small market, Florida Production Group, Inc. has a fortunate history of adopting new and affordable technology to help give us a competitive and creative edge.

For many of us in these smaller markets one creative edge we've been chasing for years, that holy grail, has been the "film look". Specifically 35mm film. The same size film used on most feature length movies, episodic television series and high-end national commercials. HD cameras are of course now being used in these areas as well but, at the highest quality level many still consider film the king. Until now. The emperor is wearing new clothes and they are RED.

RED ONE Camera

Oh how we want that depth of field, selective focus, beautiful uncompressed image, multiple levels of shadow detail and stops of latitude, and temporal motion only shooting film can deliver. Over the years we've rented 35 mm film cameras and at one point owned a nice Arri 16 mm film camera yet the cost associated with film production (rental fees, insurance, shipping, film processing, film-to-tape transfer, etc.) eclipsed the budgets of many of our customers.


RED camera tests. Click thumbnails for 2K images (compressed a bit)

RED camera test with cars


Cars 3


Cars 2



We also had some success with film look software and 24p video cameras but those never really were as good as something that was truly captured on film. The culprits with current affordable video technology being data compression, small CCD imagers, and the lenses that typically come with nearly all mainstream SD and HD video cameras.

When the RED ONE was first announced it seemed too good to be true. Some thought it was a hoax, vaporware they claimed. An affordable camera that shoots and records both 2K and 4K data with all of the characteristics of film at a attractive price-point. With a resolution of 4096x1260, that's about 4x the pixels of 1920x1080 HD - roughly 8.8 million pixels for 4K vs. 2 million for 1080.

4K is the same digital intermediate size that recent high-end movies like the Spiderman series use for scanning the film for special effects work. The HD cameras used to shoot the new Star Wars episodes are 1080 HD, slightly less than 2K.

As a small facility owner I am thinking hey, if it's good enough for Peter Parker and better than Darth Vader, count me in because there's a new force swinging through the industry called RED.

Yeah I know, that was corny.


Preparing the clients
We were one of the early customers (#271 out of nearly 3000) to plop down a deposit many months ago. As the deposit was completely refundable it seemed like a safe bet, so I started prepping my clients.

One of the first questions they have for me is why do you need a 4K camera when all our spots end up on a small 4x3 SD dub for local broadcast?

I explain that it's much like shooting film for a national spot, or even a high-end local spot. The higher quality you start out with, the better it looks as it progresses through the production pipe line. With a 4K image we have tons more pixels to work with, tons more resolution and tons more color information.

I continue: if I can provide that initial huge boost in image acquisition quality I can provide you a noticeably better looking commercial, all without the high cost or concerns of shooting and processing film. Plus production ready, 4 megapixel stills can be pulled from the footage. So if you need one frame or more for a print piece, no problem.



The numbers
Besides the super-duper high resolution what other features make this camera so great my clients asked. Well how about a CMOS sensor bigger than super 35 mm. Our current HDV camera that makes nice images uses tiny 1/3" chips, our old SD camera used 2/3" chips, still small in comparison.




RED camera with viewfinder

Best of all the big sensor or imager allows the direct use of PL mount 35mm cine prime and zoom lenses without any cumbersome adaptor. High end lenses from Zeiss and Cooke designed and built for real film cameras mount right up and RED has some great lenses of their own at breakthrough prices. The sensor size and film lenses contribute heavily to that dreamy, film style depth of field and selective focus capability we all desire.



RAW workflow
Also on the notable list is RAW data capture, just like high-end Canon and Nikon SLR still cameras. This enables a remarkable level of color fidelity and post manipulation. The RED viewfinder or LCD provides an adjustable creative look for preview on location but behind the scenes the camera is recording a RAW, unaltered image direct from the sensor.




RED viewfinder close-up




Through RED software called RED ALERT and REDCINE running on a Mac or PC you can color grade the image until you are blue in the face, without affecting the original image.

Want a different white balance, click, done. Different exposure, click, done. Warmer, cooler, more contrast, darker, brighter, click, done.

Want it to look like Miami CSI, sure.

How about a Saving Private Ryan look, no problem.

All without degrading the image through processing. Once color graded, export it as your favorite flavor codec, HD or SD size, import in to your NLE and edit away. That's very simplified but it's the basic workflow.

Just like film, the camera shoots at 24 frames per second (it also does good old 29.97 fps too). And It can also run over cranked or under cranked allowing slow and fast motion recording, as well as time lapse.



RED camera back



Camera back, close-up


RED ONE uses no tape. No moving parts means less wear and tear, no chance of tape drop-outs, etc. At the time we got ours the only media available was 8 gb compact flash cards at about $200 a pop. They hold approximately 5 minutes of 4K data and 20 minutes of 2K.



Close-up of RED's Compact Flash card



Like most things silicon, prices are expected to go down as sizes go up. In January 2008 the RED DRIVE started shipping. This is a 320 gb hard drive that slides in to a receiver on the battery cradle that attaches to the back of the camera on rails. Do the math to get storage times.



Bearing RED, not wearing it
Wow! This thing sounds great my customers exclaim. They are pumped, my small staff is pumped. This RED thing is going to be amazing but when will it be here?

Just a few days after Christmas 2007 our bet walked through the doors in the arms of our friendly FedEx man, strangely, not wearing Bill Blass.

Three good sized boxes containing our RED camera body, 18-50mm zoom lens, LCD, CF cards, batteries and charger and miscellaneous connectors, handles, and hardware. Our first tests in our studio were simple but the immediate observation was, look at that depth of field and color! We set up some car models and ironically a yellow Kodak film box for color as seen in the enclosed pics.



Click image for captured test image at 2K

RED 2K test


It's worth noting that like many things with RED things are always changing and evolving, this includes the manual. While somewhat detailed and informative the manual is a .pdf work in progress as camera firmware and user software is tweaked, modified and updated.

The camera menu instructions in the version at the time we got the camera failed to mention early on that the menu joystick can be rotated to select options. It took a bit of re-reading and head scratching to figure it out. Once we did it became very clear how the menu structure is laid out. It's no more difficult than the menus on many current professional HD and HDV cameras.



RED at work

This is not a garden variety camera you pull out of a bag, turn on, white balance and quickly shoot with. It is very much a film style operation. For instance there are no built in neutral density filters like the filter wheel on a ENG/EFP camera; you need a matte box and a assortment of filters. You better know more about exposure than just hitting the auto button because this one doesn't have auto anything. It's all manual. In fact a good old light meter will come in very handy.

Because it's so high resolution, focus is extremely critical. Most EFP and ENG shooters have always focused their own cameras. The film method is to have the director of photography (DP) compose shots and run the camera while a assistant stands by actually focusing the lens based on focus marks on the lens barrel and estimating distance of subject matter and talent.

This certainly is not to say a focus puller is mandatory -- many of our jobs will be one and two man crews. The key is practice, practice, practice. The camera does have a handy 2X zoom for checking focus and it works very well. However, if you've got a big job with a lot on the line, hiring a camera assistant will be good insurance.

Our first paying job was a :30 spot for a local hospital. Kind of a slice of life.

(The images below are thumbnails. Click to enlarge.)

hospital office

Now this was on a cold, very overcast day for the exteriors. Two person run-and-gun crew. Me shooting and pulling focus and my wonderful assistant Tabitha gripping. The 2X zoom in feature for checking focus worked great.


Overcast baby

We decided to shoot 2K because being our first job we wanted to ensure we had enough media to last. Turns out we only used one 8 gb card out of five we have. It was on and off shooting from 8 am to about 1:30 pm and one battery was all we used.

The only noticeable change on location was the weight of the RED. Once loaded up with a battery, lcd, support rails, etc. it's a pretty hefty piece of equipment. I will say it appears to be built like a tank.

The wonderful thing about shooting RAW is the true power you have in post. The overcast conditions helped diffuse shadows but did nothing for color. Using RED ALERT I pulled the clips in to my MacBook Pro. Wow, how cool it was to add some color and life to a otherwise overcast day. Shots at a local park and beautiful Pensacola Beach just popped after some tweaking. All without degrading the image.


Couple walks along beach

Since this was my first post session I experimented with work-flow. I found it easiest to export 2K tiffs or dpx files out of RED ALERT.

Brought those in to Adobe After Effects. Interpreted the clips as 23.976. Popped them in to a D1 720x486 23.976 comp. Scaled the clip to 38% to give me a nice letter box effect. Added 3:2 pulldown on the render out.

Imported in to a 720x486 8-bit SD Final Cut Pro timeline with our Kona card and edited away.


Close-up of veteran

Yes, a few extra steps but nothing out of the ordinary. And the resulting images, even at SD really impressed the agency producer and the client.



True costs
From a cost stand point this set up is a bit more than the advertised price of $17,500 for the camera body. Once you factor in a RED lens or two, power, viewfinder, storage, etc. the cost quickly goes to around $30k or more. Now this is about the same amount we paid for a high-end SD camera a few years ago for far less technology and a fraction of the resolution.

There are some financial short cuts you can take. For example RED and 3rd parties have adaptors to use 35 mm still lenses you may already have. Or perhaps you have a set of film lenses available. Regardless this will be a bit more costly than the current crop of small HDV camcorders but, it will pay off big in far superior quality and marketability.

In regards to anything else at the higher end of the camera spectrum it's a no-brainer. Newer high-end HD camcorders from name manufacturers once fully loaded can cost well over $100k. And for that you get far less resolution than RED.

Interestingly when we opened in the mid 1980's we used to finance cameras and depreciate them on a 3-5 year schedule. As the desktop revolution and inexpensive HDV cameras came along we were buying a new camera to keep up with technology almost every 18 months. The less expensive cameras helped to mitigate the return on investment.


The future
RED being more costly at first seems daunting financially. However, this camera has some anti-obsolescence features built in. One is the resolution. It will be a while before we will need to regularly hand out HD dubs for our broadcast work in our area. It will be a very long time if ever before we hand over 2k or 4k files for a broadcast spot. So this super resolution ability future proofs premature camera replacement, enabling us to plan a longer life for it based on current technology.

RED has promised that as technology evolves it will be possible to send in your camera body to have the sensor or imager swapped out for the latest whiz-bang ultra sensor. It reminds me of older film cameras that were built like tanks and lasted 30 years. Every so often you would send them in for service, get them back and keep working with them.

Our work is mostly local and regional spots and a fair amount of corporate and business-to-business production. The office and edit suites are often hectic but there is always more and new exciting work over the horizon. The RED ONE camera gives us an edge to bring in more high-end business while providing our current customer base with quality we only dreamed of a few years ago.

For us RED has become not only a fashionable choice, but a necessary one enabling professional and creative growth

Shooting with RED: Testing, testing...











As a RED forum leader here on the Cow, I bit my tongue and waited until I had actually had real hands on playtime with this, one of the most revolutionary tools that a modern filmmaker has at their disposal, before I added my commentary to the mix.

First let me say that this is not just a camera. It is more like an advanced imaging system and a prerequisite high-end workflow that is not for everyone. It is not an HVX200 killer by any stretch of the imagination and woe be to anyone still thinking that at this stage of the camera’s development. This is truly a professional production tool, designed to take digital moviemaking out of the stone age to the next level (or two) of digital production.

For a test like this, done during the first couple of weeks of the new year, I had access to about 50 or so #5mm caliber lenses, all with the ability to cover the 4520 pixel wide imager found on the RED camera, plus an additional 100 or so that could cover the image area defined for 2K (2048 pixels wide) with the RED branded PL to B4 lens mount adapter. (PL stands for "positive lock" - more about that in just a bit.)

Talk about a kid in a candy store! Choosing between the best of the best when it comes to 35mm PL mount glass, whether it be Arri Master Primes, Zeiss Digi-Primes and a full set of Cooke S4/i's or one of the 8 or 9 Optimo zooms that were available, was somewhat akin to deciding the best between your mistress or your girlfriend. I know a good many of the people at Cooke- including current president Les Vallen, so I decided to take their newest glass out for a test drive, and with every lens in the product line available to me, a simple choice was still difficult, since there is nothing like having over a million dollars of lenses to pick and choose from.


RED TERMS

QuickTime Proxy – an alias or symbolic link to the original file (and file format)

(QuickTime) Wrapper- a shell or wrapping around a incompatible file type to make it look and act like another video file type. (MXF and QuickTime Reference movies are the best example people know)

Debayer – the process of converting the CMOS image data from the RAW data state to something that can be read and handled as imagery

CF cards- Compact Flash media – most common for DSLRs, Red has adapted this format for their default internal acquisition medium.

DPX- digital picture exchange – still file format developed to handle film resolution files and the associated metadata (ie: TC, frames, reels etc). Tiff and Targa are other formats used to handle frame based file workflows.

2K – originally considered 2048 x 1566 pixels (anamorphic) or 2048x1152 as spherically corrected (normal to the eye) - RED uses the 2048 x1152 frame size for their 2K format. A 2K DPX conversion is approximately 11MB per frame

3K – a uniquely RED format it is 3072 pixels wide and is used to allow for higher frame rates with lesser loss of quality than working in RED 2K does.

4K – while there are a number of frame sizes I will stick to the RED 4520 x 2540 for the frame size. The 4K DPX file is approximately 36MB per frame

4:4:4 – an RGB file format for working with the highest quality files, the highest quality is delivered when using the RGB Log format.

Dual Link HDSDI- 2 bonded channels of HDSDI that are needed to deliver the high bandwidth of a 4:4:4 or RGB based workflow. By its nature the DL workflow is currently limited to mostly VFX and film production as it is too expensive for monitoring and requires too much storage for most common types of productions.


Getting set up

One thing to start, I have to admit it is incredibly well machined and put together. Assembly of the parts and the simplicity of its design make the camera feel like this is finely crafted tool that one should expect. While a tad heavier than I might expect, it is lighter than an F23, D20 or similar cameras. Basic setup and assembly are simple for someone familiar with this type of pro gear to do without reading the instructions.

Red's interface and controls are as straightforward as the camera itself is. I would recommend reading the manual for first time users so that you understand the basics of this camera’ operations and functions.

Being as much computer as camera, certain rules apply- first of which is understanding that the recording media (compact flash - called a CF card) needs to be ejected prior to removal, not unlike Panasonic's P2 and Sony’s SxS recording media. Second would also be that so far every upgrade to the camera has added or changed some of the functionality or working parameters.

Display

The camera's rear mounted internal display offers a simple way to navigate through the camera menus; in all honesty it is the only thing about the camera that does not scream elegance, in spite of the simplicity and usability -- it still needs an on off switch for the display's backlight.

The RED external viewfinder had not been delivered at the time I am writing this (March 2008). However, the external RED LCD was a suitable substitute for the time being. That screen gives the user a vast amount of information for menus, frame rate, frame size, battery usage, storage available and even a histogram is viewable if needed.

On location with Dan Gutt and RED

One odd note about the display output here in camera firmware build 13 - since the LCD and EVF both have different aspect ratios than the current HD preview output, it not currently possible to see the aforementioned navigation controls situated at the bottom of the screens when viewing via the HDSDI preview.

It was also not possible to have both the LCD and the HDSDI preview on at the same time. Annoying, but it is all but certain to be fixed within the next couple of builds of the camera software. That being said, everything about this camera is breaking the mold of what people can and should expect from the next generation of digital acquisition tools.

Connections

One of the most interesting things about the camera is the use of Mini BNC and Mini XLRs for the onboard connections. Originally designed for use internally on decks, telecine, scanners and other high-end devices, the mini connectors are not nearly as fragile as some people assume. Their use on the camera has allowed RED to keep the form factor and weight to a bare minimum and the included adapters for the mini connectors allow you to work with all existing BNC and XLR devices, such as monitors, scopes, LCDs etc. that are on the market.

RED camera connections

RED users with no film camera experience are in for a surprise, as the default configuration of the camera currently allows for lenses to be mounted with the industry standard PL mount, same mount that is found on the vast majority of 16mm and 35mm film cameras. (PL refers to the “Positive Lock” mounting system standard Arri introduced, and now found on virtually all-modern film cameras, except those owned by Panavision).

While conventional SD, b-4 mount HD and still camera lenses can traditionally only be mounted one specific way, the PL mount allows the user to mount the lens at 90* increments, so that the lens and markings can be viewed at usable viewing angles by the assistant cameraman or focus puller normally used in productions using such top of the line camera gear.

Weight

The other thing that may surprise many users is the sheer weight, with the body only at somewhere about 15lb (6Kg). By the time you add mounting plates, rails, matte box, LCD and mounting arm, S35 lens, battery with bracket, and cabling to the external display, you are quickly well over 40 lbs. That requires a considerably heavier tripod/ fluid head combo or stronger back than many people are used to working with, but certainly close to normal for this class of camera. Funny how the people that think that this a such a “great buy” at $17.5 forget that a fully equipped camera will easily need support that costs in excess of the camera’s purchase price.

Shooting with RED

I did not have a RED drive for my initial testing, so I used the standard RED branded 8GB CF (compact flash) cards that allowed for approximately 4.5 minutes of recording time per card. New cards or those with the contents removed for archiving take about 15 secs to format in camera, and the camera automatically offers to format new media when it is inserted into the card slot.

In my initial testing only a couple of cards were used, and only once did that cause issues. Reformatting the cards in-camera did slow me down on one shot and that alone is enough of a reason to have more than a minimum number of cards on a shoot at any one time. I would base that number on 3 more than the number of cards you think you need for a days worth of shooting on your project.

Estimated Data Rates for the most commonly used Uncompressed HD formats

720p24 HD needs about 65 Megabytes per second
1080 24psf HD needs about 150 megabytes per second
1080i 29.97 HD needs about 175 megabytes per second
1080 4:4:4 @ 24fps needs about 220 Megabytes per second
2K (DPX @ 24fps) needs about 275 Megabytes per second
4K (DPX @ 24fps) needs about 1250 Megabytes per second

Production at this level can be very costly and any downtime waiting for transfers or formatting of a card needs to be done during breaks or set changes, not when you start to shoot. I would not go out and shoot with less than 10- 8 gig cards or a RED Drive.

This is one of the areas that the camera needs something now being found on many newer sets – a digital support person -- so I would recommend a data wrangler or DAS (data acquisition specialist) a new title suggested by the ASC.

While 4 minutes per card is rather short for many video shooters, film guys are accustomed to this length of “load,", ie: a100ft film magazine of 35mm film only lasts about that long. People whining about needing to record hours and hours at a time really need to understand that, with this camera, that kind of philosophy could create dangerous, suicidal problems when you get to post. Something that all of the “keep shooting, it’s only tape” people should take to heart.

At 4K resolution you can shoot at 23.98, 24 and 25 fps. The 2K format offers a little more flexibility, allowing you to shoot all of those frame rates from 1 to 76 fps for over and under cranking as well, thus allowing the user to alter the timebase of images being captured to speed up or slow down the intended motion – just as with a film camera. The aspect ratio settings on the camera itself leave little to argue about, you can shoot in 4K, 4K @2:1, 2K, and 2K at 2:1 aspect ratio.

Focus was the most critical thing I ran into working with RED #211. Even with experience with high-end cameras, my working knowledge of limitations using true S35 frame size became quickly apparent. Working at f4 with a150mm S4/i Cooke prime my depth of field was measured in scant millimeters, not inches, even when the subject was more than 12 feet away.

My second test shoot using a 50mm prime at f5.6 did finally give me something close to a 1” DoF when the subject was a scant meter from the front of the lens. The combo of my bifocals glasses and trying to focus on the LCD has created issues for many people, myself included; so video only shooters that are used to working on a flip out LCD beware. Lenses on cameras at this level have incredibly fine focus adjustment controls due to that limited DoF. Maintaining focus requires your continuous diligence, just as it would be in 35mm. This tool really wants and needs a real film-style crew to support a shoot.

Think full time focus puller whenever possible.

Techno sidebar: Cooke lenses

RED and Cooke teamed together on some ground breaking technology that is quietly taking hold in the VFX community as part of the tapeless / filmless revolution.

We are used to seeing image data with the current tapeless capture, but what is captured is limited. The Cooke S4/i lenses I chose for this test allow for the transfer of a mind-numbing amount of data to be recorded to your media: the RED - S4/i combo can add to the mix aperture, lens settings, serial number for tracking, DoF info, multiple programmed focus points, camera settings, gamma or output settings and any other number of other settings.

Having all of this data when the files are passed to the effects house can greatly ease the workload when compositing, since all of the necessary data has already been recorded on set. Cooke S4/i lenses can already do this with certain film cameras, recording this info every time the camera is triggered to capture.


Image processing

The preview images are stunning in spite of (or because of) their size. Images from the camera have a characteristic look, almost as if they came from a high-end digital still camera, but can be easily modified to take on any look you prefer. Use either the RED Alert software shot by shot on your Mac; the much more versatile and cross platform RED Cine software allows a greater range of tools, include bulk transcoding the native R3D camera files to NLE formats, more easily than anything but Assimilate’s (PC-only) Scratch.

Exposure with RED is actually straightforward when you take a couple of basic ideas into account. The REDCODE format is not accessible by the user, and anything you do in the camera when shooting is stored as data, and that is modifiable when you are heading to post. With ASA/ ISO settings from 50 – 2000 and a recommended setting of 320, the camera is prepared for a lot.

My experience was that I liked my exposures a little darker than others I was working with. Being the film shooter I started in this business as, I wanted to expose for the highlights and process for the shadows. It made a lot of sense to me once I got a good look at the REDCODE RAW files in their native state. Note too that you really do not gain from variations in the ISO rating of RED as you do with other cameras, as there is no appreciable decrease in overall noise when lowering that rating below 320.

As a filmmaking tool, the RED camera is worthy of the hype; it is without a doubt one of the most revolutionary tools that has beset digital filmmaking. While it is not the Swiss army knife of cameras that everyone assumed at its introduction, It is without a doubt one of the finest crated digital film replacement systems available.

With a little more effort in the development of the “beta” post production workflow I believe that RED will create a market that few of the “old line” camera companies could have ever imagined, especially since the big 3 camera companies were focusing on smaller and smaller imagers in conjunction with higher and higher levels of compression.

Red Digital Cinema should be thanked by every person in the HD and Digital market that strives for the highest quality in his or her production, since without them many, if not most filmmakers would never understand the true meaning of true quality in the image, or the nature of what tapeless acquisition is really all about.


Red Post Production (or, How do I get myself out of this 4K mess?)

While Red is a incredibly innovative product, the fact of the matter is that in 2007 less than a dozen films had any part of its post production workflow finished in 4K, While that number will easily quadruple in 2008, the post production workflow is the only part of the process that RED cannot control.

The movies we talk about at 4K had specific reasons. Spiderman 3 used 4K for effects shots. Black Dahlia used 4K for color correction and final image quality. While called “4K “, it is often joking referred to as “$K” , as much for the increased costs for working in something so specialized that even its use in Hollywood to this point in time is pretty rare.

I will continue the options for the RED Post workflow and discussion of the current camera and updates in the second half of this article, coming soon.


Exposing the RED: Perfect Exposure, Every Time

Lighting and Exposure for the RED Camera

TECHNOLOGY OVERVIEW

The RED camera system uses a proprietary single chip 4K CMOS sensor called the MYSTERIUM. This sensor is the same size as 35mm film so it allows for use of 35mm lenses (PL, NIKON, CANON or IMS mount systems). It is similar to the sensors that are found in Digital SLR still cameras except that it captures at 24 or 30 frames per second, and when cropped to 2K windowed mode, can capture up to 120 frames per second.

The camera records to either RED DRIVE (320 gig proprietary raid drive) or to Compact Flash card (currently 16 or 8 GB). The RED records 4K raw data to these drives using a wavelet based compression scheme.

The big advantages of shooting RED?

  • 35mm depth of field to your image.
  • A 4K (4096 pixel wide) image is recorded. (4 times the size of a 2k film scan)
  • The image is stored in a RAW format so as extraction algorithms improve, so does your footage.
  • Your looks are not “baked in” to the RAW files. They remain separate and may be changed at any point,

WHAT TO CONSIDER

RED is not HD. Nor is it film. It might be best described as a SUPER HIGH Definition digital cinema camera. I like to call it a portable 4K telecine machine myself. All the basic principles of photography apply to RED but I wanted to share some of what I have found, along with what others (who have really put the camera through its paces) have discovered in their testing.

One thing is for sure. It seems to be a blend of using what you know, seeing how it responds and coming up with the correct strategies for exposure.

Jack Mosor of PS production services Toronto recently technically supervised the five camera shoot of cinematographer Jon Leonetti’s, latest film, HYBRID, with six RED cameras on location in Saskatchewan, Canada. Jack has done extensive testing and response of the RED sensor under variable, lighting conditions, frame rates, lenses and multi camera shoots. His company embraced the RED, seeing it as a leap forward over HD and a bridge into the future of digital cinema.

The one thing Jack has noticed is the how well the RED emulates the film cameras they have in house. Actually feels it represents two camera’s”

The RED is a full blown 24P film style camera, but the really nice thing is that it also shoots speed up to 120 FPS. That means on set it can double as your high speed camera and it records faster frame rates at 2K 3K and 4K resolutions. Everything with RED is film centric, so it was easy for us to bridge to digital. We were excited that we could use all of our existing glass with the RED and that the sensor could capture so much detail and latitude over the early HD camera’s.”

Because RED is digital, many of the digital rules apply. There is a hard floor for black and a hard ceiling for white and the sensor records linear data, unlike film, which records logarithmic data. That is why it's important to preserve highlights when shooting RED (if you want to see them) or you will “hard clip."

(Cow author and film compositor Pete O'Connell gives a great look at the differences between linear and logarithmic exposure in film and video, in an article here in the Cow library. He's speaking in the context of Cineon files, but the information applies to any kind of digital format as well.)

This is where RED differs from film. Film recorders capture data in a logarithmic color space, which creates a softer curve from the deep blacks through the midrange to the brightest highlights. The RED sensor captures linier data so a curve needs to be applied to have it mimic the response of film. How you expose will effect how “filimic” your image looks.

So, there are some differences. What we want to do in this article is help you understand how to get the most out of your RED sensor. We’ll talk about a few shooting situations and help guide you through the reasons you might expose the way you do. I’ve enlisted the help of a few DP’s Dylan Mcleod CSC, Gregor Hagey, Macgregor and RED’s Ted Schilowitz to help navigate this for you.

Setting proper exposure for the RED camera

UPDATES

RED has recently introduced Build 16 of the camera firmware. This is significant because this build makes some firmware improvement to the camera’s imager and also introduced the REDspace color space. Many of the principles discussed in this article apply to Build 15 and Build 16 but some things are improved in BUILD 16.

It is important to note that RED has not changed the rating of the sensor. This remains constant at 320 ASA. It is also important to know that the RED camera’s sensor is also DAYLIGHT balanced at 5000 Kelvin. This is significant because it means that the camera prefers daylight sources, and will yield the sharpest images with daylight balanced sources like LED and daylight balanced fluorescent sources.

This is not to say that you can not shoot with RED in tungsten light, but you should always add some blue to at least one of your light sources to activate the blue channel in the sensor. This will help to reduce the overall noise of the image. For example you might use a quarter blue on the backlight and keep the key at a warmer color temperature.

Generally, I have found that all cameras with CCD chips perform better (slightly sharper images) under daylight lighting conditions. The RED is no exception.

In my own tests I have found that lighting with a mixture gives a nice feel of warmth and sharpness. I consistently rate 3200 Kelvin sources at about 3900 to 4300 Kelvin to warm up the image and reduce the amount of blue channel noise being recorded. This is a strategy I devised to have nice looking QuickTimes that could easily be adjusted or tweaked in a straight to video color correction session in order to maximize the quality out of a straight to video image. .

That is only one strategy being adapted, but there are some other tips that you might be interested in. Dylan Mcleod is a CSC DP who put the RED through it’s paces earlier this year while on a documentary that traversed the world and put him in many different shooting situations.

I have noticed that RED has greater latitude than HD but not quite as much as film. I also find that highlights tend to clip in a more pleasing way with the RED. In HD it can really look bad! Of course film has a unique way of rolling of the shoulder that can’t quite be matched by HD or RED. However with RED it is possible to tweak your RAW images so you can get close by simulating a shoulder roll off with curves in either REDCINE or REDALERT.”

This is indeed one of the great advantages of shooting RED. The metadata is not baked in and you have the opportunity to extract the most out the image at the finishing stage. But it is still very important to preserve the highlights with RED. Many DPs therefore rate the camera at 400 500 or 640 ASA. This makes for a pleasant QT image, but also helps you to underexpose a bit (to help prevent clipping of the sensor).

RED’s Ted Schilowitz can confirm what DPs are finding, the RED is getting much more data that HD but is still about 2 stops less than film. Ted explains it this way.

RED has a slightly different exposure index than today’s negatives that is weighted more into the shadows and the mid tones. So where as with today’s negatives, if you poll a bunch of DP’s and they are shooting primarily to go to telecine or some sort of digital output with their film neg, they tend to overexpose a little bit by their nature, their instinct is to have what we call a thick negative. They are going to open their stop a ¼, ½ or full stop OVER.

In the RED world you have to take that logic and sort of SKEW it a bit because it is a digital sensor. With every digital sensor the danger is that you blow out the highlights quicker than you do with film. If you learn to expose the camera properly it means exposing for what we call the sweet spot for the image. So you are exposing for your mid range and you are protecting your highlights.”

Gregor Hagey owns RED number 98 and has been shooting features and several tests on it for almost a year. The short film he DP’d -- “feel my pain”-- was one of the first in Canada to be printed to film.

With Red and its' RAW image format the DSLR still photographer's approach is best. The most effective way to get the best picture when shooting a RAW image is to expose to the right. This means no matter what your final image will look like expose the shot so it's as close as comfortable to the right edge of the histogram. This gives the most detail and texture and least amount of noise to the picture no matter how dark the final image is.

The reason for this is that the RAW image is linear (as opposed to film, which is logarithmic). This means that for Red, out of 4096 brightness values available, the brightest stop has 2048 values, the 2nd brightest stop has 1024 brightness values, the 3rd brightest stop has 512 brightness values, the 4th brightest stop has 256 brightness values, the 5th brightest stop has 128 brightness values and so on.

As you can see most of the brightness values are in the top 2 stops, so the more information you can capture there will give you the most detail and least amount of noise in your picture.”

That means the best way to get the most useful pixels out of the RED sensor is to not let those pixel blow out to white, unless that is the look you are looking for. Traditionally in film you could “blow out the highlights” and recover them later. When you do this in a digital sensor you never get it back, those pixels are forever white. Ted confirms this.

When you blow out the pixels on a digital sensor, you can’t get the image back, it’s just white and it is going to be white.”

Don’t freak out to much about over exposure. There is a lot of latitude in a RED image and there is plenty of room for recovery. You don’t really have to panic too much about blowing out pixels. This one of Dylan’s Mcleod’s experiences after his complete set of filters went missing.

There were some situations where I would normally control the windows of an interior by putting a grad over them. Without my filters I had no choice but to let them blow – like right off the map – probably six or seven stops over. Only the best film stock would allow recovery of that kind of overexposure.

In hindsight, they look totally fine and natural blown out like that. I have learned not to be such a control freak over highlights.”

Using the RED viewfinder to set exposure

ONBOARD TOOLS

Dylan Mcleod used a combination of the RED’s onboard tools and in front of the lens filtration to control the hot spots that he go faced with in some tough situations.

I found MacGregor’s idea that the camera should be rated at 500 ISO when you are worried about highlights and 100 ISO when you are worried about noisy blacks to be excellent advice.

At the beginning of the shoot I was really careful about clipped highlights, but after viewing footage in REDCINE and playing with the ISO after the fact to see how much information could actually be pulled back from those highlights, I became less worried.

I generally would watch the stoplights and when all three channels were just clipping, I knew I would be okay.”

But there were some instances when Dylan had the time to really take control of the image too. During a RED seminar I was giving a DP asked me about using his set of chocolate filters with the RED. My response was that if you were looking for the color cast of that filter, it would be useful and it would definitely affect the way the camera is seeing color information. Perhaps a more useful approach would be the amount of ND that the filter is giving you. Even with the amount you can manipulate the image in post, it never hurts to have the favorite old tools at the ready.

Aside from camera controls I also make extensive use of various types of graduated filters. From straight ND’s to “ovals,” I really like to stack them up to keep the image nicely controlled.”

The RED offers many digital tools to help you nail exposure. There are several assists build into the camera to help you along with your light meter. I still use an old dial-up light meter and it is a great tool, but I like to combine it with some of the tools built into the RED.

The image histogram is a great tool for anyone who is really comfortable with DSLR imaging, to help you understand where your exposure is. You generally want a nice wide histogram when you are exposing because this gives you the most amount of room to maneuver in post.

RGB Histogram at bottom, center.. Click image for larger.
RGB Histogram for the RED Camera

Starving the sensor will result in having to push the image a fair bit and, unless that is the specific look you are going for, maybe not the optimum way to expose a digital sensor.

I use the histogram in conjunction with the RED stop lights, an RGB representation of which color channels are clipping. The highlight focus assist is also a great tool, because it gives you a monochrome image which is a really nice way to see the latitude of the scene.

Highlight Focus. Click image for larger.
The Highlight Focus Assist uses a monochrome image to help adjust exposure on the RED camera

Ted likes to use the SPOT meter along with the histogram. RED’s spot meter is always rated at 320 ASA (the sensor’s rating) and it gives a reading from one to 100 IRE anywhere in the frame. This is a nice way to check for the amount of latitude you are getting in the image.

Spot meter. Note IRE at bottom of frame. Click image for larger.Ted Schilowitz prefers the RED camera SPOT meter

Dylan likes to use false color. When activated, this mode looks like you are looking through the eyes of The Predator from the Predator movie. It’s a zone color system superimposed over the image. If you are in the pink, you are overexposing the sensor.


Using the False Color exposure monitoring for the RED Camera


Now I find I approach things as I would with Build 15, but if I need to “open up” a bit for shadow detail I have a really easy way of quickly checking (via RAW VIEW and false color) how far I can go before the highlights are “really” gone.

Make sure you understand what each of the various monitoring tools are showing you and you are well on your way to supreme exposure control.”

AESTHETICS

But what about image aesthetics? This is a very important point. We all have used various terms to describe motion picture images, perhaps the favorite being “filmic.” For ages we hated or loved the “video look”, but where does RED fit in? It’s a digital sensor, which technically makes it “video”, but with the compression schemes and good lighting techniques the RED images can be very filmic.

I have noticed that the RED rolls of the highlights more the way a film stock does. In REDSpace, the dark to shadow or highlight detail is more like film in how it blows out. The sensor itself captures linier data but it might be the wavelet compression that helps “draw” an image that feels right.

People have made the RED look like a tack sharp regular old video camera as well, so what is the trick to getting that “film look” with RED? Gregor Hagey:

I don't know if there is a particular aesthetic to Red. It looks most like 35mm film, but not identical. It's a digital format that has a very organic look to it.”

Dylan Mcleod agrees that RED is its own thing:

RED has its own unique look. Unlike film, it is grain less. And unlike HD, the ability to finely control depth of field really makes RED stand out. I love the high resolution images and regardless of the end format I will always want to shoot at the highest resolution available.”

But Ted gives some practical tips to get a more film looking image.

Don’t be so worried about getting stuff in eighties and nineties (IRE) for the subject matter, get your flesh tones and your faces in the 40’s and 50’s, get you shadows in the 20’s and 30’s and get your highlights in the 70’s and eighties if you want them to be nice highlights. Use the tool as a creative tool. Know the where the range and know where the limitations are of the system and then use it to your best benefit.”

Perhaps the most important thing to do with the RED when you first get your hands on it is TEST. I can say that I did not take the RED out on any shoots without going over it with a fine-toothed comb. The menus are deep and the combination of settings and the language can be mesmerizing. RED has made a tool that is very customizable with access to ALL LEVELS of menu. There is no “safe mode” so how things are configured is very important. This is what makes testing so important. While it can be configured to be “run and gun,” the RED is a sophisticated tool, with many film-style dialogs. If you are not a DP who is used to this, it can be daunting.

Gregor Hagey does have some great advice for DPs test things out.

Testing is extremely important. RED is only a year old. There is still much to discover about the format. The camera is also evolving every month with new firmware updates. The Red camera from October 2007 is not the same Red as today.”

One thing is for sure. The RED is not vaporware. It’s a professional filmmaking tool. For you video guys out there, embrace it. For you film guys, treat it like a new 320 ASA film stock. The RED marks a true beginning to the affordable digital cinema camera and I think anyone from Indies to seasoned filmmakers can find that exciting!

High Definition for the Road















Article Focus:
Thanks to formats like DVCPro HD and HDV, High Definition can now be edited pretty much anywhere on just about any computer. Yeah, this is cool and you can really make your friends jealous just cutting away with your super slick laptop. But you know what’s really slick? Editing Uncompressed High Definition anywhere. How about an Uncompressed editing workstation in a 25” square box? No way? Way! Read on to find out about Wally’s Traveling Box of Mystery and Intrigue…..

Why Wally, why?

It all started during a discussion with a D.P. about how nice it would be to be able to capture footage from a Varicam via the HD-SDI output whenever shooting green screen material. For those who don’t know, the Varicam records in the compressed DVCPro HD codec, but the HD-SDI feed out of the camera is pristine, uncompressed 720p footage. So by recording direct from the camera and bypassing tape, you don’t get any compression, thus a perfectly clean key. Yes, you could rent a D5 deck to do the same, but have you seen the rental prices on those lately?

Well to test the theory I packed up my Medea Fibrechannel Array into its box and the G5 into its box and the Kona 2 Kbox into its box and the monitor into its box and then some cables into a bag and the computer accessories into another bag and….. well you get the picture. It was a lot of boxes and “stuff” which barely fit into the back of my vehicle. So I pondered a bit…… And then I thought a while…….. and then I watched my Bruce Springsteen concert DVD and it hit me. “I need a Road Case!”

You know, those big black road cases you see at every concert. Pop one open and presto, a 200 channel mixer appears ready to rock in a matter of minutes. What if I could do the same for high definition editing? Just pop open a case at any location and I’m editing in 10 minutes or less.




Plan once, uh, build twice.

I had the perfect plan, now I just had to execute it. The primary equipment in this system would be the Apple PowerMac G5, the Medea FCR2X Fibre Channel Array and the Kona 2 K-Box. For those who don’t know, the Apple G5 is too tall to mount horizontally so you’re pretty much stuck standing the thing up. The computer is approx. 21” tall so I’m thinking a nice 36” box which can flip open with some shelving and I’m good to go. I have a Honda CR-V so I figure the box should fit in there nicely.

I head on down to my local Guitar Center and find the perfect solution. A slant mixer rack from Odyssey that’s about 38” tall with a big flip open top that’s big enough to hold a computer monitor. Big door panels front and back to give easy access to the computer and drives inside. I purchase it and my father in-law and I flip it on its back and slide it into the truck. Did you get that? I said I flipped the case on its back to get it into my truck because it was too tall to fit standing up. My spidey senses should have been tingling at that point saying “danger danger” but I drove away blissfully happy.

On the way home we stopped off at a new Fry’s Electronics store. I was curious to see if they had a small LCD HDTV that might be a good field monitor. Certainly not something for critical color, but something that could be used for editing in the field and then all coloring would be done back in the main suites. What I found was the Sony MFM-HT75W. This multiformat monitor has 2 inputs for computer feeds (RGB & DVI) along with Component HD and Composite S-Video & Composite inputs. Very slick little monitor at a great price so my plan was to use the DVI input for the computer and the Component HD feed for the HD signal from the Kona 2.
































Two weeks later I had modified the box into the perfect field editing workstation. It was all set up in the office, I took pictures of it and was ready to roll. So I called my wife down and said “Honey, help me put this into the truck, would ya?” Piece of cake, right? I mean, just roll it to the back of the truck and then flip it on its back and push. It seemed like a good idea at the time. It would be very inappropriate for me to divulge the words that came out of my mouth as we attempted to do this very simple task. See flipping over an EMPTY case was easy, but now add a heavy computer and very very heavy hard-drives along with shelves, a battery backup and more….. well let’s just say it was a very painful and ugly experience. The Odyssey case is currently occupying it’s own space in my garage. If anyone would like to purchase it, let me know. It was only used once…. really!

But I digress.

Round Two

So the first box looked cool, but there was no way I was going to manage this thing in a single case. I needed to break down the system into smaller units that I could lift myself into the truck and then simply stack up on location. So I headed back to Guitar Center to see my buddy Raz in the Pro Audio Department and we set to work putting together a modular rack system. First we found the Road Ready RRM8U slant mixer rack on the floor. Only 26” tall so it would fit vertically into my CR-V.

Next we looked for a rolling base but there wasn’t one on the floor that I liked. Then we found the ultimate base on the website. The Road Ready RR6WD rolling base unit with storage drawer. Oh yeah! It stands 17” tall bringing the overall height of the workstation to about 43” which is perfect for standing. And the best part? It has a pull out storage drawer that’s about 6” deep with plenty of room to hold the cables, keyboards, tape stock and computer accessories. At to that a third Road Ready Case for the Sony 17” monitor and I had three cases that would easily fit into the back of my vehicle which should be easier to lift. For good measure I added two wing shelves to hold the keyboard and monitor.

First off, the RRM8U is a slant mixer rack which has rack rails both up the front and across the top with the rails across the top slanted at an angle to make it easier for the operator to run the audio mixer. My plan (as with the first case) was to install the Fibrechannel array hanging down vertically in the back of the box with the Kona 2 K-Box right next to it. You do not want hard-drives hanging on an angle, so my first step was to remove the slanted top rails and modify them so they were perfectly flat across the top.



Kona 2 K-box (foreground) and Medea FCR2X FibreChannel Array mounted in the rear of the RRM8U. The Sony MFM-HT75W sits on the shelf at the top of the photo.

This worked out beautifully and gave me plenty of room in front of the drives to set the monitor shelf.



What am I doing?

With a box this small, the only way to fit the G5 in there was to mount it horizontally. There’s only one way to do that…. hacksaw. I found Marathon Computers on the internet as the only company selling a horizontal G5 rack mount and they had very good instructions on how to cut the handles off the machine. It all sounded so simple, have a good sharp blade, face the teeth backwards, cut on the backstroke and file off the edges nice and clean. Unfortunately when the unit arrived, I realized it was too deep for the travel case, it’s designed for a full size stand up rack unit. But I already had the hacksaw, file and instructions so……


Click on the graphic below to view larger image


G5 Dual 2.0 prepped and ready for cosmetic surgery.

The instructions from Marathon are quite good and I love their tongue-in-cheek suggestion for the “ultimate” tool to remove the handles, a chainsaw. They do request a video from the person who attempts this, but as this was going to be a working computer, I decided to stick with a standard hacksaw. I considered a powered jig-saw but I was afraid that vibration from the tool could damage some internal parts. Obviously, you need to cover all the vents and have a vacuum with one of those crevice attachments handy.

As I made the first pull with the hacksaw I have to admit, my first thought was “What the heck am I doing! This is a very expensive computer and I’m cutting it with a hacksaw!” It was pretty scary at that point. But then I remembered a particular crash during a long render that caused me to work late into the night. The second cut felt a bit better. Then I remembered more crashes over the past four years with various PowerMacs and suddenly it became fun to cut away at the machine.

The key to doing this step well is to really take your time in both the prep and the cutting. About every 10 cuts I used the vacuum to clean up the shavings. Approx. 1 hour after I started prepping the machine, I had a handle free G5 ready for horizontal installation.


Click on the graphic below to view larger image


Look ma, no handles!



The Final Touches.

Now like I mentioned earlier, the Marathon rack mount unit was too deep for this particular installation, but I found that the G5 fit snugly inside the case and really could not move in any direction once it was sitting in there. But obviously you don’t want a computer sitting right on the floor of a case because it could get rattled pretty good when rolling the case on location. So I went down to my local hardware store and picked up four large round doorstops. They’re about 2” across with a large heavy duty rubber ring that perfectly hold up the G5 in the case and provide shock absorption. They also raised the G5 to the perfect height to allow the DVD drive to open cleanly.

There’s another huge advantage to the G5 simply resting in the case rather than being actually rack mounted. Remember the whole weight thing from my first case? Well, the G5 and the Medea FCR2X in the box together still require that two people be present to lift the case. But if I find myself alone, I simply slide the G5 out of the case, lift the case into the truck, then slide the G5 back into the case. Then I reverse the process on location if need be. So I can truly move this system to a location by myself.

All cables, the keyboard & mouse, and even raw tape stock fit neatly into the rolling base for ease of transport. Since the Sony accepts RCA inputs and the Kona 2 has standard BNC connections, I ordered a set of cables with BNC on one end and RCA on the other end. This way I never have to worry about having adapters on location, it’s all built into the cables. The K-Box does have RCA audio outputs so those connect direct to the monitor. Going with Fibrechannel means that I have two very thin cables to connect between the G5 and the FCR2X which is a lot nicer than dealing with thick SCSI cables. A second shelf wing out front holds the keyboard and mouse.

All in all, it’s about 10 minutes from the time I get the cases into position until the system is fired up and ready to edit.


Click on the graphics below to view larger images






Finished system ready for editing.





Click on the graphics below to view larger images


The Road Ready RR6WD rolling base offers a nice hidden storage compartment.


On the Road, Not in the Air.

Now before you go out and try to build this thing yourself, know that this is a road traveling case only. I would never put this on a plane or ship it using a commercial carrier. With the rough treatment of a commercial shipping companies or air service, the components would be destroyed. There are specific air travel cases that feature a ton of shock absorption that should protect the components, but even then, I’m not sure I would ever actually ship something like this. No, this system was specifically built to travel in a personal vehicle and preferably with me driving.

Though originally designed with green screen work in mind, the system will most likely also head out to film locations, corporate conventions and even to live broadcast locations. DV to 10bit HD in a box. Now that’s pretty cool!

Taking Sony's HDV Camera to the Outer Limits of Performance













Article Focus:
Sony has made a big splash in the video world with the release of their HDV camcorder the HVR-Z1U. By itself, it is capable of images that will amaze even the most jaded video professional. But as with all things, there's always room for improvement. By not having a microphone or wide angle supplied, you can choose better components that will enhance the performance of an already incredible camera. In this article, CreativeCOW.net contributing editor Jim Harvey walks CreativeCOW members through what they need to build the Ultimate Z1U set up.



Sony's HDV camera HVR-Z1U

Taking Sony's HDV camera to the outer limits of performance.

Sony has made a big splash in the video world with the release of their HDV camcorder the HVR-Z1U. By itself, it is capable of images that will amaze even the most jaded video professional. But as with all things, there's always room for improvement. Sony's list price of $5995.00 (street price about a thousand less) necessitated the omission of a few items that might have been available had it been a higher priced ticket.

Notably, the Z1U comes with dual XLR inputs but no microphone other than the built-in onboard. Owners of PD-150/170 cameras scratched their heads wondering what Sony was thinking. Additionally, Sony chose to make a wide angle lens an option rather than including it with the camera package ala PD170's. At first blush, this might seem like a dumb move on Sony's part (okay, maybe not dumb, but certainly cheap), but ultimately, it may be a blessing in disguise.

By not having a microphone or wide angle supplied, you can choose better components that will enhance the performance of an already incredible camera. You're not locked in to the Sony glass or audio, which is a good thing. The beauty of the modular approach is that you can assemble your accessories in such a way as to maximize your investment while keeping your costs at a reasonable level. We're going to show you how to do just that.

While the camera is ready to make mind blowing images out of the box, we can trick it out to the point that one would be hard pressed to tell the difference between the Z1U images and those from cameras costing 10 to 20 times as much. Think I'm all soft in the head? Read on my friends as we construct the Ultimate Z1U.


Support your local camera

Before we add any accessories we have to give ourselves a stable platform from which to create our fabulous images. While we may from time to time do the handheld shuffle, our most demanding images are going to need the support of a tripod. Not just any tripod mind you, we want the best stability and the smoothest fluid head that we can find. We also don't want to spend a fortune to get our rock solid mount.

Rushing to our rescue is MILLER with their DS10 fluid head and Solo Carbon Fiber legs. This setup is right out of your dreams. Silky smooth pans and tilts, a variable counterbalance system that allow you to set the head for the exact balance required regardless of what you hang off the camera, be it Matte Boxes, Onboard lights, Microphones or other accessories, the Miller DS10 will handle it all without a whimper.

Miller's DS10 Head and Solo Tripod
Fig. 1: Miller's DS10 Head coupled with their Solo Tripod is a rock solid performer.

This is one of, if not THE coolest tripods that I've ever worked with. It reminds me of my beloved old Gitzo, only at about a 3rd of the weight. You can see from the photos, that not only can we get up and above the crowd, we can also dispense with the need for a Hi-Hat for our low shots. This tripod system gets down!



Fig. 2: Low or High, the Miller SOLO has you covered

Miller has tricked this head out so that even the most picky of us can be satisfied that we have the stability that we need with an ease of use that makes it all just come together wonderfully.

A 75MM bowl is beefy enough to handle any DV camera that you might be using. (If you are shooting with a full size DV camera the DS10 / DS20 will most likely be the way you want to go). For our HDV Sony, the DS10 / DS20 is more than adequate to support all of our kit.

The legs are carbon fiber with locking rings and a very clever leg lock system. (See illustration). Setup is a breeze and the whole setup weighs in at less than 10 lbs. Just looking at the DS10 / DS20 gives you the confidence that this is a robust unit that isn't playing any games. No posers here. This is the real deal.

Miller Solo with DS10 / DS20 Head: Suggested List $1299.00


I Can't Hear You!

Sennheiser Evolution Series
Fig. 3: Sennheiser Evolution Series Wireless mics deliver excellent audio at affordable prices.


Your video is only as good as your audio (at least that's what the audio guys say). Sure if you shoot great video and lousy audio you can always do the Audio Dub in post with a soundtrack from somewhere else. But that won't fly if you're doing an interview or the sound is directly connected to what's happening on screen. The onboard mic will get audio onto the tape, but it clearly won't be the kind of audio that you'd want your mother to hear. An XLR mic is going to be your salvation. Whether you mount it in the onboard camera holder or hang it on a boom pole, a high quality External Mic is going to make your audio sound the way you want it to.

Our pick for your XLR Mic is the Sennheiser ME66/K6. The mic has the ability to take advantage of the Phantom power that the Z1U delivers. Its performance is legendary and professional audio guys swear by it (not at it). Equally at home on the end of a boom pole this mic is just a solid choice for your audio needs. For a significantly smaller amount of money, the Beyerdynamic MCE 86II delivers very nice audio for about half the price of the Sennheiser. You need to listen to each and make your decision based on your ears (or the ears of someone you trust like your sound person).

Sennheiser ME66/K6 $450.00


Look MA! No Wires!

For wireless audio we can fairly well rely on the excellence of Lectrosonics which will set you back a decent amount of lunch money. There are, however, some other alternatives that will deliver excellent audio at a more affordable price. My personal favorite is the Sennheiser Evolution series of wireless. Here are the EW100's that I use from Professional Sound Inc. in New York. These Sennheisers are extremely versatile and allow you to scan for available frequencies. They have a range that has to be seen/heard to be believed and they have never failed me on a job. Transmitter and Receiver with a Lav and a mike unit for a handheld will run you right around $500.00. For the audio that this system delivers, it's well worth the investment. If you don't need the handheld transmitter, you can get the bodypack units with lave for around $350.00, which is a great deal, anyway you look at it.

Sennheiser wireless audio systems
Fig. 4: The Evolution Wireless system offers flexibility in a compact package

We're looking to build the ultimate Z1U, which does not necessarily mean the most expensive Z1U. Another nice alternative is the compact AIRLINE series of wireless mics from Samson. The AIRLINE series weighs in at just under 4ozs. and transmits extremely clean audio. They claim a range of 35 feet, but I've successfully used them outdoors line of sight to over 150'. While they aren't in the same league as the Senn's or Lectro's, at under $400.00 with a handheld module, they are a real bargain.

Samson Airline Wireless system
Fig. 5: Samson Airline Wireless system is a capable no frills unit.

Now that we have all this great audio capability, we need a way to monitor it. Coming back with audio that's too hot, clipped or distorted isn't an option for us. A good set of headphones is a must. If we're using a soundman, the audio is their department, but again, most people are wearing two hats when they shoot. So for our article, we're going to need the phones. Sony gets the nod here with a great pair of phones MDR-V700. These are full size phones with great noise rejection.


Sony's MDR-V700 Headphones


Can you see me?

.7X Wide-angle Lens from 16x9
Fig. 7: .7X Wide-angle Lens from 16x9 Inc. gives 30% wider coverage than the stock Sony Lens.

The Carl Zeiss Vario Sonnar lens that Sony has stuck to the front of the Z1U is an awesome piece of glass for its niche. It's a tad too short on the wide side, but that's why they put threads on the front of it. All of the hand held cameras have some type of add-on wide-angle lens. Some cameras come with one, while others need to have a wide angle purchased. The Z1U falls into the latter category, which is a good thing for you, the new owner.

The Stock Sony Wide Angle lens is only a .8X, which is barely perceptible when you screw it on the front of the Camera. It's hard to justify the added expense for so little gain. However, a company by the name of 16x9 Inc. has introduced a wide-angle lens for the Z1U that will deliver .7X with crystal clarity that also gives you the ability to zoom through. That's a 30% increase in area with no image degradation. They have cleverly made the rear 72mm screw in so that it will attach directly to the front of the Z1U while the front of the lens also has threads so that you can attach filters, stone guards etc. With the proper adapter, you can also use this wide angle with the Chrosziel Matte box.

16X9 .7X wide angle Lens $707.00 (Street Price around $650.00)


Wide angle vs. Standard lens
Fig.8: The 16x9 Wide Angle shows 30% more area than the standard lens.

The Hoover Dam is an amazing piece of human engineering. What better place to test another marvelous piece of Human Engineering the Sony Z1U. Everything at Hoover dam is immense. Hard to get it all in with the standard Zeiss Lens. However, by using the wide-angle lens from 16x9, I managed to capture a sense of just how enormous the whole facility really is.


Eyaah! My Eyes!

Bebob's Lux light
Fig. 9: Bebob's Lux light is a lightweight onboard light source with a lot of nice features.


HDV is light demanding. You need good light to bring out all the potential of this new format. While we'd all like to have a full professional light kit at our disposal, for the most part, “Run and Gunners” don't usually have that luxury. A capable on-camera light is something that needs to be addressed. While there are old school standards out there, a camera as advanced and ground breaking as the Z1U really deserves something a little more 21st century.

The Bebob Lux is our choice for onboard lumens. It's light, sturdy, and can be powered with an external battery so that you don't eat up your camera's power supply. (Switronix Inc. makes a great NP1 adapter) Drop a 20W bulb into it and some good diffusion with a set of barndoors and you have a very usable light setup that will help to bring out the beauty of the HDV image. Keep the light on wide rather than spot to avoid that “Nightly News Head Burn” look. You want your subject to appear natural and pleasingly lit rather than looking as if they are under investigation. The Lux is very light, being made from a composite material and doesn't add any significant weight to the camera. It can also be used directly with the COCO system (see below) for a completely modular solution to your lighting needs.

Onboard lighting has always been a sore spot for me. I dislike using on-boards for the simple reason that they are either too much or too little. While using the Lux, I found it added just the right amount of light for those situations where ambient wasn't enough. It was light enough that I never noticed it, and it's built in dichroic filters made matching light a snap.


The Heart of the System

Chrosziel's Matte box

Fig. 10: Chrosziel's Matte box enables you to control your light while also allowing
the use of wide-angle lenses.

To make those beautiful HDV images we've mentioned that you need light. Now at the other end of the scale, you can have too much light, light in the wrong place, or stray light that will conspire to ruin your footage or make it look like it came from a cheapo camera. That's almost a mortal sin with a camera this good. If you can't control your light, you're just spinning your wheels and you'll deliver mediocre footage that will make you question your purchase. As we all know, there is nothing worse than thinking you've made a horrible mistake.

Again, we look to 16X9 Inc. for help. They are the supplier for Chrosziel products, manufacturers of possibly the finest matte boxes and sunshades on the planet. Chrosziel stepped up to the plate with a mattebox design specifically for the Z1U. By taking advantage of the flexibility of this mattebox, you will be able to completely control the light that the camera sees. If you control the light, you control the image and that after all is what great looking video is all about. 16x9's Chrosziel Mattebox controls the light entering and striking the lens more efficiently than the stock lens hood.

The French Flag (the light shield above the lens) can be adjusted in order to block out stray or unwanted light. Adding Side wings completes the mattebox and gives the operator total control over the light striking the CCD. It also allows the use of professional quality filters. One filter stage rotates allowing the use of special effect filters and the second filter stage is stationary for use with conventional filters or grads. The mattebox also comes with a true 16x9 mask that again controls perfectly, the light that is allowed into the lens. With a Mattebox, you determine how the image is created, not chance or mother nature.

No filtration
Shooting with no filtration.

Shooting with a 4x4 Coral filter
Shooting with a 4x4 Coral filter



No filter
No filter


Altering the mood
Altering the mood



Unfortunately, I was unable to get a larger variety of 4x4 / 4 x 5.6 filters to shoot some comparisons. Using the matte box makes filter changes a simple matter of pulling out one holder and inserting the next one. Corals, Grads, Neutral Density, (great for reducing light and altering your depth of field) No unscrewing filters and juggling around. The ease with which you can add filtration when you're using a matte box is another strong reason to add one to your kit.


IT'S ALL A BLUR TO ME


Follow focus
Fig. 11: A follow focus will enable you to maintain the precise focus that HDV demands.


Shooting with a camera that has 4.5 times the resolution of anything in its class is a real eye opener. It can also be a real eyestrain if you don't get your focus right on the money. With Regular DV tiny focus aberrations can be tolerated with little consequence. Not so with HDV. If you're not right on the money, everyone is going to know about it. While the auto focus on the Z1U is one of the best in the business, most professional shooters opt for manual focus. The manual focus ring on the Z1U is a perpetual ring (it doesn't have stops, it just keeps rotating round and round). It's not a TRUE manual focus either. The ring is connected to a servo system that moves the elements.

I've found that while manual focusing this camera, I tend to occasionally bump the ring with a finger when hand holding. It's a problem that can be overcome by consciously being aware of where your hands are at all times. On a tripod, that's not too much of a problem. But to really get all the benefit of manual focus, you should be equipped with a professional follow focus or focus controller. Once again, 16X9 Inc. has the solution for you. Their focus control integrates perfectly with the Chrosziel Mattebox system. Mounted on the support rods that hold the Mattebox in place, the focus control is connected to the servo ring of the camera with a gear arrangement. There is just the right amount of resistance in the control knob to make your image focus more accurate.

Used in conjunction with the expanded focus button on the camera (pressing expanded focus enlarges the image 2X momentarily so that you can pull the exact focus that you need), you can be completely precise and always have perfectly focused shots. Another plus of using a focus control is the ability to mark focus points on the white plastic ring with a grease pencil. This is the way focusing is done on a film camera and it translates perfectly to the Z1U. Focus your first shot and mark the ring. Move to shot two, mark the ring again and so on. You can have several focus points marked on the ring at any time which gives you the latitude for multiple focus pulls. (Some DP's like to mark the ring in different colors so that no one gets confused, Red is shot 1, blue shot 2 black shot 3 etc.).

The Z1U has a built in “shot box” but it needs to be programmed and can only be used for one shot at a time. Using a Focus Controller allows more versatility and will prevent those unexpected bumps of the servo ring at the least opportune moment.



Fig.12: The Follow Focus is a “Must Have” for serious work with this camera.



Power to the People

Bebob's Coco attachment
Fig. 13: Bebob's Coco attachment moves the battery outboard and give the user two power taps.


An interesting accessory that is currently available is the Bebob Coco battery adapter and light package. The Coco mounts the regular Sony battery in an offset manner, which allows for the inclusion of a power tap to run a small onboard light (See the section on the Lux Light above). This is a nice system when coupled with the Bebob Lux onboard light.

There are some questions as to battery life with this setup as you are taking a 7.2V battery and bumping it to 12V. This naturally is going to effect runtimes and some people feel that this puts an undue strain on the battery itself. In my working with the unit, I did find that run times were diminished fairly dramatically. A FP960 battery will easily run the Z1U for over 4 hours. When used with the Coco, the run time was reduced to about 65 - 75 minutes depending on the battery type (960/970).

However, the convenience of having that extremely lightweight light onboard outweighs the disadvantage of diminished run times. Switronix also has a battery/light solution that will be available for the Z1U camera. Contact the manufacturer for more details (at the end of the article).