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Working with RED

“That looks like an expensive bit of kit,”; “Wow, I’ve never seen one of these in person,”; “you’ve got insurance for this, right?”; “this is worth more than everything I own!”

These are all questions and statements I hear on a regular basis when out shooting with my RED Scarlet-W. For a normal person, a RED must seem like an insane piece of technology; a fortress of solid metal; a small computer with a sensor inside; the gateway to cinematic quality – and it is, mind you – but for me, it’s my camera; it’s my go-to piece of kit; my workhorse; to some extent, my baby. I joke with friends that I tuck it in every night before going to bed. But, as with any baby, it comes with its own unique challenges. Before jumping into that, let me quickly explain who RED are and what a RED Scarlet-W is.

W0orking with RED Scarle-W camera

Some photos of my RED Scarlet-W.

RED is a leading professional camera manufacturer

RED is a leading manufacturer of professional, digital cinema cameras. Founded by Oakley founder and CEO Jim Jannard (yes, the sunglasses company), they produce industry-leading cameras that have the ability to shoot in 4K, 5K, 6K – all the way up to 8K resolution. Yes 8K – it is a thing. They’ve been used on some of the biggest films and TV shows of the last few years including House of Cards, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Disaster Artist, Stranger Things – the list goes on. One of the cameras they make (well, technically they’ve discontinued it in exchange for an easier camera portfolio but I won’t get into that), is the Scarlet-W. The Scarlet-W has RED’s 5K Dragon sensor, meaning it can shoot in any resolution up to 5K at 50fps. Not only that, but it has an incredibly high dynamic range – i.e. its ability to capture the difference between the darkest darks and lightest lights (16.5 stops) – as well as a whole host of professional features that allow users to take their video making to the next level, including: shooting in RAW, high frame rates, an unending list of menus that navigate you to every aspect of the camera, modular body design etc. I own a RED Scarlet-W and, as stated, it is my baby. But it has a number of setbacks. Firstly, its price.

These cameras are expensive to maintain

Not only is the camera unbelievably expensive to buy (just ask my business partners to describe their reactions when I first proposed buying it when founding the business) it’s also incredibly expensive to run. On any one shoot, I could capture upwards of 2TB of data – which is the equivalent of 3-4 hours of 4K footage. In terms of data-handling, that is a nightmare. As the hard drives continue to stack up, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to keep track of what is saved where. (Side note: if Western Digital want to sponsor us, that would be fantastic.) Alongside this, given it costs more than some cars and is the heart of the business, it needs to be fully insured and, while I don’t take any risks – insuring its full replacement value, the premium is almost the same as my car insurance (just £20 shy). Yes, I would rather be protected than not, but waving goodbye to that money every month never gets easier. What’s more, you have to weave your way through questions about price from friends and strangers. Truthfully, I never know what to say: do I tell the person asking the truth and then try and explain how such a huge investment at the age of 21 is worthwhile; like a builder investing in his tools, or do I remain vague and hope that the person’s interest fades? It’s a tough situation to master. Yet, beyond money, carrying and transporting the camera can be a chore.

RED need a special approach to operation

I’m not the biggest guy you’ve ever met. 6’ 1” and 10 and a half stone (1.85m and 65kg for all you metric users out there). The camera, when fully loaded with battery, lens, screen etc, comes in at about 5kg. That may not seem like a lot for all you gym buffs out there, but compared to a typical DSLR that weighs 400-600g, it’s a big jump. Join that together with 7-9 hour-long days and no back support, the camera can really take its toll. Additionally, factor in the difficulties around getting the camera and its case to filming locations (especially if its abroad), and you’ve got yourself a logistical nightmare. I fly with the RED as my hand luggage when going away, and every single time I have been stopped by security and asked questions. In one instance, I almost missed my flight because of the delay it caused. Not only that, I also have to factor in extra time when arriving on set as the camera needs to be fully assembled. If it’s going on the gimbal, it can take 20-30 minutes to set up properly. With a normal DSLR, that sort of setup time is unheard of – but the RED isn’t a normal DSLR – in fact it’s not a normal camera generally.

But everything pays off with incredible camera quality

The RED camera on the MōVI Pro gimbal

The RED on the MōVI Pro gimbal, filming in Victoria Baths in Manchester.

That’s why I don’t think it’s completely fair to complain about these setbacks being problems – you should expect this sort of change when you take the leap into the digital cinema world. File sizes are bigger, cameras become more robust and sturdy and, therefore, heavier and more impressive looking. Yes, I do believe that the camera should work flawlessly for the price point (REDs do have a tendency to glitch out every now again), but for the quality of the image and how powerful the camera is itself, I can generally let these minor hindrances slide. The camera is a thing of beauty; a true work of art in itself. Owning a RED Scarlet-W has completely revolutionised and changed my way of film making. Things that were impossible with my old Canon 70D are now possible and standard with the RED. If anything, I take some of the REDs features for granted now: tweaking ISO and White Balance in post have become standard practices. I feel I shouldn’t rely so heavily on the capabilities of shooting in RAW but, if I’m able to, why would I not? I’m in an incredibly unique and lucky position where these features are part and parcel of the camera I own, so why not use them to their full potential?

RED cameras impress with their functionality

Director Mark Toia put it best:

“Overall, RED has made my shooting life so much easier, I’m actually getting quite lazy with exposure and colour settings these days, only because I don’t live in a colour baked world anymore. In my 35mm days, I had to be spot on with everything – but now I’m in a RAW world, meaning I can change all that information later.”

RED have made my shooting life both more difficult, but also a hell of a lot easier and way more exciting. Every shoot has its own requirements, and with RED I know I can rely on my camera to be able to deliver every single time. I am confident that I will be able to deliver a final product to a client that will wow them, and that’s the ultimate goal of my work.

In conclusion

At the end of the day, content far exceeds tools in film making, and the RED is just a means by which to tell a story. But having 4K as standard, being able to capture full, rich colours that pop from the screen, shooting in RAW with high frame rates with the ability to make drastic colour and exposure changes in post and using a variety of focus and exposure features to ensure the image is composed to the best of the cameras ability, while also turning some heads in the process, is a huge, huge bonus. Don’t underestimate the power of having this camera at your side every day of the year. With a beast like the RED Scarlet-W, anything is possible – the only thing limiting you is your imagination. Would I still have chosen to buy and work with RED if I had knew what I know now? Absolutely. Working with RED was one of the best decisions of my life.

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