Finally I am ready to publish my first article in a series comparing my recent battlefield experiences with three of the worlds best digital cinema cameras. My gratitude and thanks goes out to all at Media Film Service (www.mediafilmservice.com) for their support and for fantastic gear.
Also my thanks to Jacques Mulder of Mudville Production and Post, Dubai (www.mvdubai.com) for the Red EPIC.
At this stage in the game I am purposely avoiding talk of image “quality”, resolution, even latitude. All of these cameras are capable of capturing breathtaking imagery. What I want to focus on is how these cameras performed in a cut down, bare bones, guerilla warfare style of shooting with few accessories, and few hands on set.
I believe I broke some rules, stretched some boundaries and pushed some comfort zones in my recent shoots. Far from “traditional” at all on films that would normally be shot with this level of equipment, I purposely ditched focus pullers, camera assistants and DIT’s for a streamlined multi-hyphenated skeleton crew instead.
By skeleton crew, on “INSIDE” I mean my D.P. Warrick McLeod, who operated, built up, tore down and pulled focus, my director Christo Crafford, myself, and my cast (of two; Leon Laubscher and Pascale Neuschaffer).
We shot three locations, day and night, mostly exteriors with no grip and lighting gear. Our camera kit consisted of the Red One MX for two days, Alexa for one day, a set of Arri Master Primes, a Angenieux HR 25-250mm, a Zeiss 10mm, O’Connor 2575 head, short legs, Arri FF-3 follow focus, MB-14 matte box, and filters; ND’s (IRND’s on the Red), ND grads and a pola.
It was actually a lot of cases to shove into a single vehicle (a Mahindra 4×4) with all four grown men as well, but we managed.
Actually we did better than manage, we made a great movie with some outstanding pictures.
On Murder at the Manor we shot with the Red EPIC with Ultra Primes, a Zeiss 10mm, the same FF-3 follow focus but a 4×4 clip on matte box and many, many less camera related flight cases. We did have grips and lighting gear though, and a smoke machine, which filled the Mahindra and an additional long wheelbase Land Rover.
Murder at the Manor had a cast of nine and a crew of seven, but two of the crew were also cast members. Warrick Mcleod again was D.P. but was allowed this time to concentrate totally on lighting as Jacques Mulder operated and pulled focus, with someone else occasionally manning the follow focus and carefully pulling to marks when necessary.
The rest of the crew were pretty multi-hyphenated, it was really just a case of having as many hands on deck as possible. There really was no pecking order or specialists outside of Jacques and Warrick, Leon Laubscher the director and myself, producing. There were no units, there were no departments, but roles were carefully defined where necessary.
The resulting chaos worked brilliantly well for us, we all had fun and we shot 31 pages in four days. Keep in mind this was a period piece, and very drama/dialogue intensive.
I think there is little argument that these two productions, as test cases, can be considered “bare bones”.
You can check out some ungraded frame grabs from the EPIC on Murder at the Manor here – http://www.flickr.com//photos/richlackey/sets/72157627408410955/show/
So how did the cameras compare?
1. First place without a doubt goes to EPIC… the camera is very compact, and with all the accessories including the addition of a 17″ HD field monitor that we didn’t bring on “INSIDE” we had the fewest and smallest flight cases with the EPIC. It made a big difference to the shoot, in terms of space in vehicles, time spent lugging equipment around, and in terms of keeping track of where everything was at all times. Absolutely fantastic… closest thing to being as compact as shooting with a DSLR and still shooting “real” digital cinema. The total camera weight built up was also a fraction of either the Alexa or Red One. I think we’d have gotten away with perching the EPIC on a Manfrotto 501 fluid head. The O’Connor 2575 was a bit overkill but silky smooth so no complaints really.
2. Second place goes to the Alexa, but only because for some reason we had one less case to carry around. If I remember correctly we had four batteries in the Alexa’s camera case, instead of in their own separate case, and of course we were shooting to SxS cards, not hard drives. This aside, it’s a heavy camera, and a lot for a tiny crew to carry around. Still, we made it work.
3. Third place goes to the Red One MX… let’s face it, it’s a big camera and those batteries and hard drives and all the cables and bits and pieces can get a bit much for a one or two man show. It’s heavy when built up, and Warrick did have it on his shoulder a lot of the time.
1. EPIC again takes first place. Jacques had not received his EPIC batteries yet, so we had a separate V-lock system and used standard Red Bricks. They lasted substantially longer powering the EPIC than they did powering the Red One, or the Anton Bauer batteries that powered the Alexa. On a real guerilla style shoot, battery life is very important because down-time is minimal. We did keep the batteries on a constant charging rotation, but when few people are charged with multiple responsibilities, it’s easy for charging to take a back seat.
2. Red One MX lasted slightly longer on a charged battery than the Alexa. In both cases the on board monitor was powered by the same battery.
3. Alexa didn’t last too long on a single battery, I was a bit dissapointed about that really, especially since it wasn’t spinning hard drives but writing to solid state cards.
MEDIA [UPDATED 04/09/2011]
1. Red One MX takes first place here, the hard drives are great, we shot for a whole day on one drive shooting Redcode36. Brilliant.
2. ALEXA is second place, the Sony 32GB SxSPro cards were filled quick, but not as quick as the 128GB SSD RedMags!
3. EPIC in HDRx fills up those SSD’s damn quick! We went through four / five SSD drives in a day not even shooting HDR and could have shot more without too much effort. We used just over 2TB in four days of shooting! Note however, this is not necessarily a bad thing! High bitrates mean lower compression, and that generally means a more versatile image in post (resolution and color bit depth being equal… sorry… not getting into image quality just yet), but be aware that you need a good system of keeping track of what SSD’s are full and need to be transferred, which can be formatted, and which are formatted.
*A note on bitrates and compression ratios on the EPIC – you’ve got 3:1, 5:1 and 7:1, and your choice affects how quickly you will fill up your SSD’s, and space on whatever system you are aggregating all your media to (and of course backups).
We shot 3:1 which is why we consumed so many terrabytes of storage, we could have shot 7:1 and been closer to what you would be used to shooting Redcode42 on the Red One. I’ll get more into what this means in terms of image quality in a later post.
OVERALL INDIE GUERILLA FRIENDLINESS
1. EPIC for the win! It wins hands down when all things are taken into account.
2. Alexa is number two, this will become even more apparent in the next article when I tackle the camera’s ridiculously easy and slick menus and setup procedures. You can’t go wrong, the camera is idiot proof.
3. Red One MX comes last, but certainly not least! It’s a fantastic camera and I’m not knocking it. It is however heavy, lots of cables of all different sorts that can get confusing under pressure, and it’s just not that easy with a really small crew, or for a single camera operator/D.P. that doesn’t have support crew. Plus it takes a while to boot up 🙂
That’s it for now. I’m keeping this particular comparison at that, but none of these cameras are what I would call hard to use, or particularly complex, and they can all be used on a cut-down shoot, just be aware of what you can expect in terms of physical space in transport, setup and tear down, battery life, media cycling, and plan accordingly beforehand!
Next up I’m going to look at the physical camera bodies themselves, dive into ergonomics and menus/setup procedures.
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