06 Dec 2016

The RED Epic-W: the best dual purpose still/cinematography camera yet?

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The RED Epic-W: A year's wait but well worth it The RED Epic-W: A year's wait but well worth it RED


Nearly a year after initially putting down a deposit for a Scarlet-W, Rakesh Malik now finally has $30,000 worth of Epic-W in his hands and discovers that it could be the ideal mixed still and cinematography camera for anyone serious about either format.

It's been quite a wait, and in the interim RED loaned me a Scarlet-X Dragon to shoot with. First impressions are that there are some obvious differences between the DSMC1 and DSMC2 bodies. The port cluster at the bottom rear is gone, replaced by an exhaust vent. The Brain itself is smaller and lighter as well, pretty remarkable given that RED has crammed significantly more hardware in there.

Most people who have used RED cameras are used to hearing fan noise between takes; the default fan settings run the fans at a rather high level when the camera isn't recording. The Epic-W on the other hand is whisper-quiet, even when not recording.

It's a tradeoff; the old bodies had a set of ports like timecode, power, and genlock in, as well as HDMI and SDI, while on the DSMC2 you'll have to add modules to get those ports.

With the cableless design, it's now quite easy to set up the camera so that it's nearly ready to go: just attach a lens, battery, and media card, and it's built. It's still possible though to add Lemo adapters for situations where a remote monitoring solution is better than having the monitor on the top or side via a POGO to Lemo adapter. In addition to making setup easier, it also makes the camera easier to pack for travel.

Another addition is built in scratch mics. While they're not a good choice for production audio, they're clear and sensitive. Since the scratch mics are on the front of the body and the exhaust is at the rear, there's minimal fan noise in the scratch track. This should be very helpful for waveform syncing with production audio, as well as for editing.

My Epic-W is configured with a 4.7-inch monitor and a bare bones V-mount plate. I'm getting an average of around an hour with the 90 watt hour BlueShape Granite batteries I've been using, which is a bit less than the 90 minutes I was getting with the older Scarlet-X or with the AJA Cion.

The Epic-W as a legendary stills camera


Courtesy White Crane Photography

Resolution is of course a big draw for the Epic-W, since Helium is an 8K sensor. That puts its resolution at just shy of matching the Sony A7R's pixel for pixel, and from experience I've found that images from an A7R make great 16x20 prints without any uprezzing. The native resolution of the Helium sensor puts it at 14x27 inches when printed at 300 dpi, which is a fairly common density in fine art printing.

The open gate aspect ratio is 1.9 to 1, which is quite a bit wider than the common photographic aspect ratio of 1.3 to 1. Having worked with formats ranging from square to 3 to 1 in panoramic cameras, I've found that I favour aspect ratios close to 2 to 1. This is of course a personal preference; there are some photographers like Charlie Waite who prefer to shoot almost exclusively in square formats.

As a stills camera, there are of course a few limitations; one is shutter speeds. The maximum shutter speed is 1/8000 of a second which is stellar, but the minimum shutter speed is 1 second, which is a bit limiting; it's pretty common for me shooting landscapes to use exposures of up to 30 seconds or more. There are some frame processing options, where the camera will capture a number of frames and combine them, either summing them or averaging them. My hope is that summing them will give me the same effect as a longer exposure time, even though it seems to have a maximum of 16 frames. That would cover most of my needs, especially since the film I usually used for landscapes was ISO 50 or 100 for colour and 400 for black and white.

Resolution wise, it's a pretty even match between an A7R and Epic-W. The A7R has an impressive 14 stops of estimated dynamic range, while the Helium has an estimated 16.5 stops. The A7R captures raw images in 14-bit colour, and the Epic-W captures in 16-bit colour.

By lowering the framerate, it's possible to enable 2:1 compression on an Epic-W; that's a mathematically lossless setting, which puts the file size at only around 22MB compared to 36MB for the Sony RAW files. While I'm not convinced that 2:1 is necessary in most situations, it's nice to know that the option is there. The downside is that being a cinema camera, it shows an accurate preview of what it's capturing; with a high shutter speed and low frame rate that leads to a choppy image on the monitor. It makes focusing a challenge, so I'm finding that staying at 12fps and using 3:1 Redcode compression is a lot easier to work with.

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Rakesh Malik

Rakesh’s exploration into photography began with a trip to the Grand Canyon. The grandeur of the place inspired him to capture and share his experiences. Such grand places required a grand vision, so Rakesh began working with large format film cameras, which he continues to favor for his fine art stills. His love of travel and adventure have lead Rakesh to visit exotic and varied places, from cities such as Kiev and Ronda to wild places like the Serengeti, the Alaskan tundra, the Pampas of Patagonia, and even to lofty heights such as the summits of Mounts Kilimanjaro and Rainier. Lately, in spite of continuing to make captivating still images with film and digital cameras, Rakesh has been applying his photographic skills to motion pictures. While still striving to convey a story with each individual frame, he longer has the limitation of being bound to a single form to tell the story.


Website: aliencraneproductions.com

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