As 2013 comes to an end, many of us are starting to think about fresh starts and goals for the New Year. For most, 2014 will mean expanding and upgrading gear or even taking a leap of faith. Personally, I’ve taken a very counter-intuitive leap of faith. I sold the most expensive video asset that I've ever had: My RED Scarlet.
(Disclaimer: Before I get too far. I want to remind you to take everything I’m saying with a grain of salt. I hope that hearing my story will inspire you to ask questions and start a dialog about the gear-choices you make.)
The Back Story
When I started my video company, Innovate Imageworks, in 2010, I shot with Canon DSLRs. I started with the t2i and quickly moved up to the 5D Mark II. These DSLRs are revolutionary tools that opened doors to people like me. My clients have always loved the look of my DSLR footage and have never had issues with lack of quality. In hindsight, I would be sitting on a fairly sizable chunk of money right now if the 5D was still my main camera (but where’s the fun in that?).
By 2012, I began to feel the need to separate myself from fellow DSLR shooters. Work was going well and I could afford to make a major camera investment. As my gear-lust grew, a few newly-released cameras caught my eye.
It was the innovation and undeniable cool factor that lead me to the RED cult. The Scarlet was an indie-filmmaker’s dream. Suddenly I had access to the same camera that many big-budget Hollywood crews were using. I drained my bank account and bought a Red Scarlet.
I’m glad that I was booking so much work, because I definitely needed the income. I remember hearing filmmaker Philip Bloom refer to the RED Scarlet as a gateway drug and he couldn’t be more right. Suddenly a $16,000 investment grew much larger. My DSLR gear needed to be upgrade to support the RED, so I invested in a new steadicam rig, jib, slider, batteries, handles and many, many external harddrives.
(Photo by Jon-Mark Wiltshire)
The Scarlet blew my 5D out of the water in terms of resolution and cinematic image. I may have bought the RED because of its hype, but I quickly realized that many clients were hiring me because of that same hype. The RED was more than a camera; it was a status symbol.
My content suffered. Plain and simple. I began to prioritize pixels instead of content. Suddenly loading in gear, setting up shots, editing and delivering the final product became a much longer process. This isn’t to say that I believe everything should be shot run-and-gun, but there is a certain laziness that hits me when I’m holding a RED camera. I find I’m far less eager to grab the RED and capture a quick candid shot.
I also found myself disappointed with the color I got from the camera. I acknowledge that the RED team does an amazing job of updating their color science and releasing new firmware regularly, but I never felt the RED color matched my style. I’m sure that RED’s new Dragon sensor will be incredible, but it just isn’t worth another 5-figure investment for me.
When Canon released it’s c100 many people wrote it off because of it’s AVCHD codec and awful viewfinder. If you look at the specs, the c100 is a huge downgrade in almost every category. The RED beats it out for resolution, codec and dynamics range. I pegged the c100 as a documentary camera that would have sub-par image quality.
This all changed when Stillmotion jumped on the c100 train. I have a huge amount of respect for Patrick and his team and instantly became interested in the camera. Soon after I saw some of Joe Simon’s c100 work. Joe mentioned that he was able to effortlessly change over from a DSLR workflow. I was sold.
After using the c100, I realize how wrong I was. In my opinion, the Canon C100 is the best of both worlds:
A sharp and dynamic image in a compact body with professional audio inputs and amazing battery life/record time.
(Photo by Jon-Mark Wiltshire)
The RED Scarlet is easily one of the best cameras to come out in the past 5 years. The fact that I owned and shot with the same camera as Peter Jackson or David Fincher without going into debt is incredible. That being said, I feel that the RED wasn’t a good fit for me and hurt my creativity and content.
I’ve learned that you should buy a camera based off of your own needs, not your idols’ needs. Movies like The Social Network may look amazing, but owning a RED doesn’t mean that your footage with look anything like David Fincher’s. Sometimes less is more. In my case, I’d much rather shoot with a $6,000 rig than a $20,000 rig.
(Quick A/B test I did between the two cameras)
After owning the c100 for a month, I made the choice to sell my RED last week. Not necessarily to pocket the extra income, but to help simplify my approach and focus on creativity and content going into 2014. I couldn’t be more excited.
I know that many of you have the same gear lust that I did and it may be the best choice you ever make. I just hope that you’ll take a second to clearly identify your needs: from complex things like image quality, to “little” things like battery life.
Good luck with your next big purchase!
Make sure to leave a comment below or find me on Facebook and Twitter
RED Scarlet looks like its shots are out of focus or have a layer of blur over them. Given the footage shown in the clip here I would've picked the C100 any day of the week too.
I can guarantee that it wasn't shot out of focus and no blur was added. Both were edited in a 1080p timeline thought and the RED footage was scaled to fit. I'm going to reedit in a 4K timeline later to see if there's a huge difference.
What are you grading it in? Please don't say Premiere or Speedgrade. They don't handle the footage correctly and will result in above degradation of picture.
RedCine-X for initial tweaks and Resolve for main colour usually. No worries, I understand how to work in RAW
Don't handle the footage correctly? I think it maybe you that's not handling footage properly. Not to sound condescending. But still doing so.
Can you elaborate on that please Martin? I use Premiere, but always thought that I (effortlessly) get a sharper final render from Final Cut. I've always put that down to me somehow not handling the footage correctly for Premiere. I have the same compressed/slightly blurred look from Avid too, but final cut gives a sharper appearance... or is it just me?
Completely depends on your post workflow. The intermediate formats that you choose to use between your color software and your NLE. You might prefer the color resolution of prores in your fcp workflow, but I find that DNXHD 10 bit works well for Avid. When delivering for Premiere exports however, I find that outputting to 10bit DPX at a working 4K resolution (full debayer) and downresing upon final output from Premiere results in a higher quality.
Thanks, I'll give that a try!
Red doesn't have sharpening added in camera like Canon's baked-in color profiles do. You are supposed to do it in post. These Scarlet images haven't been graded even half to their full potential.
To be clear, this is coming from a non Red fan boi and a person who hates what Reduser has become.
Completely agree. Neither camera had more than small curves adjustments. It's meant to be pretty raw.
In the comparison the C100 kinda looks better. That's...strange? Good for you I guess, but I guess you could get more out of the RED? Anyways - I completely agree that smaller/less expensive rigs and setups sometimes just work much easier and therefore result in a better final product.
This is fairly ridiculous. If you don't like the color? It's raw - get a colorist who knows how to handle raw. The only benefit to the canons are the portability, file size, and form factor. But if you break down the scarlet and use larger ssd cards, it isn't an issue. C100 footage breaks apart when you try to do anything to it in post. Its an amateur shooting format like using a dslr and maybe fine for doc work or skateboarding videos (although the Amira puts that to bed), but falls short for everything else.
This response comes from an angry and resentful colorist who respects the flexibility of raw, but shouldn't read posts and rant - my apologies.
Martin! I 100% agree that a professional colourist would mean a huge difference (for projects that can afford it). At the same time, I disagree that breaking down the Scarlet would make it as mobile as the c100. Portability, file size and form factor.. but lets not forget low light.
In my experience, the c100 footage is actually pretty great to stretch in post. It's far more than a doc and skateboard camera in my opinion.
I hope I didn't sound like too much of a jerk. I wasn't trying to be. This year, however I have had the fortune and also stress of dealing with a wide range of delivery formats (everything from Epic R3Ds, and C300, Phantom Transcodes and FS700) and have learned to greatly appreciate formats that offer latitude in post.
For what it's worth, this has been my personal experience as a Davinci Colorist:
1.The FS700 breaks apart in low light - the latitude isn't there and the noise is unbearable.
2. C300 and C100 footage look nice right out of the box, but fall apart about as fast as the 5D MK3 when pushed (definitely light it for 'in camera').
3. Both R3Ds and DNXHD 10 bit transcodes of R3Ds hold up for color quite well. They offer a lot of latitude.
It is also not a daunting workflow if you do enough research. We had a project that was shot on two Epics, edited with Raw, delivered to colorist (in this case myself) in raw, and then output in 4K DPX for Red Ray transcode for screening at Red Europe in a matter of 2 weeks. This was a 30 minute project with the post flexibility of a feature film. I'll take a slightly heavier camera body that can do that, over an overpriced DSLR any day of the week.
That is a colorist point of view, not a content creater/producer one. Sorry but the "breaks apart when graded" reason is a lame ass reason for not trying. Use some neatvideo. Try different methods. There are ways to do all kinds off cool stuff to AVCHD material.
What's wrong with a colorists point of view? If the content goes through any kind of grading the colorists view is most definitely valid.
Which is precisely the issue with AVCHD and Raw or even prores, I find it hard to call the post work you can do on AVCHD grading. The studio I work for uses dlsrs for our wedding work and blackmagic for our commercial work. If the shooter screws up with exposure, color temp etc. it's pretty hard to fix depending on how off they were. I don't have that problem with raw. As a studio that creates content for paying clients we need to deliver and our tools are integral in making that happen despite human error.
I don't thing there is anything wrong with a colorists' point of view, except that he is a content creator and not a colorist!
Great feedback from post side. I've worked with R3D data and it's definitely a plus, but of course a totally different story when working part of a team versus working solo.
on the other hand, 'breaks apart when graded' indicates that whomever lit it and shot it in the first place wasn't planning properly. a well done shot, whether in raw, log or some standard profile, should need only the basic corrections to it. a good cameraman can perform magic in the camera if they know their tools.
You are absolutely correct, but unfortunately the bulk of my work as a colorist (especially since digital mediums have over-saturated the market), has been to fix problems caused my improper shoots. I cannot express how often, my sessions involve adding power windows to correct light problems, or add elements that were not there on location. What a colorist SHOULD have to do and what we ACTUALLY do tend to be very different things.
Gotta co-sign on Neatvideo. Best $100 ever spent on a such an app.
You're probably being a bit presumptuous Mikko. If you have a moment, take a look at the link below, not only did Martin colour the series but he wrote and directed it too.
Yes, he was mostly talking from a colourists perspective but he is also fully aware of the budget, time & quality effects that shooting on a real camera have (as opposed to the Film & TV industries equivalent of the 'My First Camera' from Fisher Price).
I always strive for the best image but due to the nature of some projects, I've worked with all the low end cameras that Martin mentioned and the only projects they're good for are run & gun style corporate work or documentaries. In which case, the editor can put a quick S-Curve on and deliver to an audience that's naturally more forgiving.
As a Cinematographer, when I'm hired, it falls on me to make a sensible choice on camera and lighting equipment that best serves the project.
My go-to camera is the Red Epic and when I look at the monitor on-set, I know how far I can push my colours and light levels to create the image I want. The information in R3D's is not for the misinterpreted 'recovery' everyone thinks its for. It allows for fine control, subtleties and layers, with the intent of playing on the audiences sub-conscious.
At the end of the day, I'll always pick the right tool for the job, but when it comes to my work in narrative Film & TV or broadcast commercials, that tool will be nothing less than the Red Epic.
Raw offers exponentially more latitude if you know what you're doing. Problem is, consumer and prosumer LUTs, turnkey color solutions, don't play well with raw. Most people don't understand color, contrast, gamut, gamma, etc. etc. And why should they? They're not making art, rather, they're making a buck, they're making ephemera to pay the bills. I totally get the point: this low end camera is a much easier workflow for small budget shoots with a modicum of lighting resources for getting the picture to convey "well enough" in camera. A standard post pro budget would dwarf most small cap production budgets. What the author is saying is, the raw workflow doesn't sustain itself within the confines of this budget strata. Fair enough. Otherwise shooting compressed is post pro suicide!
Great point and I couldn't agree more. I put some serious thought into the RED or C100 systems and ended up getting the C100 and a set of L series primes. The ONE piece of equipment that made this a better decision was the Atomos Ninja, which allows for RAW 8-Bit video capture to any SSD card. Absolutely love this camera setup. ALso ended up getting the red rock cage for the camera to hang a bunch more gear off of it. really great setup with a somewhat small footprint. Just filmed two TV spots with it as the first project. Here is one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A1xIhKrSpTc
Hey Gary, I've done a bunch of tests with the Atomos recorder and have yet to notice any quality differences. The biggest benefit I'd see is having my footage in ProRes instead of .MTS.
Isn't that a pretty huge time savings though? Not having to transcode to ProRes or wrapping your MTS in some form of container to make it ingestable into your editor?
Premiere edits .mts just fine
Premiere Pro is a boss :) Unlike that other software... whats it called again? oh yea, FCPX.
FCPX edits the C100 MTS files natively just fine, for the record ;)
I always always told the AVCHD 4:2:0 color wasn't as dynamic in post and to work in 4:2:2. That's definitely interesting to hear though. I'll do some more testing. Thanks for writing the article Dave
prores 422 color is much more flexible -this coming from someone who really used 420 quite a bit.
Hey Dave, have you seen this video? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jc0ROMd8_HQ
It's a long video but check out around 16:20. He says with the naked eye you won't usually notice the color difference between 4:2:0 and 4:2:2. But, he does a technical test to really show the difference between the 4:2:0 and 4:2:2 color. I felt the same as you but once I watched this it totally changed my mind.
Very interesting! Thanks for sharing
It's really difficult to see any differences between the two codec, but it has...
RAW isn't 8bit and the Atmos doesn't allow the C100 to record RAW unless you mean raw as in straight off the camera prores/dnxhd type of file
Good tv spot!
Sorry when I mean RAW I mean uncompressed Pro Res 4:2:2 color space. Technically it isn't RAW but completely different than the AVCHD and a very flat image right out of the camera....... And I misspoke about the 8-Bit. The Atomos ninja is 10-Bit.
Great videos BTW Gary
I really like the concept on your mail man commercial, but if it supposed to showcase the C100, then I must be missing something. If this is just YouTube compression ignore me, but the moire and aliasing on the counter top and the bottom of the fridge are very strong. It also shows in other shots like the latter part of the coffee table. Again, great spot, but not what I want to see in images.
Thanks for the article and comparisons.
I need a raise.
Then go out and get it! ;)
I totally agree with you with the "less is more" approach, it's good to take a step back sometimes to analyse what you really need. But for me the C100 is clearly not the camera I need, especially considering the price tag vs features. Sure it packs excellent controls, features, battery life, excellent low light capabilities, etc... But considering that a 5D MkIII cost less than half the price and gives you way more control on your image with Magic Lantern RAW... And if the RAW workflow is too time consuming I would go for a Blackmagic Ciné or Pocket Prores workflow with those incredible new speed boosters (developed specially for the blackmagics, giving super 35mm field of view on the 2.5K model and top class low light capabilities). And if I want to stick to 8 bits I would pick a panasonic GH3 or G6, incredibly cheap for the images they give (and still have the possibility to add a speed booster to get the most of my lenses). But again it's just my opinion, I understand that the C100 is a great "ready out of the box" camera but way too expensive considering what other brands can offer you for the same price.
Glad to read your thoughtful comment!
None of those cams offer you proper audio. The audio on the BMC is a joke. 5d is great but no audio there either. C100 is an actual working proper solution for content creators. Just plug those mics in and go.
It's exactly my thought when I said that it was a "ready out of the box" camera, and therefore a great choice for content creator. My point is that I find it expensive considering the image latitude you get (compared to much cheaper alternatives). I personally use specific audio hardware with multi mics setup, and a Zoom H4n "on camera" if needed, no matter the camera I use. And again, what suits my needs may not work for others.
a 'cheaper' camera like the bmcc still costs miles more in storage and other gear.
A bmcc fully equiped is still cheaper than a C100 ...
and what about archiving your projects? if you're shooting documentaries on the bmcc raw, you're going to be burning through hard drives. there's no contest here really. recording prores to CF cards is just simply going to cost less in the long run for storage.