Six months ago I took the plunge and put a deposit on a RED Raven. I was finally going to enter the RED eco system. Back in 2008 I was an Assistant Camera on a music video with the RED ONE, the first real digital cinema camera. I was enamored by the design and the imagery to come from the camera. But as anyone who was using the One back then you well know all the issues it was plagued with. In between takes I would run the camera which was already covered in hand warmers and gaff tape into a coffee shop to prevent it from freezing up and dropping frames. We were shooting in Detroit in the early spring and the camera did not like to be frozen, much like myself.
In the 8 years since then, RED has come a very long way in stream lining their products and solidifying their codec, hardware and software. Very cool to see a small group of people revolutionize and industry with killer tech for artists. Tech + artistry is probably my favorite part of Cinematography. Using incredible tools to create beautiful imagery. I believe a camera is a tool, every camera is a tool. Some allow you to do more, some less. A fancy expensive new camera will not make you a better shooter. Only dedication, practice, and an understanding that you will never be finished learning will.
Often people come to me with grandiose ideas about getting into the industry and buying cameras that cost thousands of dollars, 4k, etc... My answer is always the same. Buy a cheaper camera body and spend some money on a good lens. Start simple. Heck, your phone can probably shoot 4k AND super low motion. Why haven't you been shooting with it? If you won't make it work with less now, you probably won't stick around with more. Gear is EXCITING. The hard work, years of ramen noodles, burned bridges, ended relationships is not. Build on the basics, so when you finally get that camera you've always wanted, your images will look as amazing as you've wanted them to.
In 2010 I purchased the first camera I would actually own myself. Canon Rebel T2i. It was not the best by a long shot. It was actually the cheapest camera you could get into yielding fairly good results at the time. That camera got me through 3 years of work. I then purchased a GH2, then onto a Black Magic Pocket, then to an A7s + Pix-E5. And now after 6 years, a proper camera, the RED Raven. You see, I didn't jump the gun and buy the best right away, I worked my way up using the budget cameras. This allowed me to be creative and really use my skills to make it about the art, not the tech. There is something to be said about struggle before success.
On another note... you can have the best camera in the world, but if you slap a crappy lens on it. What happens? Exactly as you would expect, a mediocre image. I would argue that an amazing lens on a crappy camera would look nearly better than a crappy lens on an amazing camera. There is a reason a set of great glass costs as much or more than a camera body. Don't neglect the lens!
I would also like to explain that I am not a RED fan boy. Over the years I have had quite a few complaints with RED cameras. Namely reliability, pricing, proprietary accessories and their costs. But RED has taken all these years of tech, innovation, infrastructure and knowledge to create the new DSCM2 line. Raven, Scarlet-W, and Weapon. A perfect lineup for a range of shooters and budgets. For me, my style, and business the Raven made the most sense. I will not be shooting PL mount glass, I will not be changing OLPFs, and I can work around a slightly smaller sensor with the right glass. I also do a fair amount of hand held and gimbal work, so a smaller body is beneficial for me. Also having the right accompanying gear for the camera and lenses to me, is worth more than the next jump up to a Scarlet-W. Also, at 4.5k-5k the images from the Scarlet, Weapon, and Raven will all be nearly identical besides field of view. Pretty impressive!
So why RED? I will name some benefits that I think are worth the investment.
Compressed raw recording. I really enjoy the R3D file structure, RED has made shooting raw quite a simple process. You deal with one file, not thousands of images that need to be ingested as a video file. RED also allows you to choose your compression ratio, this is great for saving file space where you can.
Slow motion. 4.5k at 120fps. Amazing. Also the ability to shoot 48fps. I adore 48fps slow motion, it's so elegant, not too fast, not too slow. The camera can also shoot 300fps at 2k. Now keep in mind, the 2k crop is significant, an 18mm which is already more like a 24mm on the Raven is now closer to a 60mm. Also at 2k 300fps the compression is significant. To say the 300fps feature is unusable is going too far, but you need to be aware it will not look as amazing as 4.5k 120fps.
Less rolling shutter. The RED cameras are power houses. Sensor read out is much faster than other cameras keeping the rolling shutter to a minimum.
Proven ecosystem. RED has proprietary accessories which can be a pain. The benefit is that everything always works together. You are not doing guess work on what will and will not work. There are also 3rd party manufacturers that make some amazing tools for rigging out your camera.
Impeccable design and build quality. I think RED has nailed the design. It's a beautiful camera and the size is great. When you feel the camera you know that it's built to last. Nearly every component on the camera is made from metal. There is also always the stigma that if a RED is on set, it's a "big deal".
Image quality. Obviously the biggest deciding factor here. I love the richness of the camera. True blacks, high dynamic range, rich colors, lovely skin tones. Even when you have a higher ISO image the grain is more filmic than digital.
Talk about timing.
I had scheduled 3 music videos to shoot during a 6 day span of time in September. Six days before day 1 I got an email saying my camera would be arriving that weekend. What an absolutely perfect time to put the camera through its paces! Shooting consecutive days in all kinds of environments under different lighting set ups and sources is the best way to learn your gear through and through.
From well lit interiors to natural light exteriors we ran the gamut of locations and lighting scenarios. Now let's cut to the chase, how did the camera perform?
Let me share with you my thoughts.
Cropped sensor: This wasn't as big of a deal as I was expecting. Most of my videos are shot in a "cinema" aspect ratio of widescreen or 2:35. When shooting 4.5k WS the width of the frame is nearly the same as Super 35. Perfect. I shot on Zeiss 18, 35, 50, and 85mm.
Low light: Not the best, especially coming from an A7s. But I quickly adjusted my thinking and we had ample lighting. The camera goes up to 3200 ISO. I wouldn't suggest shooting that high, but even if you have to the grain doesn't look horrible. Ideally keep it at 800 ISO and shoot with fast lenses. My 18 is a 3.5 so that was challenging at points.
Slow Motion: I am in love with the options this camera allows. I shot a lot of the story sequences in 48fps on these videos. The 120fps looks amazing in 4.5k. Really clean and impressive looking. I shot some sequences at 300fps for fun. Definitely some grain and artifacts present but its quite cool to see action in super low motion.
Black Shading: This was something I wasn't super familiar with and it's very important. In a nut shell, the cameras temperature and the shutter speed affect your black shade. If your black shade is way off you will not have the cleanest image you can. Let's say you go from an air conditioned house out to 100 degree heat. You may have to redo your black shading right then, which will take up to 30 minutes. You can alternatively create black shade profiles for the situations you will be in, but that is hard to make as many as you may need with situations being hard to plan for ahead of time.
4.7 inch RED monitor: Soffffft. So soft. This monitor is exceedingly difficult to judge correct focus on. You need to have focus peaking on at all times just to really make sure you are in focus. The problem here is that the peaking makes almost anything look in focus. For whatever reason there is no option for colored edge peaking. Quite frustrating. At times we used a SmallHD 701/501 and for whatever reason the image on them was at least 1-2 stops darker than the RED monitor which was accurate with the images in premiere. Also note that the monitor does not swivel. You only have the option of tilting up and down.
Build Quality: Super solid camera. The placement of the inputs/outputs was great and easily assessable. The size of the camera is great for going hand held and for gimbal work. Lens mount is very solid with no wobbling on focus pulls.
Top Handle. Not a fan. You can only fit about 3 fingers on it and it's so small that I feel like I may lose grip on the camera at any moment. I am used to a full top handle where you can really handle the camera and feel safe about it. I will be purchasing the Wooden Camera top handle.
What you should know when shooting RED.
If you are flaring the lens with direct light such as a backlight or the sun, if you stop down on the lens you will get sensor pixel flare in the image. Looks like a bunch of pink circles. To avoid this, use ND and keep your lens fairly wide open.
Create Black Shade profiles for the settings you think you will be using on set. This way when you are in a new environment or shooting high shutter / high frame rate you will already be set to go.
Have enough MiniMags. When shooting 4.5k especially at high speeds you will run through a lot of storage.
Bring enough batteries! a 91 watt hour battery will give you about 1 hour 20 minutes of use.
If you are shooting lower light scenes, bring fast lenses f2 and lower.
Internal audio sucks. The new cameras have scratch mics which is awesome but even at max they are at about -20db.
That about wraps up my thoughts on the camera! I am extremely pleased with the results and the experience of shooting with the Raven. It is definitely not a DSLR and it will take more time to shoot with but it's well worth it. Also, the body of the camera is about 7k... But to be shooting you will be in at least 16k. Then add 4-15k in lenses and you will be set up quite nicely.
Most of my kit is pretty simple and meant to move fast. For outdoor locations I use an 1800 watt putt putt for power. Accompanying that is a 485 watt LED fresnel, 20 watt fresnel, 2 1000 LED panels and a 4x4 Kino. The LEDs can be run off gold mount batteries to be able to swing around quickly or take load off the generator.
I don't use any kind of shoulder rig because I like to shoot low from the stomach/hips. I am 6' so when shoulder mounted I am almost always looking down at things, one of my least favorite angles. Also shooting from the hip allows me to be more mobile and move the camera according to the action. I am a very guerrilla style director/shooter. The Raven is a perfect size for this. The top handle that comes with the Raven is basically worthless, I will be purchasing a top handle from Wooden Camera.
I didn't yet have time to perfect the Raven on the Ronin but throwing it on fully built worked great. I had 2 occasions where the camera was tilted down too far and the motors gave out. In the future I will be purchasing more Ronin batteries and powering the Raven directly from the gimbal to reduce weight.
Below are some raw screenshots right off the camera from the shoots. Shannon Taylor was incredible and a joy to work with. I shot all these videos with my Zeiss ZF.2s, 18mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm.
With over 8 years of experience in the film industry one of my biggest passions is giving back to the community. Visit, learn, share, love.