The science project continues: back in mid-June when we looked at RED build 16 beta firmware, we saw some must-have enhancements, but some showstopper bugs. That was then; this is now: here’s how build 16 has evolved…
- June 18: Build 16 beta version 3.1.2; RED Alert! beta version 3.3.2
- June 24: RED Alert beta version 3.5.3, REDCINE beta build 108 (v3.0.8)
- June 27: Build 16 beta version 3.1.5
- July 8: Build 16 beta version 3.1.8
- July 10: Build 16 beta version 3.2.1, RED Alert v3.3.8, REDCINE v3.1.2, RED QT Codec v3.1.0
- July 23: Build 16 beta version 3.2.4
- July 29: Build 16 release version 3.2.5
I’m presuming the showstoppers have been fixed; we’ll arrange for a test in the near future and see how the released Build 16 performs.
Also, we’ve received the famous “nearly ready to ship” email that indicates it’s decision time on our three REDs.
We placed the order last September, just before IBC, and on July 21st we received a preliminary email, saying our numbers (#2323, #2324, and #2325) were coming up and we should get all our ducks in a row by the 25th, as the the final “nearly ready to ship” email would be sent on or before the 28th—that’s when we’d have to either pay up, delay our order, or bow out.
The email said we should update our orders with any spare bits and bobs, and suggested camera-support accessories we might find useful. We were to do this using the new “my account” section of the RED site, and were given this chilling warning:
PLEASE NOTE THAT THE MY ACCOUNT SECTION OF RED.COM IS IN BETA.
They weren’t kidding: when I added fellow Meets The Eye folks Tim and Marshall as alternate account contacts, I suddenly had five replicas of my own contact info added as well. The REDFlash Module, a $500 part, was shown in our order status as costing $13.80 (and, apparently, the other two I added are free: the total stayed at $13.80). I created a new order with drive cables and bridge plates and 16GB CF cards and such; it briefly showed up under open orders, but then relocated to “order history” (for completed orders), with an incorrect and unchangeable shipping address.
Throughout this process, I faithfully reported all these (and other) website errors to the appropriate email address, as instructed in the original email. Nothing seemed to change on the website, though; the anomalies in my account remained as they were.
I also deleted some spare bits we had originally ordered that we decided we didn’t really want, saving us a few thousand dollars in overall cost.
Then, last Sunday afternoon (27 July), the final “nearly ready” email landed in my inbox. It listed the exact same total amount due as the email of the 21st; none of the order changes we had made were reflected in it.
I used the RED.com contact page to email firstname.lastname@example.org with my concerns over these matters; an autoresponder from the website showed that my email was received, but nothing else was ever seen…
Yesterday, Tim called RED and spoke to actual humans: he said they were nice and very helpful—which matches my experiences when I’ve called RED to clear up things. And indeed, 36 hours later, it appears that everything has been straightened out.
Now all that’s left is to send ’em a wire transfer for the remaining cost.
Having seen the science-project aspect of their ordering, just like the science-project nature of the camera itself, we are, in fact, going to proceed. Why buy REDs, even though we have (and like) the EX1?
1) We like science projects: well, sure, who doesn’t? It’s fun to be on the bleeding edge, at least as long as you’re not putting revenue and reputation at risk.
We want these things for indie feature work, and we have the flexibility to test the daylights out of ’em and have a Plan B if the cameras should fail to perform as required. Indeed, we bought three specifically so we could have two operating with a stable build, while the third one is a “sacrificial lamb” for testing new firmware. There are no paid gigs being held hostage to the RED ONE’s good behavior; we still have the EX1 and my HVX200 for “real work”.
As to reputation, well… all three of us (Director/Producer, Photographer/Editor, Gaffer/Designer/Factotum) are in this together, and we’re all going into it with our eyes open… and we’ll see what happens. And it’s not like we have towering reputations to protect in the first place!
2) 4:4:4 color without edge artifacts: a lot of our upcoming projects are dependent on greenscreen compositing for substantial chunks of screen time.
I’ve keyed 4:1:1, 4:2:2, and 4:2:0, and gotten pretty decent mattes from them—but we’re going to have long-duration scenes on the big screen that must look perfectly good and perfectly natural, lest the illusion collapse. 4:4:4 color, with no “steppy edges” or DCT-generated “mosquito noise” edge artifacts, makes our compositing work a lot easier.
3) Room to play, and make mistakes: the RED ONE offers better than 3K of spatial resolution and 12 bits of resolution for each color component.
Our likely release paths are 2K and 1920×1080 HD; excess spatial resolution lets us push in and reposition in post, correct distortion, re-level horizons, do after-the-fact zooms, and generally fix things up without worrying about the image going soft on us. REDs do a really good job of low-pass filtering, too, so we’re spared the aliasing artifacts most video cameras are subject to: we get naturalistic detail right out to the Nyquist limit.
The high bit depth afforded by RAW recording lets us recover shadows and highlights and fix exposure mistakes with a lot more “headroom” to work with. (We recently did some EX1 tests, recording both internally as 8-bit XDCAM EX and externally as 10-bit ProRes422 HQ files, and Tim keeps remarking that the ProRes files allow color correction whereas the XDCAM files don’t: push ’em around much, and the tonal-scale limitations of 8 bits are revealed.)
4) Depth of Field (the lack thereof): y’know, there just is something about that shallow depth of field that’s alluring…
Yeah, we could go with one of the 35mm adapters for small chip cams instead, but we never seriously considered that. All the rigs we’ve seen have been elongated, nightmarish contraptions; they have setup, sharpness, light sensitivity, collimation, and ergonomic issues, and all told, an EX1 plus a decent 35mm adapter isn’t hugely less expensive than a RED ONE: the biggest cost of either setup is in the glass you hang in front of it. (I’m not saying these adapters don’t have their place, just that they weren’t the way we wanted to go.)
So we shall proceed… and that means that in the near future we’ll have RED ONEs in house, and I can do a proper review of the darned things, instead of hurried tests on-site at benevolent rental houses. Stay tuned… this science project is just beginning!