What I like about Red Epic…and what I don’t like about Red
Last week I posted about how camera companies need to step up their game now that competition is starting to come to fruition in the 4K market. Red was one of the first companies to truly push 4K (okay 3.2K). This is a true testament to the power of good marketing. Red made good on true 4K with the MX upgrade, Scarlet and Epic years later. The 4K push from Red was something most companies could have not done as effectively (if not at all). Stealth marketing, combat style product positioning, etc made them stand out in a unique way. Somehow my Wide Open Camera post showed up on Red User and it became a technical argument rather than what it was about. Then, an all out defensive written brawl. Somehow it became about me bashing the Red Epic. A camera I have used often (this weekend in fact) and a camera that several of my friends own. The Red User forum got fairly heated. I made some corrections to my post but refused to change others based on the fact that I was using several engineers input not just Red’s. Regardless, the post I made was not about Red or its deficiencies but rather why every camera company needs to do a better job to retain market share and user base.
I was going to use this weeks post to talk about what I like about the Red Epic. I have decided to change that a bit since Red User closed down the thread (Anyone familiar with that forum knows that banning, deleting comments, closed threads and vanishing threads are all common place.) For a company that touts the fact that they use feedback to improve their product, they have a funny way of shutting out anything not attainable or agreeable. If they don’t like what your saying the comments disappear or are bashed relentlessly by fan boys. I noticed the biggest defenders / fan boys have thousands of forum posts on Red User and most of their comments actually have nothing to do with shooting or post. I have no idea how one has the time as a working DP or editor to make 2500 + posts on a forum. I would understand if I went onto Red User to start trouble or was being an instigator, etc but I did not even start the thread there. I did comment when my name was brought up and I did make a few corrections to my post on Wide Open Camera after listening to what Graeme from Red mentioned and what other non-Red employees mentioned to me. Somethings I changed, others I did not as each company has its own idea of what technology is better, etc. Its not personal. My main issue that a OLP (Optical Low Pass) filter causes loss of resolution was not taken lightly on Red User. It is called a blur filter for a reason. Instead I was told that this blur filter does not. That comment is contradictory to what I have been told by every other camera manufacturer (who also use OLP filters). The difference is they could admit it does cause some loss whereas Red refuses to say it does. Basically Sony, Canon, Panasonic, JVC and Red say whatever they like to make their product look better so I guess it really doesn’t matter much in the end. I do not design, nor am I in the sensor business. The post was not written as a tech segment, nor was its the focus of the post. If a cameras footage looks good after post, that is all that matters anyway. How many pixels, resolution, frame-rate, etc a camera does doesn’t really matter if in the end you are happy with the results. I personally opt for what best suites the project.
With all the B.S, harassing fan boy emails and comments, deleted comments and little chance to give my side (since it was closed), I find myself writing this “what I like about Epic” post. This recent event makes it pretty hard to do when you really like what a company is doing with technology but allows its feelings and defensiveness to ruin it. Red often states on its website “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone with a bad attitude.” That apparently is a one way street with them. Don’t think its okay to be critical in any way or you will be lambasted by fan boys and you will most certainly shut down on Red User if you dare post there. It definitely makes me wonder why the defense is on such a high level. I mean I get it that Red’s lock on the 4K arena is coming to an end and there will be some major competition but that should be used as an opportunity to elevate the offerings as a product and as a company and be better.
So what do I like about Epic? Well that’s easy. I like that I can shoot in anything between HD and 4K (5K) all in the same camera. I love how I can crop into a 4k image and resize, move, etc what I need to get a usable 1080p image. Almost everyone I know who shoots Epic does so with the anticipation of cropping into the image for re-framing. The high-speed capabilities of the camera are fantastic and much needed now more than ever. Shooting RAW is, and will always be Red’s major advantage over most camera manufactures. I sometimes think constant focus on resolution takes away from some of these other great benefits. The Epics compact size can be a plus or a minus depending on your shooting style and camera support. If you shoot 3D or need the smallest 4K S35 digital cinema camera available (car rigging, RC Heli use, etc) then Epic is a great choice. Another great thing about Red is the constant amount of improvements via firmware and post software. Red constantly corrects bugs and ads improvements to the camera. This is a big benefit to us all. Some could argue that the camera is constantly in a state of beta, and I cannot really argue with that except that its at a good stable point now (for the most part). Another plus is that the Dragon sensor upgrade is just around the corner which will supposedly allow for more dynamic range and a better native ISO rating. This is desperately needed and its great that you do not have to buy a new camera to get better features. One would argue that Red stated before the Red One came out that its tagline was “The Red Camera Makes Obsolescence Obsolete”. Depending on how you look at that statement and depending on your finances that statement can be loaded. If you invested all you had into a Red One and didn’t plan to buy a new Epic via trade up then I suppose you fall into a state of obsolescence (if you feel that 4K, ISO, DR, etc isn’t good enough). Otherwise there is an upgrade path. Yes some would argue that as well saying the upgrade to Epic costs more than a C300 but ultimately you have a choice. Yes you could buy a C300 and then a C500 for less than the cost of having bought a Red One, then executing to a Red Epic. Regardless the argument on both sides is valid. I like the fact that Epic has the provision of sensor upgrade-ability. This is something I was hoping the Alexa would have (and it very well might). Another things I really like about the Epic is that there are several high quality third party manufacturers making great components for it. Like most camera manufacturers there seems to be a lack of forethought on how one would actually shoot with the camera. Wooden Camera, View Factor, Element, etc all make solid components that in my opinion are a must to make the Epic (a rectangular cube with no ergonomics) into a hand holdable, rig-able, usable camera. The same can be said for the C300 with its oddball form factor. Of course size vs ergo is a never ending battle. You can’t have a ultra compact camera that is shoulder mountable without some sort of rig. Remote functionality is a huge benefit for the Epic. Yes the range is not great (there is a new antenna available now which I have not tested) and it flakes out (not sure if the new antenna improves this) a lot but the forethought and provisioning of this feature is smart and a huge asset to jib operators, shooting where its too dangerous for an operator to be present, etc. I am seeing more and more camera companies incorporating remote features and we all can benefit from it being a part of the system rather than an add on. Lastly I am glad that Red has not locked out third party editing software from working with R3D files. Red has been very good with making SDK’s available from day one and trying their best to work with both mac and pc’s. Now I know that Jim Jannard has basically said screw Apple Final Cut Etc, but the fact is you can use R3D files in FCP 7, CS6, Avid MC 6, Resolve, etc all on a Mac. Support has not been pulled back which is great.
Now for what I do not like about Epic and Scarlet. I do not think the Scarlet was marketed properly and fairly to Epic owners. Yes I am sure I will get lambasted for this but I really don’t care and have said this from day one. If I bought a Epic (and many of me friends did) for $58K plus dollars and then Scarlet was announced after I paid I would be a little agitated. Yes the two are different but scarlet having a factory second Epic sensor, the ability to use the same accessories, and for the most part having the same codecs, etc at a fraction of the price is a real pisser. I didn’t buy either so I suppose I shouldn’t comment on how I would feel about it. I do know several friends who bought a Scarlet who have sold them to buy and Epic or are looking at other cameras so I can only speak on what they have said to me. I dislike the mini audio jacks on the front of the camera. I know the idea is that you are supposed to buy the Pro IO for the camera but that wasn’t available when the camera came out and was only recently introduced into the Red Store. Why are there any jacks for anything in-front of the camera outside of potentially a hand-grip trigger cable port? Alexa has a 5 pin XLR on the front of the camera too which bugs me. For a company that touts being professional and better, I find it ironic they used mini jack connectors for this. Putting an HDMI port on the camera also seemed consumer-ish. I know you have them on the F3 and C300 but Epic is supposed to be a superior digital cinema camera. Why are these ports here? I am glad the Pro IO finally came out because I never used single system sound with the Epic due to fear of audio issues. The PRO IO has XLR audio input jacks which gives me more confidence in, in-camera audio recording. Probably the biggest problem I have with Scarlet and Epic is the crappy, utterly useless battery system Red came up for it and packaged it with. These batteries last about 12-17 minutes at best. Not at all practical for anyone but a hobbyist. Anton Bauer, Switronixs, IDX, etc batteries are the only way to go with this camera. Do not waste your money on the Red batteries unless you only shoot for a few minutes per session. The native on this ISO and dynamic range on the Red is not great in comparison to the current crop of cameras on the market. Will all the bashing about OLP and Bayer I got in Red User I noticed that no one in forum addressed these issues and highlight handling. They only addressed what I wasn’t pointing out as an issue. As for Red suing Wooden Camera and others. I think its complete bullshit and a huge mistake. Fact is that Wooden Camera and Viewfactor stepped up to make Epic a usable camera while Red screwed around with trying to make bad-ass looking accessories rather than practical ones. As far as having NATO rails as an infringement on the suit is ridiculous. Red did not invent the NATO rail. Picatinny rails have been around for decades. WC and Viewfactor made certain accessories before Red made theirs available now Red wants to sue them for lost profits. If anything Red should be thanking them for filing the void since they didn’t have anything themselves to offer. I highly doubt that WC or VF had access to Red’s intellectual property. WC and VF happened to make a better product when Red finally did release their own version but shooters chose WC and VF in the end. Now Red has to shut them down to ruin it for us the user. We just want a quality product and the fact is Red base-plates, rod accessories, etc in the past have been shit. Element Technica, Wooden Camera and Viewfactor simply machine a better product. Red should stick to making cameras and leave the accessories to the aftermarket companies who do it right.
Lastly what I dislike about Red as a company. I am not sure what goes on at night at the Red compound but the few times I have logged onto Red User to read the Recon session I have been flabbergasted by what Jim and others post. I am talking about attitudes. Basically the way I read the posts is that if you are not shooting, editing, etc in 4K you are clueless and behind the game. Its the same stuff he has been saying since the 3.2K Red One came out. I read about lawsuits, banning people, refusing support or sales, etc and I can only think of an odd dictatorship. Yes I suppose you can run a company anyway you like but its a real turn off to see a company bad mouthing everyone. Preaching that 4K is the standard today is simply untrue and not a world most of us live in. Its not a world most Red owners live it. Every gig I have shot on Red was for a 1080p deliverable. That is a fact. Most of the time we shot 4K it was because we could crop into the image or for VFX background plates that required it. Yes 4K is coming to more cameras, etc but that is going to require better computers, more 4K monitoring solutions and more importantly a market price that is attainable by the majority. A small company preaching how things really work or how they feel it should be, doesn’t make it so. A recent poll by Crews Control showed that Sony XDCam EX made up for 47% of the camera formats currently being used (for the month of June 2012) and that DVCPro HD made up for 23%. These numbers are based on ENG news gathering, local commercial production, etc. It did not include the feature film, national commercials, or broadcast network television shows. Still it was a large portion of the market that represents the majority of media on television and the internet. I look forward to 4K becoming the norm. Red is definitely helping push it alone. Laying off the attitude and throttling back the fan boy army would be a huge advantage to Red. The way I have been treated and others makes me reconsider using Red cameras on my projects. Voicing criticism on how to improve a product or mentioning why competition is good and coming should not be a personal issue. Fear of loosing support (due to a critique, etc) as an owner or renter of a Red Camera, worries me. These threats do not make you a better or grittier company.
Now I am preparing for a new bashing: The Red Forum user base is made up of a few different types of people. There are a lot of Red owners who go out, shoot and have critiques of their own. Many of them are real DP’s, directors, etc who use an Epic etc where applicable but are not in the “one tool does everything” mindset. They will use an Epic, Alexa, C300, F3, GoPro, etc if it does the job. Its not personal to them and yes while they want to profit from their camera its via the talents they offer or offer with their camera. Their livelihood isn’t based on what camera they own. Then there is another group who hang out on the forum all day with an Epic sitting on their shelf being over defensive about their purchase. They present themselves as non DP’s (to me at least) stating that they only shoot Epic. What working DP only shoots Epic and what planet do they live on? Many also bought an Epic hoping to make money by dry hiring it out or wet hiring in hopes they would pay it off and get some work they might have not gotten based on the kind of camera they have. Others (I know of one) are just wealthy and have one because they can and it makes them part of a community. He doesn’t shoot and I don’t think he has ever even turned his camera on or taken it out of its packaging. Yet, he is on the forum all day every day bashing people who mention Arri or any other company. He often quotes Jim Jannard even when his comments seem like they were infused by the bottle and overboard. To each his own. Regardless of the user, one should agree that there is always room for improvement in a product, its software, workflow and company practices. This goes for every camera company, not just Red. Canon does a horrible job shipping product on time. I hope they fix the issue because it makes them look bad. I like the products but they also could use some improvements like clean feed out, more attention to user requests, etc.
With all this said, I enjoyed using the Epic this past weekend. Like any camera and company it has its pros and its cons. Unlike most other camera companies they come off as bullies with bad attitudes. I hope this changes because they have a pretty good camera system that I would use more if they were not such a turn off as to how they deal with people.
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p.s. I am sure this post will become about my atrocious grammar, spelling and other things rather than the point.
P.S.S Full disclosure: I am not a real writer.
p.s.s.s. $10,000 starting price for a “RED Edition” HP 820 is just insane. Build your own workstation if your going PC for 1/2 the price.