The RED Camera DSMC2 Ecosystem
RED is known for their quality in products, notably the Weapon camera series that shoot up to 8K of high resolution video. Perhaps the main reason not everybody has a RED camera is the price. It was meant to be a professional media image capturing device that is for production.
Many recent movies have been shot with RED cameras, like Guardians of the Galaxy II, Deadpool, Captain America: Civil War, The Circle, Jurassic World … and the list goes on so that is just to name a few big budget productions. Even hobbyists and content creators on YouTube are willing to invest money to buy a RED camera, and with good reason. MKBHD aka Marques Brownlee and the Linus Media Group (aka Linus Tech Tips), popular tech bloggers and influencers, use the RED camera for their video clips on YouTube.
Is that not overkill for YouTube? It is but it can be justified with good reasoning. Shooting in 8K is definitely overkill, even for any professional production company since 8K television sets and monitors are not even common or fully available from retail (as of 2022). The advantage will be explained, and it has to do with image quality.
The RED camera is made up of the DSMC2 (Digital Stills and Motion Camera) second generation ecosystem. Here is a brief description of the parts that make up this ecosystem.
- Brain — main camera unit that contains the sensor, ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuits) where the image processing takes place, RED Mini-Mag media slot for recording content, and connection points for all the interchangeable parts available in the DSMC2 ecosystem. This is also where the lens is mounted on.
- Expander Modules — This allows the user to determine the type of workflow for their RED camera system. The basic function of an expander module is to provide power and other connection interfaces to the Brain. There are different types of modules with their specific I/O configuration that is designed for a workflow. An example would be a base expander which mounts the Brain to provide a host of interface connectors (DC in, HDMI, 3G/HD-SDI, control and sync ports, and 3.5mm stereo mic input and a 3.5mm stereo headphone output).
- Rear and Side Modules — The rear modules are designed for power, while the side modules are used for control or handles. The battery pack is an example of a rear module. An example of a side module is the Sidekick Control interface. That provides full access to basic and advanced menus via a 1.7" OLED display. Another example of side module is the Side Handle. It is used as the camera grip with integrated buttons and controls.
- Lens Mount — Supports the different types of lenses that can be mounted onto a Brain.
- Monitoring — These are the screen viewers that allow the user to see what they are shooting. It provides a way to view the proper framing and to navigate the camera’s advanced menu options and configurations. An example is the RED DIGITAL CINEMA Touch 7.0" LCD. The LCD is the same as the viewer on the back of a DSLR camera.
- Media — RED has a proprietary format called the Mini-Mag. It is a fast storage media for content shot with the RED camera. They can reach speeds of up to 300 MB/sec with capacities up to 960 GB — 1 TB (as of this writing). The camera body provides a Mini-Mag drive to insert the media.
- Bundles — This refers to the accessories that can be attached to the camera unit. There are different types of package offers which also depends on the workflow and type of subject/theme/concept that will be shot with the camera. An example is a cinema package which provides the necessary parts and accessories to build a camera for cinematic filmmaking.
As we can see, the RED ecosystem follows a modular approach to their cameras. Each part has a feature that allows users to create the image based on the function of those parts.
8K Video Format Advantages
RED uses two types of 8K. There is standard 8K @ 7680 x 4320 (33.1 MP) and Full 8K @ 8192 x 4320 (35.4 MP). With all those pixels making up your image resolution, that is plenty of detail. That information includes the sharpness, shadows, color gamut and contrast in the image capture. This is great for formats that use HDR which really brings out the most specific details.
Now when you downscale that resolution to common 4K and 1080p video resolution, it still preserves the quality from the 8K capture. You may lose the details from 8K, but it still compresses the pixels down to a high quality ratio. Downscaling from 8K to 4K is like a 1:2 ratio of pixel downsizing, but the details still look great. Don’t worry about the loss of pixels, the image actually looks clearer and cleaner. What’s great about that is that it also removes some unwanted noise from too much detail and you get a smoother transition in the image quality.
If you shoot in let’s say 16K format and watch it in 8K, it is much like 8K to 4K. The quality is still superb and even more so when shot at higher resolutions and downscaled. You can zoom all the way in with the least amount of blur and pixelation, more solid and smooth. So it is still fine to have a Full HD 1080p TV to watch a downscaled 8K video, no need to go out and buy an actual 8K TV.
There are 4 types of DSMC2 camera models I will discuss (these are more but I will start with the most popular). There is the Epic Gemini 5K S35 with Standard OLPF, the full frame Monstro 8K, the RED Dragon RED Raven 4.5K and the WEAPON Helium 8K S35. I was most impressed with its low light shooting capability, and credit also to the Leica lens I had for testing. A RED body with Leica glass makes a great combination.
The Leica-M Lenses demonstrated are compatible with WEAPON, SCARLET-W, and EPIC/SCARLET BRAINs only. Now I would have loved to share an image captured from any of the RED cameras, but they use a proprietary storage format called Mini-Mag. It also requires different equipment for processing than a DSLR. Data rates on the Mini-Mag vary but are capable of 300 MB/sec which does not really seem that impressive. It is pretty much like a SATA2 storage controller’s speed.
One feature RED cameras are capable of is capturing the moment even when you are not prepared. The RED camera system uses advanced buffering to allow cameraman to suddenly capture a scene from let’s say a live event or show. When this feature is enabled, the few seconds the cameraman missed is actually still captured from buffer even before the cameraman presses to record it.
The sensors on RED cameras also have 16 stops of dynamic range which was once thought impossible on digital cameras. This wider latitude allows cinematographers the ability to take on more challenging lighting conditions. Shadows are crushed and details are exposed for truly stunning imagery.
Note: RED camera sensors can also be upgraded, but it depends on the model. More information about that can be obtained at this link.
The RED camera was meant for professional cinema quality video, but it also takes brilliant stills. So you can shoot images at 35.4 MP like a DSLR and shoot 4K-8K video as well. From a workflow perspective, RED has it simplified for post production. R3D is RED’s proprietary format that provides non-destructive linear editing supported by many software editing programs.
Besides the R3D format, it also supports simultaneous recording in Apple’s ProRes or Avid’s DNxHR/HD. Now what I really like about RED is it’s small form factor which can be modular as well. You can bring it to shoot like a DSLR on the streets, and then mount it on a tripod or rig for more complex shoots. RED cameras are good for cinematic productions, both motion and still, while streamlining workflow from camera to studio in post production.
There is now a DSMC3 line up from RED that brings new and more advanced features to its predecessors. DSMC3 brings multi-format support and higher resolution with faster storage using CFexpress 2.0 Type B card, which can record raw R3D files to up to 800 MB/s. While this is the more advanced update, DSMC2 cameras continue to be used in the film industry.
Note: Information from this article was gathered from private DEMO given by RED camera during NAB Show week in Las Vegas (NV) and from the RED Studios in Hollywood (CA).