Red Cine interface for motion to stills photography.

Red Cine interface for motion to stills photography.

After owning the Red Epic for just over a year now, I've had plenty of experience with the cinematography aspect of using the camera. The last two sets of model shoots I did was with a Canon T1i and 35mm AE-1 Program with Kodak Portra film stock. This weekend, I finally was able to try out shooting bits of video to capture stills, rather than one click at a time.

Over the years I've gone back and forth between still and motion photography and have found the two mentalities to be quite different - which is why I believe not all cinematographers can jump into photography and be great right off the bat, and vice versa. There is quite a learning curve in the way of thinking between the two arts. In my own experience, photography is much more calculated in a sense. You light your subject exactly how you want it, you place every bit of detail in the scene exactly how you want it, and wait to click the shutter until every element falls exactly into place the way you see it in your mind. With cinematography, you set the scene and the mood, but once the camera is rolling, there's no exact science, people walk in and out of light, miss their marks, change the blocking mid-action, and not every frame is picture-perfect.

I think where I struggled most when first getting into cinematography was that sometimes your subject falls out of light, or the lighting isn't "photo quality" during a certain part of the shot or maybe the framing isn't "pleasing" for a few moments, and that's okay. That's all part of dynamically moving images that make up a movie. Cinematography is a flow that changes from moment to moment and it's that movement, the on-screen action, and the story throughout the length of the shot that defines the quality, not a single gorgeous, thought provoking frame. In photography, EVERY photo has to tell a story, evoke an emotion, and be pleasing or interesting to look at.

Back to this weekend's shoot - I had the chance to borrow a Canon EOS mount for the Epic, and a gorgeous Canon L 24-70mm zoom lens. I also had the opportunity to shoot with the beautiful model Nadine Candelario, extremely talented hair and makeup artist Courtney Housner, and my trusty assistant photographer Evan Kopczyk. During the shoot I would roll a bunch of poses in a scene with the Epic, and would switch over to my AE-1 Program and knock out a roll of film exposures. I was super excited to try out the DSMC method of capturing motion photography and getting to literally pull whichever frame I wanted as well as having the option to shoot HDR in-camera at up to 70fps - something you could never do with any DSLR currently on the market.

The interesting thing, however, was after getting back home and looking through all the Epic footage, I realized that my mind and eye tended to stay in "cinematographer" mode. The footage looks great when played back, however, I had far less usable still frames than I had expected. This is when I really felt the differences between the two mediums. It was interesting how my attention to individual moments subsided with the Epic in hand, and I was looking more at the overal picture, and the movement of the shot, much the same as when filming motion work. Although still frames was the goal, I was having a difficult time focusing on making sure I had those single moments I wanted.

Having tens of thousands of frames to choose from, I expected to have at least 2,000 usable photos to pick from, but once I went through all the footage I found only 128 photos that I pulled for the contact sheets - which isn't bad and maybe about 75% more than had I shot on a DSLR - but not nearly what I thought I'd get out of it. Granted, once I choose the selects, we'll be down to only 10-15 pictures, but the usable pictures number doesn't seem much higher than had I used a 5D for nearly 180GB of footage from the shoot (roughly 10 times more data than a DSLR in RAW mode would have spit out for the same length of a shoot). Think $$$ for hard drives! In this regard, it's a big disadvantage to shooting RAW video for still capture.

Looking back, I learned so much about this new method, and I'm really excited to see how my 35mm prints compare. When I was holding the film camera, my brain just switched over to pure photo mode. Out of about 48 exposures, I expect to have at least 15 shots I'm really happy with - a MUCH higher ratio than the Epic produced with a MUCH smaller data footprint. I was paying attention to the moment, just waiting for the model to give me the right look, and making sure my focus was dead-on, and then clicking the shutter at the perfect moment. There was that exciting feeling of accomplishment every time we heard that click that I oh-so-covet.

The dynamic between the model and me was also drastically different when shooting Epic vs 35mm. The movement was much quicker and it was more of a "I think we got it" mentality rather than "that was it" with the Epic. With the film, she was very aware of when the shutter would click, and would play around with a single pose a lot more than with the Epic where she tended to just move about from pose to pose. This wasn't because I told her to do it one way or the other, it just happened naturally waiting to hear the click of the shutter. I kept my direction fairly limited as we were all learning and experimenting with motion still capture.

After bringing the footage in to Redcine-X PRO for processing I really realized the strengths and weaknesses of the DSMC system and learned so much for my next shoot. The biggest area of difficulty was focus. With 35mm it is medium difficulty to focus perfectly, but with the split-diopter on the ground glass it's easy enough to quickly look at an edge last second before you snap the shutter and adjust accordingly. With a DSLR like the 7D or 5D that have zoning autofocus, no matter how you or the model moves, the camera immediately focuses a fraction of a second before the shutter and you are always pretty much dead-on as long as you know how to operate the camera well. With the Epic, I felt like I was suspending a 20lb weight in one hand while awkwardly poking the touch screen trying to figure out if my subject was actually in focus. Upon reviewing my footage, I was very often a few inches in front or behind the subject on several great moments. This was definitely the most frustrating part about the whole shoot. I'm going to really try to figure out the autofocus controls with the camera, or just shoot at f/8 or higher next time, as I stuck mainly with f/3.5-4 the whole time which turned out to be a little too shallow DOF for getting usable frames.

Here's an example of two stills taken 9 frames apart from the same video clip (roughly just under a half-second in real time). Notice the first image is properly in focus, and then by the model just leaning in a few inches, the focus is on her ear 9 frames later. The example is 130% blow-up of the 5k full-res image.

So, although there were quite a few frames I got to pull that were in focus - I filmed hundreds of frames of which only a few were usable for any given pose. I'm sure this all has to do with my inexperience with the auto-focus system of the Epic with Canon glass, so hopefully as I do this more often, I'll get a better handle on the focus issues to maximise my good frames.

As for workflow, I use Redcine-X PRO to pre-process my images from the RAW format into TIFF's (much like you would in Adobe Camera Raw), load up the folder in lightroom to make contact sheets, and then send to Photoshop my selects for further editing.

So all-in-all this was a really exciting first run shooting stills from motion with the Red Epic, and I'm most excited to get my film scans back to really see how the two compare in both execution and overal look of film vs. digital. I've learned so much from this weekend and feel like my next shoot will be much more efficient and I'll be able to capture a higher ratio of usable frames to footage shot, because 180GB per shoot is KILLER! I think there are a lot of advantages to this method, as well as some disadvantages, but either way, it was extremely fun and exciting and everyone had a blast.

Using pre and post-roll I think I can help optimize data efficiency, and really force my brain to work in stills mode, so that the motion capture becomes an advantage in capturing moments I may have missed doing individual shots. I think I can capitalize on this when capturing moments of the model in-action, such as a dancer. The absolute biggest advantage of all, though is the super awesome motion photo video I'll be putting together using the 5k footage I shot!

Feel free to comment with any questions and I'll be sure to answer them! Follow my blog as I'll be posting comparison stils of the Epic vs Kodak Portra 160 stock in the next couple of days! I'll also have the final images from this shoot up on my photography portfolio page.

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