If you’ve ever dipped your toe into the waters of production, odds are you’ve heard of RED cameras. You’ve also probably heard that they’re crazy expensive, sneaky heavy, and will undoubtedly win you an Oscar for Best Cinematography.
The truth is, RED cameras have come along way over the years. Back in 2009, when I was a high school senior, I was given the opportunity to shoot on the RED ONE–RED’s first foray into the world of high end cinema. We were shooting some ski footage for Red Bull, and I got my hands on the camera with a lot of giddiness. I was able to knock off a couple of shots at 60fps before the camera froze, glitched, and had to be power cycled. This happened again, and again, and again…
The next time I had the chance to shoot on a RED was in 2014. A company I was regularly freelancing with owned a RED Epic Dragon (the camera, not the mythical creature), and it was a much better experience. Although form factor was funky and the camera needed a ton of light to get a clean image, it was a huge step in the right direction, and we shot a lot of great footage on it.
Then, in May of 2018, RED released the first camera that ever really caught my attention as something I might want for Hidden Woods: the DSMC2 Gemini. This camera was manufactured originally for astronauts to take into space and have a camera that would perform at high resolutions in low light. What this ultimately gave consumers who aren’t–you know, astronauts–was a camera that provided everything RED cameras do well (the R3D Codec, fast frame rates at high resolution, stellar color space, amazing dynamic range, etc.) with the added bonus of being able to shoot in a Low Light Mode (LL). For Hidden Woods, it gave us a RED camera that was finally flexible enough for the throes of documentary production.
As of now, we’ve been putting the camera through the paces and have come to this conclusion: we absolutely love it. It’s reliable, it produces gorgeous pictures, and it’s surprisingly flexible.
When we first received the camera, I opened the box, and thought to myself, “we just paid way too much money for a heavy black box that doesn’t do anything”. Which was true. Because without a handful of other components attached to the camera, it really won’t do anything. Here’s how our Gemini is built up.
The Wooden Camera Revolva Pass-Through Top Plate for RED DSMC 2 Cameras
This is the cheapest and most necessary part of our Gemini build. It gives us a ton of mounting points for various accessories in both 1/4 20″ and 3/8″, and maintains connectivity for our Nato Handle and RED DSMC2 4.7″ touch. Speaking of which…
RED Digital Cinema Touch 4.7″ LCD (DSMC2)
Eh, it’s fine. I wish it was brighter. We use it to dial in our settings and look keep an eye on the RGB histogram and that’s really it. To monitor our image, we’ve found it’s almost useless. Instead, we rely heavily on our Small HD 702 Bright mounted to the Pass-Through Top plate via an UltraLight Control Systems arm. I’m pretty passionate about this arm. I never thought I’d be passionate about mounting arms.
RED DSMC2 Side Handle
Big part of our build. We can adjust settings quickly, and love having the additional function buttons and record trigger right at our finger tips. Also nice being able to control the aperture on electronic lenses right on the handle (we use this a lot with our EF mount Zeiss OTUS lenses). But… as with all things RED, it is so expensive for a grip.
Hyerpcore HC9 Mini V Mounts
Love ’em! They’re low profile, we can fly with them without violating TSA’s >100WH Regulations. Do I wish they lasted another 30 minutes each? Yes. Do I want them to be any bigger? No.
Zacuto VCT Plate
I’d probably rather have a dovetail at this point, but we’ve been using these things for a long time and we’ve got so many baseplates on our tripods, in our van, etc. that it doesn’t make sense to move away from them.
Teradek Bolt 500
Don’t get me started on this thing. Love it, hate it, every emotion.
Wooden Camera UMB-1 Matte Box
Because the Gemini doesn’t have internal NDs, and because we like to use Schneider Digicons, BPM, and Hollywood Black Magic filters, this is a bit of a necessity. The biggest thing for us is that it’s lightweight while being a swing-away.
Why We Love The Gemini
The biggest upgrade we’ve seen from shooting on this camera is the flexibility that the .R3D codec has given us. The fact that we can shoot RED raw in 5K and use an equivalent amount of data (if not less) than Apple ProRes is pretty exceptional.
In case that was a little jargon-y: .R3D gives us so much flexibility in post. We can adjust every setting that we used to have to bake into our footage (ISO, white balance, gamma curves, etc.). What this lets us do is really fine tune our footage in the edit to make sure we get everything right where we want it. Of course, this is all made possible and improved through REDs IPP2 workflow, which isn’t worth going into (we’re super pleased with it).
Of course, the .R3D codec isn’t unique to the Gemini, so what is? As I mentioned with the whole NASA bit, this camera is most well known for being able to shoot in low light. It is definitely noticeably more noisy in LL mode, so if there’s ever a decision to be made between picking between standard and low-light, we opt for standard. But, it is always nice having the flexibility to shoot in low light. We did a spot for NadaMoo Ice Cream on the Gemini and Atlas Orion Anamorphic lenses back in December, and shot a significant portion at night around F/4 and got some pretty awesome footage. Take a look below!
The other thing that I really, really love about this camera is the color science. Everything looks so good out of camera that I’m always skeptical to send our projects off to a colorist. There’s just something about REDs colors that make things seem so cinematic, so clean, and so unique. Big shout out to RED for the IPP2 workflow, it’s pretty amazing and makes our editor’s life a lot easier.
Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the dynamic range. Coming from a C300 Mark II that boasted a whopping 14.5 stops of dynamic range but really only performed on about 12 stops, I can’t overstate how often I’m impressed with the range on this thing. I’ll expose for the sky, and then have to stop down more because my shadows will have too much detail. On top of that, the highlights just kind of melt away into white–I’ve never noticed a hard jump into overexposure.
What’s Not To Love
5K Raw uses a lot of data. Like a lot. 1TB per day of production is what we average. That is HUGE. When we started our business, we shot on a C100 Mark II that would rack up–at most–64gb in one day. We’re now shooting nearly 20x that amount of data. So why not bump down to 4k, 2k, or 1920? It’ll window the image, and you really lose a lot of sharpness (along with your lenses performing at a functionally much tighter focal length). So 5K is really your best bet.
Of course, having that much data is ultimately a good thing for our product. It’s where the flexibility in post comes from. It’s where the crispness of the image comes from. It holds all of the data for the amazing color science, etc. So is it a lot, definitely. Is it worth the inevitable expense? Definitely.
There’s a couple other little things. One thing that drives me nuts is if I accidentally roll for 30 minutes (as I am won’t to do), I can’t go into the menus and delete that specific clip. I also think it’s odd that the format media button is on the same page as the eject media button. I use both often, and it’s a bit of unnecessary anxiety to have them both on the same page.
Outside of that, I don’t have many complaints. This thing is awesome. It’s performed in 115º Texas heat and -5º Colorado cold. The batteries last a reasonable amount of time. We can compress the data. We can over-crank to grab that super slow motion. We can do time-lapses. We can pull amazing stills. This thing truly is a workhorse, and we’re thrilled that we get to keep it working for years to come.
As always, a camera is a camera. This just happens to be the best one we’ve ever used.