In the Field: The 5K Super35mm RED DSMC2 GEMINI, Part 2

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In Part 1 of this article, I discussed my experience using the RED GEMINI camera brain with 5K S35 sensor and I mentioned that this was really my first time using a RED camera, shooting raw, and using RED CINE-X PRO software to output. There is a bit of a learning curve and, to be truthful, it is a different way of working than I am accustomed to—not difficult, but different—and it creates exciting possibilities.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the assistance that I had. When shooting the test charts, and at the pier, I was ably assisted by Ratha Chea, taking notes and doing focus pulls and, when shooting the slow-motion gymnastic footage, my wonderful daughters helped, too. It is important to note that, as easy as it is to use the GEMINI, it is a professional camera, and it is just so much easier to shoot with it when you have an assistant on hand.

Exposure

The GEMINI sensor features dual native ISO settings of 800 and 3200. If you are shooting straight to ProRes or Avid DnxHR/HD this may make more of a difference, but I chose to shoot in REDCODE RAW (at 8:1 compression), and in the end, I've concluded that when shooting raw, the camera really has two ISO settings: Standard and Low Light (LL).

Test chart with spot readings

Click on the stills that follow to open the frame in its native format.

I set up a test frame with white and black reference, resolution chart, color chip chart, and a bright light source in the frame. Note the upper left of the frame—I've flagged off the black reference to get a much darker black. You can refer to the image above so you can see the spot-meter readings, taken at an ISO rating of 400. The idea is to know the dynamic range of the sensor. It isn't scientific, but it does give me an idea of what I can expect: when I will lose detail in the shadows or blow out detail in the highlights. I shot these at 5K, using the Xeen 35mm prime and racking through the iris range (T1.5 to T22) in one-stop increments. Below are some selects from the test chart shots.

Wide Open T1.5 (left), Proper Exposure (center) and Closed Down T22 (right)

The images that were shot wide open show some flare, but that is because there was a soft light shooting straight down the barrel of the lens.

RAW

When I started evaluating the images, I realized that because they were shot in raw, the ISO was not “baked-in;” instead, it is changeable in post. For those of you who work in raw all the time, this should come as no surprise, and probably the reason that you shoot in raw. However, I'm still new to a raw workflow and the possibilities it allows. For example, note that when shooting at 3200 LL, if I shoot wide open, the image is blown out, the highlights have no detail or texture, and it seems that the shot would be unusable. However, the nominal exposure for shooting my test frame at ISO 3200 would be f/8, which is about five stops closed-down from T1.5 (where I shot), or normal for an ISO of 100. Well it is raw, so I can adjust the ISO of the shot in RED Cine-X PRO (see below).

RED Cine-X PRO ISO Control

I adjusted the ISO slider from 3200 to 200 and 100 and exported the stills below. Click on each image to open the original exported frame.

ISO 3200 (left), ISO 3200 adjusted to 200 (center), and ISO 3200 adjusted to 100 (right)

You can see that even though, when overexposed by five stops, by adjusting the ISO rating in post you can recover texture in the highlights. I'm not a colorist, and I haven't even started working with LUTs, or adjusting exposure or contrast, yet I feel like I have the same sort of control that I used to have when working with a professional colorist in a color-correction suite that cost $400 an hour. Here, I was working on a 2013 iMac and RED Cine-X PRO software, which is downloadable for free. It is quite something. However, just because the raw workflow provides so much latitude to adjust the image, don’t think that exposure doesn't matter. It does, and real-world footage clearly shows this. RED's IPP2 color science or image pipeline, the way RED Cine-X PRO processes the raw image, can be applied to REDCODE RAW files that were shot with RED's previous color science, enabling you to “develop” a better image from your legacy footage.

Real-World Shooting

Exposure tests and charts are great, but they only provide a starting point. How the real-world situations are going to affect my imagers is what is going to matter. So, I took the camera and a few lenses out to my favorite park, in Brooklyn, for shooting tests.

1600 ISO for 3200 ISO (left), 3200LL ISO for 3200 ISO (center), and 1600LL ISO for 3200 ISO (right)

Above are some shots I took from the pier as darkness fell, made with an older Canon 70 to 200mm in EF mount with the iris wide open at f/2.8. I was looking for a cinematic shot, one with deep blacks and bright white highlights. At 1600 ISO, the globe on the nearest lamp post was 32, the far lamp post was 8, and the reflections in the water were reading 2.8/4. Generally, this is what is most pleasing to your eye, something with good black and white references. Notice, on the LL setting, if you compare 3200LL to the standard setting at 3200 there is a difference, and the sky appears brighter in the LL setting and the lamp posts are a little more blown out. I prefer the contrast in the shot with the standard ISO setting, but can see the advantage of the LL setting when there is little light and no contrast in the frame. I would like to explore exposing at ISO 12800 at night, and see if I can ramp the aperture and get deep depth of field at night.

Overall

In daylight at the park, before shooting from the pier at night, I mounted a 385mm Century Tele-Athenar II on the RED GEMINI and took some images of the Statue of Liberty. This necessitated switching the camera’s mount to PL, but, as mentioned in Part 1, this is easy to accomplish. It is a slow lens, at 5.6, but I like the look. With the camera shooting at 5K/S35 I could get the Statue of Liberty to fill the frame with room on the top and bottom. Then I whip-panned over to some nearby rocks, revealing the rolling shutter on the building edge as it whips by. It isn't that noticeable, and it was a quick whip-pan, but look at the footage and judge for yourself.

Whip Pan

Slow Motion

I also wanted to test the slow-motion capabilities of the camera. I filmed one of my daughters doing gymnastics at 24 fps, and 240 fps. I also slowed the 24 to 240 just to see what it looked like, very “steppy” and disappointing. There is a tremendous advantage to being able to shoot high speed in the camera to create slow-motion effects. The quality of the movement is incredibly smooth, and you retain detail that is otherwise lost to frame blending and blur when you try to slow footage shot at normal speed. Check out below to see what I mean. There is a small price to pay though, because to shoot above 96 fps, you must crop the sensor.

24 fps

240 fps

24 fps slowed to 240 fps

Conclusions

I enjoyed my all-too-brief time shooting with the RED GEMINI, and look forward to using it in the future. I've barely scratched the surface of the camera's capabilities, not to mention the post options the IPP2 workflow allows. Could I go out today, with only a few hours of camera time under my belt and shoot footage with which I’d be visually happy? Obviously yes, because I already have. But more time and experience with this camera, shooting, and tweaking the images in post, would allow me to utilize the full potential of this camera. It’s easy to work with in the field, and the footage the camera records is just as easy to work with in post. Shoot, test, evaluate, stretch the footage to its breaking, and do it again and again, and keep pushing the limits, because the limits are going to be yours—the RED GEMINI seems to have very few.

For more on the RED cameras available at B&H Photo, check out our RED Digital Cinema page, or when you’re in New York City, drop by and visit the B&H SuperStore. If you have questions about, suggestions for tests, or experience with the RED GEMINI that you would like to share, please post below.

2 Comments

excellent

Very good report Steve. I think you have given a lot of people the confidence to use this camera. 

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