In the Field: The RED DSMC2 GEMINI 5K S35, Part 1

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If you are reading this, you probably have two main questions, so I'm going to cut right to the chase and address them both. First, the RED DSMC2 GEMINI 5K S35, which has a 5K Super35mm sensor, is a great camera; I enjoyed working with it and would do so again with no reservations. Second, since GEMINI is the astrological sign of the Twins, I would guess this camera’s name has something to do with the sensor, which features dual native ISO. My overall experience is positive—I did not find any drawbacks to the camera, but let me detail my experience below. I should note that RED has recently streamlined its offerings, although there are still very useful RED cameras available. If you want only the current cameras, then look for the term “2018 Unified DSMC2 Lineup” in the product name on the B&H website.

RED DIGITAL CINEMA DSMC2 BRAIN with GEMINI 5K S35 Sensor

Complex, Yet Simple

With the digital capture age, of which RED was one of the primary initiators, the camera paradigm changed from choosing a camera for its physical capabilities, such as ergonomics, frame rates, ease of use, available lenses, etc., to choosing a filmstock for the “look.” Digital has merged the two.

Video has always provided the filmmaker with a wide array of options and settings—far too many, if you ask me—that have you rummaging through the menu system to make sure the settings are the way you want them, and woe to you if messed up your settings, because they became burned into the final image, and were very hard to adjust afterward. I've always liked the RED menu navigation system, though I've previously only played around with a RED ONE years ago. Still, there is a nice clarity to the menu system, even though it has grown a bit and the term “format” is used twice, in different contexts (once for choosing the image format and once to format the media cards). Still, it is 2018, soon to be 2019, and I’ve got to stop lamenting about menus.

First Things First

My first impression is that I thought it would be heavier. It looks solid, and it feels solid, but it didn't feel heavy. Granted, I'm talking about the camera brain, and the V-LOCK I/O expander module, plus the lens mount, but still, it feels lighter than it looks. If you are not accustomed to the RED ecosystem, let me explain the camera brain. RED has built its cameras into what the company calls “The Brain,” which houses the sensor and electronics for image processing, a built-in receiver for recording media, as well as power On/Off, and Record start/stop. That is the camera brain, and a variety of accessories make it usable. I had the V-Lock Expander Module, which allowed me to attach V-mount batteries and output HDMI and SDI, among other connectors. I also had the Touch 4.7" LCD, which is necessary—to set up the camera, you need it to view and select from the menu system, as well as format your media. There is an optional handgrip that can navigate through the menu system, in which case you could use your own on-camera monitor. However, I did not have that handgrip, yet I was quickly very comfortable with the touch LCD. Even in the minimum shooting configuration, the RED DSMC2 GEMINI 5K S35 is lighter than it looks. Perhaps it is the plethora of drilled and tapped 1/4"-20 mounting holes all around the body. Whether they help reduce the weight or not, the mounting holes certainly help when adding accessories.

Connections

While the expander modules provide standard video connections, the camera body itself has surface-mounted contacts for RED-specific accessories. At first these contacts worried me: what if I put an accessory over one and that accessory makes contact and shorts something, or what if I use the wrong accessory here and it fries the camera? Why isn't there a hatch cover? However, I quickly realized how well thought out this system is, and how unfounded my concerns were. First, the contacts are below the surface of the camera, so bolting an accessory onto the body won't cause it to cross the contacts. Second, if an accessory is meant to interface with one of these ports on the RED DSMC2 GEMINI 5K S35, it is designed to fit into the relieved area around the contacts, which are different sizes, depending on the number of contacts in the connector. I ended up liking the system, and resisted my original urge to cover the connectors with electrical tape.

Lens Mount

The brain itself does not come with an integrated lens mount. Instead, it features replaceable lens boards. I had both the aluminum EF and aluminum PL mount. I will caution you that when changing lens boards, collimating the mount on the camera and to your lens, or collimating your lens to the camera/mount, is standard operating procedure. However, outside of a rental house, I'm not sure how often that happens. Although I've never owned a collimator, I have previously swapped lens mounts, or switched from 16mm to super16mm myself, but the “Gold Standard” of working practice is to check collimation every time after swapping lens mounts. I did swap between lens mounts on the RED DSMC2 GEMINI 5K S35 and, as stated, I don't have a collimator. Happily, the system is so simple I didn't run into any problems.

I do want to impress on you just how easy it is to change lens mounts on the RED DSMC2 Brains like the RED DSMC2 GEMINI 5K S35. Easy and not the least bit nerve-wracking, as opposed to the harrowing experiences I've had in the past—I once sweated off ten pounds adjusting the flange on a Panavision camera. You want to remember that the distance between the lens mount and the sensor (flange focal distance, sometimes called the back-focus distance) has extremely tight tolerances—less than a tenth the thickness of a human hair. If the distance is off, even by just a few thousandths of a millimeter, it can severely limit your lens performance. So, messing around with the flange focal distance is something I swore I would I never do again.

However, with the RED DSMC2 Brain, the lens mount is attached to a lens board that is held onto the camera brain/body by four short captive screws. With many other cameras, to change lens mounts, you must loosen and remove screws that are in the mount itself. This means that you can't have the lens port cap in place protecting the sensor or mechanism, because that would block access to the mounting screws; therefore, you need to be extremely careful not to drop a screw into the lens mount, either going into the camera's mechanism or hitting the sensor, possibly damaging the camera. It can be terrifying if it is something that you don't do regularly. However—not so with the RED DSMC2 Brain. Here, the lens mount is attached to a lens board. You simply loosen the four captive screws and pull the board away from the camera. There is no worry about dropping screws. The new board goes into place and you are ready to shoot (see the above notes about collimation). This makes for mount changes that are swift and easy, which is nice. It allowed me to shoot with several Canon EF mount lenses and then switch the camera's lens mount for my favorite piece of old glass, a 385mm Century Tele-Athenar II, with a PL mount. From a specific park in Brooklyn, I get a fabulous view of the Statue of Liberty with it.

So. I'm finished geeking out over the lens-mount setup. It just excites me to see how user friendly RED has made its cameras.

Testing

For my test, I used a Rokinon XEEN 35mm, Canon 70 to 200, an older Canon 85mm in FD mount adapted to EF, and a Kenko Fisheye adapter mounted on a Yongnuo 35mm lens, all in EF Mount, as well as the Century Tele-Athenar II in PL mount, and set about testing.

Before we go to Part 2 of this article, which deals with the excellent image quality, I want to reiterate just how simple the camera is to set up and use. I still haven't read the user’s manual or, for that matter, watched a tutorial video, and I was out shooting with the camera with no problems. I even shot some footage at 300 fps with the same setup I used for shooting 24. It was a great experience. See Part 2 for the images I shot and how I shot them.

Do you have experience with the more recent RED cameras? We’d love to hear about them, in the Comments section.

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