RED Raw For Your Colorist

August 14, 2014 Tags: , , ,
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Sam here… we’re going to talk RED RAW today, because there’s no reason for this to be so hard and complicated.  Mostly, it’s a public service to DP’s everywhere, many of whom seem to be confused by how all of this works.  It’s been my experience that a lot of DP’s try to capture their LOOK on set… and yet they’re shooting RAW.  Mostly, this is because of a fear (often justified) that post will screw it up later if they don’t lock in their look now.  Unfortunately, this approach is counter intuitive to how the camera is designed to work, and doing things this way will often lead to a lot of finger pointing, anger, and inflated post budgets once the film hits the finishing stage.

The bottom line is that if you’ve ever heard your DP say the following words… show them this post:

“The RED is a noisy camera… I’ve always got add noise reduction in post to my footage.  Also… I always like to save LUTs and looks when I shoot RED.”

With the RED, LUTs are stupid.  Sorry.  Someone needs to say it. You’re just going to go back to REDlogfilm when you hit the finish line anyway… or you should be using the controls in RCX to manipulate the RAW the way you want it AFTER YOU’VE SHOT IT.

If exposed and lit correctly, you should NEVER want/need a LUT when you hit the color room.  Use the standard REDcolor/Gamma settings while you’re shooting as a baseline, and then tweak later in REDcine-X.  When it comes to RED, probably the worst thing you can do is try and dial your look in while you’re on set.  It defeats the whole purpose of shooting RAW.

The truth is that shooting RAW is not a cure all.  While it provides greater flexibility than traditional codecs, You need to do certain things correctly and understand a couple things in order to get good results.

Fortunately, there isn’t all that much that you need to know.  In fact, if you do the following, you’re pretty much guaranteed good results with your Scarlet/Epic/Dragon:

  1. Shoot at 800 ISO – The RED sensor is rated to be shot at this ISO.  Start here while on set.  While you can shoot at other ISOs, you shouldn’t unless you absolutely have to.  Play with that stuff later in Redcine-X.  Shoot and light it for 800.
  2. Don’t clip – Look at your histogram.  Make sure everything you’re shooting is between the “goal posts”.  If it’s not… do a better job with your lighting, or accept certain realities in post.  Also, keep in mind you always have HDRX available to you in extreme cases.
  3. Expose your skin tones correctly – For the love of God, don’t underexpose your skin tones.  Seriously… just don’t.  It’s the number one reason why people end up unhappy with their RED footage and why things turn out noisy, because they find they want to brighten up their skin tones in the color room.  To make sure your skin tones are exposed properly, use the False color mode and make sure your skin tones are “pink”.  If they are, you’re good to go.  You can always make things darker later… rarely, however, can you make things brighter and not introduce unwanted noise.  Even if you want things “moody”, EXPOSE YOUR SKIN TONES PROPERLY.
  4. The smaller your resolution, the grainier your footage – Basically, if you shoot with the Dragon/Epic at 4k, 3k, or 2k… you’re using less and less of your sensor, and less and less information is being captured.  Many complain that their 2k stuff looks worse than their 4k and 5k stuff… that’s cause it does.  You’re only using part of your sensor, and depending on your compression rate, you may start to see a lot of problems, noise, and grain introduced… especially when you shoot at 2k.
  5. Up your compression ratio if you’re going to reframe – For the same reasons discussed in #4, the higher the compression ratio you shoot with your RED at, the more noise you’re going to see from your punch ins in post.  Once you get past 7:1 compression or so, expect the quality of your punch-ins to decrease and become far more noticeable.  While there’s no reason to shoot RED RAW uncompressed (not even really a good reason to go below 5:1), keep in mind that the higher you go, the more noise will be introduced, and this noise will be compounded when you reframe/punch in during the edit.  Even though you shot at 4k, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all punch-ins are created equal when you come down to 1080.

Seriously, those five things are all you really need to know in order to make you and your colorist happy when you reach the finish line.  Why people make this so hard, I’ll never understand.

For more info on some of the RED exposure tools and how all this works, read these articles –


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