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RED SCARLET Torture Test: High Speed Handheld Shooting in Subzero Temperatures with 35 Year-Old Lenses

05.9.12 @ 11:56AM Tags : , , ,

Subzero temperatures. Sunlight filtering through an afternoon forest onto bright white snow. Actors wearing shiny silver outfits, running from direct sunlight to shadows. No neutral density filters and no polarizing filters. No bounce cards and no lights. No tripod. Collectively, all of this makes for some of the worst conditions you could use a camera in. On top of this, it wasn’t even my project, so I was essentially filming a behind-the-scenes featurette with no ability to direct the actors. This was not a project from which to produce a great reel; it was simply a way to put a camera and a new set of lenses to a (freezing) test. With all of those disclaimers, if you care to see the footage, here it is.

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First of all, here’s the background behind this “production” — my co-everything on The West Side, Zack Lieberman, was shooting a no-budget test short in 3D on a little prosumer Sony camcorder. I had just purchased some BNCR-mount Canon K35 prime lenses (used — they’re 35 years old) and so Zack’s test shoot was a perfect chance to get some face time not only with the SCARLET, but also the new (to me) lenses. Essentially, we reversed the usual production/behind-the-scenes lineup, so the actual test short (which will have some day-for-night and 3D After Effects work) was shot on an inexpensive prosumer camera and the behind-the-scenes was shot on a higher-end RED camera. And it’s not really even a behind-the-scenes — just me grabbing shots throughout the day at various frame rates and focal lengths. This is not a short. It is not even a test short — it’s a behind-the-scenes of a test short.

Featuring Zuzanna Buchwald, Kalen Norton, Bryan Tuckman, Emily Mode, and Rahil Patel.

I shot it at 12, 24, 48, and 60 FPS, at 5K, 4K, 3K, and 2K respectively. My impressions are that 2K/60P can get pretty noisy and soft, whereas 3K/48P looks great. Remember the RED SCARLET, unlike the EPIC or other similar cameras, crops at high speeds and so you’re also testing the center resolution of your lenses. The K35s definitely exhibit some purple fringing issues when wide-open, but I got a great deal on them; I’ll have more thoughts about these vintage lenses in the future. Suffice to say they’re very small, light, and fast, and I thought their quirks would be worth it at the price I found them for. If they were good enough for James Cameron to shoot Aliens with, my thinking goes, they’ll be good enough for little old me.

As for the SCARLET itself, did it crash? Yes. Once, maybe twice. But I did not acclimate the camera (or lenses) properly to the subzero temperatures and I did not blackshade the camera after we were outside, so considering the non-ideal conditions I thought it performed admirably. Plus this was shot in January on the original SCARLET firmware version 2.0, which is now up to 3.0. And it never froze mid-take or anything, just once when switching to playback mode (which at the time was still a beta feature, at least on EPICs).

We shot this sometime in January in upstate New York. When I say “subzero temperatures,” I mean it — we were all wearing long underwear, we all had hand and foot warmers, and as you can see we were still doing jumping jacks to stay warm. The temperature was legitimately in the negatives.

I’ve been busy revising the Man-child script and have been taking meetings about the project to try to get it into motion, so I didn’t have a chance to slap this footage together until now. After RED released a new color science, I figured it would be a good time to dig up the footage and cut something together quickly. Little did I know Premiere Pro CS5.5 does not support the new REDcolor3 and REDgamma3:

@ @ @ @ Ahh, that's it: no support (yet) for #R3D gamma/color 3 in Premiere. Hopefully in CS6, out now?
Ryan Koo

CS6 will hopefully add support for the latest color science and gamma curves, as the quick color correction pass I did in the free REDCINE-X Pro looked different in grading than it did once I reloaded the RMDs in Premiere Pro. So even though I color-corrected using the latest settings in REDCINE-X Pro, the output file you’re seeing is the old color science (REDcolor3 and REDgamma3 yield more saturated, contrasty images). Ah, well.

What’d you think?


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Description image 53 COMMENTS

  • You can always bring your ‘offiline’ back to RCX to render out your master. Adobe says RC3/RG3 is high up on their list to implement in CS6. I hope that the update works for 5.5 as well.

    2K is rather noisy like you said, but I wonder how much of that could be fixed with a blackshade.

  • Just wondering — on a non-camera matter. You’ve noted a few times now that you’re engaged in re-writing your script.

    Has anyone with actual proven writing ability — I don’t mean industry people or producers with a lot of opinions but no demonstrable narrative/theatrical writing skills — ever looked at it?

    Seems a preposterous question, I know, given the investment of time and money even a rudimentary production demands, but the answer for the vast majority of indie productions is “no”.

    Just wondering….

  • Just curious… What’s the name of the light being held up at the end of the video?

  • Really good work, like the bokah, light flares, pans and grade. Looks really good to me!

  • I totally dig the look of these lenses and the footage that you shot.

    From what I’ve heard, lots of higher end productions are using older lenses like these to both soften the overly harsh sharpness of the newer digital cinema cameras (especially RED) and to put some character back into the images. It seems like a lesser known, but effective, strategy to achieve a more filmic look with digital cameras.

    • Exactly my thoughts — I like a natural look over a sharper image, as I think fidelity doesn’t always contribute to suspension of disbelief. That said, I’ll be curious to shoot a resolution chart with these.

  • I’ve a question about the RAW workflow: what about setting the camera? what setting needs? like setting WB and ISO? aperture is something could be set in Post? or just focusing on the composition and forget the rest? I’m new to raw and I probably get Blackmagic camera so I was thinking about how it works the process… anyone knows where I can find some info about? thanks and keep up the great work!

    • Aperture is a function of the lens. But you can set ISO, white balance, gamma, etc. in post.

      That said, just because you are shooting RAW does not mean the only thing you need to worry about is the framing. You still want to think about the direction, quality, color, and amount of light while shooting, just as you would when not shooting RAW. You still want to think of ratios and levels. Think of it like developing film: you can color time it, push it, process it in a number of ways, etc. but this doesn’t mean you have less to think about during the shoot.

  • How did you connect the old lenses with your scarlett? Is ist compatibel or did you use an adaptor? What focal length did you have/use?

  • Ryan, could you elaborate on your decision to purchase Canon K35 primes instead older Nikons or Contax Zeiss? I haven’t heard of these lenses before, and was wondering they’re somewhat of an overlooked gem.

  • Looks good. Very nice.

    Crashed once or twice? Only a Red owner can say that so nonchalantly :)

    Cold weather test? That’s cute. I know I can’t say this without it sounding like oneupmanship, but cold is relative. Upstate New York isn’t really a gruelling cold weather test. Since there are millions of camera users who live in much colder places, any camera should be able to handle those conditions without missing a beat.

    • I dunno, Cameras do crash. I was in a studio (as VFX Super not camera) a month ago with an Alexa, camera completely locked off for the entire day, completely remote operation except of course taking out SxS cards and the camera system crashed twice on us, but we did have lots of long takes as well as shooting at pretty much every frame rate imaginable. Then last week I was on a camera truck for about 8 hours of bumpy driving shots with an Epic and we didn’t have a single problem. All depends on what you’re throwing at the system really.

      And yea cold is relative, I’m in Canada and I’ve shot in -37C myself and thats a real cold weather test (and not just for the camera), but cameras usually have a listed max and min operating temp. I had an FS100 out shooting in -7C and we had dropped frames and glitches all over the place. The Scarlet is listed as having an operating range of 0C (32F) so I think the fact that Ryan had it out in subzero Farenheit (assuming because it’s USA) degrees is, I think, still a pretty good test on that particular camera.

    • You can call sub-zero temperatures cute all you want, but I’m still going to call that cold.

      • Sorry, i was being a bit cheeky. It is cold. And I know cameras do crash from time to time. My 7d crashed a couple of times when I plugged in a monitor. I had to remove the battery to “reboot” it. On the other hand the same camera worked well in extremely cold temperatures shooting outside in Yellowknife in February, where the citizens leave their cars running all day because they don’t want to risk turning them off in case they won’t restart.

        • Yea certainly the 7d does have it’s quirks, but it’s treated me pretty good as well. Although in the dry Arizona heat that I’m used to that blinking red overheating warning is all too familiar haha someone just make a perfect camera already, I mean come on this IS the 21st Century and everything.

  • john jeffreys on 05.9.12 @ 8:00PM

    How do you pay 11k+ for a camera system and be fine with the fact that its software is poorly designed? Is RED really being serious? You had TWO crashes, one of them being from something simple like switching to playback mode? Something that a comparatively lowly 5d mark II does within the blink of an eye hundreds of time a day on set?

    Koo, should have gotten a c300 ;)

    • Joe Marine on 05.9.12 @ 9:02PM

      It never crashed while shooting, which should be the bigger takeaway, since he was operating in below zero temperatures. If you’ve never had an expensive (or inexpensive) camera malfunction or “crash,” you definitely aren’t shooting enough, because it happens, mostly when you’re not expecting it. I’ve had plenty of $20,000+ cameras fail on me, in the field, in normal temperatures, and then stop working completely.

      In terms of playback, it’s actually not very simple once you get into higher resolutions. For example, it took the Arri Alexa (a far more expensive camera) almost a year to provide playback in-camera. The F65, until the most recent firmware update, had to reboot the camera before allowing playback.

      I agree with you that a camera that expensive should never crash (in this case it never crashed during shooting), but that’s not the reality, because it happens – to many other camera systems as well. I’m not sure I understand the point of commenting here just to try to pick on a specific camera system, it’s not constructive.

      By the way have you ever shot with a Canon 7D? I know I’ve had that camera overheat on me and stop shooting many, many times (once at NAB actually) – probably more times than people have had their Scarlet crash. This doesn’t mean that I think the Canon 7D is poorly made or that Canon makes bad cameras – quite the opposite is true – and I don’t go around saying that the Canon DSLRs are terrible and buggy, because the reality is that they work for the most part. Considering the Scarlet (like many cameras out there) isn’t really made to shoot in extreme conditions, it’s pretty remarkable that it never crashed while shooting.

      • john jeffreys on 05.9.12 @ 9:14PM

        Did not know the Alexa/F65 had the same characteristics. Also, I assumed that colder weather is better for digital cameras/electronics in general, but not freezing of course. The only crashes I have dealt with are magic lantern’d 550d’s killing themselves if you turn the camera on without an SD card inside (the CPU goes into a constant cycle and overheats when it does not find the magic lantern files to boot from, or something like that).

        regardless, I find it interesting that there seems to be an inverse relationship with camera design complexity/price and reliability. I figured all those dollars went to something that performed flawlessly in terrible conditions.

        I shot with a 7D once, and it was my friend’s, for a photo experiment. It was a nice, solid camera, but I figured its prone to overheating because of all the damn weather sealing and dual CPU’s…

        Its just that all the horror stories I hear of RED’s and their mannerisms online really turns me off towards ever potentially using one

        • you should withhold judgement until you’ve had your own experiences with a system

          • As I said, I did not acclimate the camera. I took it from a 70-degree comfy log cabin to -10 degree frozen tundra, without black shading, and thought it would run into more problems, honestly. That’s a huge temperature jump and it handled it well. If this were a real production, you would put the lenses and camera outside hours in advance, black shade, and if I’d done that I doubt it would’ve crashed at all. But as I said — it did not crash mid-take, and now that the RED takes 12 seconds to reboot instead of a full minute or more (like the ONE), crashes are at least much less disruptive.

        • Joe Marine on 05.9.12 @ 9:40PM

          Cold temperatures are not necessarily the issue, it’s condensation – especially if the camera is not acclimated to the temperature.

          It’s like anything, the more complex it is, the more things can go wrong. Have you never heard of a car failing in any way? I mean for $15,000 or more, cars should never have any problems, except in the history of automobiles, this has never been the case – complex, expensive things break down and fail like anything else, new or not.

          Most of the horror stories were when RED first released the RED One, and it was a beta camera until about 2009 when the MX sensor was released. RED does attempt to silence those who have issues, but part of it is because of the very perception that you have – many times the problems are user errors, or not keeping up with firmware updates (and while RED has a lot of those – it’s really no different than any other camera company that releases firmware updates – like Canon or Panasonic). The beta Epic-M camera also got a lot of flak, but for anyone who purchased that camera, RED was very explicit that it was going to have problems since it was actually a beta camera.

          As far as the Epic-X and Scarlet cameras, reliability is much, much better from the original RED One. I understand not liking the company because of its outspoken CEO, but that shouldn’t stop you from ever using the product. No camera is perfect, and they all will fail at one point or another, but we’ve got to be realistic about what we’re talking about. Right now, there isn’t another RAW Super 35mm sensor camera under $50,000. When the C500 comes out, you’ll still need an external recorder for RAW, just like the Alexa. So everything is a give and take, and anytime you’re talking about cameras, the situation is always more complicated than it seems.

          • john jeffreys on 05.9.12 @ 10:00PM

            Your calm explanations makes me feel a lot better. But I’m still too scared to use one. I figure I’ll use one eventually, if a project calls for that kind of “look” or resolution. The complexity/reliability binary makes a lot of sense actually.

          • Well put Joe. These cameras are essentially mini computers, very often running beta firmware. It’s to be expected that they are going to crash more given the complexity. We are a long way from the days of the XM1 & PD 150…

          • I have to agree with Joe on this. I helped a buddy out on a documentary in Hanoi during their monsoon season which if you’ve ever been in SE Asia is brutal for moisture and extreme temperatures. About the worst warm/moisture stress test you could put a camera through. The 7D was a champ despite the fact it would get the overheat icon almost everyday. I literally could walk out from a air conditioned cafe into 100 F with 80% humidity and condensation would develop instantaneously on the lenses. You wipe away the moisture and it would sweat instantly again. Took a good 40 minutes to acclimate the equipment in those conditions. Nevertheless came away with great looking images! Cameras should be treated on a case by case basis to assess what’s the most appropriate ax for the job. All these cameras have their role to play more or less in different conditions.

        • I’ve used a 550D many times w/ magic lantern builds, and even developed a bit. What you said is rubbish. The boot flag is set on the card, if it’s in the camera, it boots from the card. If it’s not, it boots up as normal. 5D’s lock up also, if you haven’t had an issue, you haven’t used one long enough. 7D’s don’t overheat because of the weatherproofing, they overheat because people shoot 11 minute clips, cut, and start again, forgetting that they are using a stills camera.

          • john jeffreys on 05.10.12 @ 12:41PM

            ive been using ML since ye olde days as well, and I can tell you that my 550D will crash and burn if I turn it on without an SD card inside. true story. My 5d has never locked up. Although I have had for little over a month, but have been shooting with it constantly (just wrapped up a short this weekend actually)

          • I wouldn’t say we FORGET, we knowingly push it past it’s limits.

    • C300 would not be a very good choice. It is limited to an 8bit codec.

  • I like this article. Take a break from new products being pushed out/reviewed and get to sit down with a nice interesting read.

  • Did I see a Cam Caddy in there? hahaha I worked for that company out here in LA for a bit :P

    So you color corrected in REDCINE-X Pro, and then transcoded and worked in Premiere?

    Thanks for posting this it’s good to see more updates on here from you again

    • You don’t have to transcode at all to edit .R3Ds in Premiere. Not only that, but the adjustments you make in REDCINE-X show up in Premiere if you “reload from RMD” in Source Settings. I was able to cut 4K .R3Ds in real time at 1/4 resolution (plenty for an offline edit), without GPU acceleration, on a hackintosh.

      With RED you obviously have a lot of post-production options, but in terms of quick-turnaround projects it’s pretty easy to do a firstlight color correction in RCX and then tweak further in Premiere using the plugin of your choice (I used Colorista on a couple of shots just to try it out).

  • Wander Andringa on 05.10.12 @ 8:22PM

    Limitations challenge the mind Ryan ;)! Great job and I love the looks on those old lenses. I had a few questions about the workflow with RED camera’s. I’ll soon start my first videoclip project with a ‘RED ONE’ camera. Earlier on I shot all my clips with 7D’s.

    I want to achieve the most crisp image possible in this clip. So I wanted to shoot in 4K, but I’m also going to shoot a couple of slow motion shot’s, so naturally I need to work with lower resolutions on those shots. So how do I go about in a project with different resolution images. For example I shoot all the normal shots in 4k 24fps and the slow motion shots in 3k 48fps, do I need to scale the 4k shots down to 3k? to avoid having the 3k images looking cropped compared to the 4k footage?
    Or should I first color correct all footage then export it to 1080p and then cut it in Premiere?

    I’m making a videoclip and not a feature film, so in the end I just want the best 1080p export image possible.

    • I edited this particular clip in a 4K timeline, which meant the 3K and 2K clips had to be scaled up to fit. Conversely if you know you’re only doing a 1080p output you could downscale the 4K clips and keep the 2K shots at 100%. Depends on which suits you better!

  • Nice work Koo! Music selection is spot on. With 90% of the videos out there shot on DSLRs I’ve almost forgotten what its like to see good hand held footage.

  • is it really handheld? It looks like a shoulder mount was used?