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First RED EPIC-M Monochrome Footage Might Be the Beginning of a Black and White Resurgence

10.22.12 @ 1:26AM Tags : , , , ,

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to shoot in black and white either on film or digital, then you know there is something special about the look that you can’t quite achieve with converting from a color image. That’s exactly why RED created the new EPIC-M Monochrome camera (and also because some guy named David Fincher is currently working on a project that is using the camera). Besides the advantage in tonality and detail (since there isn’t any debayering), the Monochrome camera is also rated at 2000 ISO — which is more than a two-fold increase in low-light ability. Steven Sebring took the Monochrome for a spin recently, and you can click through to see his spectacular results.

Here are the details about the video from Jarred Land on REDUser:

Sebring is one of our go-to guys with new stuff, and he gladly took on the new Epic-m Monochrome and put it through it’s paces for WOLF magazine. Here is a 720p version of “Emily” , I will post a 2K and 4K version next week. You wont believe how good this looks in 4K. This was shot all at 2000 ASA….The Monochrome sensor really is incredible.. You need to use it to get a grasp of just how powerful it is. Everything is just better.. better tonal range, better use of compression, better detail. Shot with a Cooke 18-100 with a mix between 24-96fps. 8:1 and 10:1 compression !!

The video is not quite NSFW, but there is some borderline nudity you might want to be aware of (but no actual nudity). You can double-tap F on the keyboard to get full-screen, double-clicking on the video also works for some people. Otherwise you can head on over to Vimeo to see it in full screen or download the 720p version:

The AC on the project, Ryan De Franco, added some of his own thoughts about the camera:

the monochrome sensor is so good it’s not fair. you shoot with it and you want to throw your bank account at it from the moment the camera boots up. I did some tests for this shoot, The first shot I did out of the box I pointed the camera at subway tracks and hit “on,” my jaw fell apart. the tonal differences between shadow and light are incredible. this sensor sees as much texture as our eyes do. sometimes more. people wonder if the camera really is different from a desaturated color image… yes. yes. yes. yes. especially with a human face. desaturated color looks like desaturated color. on the monochrome, with all information devoted to luminance, the camera takes on an incredible character and texture–in a way no digital camera ever has.


There are a lot of high-contrast shots in the piece, but where the camera really shines, in my opinion, are in the darker areas of the image. For example, if you take a look at her necklace in a few of the shots above, there is not only an incredible amount of detail, but the necklace really pops thanks to the subtle gradations in tonality. It’s this type of detail that is difficult to achieve with a converted image, since you’re losing resolution and sensitivity initially because of the color filters over the sensor (which the Monochrome does not have).

I was lucky enough to be trained on black and white photography from 35mm all the way up to 4×5 large format, and there is just something about a properly exposed negative printed on real photo paper that has a certain “magic” to it. The Monochrome has that look for me, except it’s digital, and grainless. There are still a few black and white films released every once in a while, but they are usually few and far between. Maybe we’ll see a resurgence thanks to the resolution and sensitivity advantages of these monochrome cameras?

I would be the first in line to see a feature shot on this camera if I could watch it in a proper 4K theater. It will be interesting to see if they do a monochrome version of the new Dragon sensor. (a Dragon Monochrome is slated to come out Spring 2013) The MX sensor more than doubles in sensitivity when the color filters are removed, so does that mean the new Dragon sensor, which is a 6K bayer pattern sensor with a base ISO around 2000, would be a native 5000 ISO in a Monochrome version? If so, sign me up for a grainless 6K image at those kinds of sensitivities. It could certainly open up a new kind of cinematic image we’ve never seen before.

If you’ve got close to $50,000 sitting in the bank, one of these new Monochrome cameras could be yours — and if you buy it now you get a free upgrade to the Monochrome version of the Dragon sensor. Otherwise, a future rental just might be in order. We’ll update when the 2K and 4K versions are released so you can check those out.

What do you guys think about the footage? Does this camera interest you? Would try to use a Dragon EPIC-M Monochrome if they made one and the sensitivity more than doubled from the color version?

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COMMENT POLICY

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Description image 53 COMMENTS

  • i’m just in it for the titties.

  • Austin Mace on 10.22.12 @ 1:31AM

    now that is a way to debut footage…

  • Quick tip: Double clicking the video will send you into full screen mode

  • It’s not what you or I like,it’s what the audience wants. Was “The Artist” 1.37:1 B&W, a one time phenomena? Will general audience line-up to watch a mainstream drama shot in B&W, a present day “Zorba the Greek,” Paths of Glory” or “Psycho?”

    Walter Lassally (Academy Award for Zorba) said he didn’t prefer B&W to Color, but he did like to be able to chose the right film for the story.

  • …but is it just firmware? ;-)

    • I don’t believe it’s just firmware. The color sensor has a filter over the sensor that selects each photocite to R, G, or B color. Then the image is De-Bayerd. This is the the same sensor without that filter, simply reading luminance date at every photocite. with out that filter there is more light let into sensor that accounts for the bump in sensitivity and the lack of debayering reduces noise and increases sharpness. Leica did the same thing with a recent M Monochrome camera.

      • Are we sure they didn’t get lazy and just leave the color filter on? Is there a close-up picture of the sensor or something that demonstrates this? Just because these things are going to be made in such small quantities that I wonder if they really felt it was worth it to make a custom sensor. They could instead have just taken the luma data from each sensel, which wouldn’t be as good as not having the color filters, but would be higher resolution than demosaicing to color and then turning it grayscale. The monochrome mode of a color camera could and should offer this level of functionality but I think the firmware writers tend to be too lazy to do that too.

        Not terribly hard to test what’s really going on in a camera but we don’t have an unbiased test service for video at this time. How things could be done in theory for maximum advantage may not be how they are done in the pursuit of profit.

        • Peter, I’ve seen the sensor alongside a regular one today, and its physical appearance is notably different, at least due to a different OLPF. Also, just taking luma values from a colour filtered sensor without debayer would not work – imagine a bright red object; it would illuminate only 1 in 4 pixels and hence yield a tiled pattern without debayering to infer R brightness into neighbour pixels and vice versa.

          • Sure the shortcut I describe is not as good, but consider the fact that we can get away with chroma subsampling to the degree we do. It would be better than debayer to color and then desaturate, but not as good as having all the sensels with neutral filters when shooting fine colored detail. Color resolution chart shots compared to theoretical predictions would reveal any profitable shortcuts in place.

            But it’s nice to know there is something physically different in there, even if it’s just an overall chroma filter (like we used to shoot B&W film with yellow filters).

    • john jeffreys on 10.22.12 @ 11:39AM

      No. Not at all.

  • The Artist; The White Ribbon; Good Night and Good Luck; The Man Who Wasn’t There; and others I can’t remember at the moment — all shot on color film. The art direction and costume design were designed using colors that would translate flawlessly into b&w. Those were choices made by some of the best DP’s to shoot on color and convert later, because it yielded better results than shooting on B&W stock. This camera and it’s price point is absurd.

    • Adam J Mckay on 10.22.12 @ 7:06AM

      Actually thats not true. That choice was made my producers in order to secure financing by broadcasters in Europe who said they wanted the option to show a color version of the film. I know that was the case for White Ribbon and Man who wasnt there.

    • Daniel Mimura on 10.29.12 @ 9:19PM

      Yup. It’s usually forced on the filmmakers by the behest of the producers and/or the studio. In the Soup was a black and white film that was released in color at Blockbuster…

      Some filmmakers chose color b/c the modern color stocks have significantly less grain than plus-x, tri-x, double-c, (and especially) 4x.

  • It’s hard to concentrate on tonal range with those nipples staring at you.

    George – tshit.de/freshdailies

  • Lucas Adamson on 10.22.12 @ 3:52AM

    I’m not at all convinced that there is a real world advantage to shooting on a monochrome camera for monochrome output.

    With a normal digital colour camera, a 5D for example, shooting RAW, there are some distinct advantages, such as being able to filter up or down individual colours. An example of that is sky – it is often easy to make changes to how the sky renders in monochrome with adjustments to the blue/cyan channels.

    Plus, colour to monochrome works so well, I can’t see that it needs improving, and can’t see any improvement in this video over what I have become accustomed to.

    • Daniel Mimura on 10.29.12 @ 9:38PM

      I agree 100%. without color information, you can’t make color specific contrast adjustments.

      You have no secondary color correction. You have primary only (on set)…you can put a red filter on the lens to make a grey apple look darker than the grey leaves on the apple tree. Or you could put a green filter on to make the leaves darker grey than the apples (I’m talking about red apples in my example, obviously…not granny smiths…)

      But you do either of those and you’re making decisions that will affect the skin tones of actors (and the sky and every other color b/c you can’t individually isolate it.)

      Also, when’s the last time you saw a color filter set at a rental house for black and white? Who has all these filters with modern levels of sharpness for modern sensors or cameras?

      And the only real benefit is sharpness and lack of noise in the shadows and things that the red’s (and prettymuch every other professional digital camera—and most non-professional ones too, btw…) already have. Okay, so if the new dragon is gonna be 6k…that’s gonna be plenty sharp for a 4k projector…

      Color is better for modern black and white except for this “sharpness” “resolution” bs…

      …since sharpness is also a psychological phenomenon, heightened by contrast, the ability to make your image more contrasty based on the color information (or less contrasty—to make a different part of the image more prominent, or to defocus a certain color like say the cooler colors to make backgrounds less sharp of a vista type of shot [since the cooler colors recede]) …you can make your film “sharp” without having a technically sharper resolved image.

  • This is a chance for filmmaker to get stunning footage in B&W, so if you’re planning to shoot monochrome now you can, or choose the Ikonoskop A-cam Dll panchromatic, or film. It’s just upon what your movie needs. So why complaining about like it’s useless? the fact this cam is out doesn’t mean you have to buy it or rent it. You can go on with shooting color and then desaturate in post. It’s just one more tool you can use it or not, you’ve the choice now.

  • Thomas Fischer on 10.22.12 @ 7:04AM

    Imagine what would happen, if you complemented this material with colored Footage (3D-Rig)!?

    • That would be very interesting to see! Sort of like HDR video, but with a “channel” or video stream specifically for resolution and luminance, and another for the RGB values… that would be amazing to see an experiment in this.

      • Thomas Fischer on 10.23.12 @ 4:43AM

        …a flat Colorprofile

        • …No. I mean as in using the monochrome image as the base, and using the color footage as a filter, similar to the way you combine images to make an HDRI. Is it fun being condescending?

  • looks good.. I have such a soft spot for black and white. From shooting black and white stills to black and white motion film.

    Manhattan is for me one of the most beautiful shot films (Gordon Willis ASC) in black white, i ALSO enjoyed Ed Wood.. But again this has to suit a narrative or commercial, can’t be used because it looks good has to suit the narrative But the footage and detail looks great.

  • We will shortly have the first EPIC Monochrome in the UK available to rent. – http://epicmonochro.me

    I went in a sceptic, but after shooting one today I can confirm its truly a step change from mono-converted colour footage. I’m sure for most people it’ll be one to rent, not own, but its a perfect example of why you should use the right tool for the job.

  • It does look fabulous, but I’m pretty sure only a few of those will be sold. And to rental shops, I guess. Now imagine this at 48fps !

  • Not my cup of tea. I love B&W but a camera dedicated to B&W doesn’t appeal to me. I’m sure it has a market though.

  • this is obviously a rental camera, if youre gonna spend the money to rent an epic and plan to desaturate in post, I think it would make sense to just rent the monochrome epic.

    • john jeffreys on 10.22.12 @ 11:40AM

      except desaturated color is entirely different from what this camera is about.

      • that’s what im getting at, why rent epic and desaturate when you can just rent monochrome epic and reap its benefits

  • Am I the only one that is not impressed by how it was shot? I understand it is test footage but it should still show how the camera can handle tonal range in the blacks/near black and not just grey and white. I get that overexposing most of the shots was done to create a certain mood and showing the lights demonstrated DR but that should not have been the focus. If you really want to show what a camera can do you need to include shots with greater contrast and multiple set-ups including outdoor and nighttime. Especially since one of the marketing points is less noise.

    • It actually wasn’t test footage, it was a professional shoot done with a certain look, and rather than just shooting EPIC and converting to black and white as he has done in the past, he shot with the EPIC-M Monochrome. That’s why you’re seeing what you’re seeing, it’s not a test shoot, it’s a real-world piece shot with the camera.

  • …this is sooooo spectacular, amazing, awesome and fantastic I nearly…fell asleep…the girl wasn`t that hot, either…

  • some of my favorite movies are shot in B&W,
    but in general I think that color = more information
    also these days grading (color correction) is quite easy to do, so I don’t really see a reason not to shoot in color…
    (if you don’t need to shoot a whole movie at ISO 2000+ that is :-)
    imho even this footage would look better in color…

  • > It will be interesting to see if they do a monochrome version of the new Dragon sensor

    $42,000 ( brain only ) includes upgrade to Dragon Monochrome Sensor spring 2013.

  • Stupid Infantile Rookie Question:

    (Further disclaimer, this may sound like drawing a handlebar mustache on the Mona Lisa right before you set it on fire) If the Epic M does black and white better than a color camera could, does that mean that the Color Epic would do better than the Epic M? Why not buy an Epic M and then colorize the footage in post production (So that you can have great black-and-white if you want without needing to forego color footage either?

    I highiy suspect this wouldn’t work and violates some sort of cinematic sacred ground, but if I don’t ask the question, I won’t get the answer. Thank you for your patience.

    • I have a future post where I’m going to show people why sensors with the color filters removed do better black and white than color sensors with footage converted to black and white.

  • Switching my Disply Pref to PAL/SECAM actually gave this media the blackness it needs (imho).