Watch: Pushing RED's 8K Sensor to its Limits
Mark Toia's 'no bullshit' camera tests with the Helium 8K have become both a showreel and a teaching tool.
When the Panasonic AG-DVX100, Sony DSR-PD150 and Canon XL2 cameras came out in the early 2000s, we were talking about over-sized 1/3-inch CCDs as if they were the next big thing in filmmaking. Today, we scoff at a 4:2:2 8-bit output.
Back then, we really didn't know what was technologically possible; digital video was too new. We weren't talking about future possibilities like we do today. Now that we can see a somewhat clearer road map—not just in resolution, but in size, color gamut, compression, dynamic range, ISO, and output—the conversation has shifted to purchasing technology that's nearly "future proof."
The one thing you can't argue about RED is that they don't give us the technology of tomorrow. In a video from Mark Toia, the director shows off some exceptional footage using a Helium 8K. According to RED President Jarred Land, Toia was one of the first people to use the camera and edited the RAW footage on a laptop. Not only are the visuals stunning, but his narration provides some stellar insight to its performance.
Richer, cleaner smoother blacks
We're always looking at the blacks of an image. They're the flour to our visual cake, and with 8K giving approximately 35 million pixels (twice as many pixels as 6K) you're going to get deep, rich colors and creamier tones. In Toia's tests, he declared, "I pushed into the blacks like never before, so that's the real standout for me."
Less noise at higher ISOs
When comparing EPIC 6K at 2000 ISO versus Helium Weapon 8K at 2000 ISO at 200% and 400%, the noise is substantially different, and what ultimately sold Toia on the Helium.
To create perfect skin tones Toia shoots RAW to the very end. He doesn't transcode to any other color codes using RGB LUTs and stays in RAW R3D as much as he can. If he uses DPX or TIFF, he will color balance first before transcoding to another codec. Toia explained, "If you're leaving the flexible world of RAW and have to work in a color-baked world, it's essential to color correct first before doing so. This makes it easier for the colorist to start from the perfect base."
The lens matters as much as the sensor
The sensor on the Helium can take about anything you throw at it, but sensors are at the point now where they're starting to show the imperfections of the lens you're using. For Toia, it's never the sensor that's the problem, it's the mountain of other things between the object and the camera the cause the problems—the cheap glass, the cheap filters, the different color temperatures you fight. Toia said, "The secret being make sure everything is right before you roll."
Is the Helium 8K perfect?
According to Toia, no. But it does check off a lot of the boxes that are important to him: size, weight, dynamic range, high speed frame rates, laptop capable RAW worfklow, and ruggedness. Like many of us, Toia wants even more: 25-30 stops of dynamic range, cameras that turn on instantly, 10,000 fps, ISOs out to 1,000,000 ASA, but he knows those things are not available with today's technology. For the director, "Content will always be king, but having great tools helps you deliver great content."
What did you think of the video? And what are your ideal camera specs? Tell us in the comments below.