Sunday, September 4, 2011

New camera woes.....even before I get one

Hello, my name is Mehran and I'm a cameraholic.

Its been a week. A week since I've last slept properly and yes, I'm on vacation. Given my line of work RnR is something that I really look forward to. More than 4 hours of sleep is a luxury I can only afford when I'm on vacation. I just quit nicotine too, so that doesn't help. Why do I keep tossing and turning in my sleep? Its easy.....a new camera system I'm about to purchase.

I've lived on one general principal so far: don't worry about tomorrow, as tomorrow takes care of itself. It has gotten me through relationship issues, exams, numerous "life changing" injuries and any other thing that has been thrown at me. My "code" made me snore off any such challenges. Sleep it off and start again tomorrow and carpe diem baby. Now I can't even do that.

The good thing is, if you're a digital filmmaker, life cannot be any better. RED has the EPIC and the RED ONE MX, ARRI has the ALEXA, Sony just came up with the F3 and the list goes on. Remember the days you were just happy shooting an HVX? Seems so long ago. Now your camera is a joke unless it has 13 stops of Dynamic Range, 2K-4K-5K, 100+fps.....the list goes on. The bad thing is, when you have about a $100K saved up and all the above are options, which one do you get?

Two years ago when I bought "Nicole", my CineAlta, the choice was kinda obvious. The EX-1R with an external recorder, Zeiss lenses and a RedRock Micro lens converter. It wasn't crazy expensive and it got the job done, done extremely well. Unlike the RED that was available at the time, it didn't shut down when it overheated in the crazy weather in Bangladesh, or produce "plastic-y" images. It gave a more organic look than the Panasonics and it carried the "CineAlta" name (read my earlier post about the intro of "Nicole" into the Bangladeshi industry against 35mm).

Now, two years later, "Nicole" is on the verge of being sold, just awaiting on her payment. Once she gets adopted, her new owner will be on his way to renting her out and making bank. While her old owner will have about a month to decide on his next camera that is going to debut in a short being shot in Traverse City, Michigan before coming back with me and residing as the new digital powerhouse in Bangladesh.

But I digress. The reason I'm writing this blog is because of the anxiousness of the question I'm facing everyday.....what the hell do I buy??? My choice has narrowed down to one of these 4 cameras.
The RED EPIC, the RED ONE MX, the ARRI ALEXA and the Sony F3 with S-Log/444 enabled.

As a Fincher fan, you'd probably think I was swaying RED all the way. I kinda am. I saw the Social Network (shot on the MX) on the big screen, it looked awesome. I just saw The Winter's Bone and Beginners (thanks Rikhia!!) on DVD, both shot on MX and both looked awesome. Its the closest to 35mm I'd seen in quite some time. Truly, RED finally put a camera out there that I didn't laugh at (not a good thing btw) when I saw the images. So its easy to say that the RED ONE MX is really high on my list. Then RED drops a bombshell by coming up with the new EPIC. It has the same sensor as the MX but, it produces a cleaner image with less noise, Dynamic Range increased by a stop and of course 5K instead of the MX's 4.5K. Plus it can go to 300fps, is only 5lbs, about the size of a DSLR, doesn't chew up the battery like the MX and loads up in 10 seconds, whereas the MX loads up in nearly 2mins. Even Fincher is shooting with em. He's got 5 and along with the MX, he's finished up Dragon Tattoo. So I scratch my plan for the MX and now I'm thinking EPIC. But wait.....further reading.....the EPIC has its own problems. Firstly, it has no playback. Right, no playback, on camera. So to view your last take, you gotta get some external recorder, just for freakin playback. They say that they are working on it and "its right around the corner" and "no hardware will be required", but RED's motto has been "everything we say can change, anytime". So that scares me. Then I think about the first generation of Red Ones (non MXs). They used to have so many problems until RED finally addressed them and finally after 2 years came up with the MX, which truly had better images. Is this gonna happen again with the EPIC? Initial reports say no. The RED ONE MX has made movies (that I love and adore) but the EPIC is currently making movies (Spiderman, Hobbit) that I haven't seen. The EPIC is new. Bugs will appear as it does with anything new. The MX however is tried and tested. As far as image goes, the only thing I can go by are indie shorts on Vimeo that look marginally better than the MX, so not really worth about double the price tag. I'm thinking MX again.

Then there is the ARRI ALEXA. The camera 35mm enthusiast and Coen Bros. DP Roger Deakins swears by as the celluloid killer. For $80K+ it better kill something, apart from your mortgages. But price isn't the only issue here. In a world where RED is throwing K's at you like Roy Halladay in October (sorry non baseball fans), the Alexa is still 1080p. Good enough for my world but down the line when I'm making (God willing) a movie to put up on a theater? Of course you may argue many 1080p movies have been on cinemas so far (Avatar, nuff said). However, I read more again and find out that for the best possible results, the ALEXA needs to record ARRIRAW on an external recorder, which costs $50K itself. Ouch. This doesn't affect the Dynamic Range of this baby, which btw is ridonculous (its 14 stops, no wonder Mr Deakins loves it so much), but it records (compressed) Pro Res (444 or 422) onto SxS cards. But raw images are so much fun to work with, fun enough for an extra $50K, don't think so. You do get the ARRI name with it though. In this country thats worth its weight in gold (which is kinda high now, as my mom keeps reminding us). In Bangladesh, the name ARRI produces what I like to call, a filmmaker's boner.

Last, but not least, there is the lil beast from Sony called the F3. Continuing the love I have for the CineAlta series, this baby caught my eye. The "big-daddy" F35 is still one of my favorite cameras. The F3 with the new upgrade that enables S-Log and the 444 output puts it right up there with the F35. At about 1/4th the price. Which means more new furniture for my soon-to-be apartment and possibly more money in my Audi/Porsche fund. The F3 is being hailed by many as the baby ALEXA. It has more Dynamic Range than the EPIC (without the HDRx, which is another story, but from what I've seen HDRx on the EPIC is something I'd stay away from as it makes the final image look kinda bad) and second only to the ALEXA. The F3 is actually more low light sensitive than the ALEXA. I'll need to get an external recorder though, but Convergent Design has the Gemini 444 coming out (interesting story, I got a text from a local camera rental company in Dhaka saying that they already have one, which is weird since the thing is not even out yet....hmmmm.....) which will record uncompressed S-Log/444 from the F3 onto SSDs. All Sonys come with one thing for sure. It'll be bug-less and reliable. Wont shut down even in extreme heat/humidity. But at the end of the day it still is 1080p, just like the ALEXA. Not future-proof.

So I take into account all these factors and I'm still sleepless and scratching my head. Just talking about the RED (EPIC or MX) made one director start jumping up in joy and start posting on Facebook about shooting on RED. A recent client pushed back my shoot to accommodate the RED, with a nice grin on his face. The guy buying my "old" camera had this to say, "RED!! WOW!! Isn't that camera like ten million taka (or $150K)?" That's what Jim Jannard's company has done. RED now means "business". Fincher, Pirates 4, Soderberg shoots on it, so it must be good. It really is. People here are still mystified by the RED. There are a couple of non-MX Red Ones around here. People have used it and rightly haven't been satisfied. So unless its not an EPIC, they won't understand that its a "new" camera. Then I'm spending 20 mins more just replaying the damn footage as it has no playback. I could get the F3 but there are some non S-Log F3s around as well. Some clients won't even care about the extra features. From a business perspective they'll think about the F3 and the RED ONE MX as its already been here for a while, why pay more (ala the CineAlta syndrome I previously had)? So, I could get the ALEXA and have clients slob all over it and charge ridiculous rates, only knowing that option and the 1080p might also be possible with a camera worth $60K less, so it'll hurt me on the inside. So it comes down to business vs Fincher vs functionality/reliability. As of right now, there are no clear winners. So if you're reading this, please make one for me. Which one would you buy? Oh yeah, I'll need a name for the new cam, whatever it is, got any??

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