After many years of blissfully-ignorant happiness in the world of DSLR video capture, we here at Fiction have seen the light. What light is that? The beautiful light of RED 4k Raw footage imported directly into premiere and edited with no transcoding. It's a beautiful thing I must say.
While there are many advantages to shooting a RED camera, there still lies one big issue for many users who have made the switch; and that is low-light shooting. One thing I will give to the 5D Mark II is its ability to shoot usable footage in amazingly low light. It's really a huge feature, especially when shooting run-and-gun documentary pieces. That said, we wanted to do a review on the low light capabilities of the RED, and show you what we had to go through to make something that I would consider unusable, usable.
We started out shooting some standard skateboard scenes at night with one of our friends. Lit by the street lights, I didn't think twice about whether or not the Scarlet could handle it because our DSLR's wouldn't have been phased in the slightest. We started shooting, and from the looks of the view finder, everything was fine, but the lesson here is:
"Never trust your viewfinder."
This is totally my fault for not keeping a keen eye on the histogram, but at the same time, I've trained myself to rely on the viewfinder. So, as it usually goes in production, you only learn by your failures. When we got the footage back into the computer, much to our surprise, it was almost as if nothing was there. I tried adjusting the levels to see what kind of latitude the footage had, but once I started messing with it, the footage became unusably grainy. I called my friend, and master colorist, Charles Bergquist to come in and save the footage. He took essentially 10% of usable information and made it 90%usable.
When you pull the raw RED data into Premiere, you can pull up the source settings by right clicking the file you want to work on. This brings up a similar editor to what you would see in Lightroom or Photoshop's raw file editor. From here, you can edit all the same settings you would be able to edit in RED Cine. RED RAW is supposed to be able to give you all of the ISO settings within one file, so we took what we shot and bumped the ISO to give us some usable source of data in our histogram. In doing so, this created an enormous amount of noise, so we then turned to a plug-in called Neat Video. Neat Video allows you to isolate specific color ranges of noise and take them out, it's really quite good. One thing it does is blur the detail in a lot of the footage in order reduce a lot of noise. In doing so, we needed to up the contrast and color levels with curves. After this, we had enough information to actually color and edit the piece together and have it look presentable.
So, while the Scarlet is quite an amazing feat of camera ingenuity, we do feel that the sensor really does lack in low light capabilities. In order to get this footage to a somewhat usable place, we had to spend almost a full day just getting enough information to work with. In conclusion, if you are thinking about shooting your next doc at night, you may want to consider using your good ol' trusty 5D over the Scarlet and save yourself the headache.