I’ll be talking about the 4 most useful things I discovered that make my time on set easier and more efficient when working with RED cameras.
If you’re more of a skim reader or just want to know the crux of this content without reading the entire post, I’ve made it easy for you.
Below is the list of 4 accessories that I’ll go on to talk about in further detail.
Listed in no particular order
On-board monitor / recorder
Side Grip or Side Handle
Quick Release Mounting Components
A properly calibrated onboard monitor is by far the most important tool for any director of photography (excluding a light meter).
A vast majority of the decisions you make on set will be made via the use of your monitor one way or another.
Be it judging exposure, checking focus, finding your frame or quickly reviewing playback. The uses for a solid 7” onboard monitor are endless.
My personal preference is the Odyssey 7q +
I’m not going to give you the hard sell on it. However, I will say this.
I first owned a monitor/recorder made by a company that likes to name their equipment after various Japanese soldiers and wrestlers :)
“The thing was a P.O.S.”
On countless occasions I had to use data recovery software just to get the rushes off the damn SSD because the recorder would crash and corrupt all the data. The thing was a POS.
I’ve owned the Odyssey 7Q+ for over 2 years now and never had a single crash or any data corruption.
It just works!
Why is an onboard monitor/recorder so essential?
The focus magnification on all RED cameras is slow and clunky at the best of times.
The worst part is, it will only focus straight into the centre of the frame. So, unless your subject happens to be in the centre section it’s as good as useless.
If you’re using less than perfect lenses, or anamorphic adapters or even just shooting wide open on some crusty old vintage glass, it’s nice to be able to visually check for yourself via a good on 7” onboard.
Another great reason to have focus tools on a separate monitor is that you can zoom to sharp up on the onboard, while leaving the LCD or EVF unaffected.
I’ve found that particularly useful when you have a director that just loves to monitor directly over your shoulder on the camera.
Before I go on let me just state…
I still think a light meter is the best tool for measuring light levels. Having exposure tools on your monitor is incredibly valuable when you don’t have time to meter.
False Colour combined with a light meter is a great way to go.
Measure Twice, Cut Once!
RED cameras come with 3 exposure tools.
All three are extremely useful. But I do find myself using Gio Scope and False Colour the most.
In the same way you can keep your focus tools separate from your LCD or EVF, you can do the same when checking exposure.
Monitor your exposure via the 7” onboard, while leaving your RED LCD clear of any overlays so you can always see exactly how the image looks.
Nowadays even most entry level monitors will have at least a Histogram, Waveform and/or False Colour.
Recording & Playback
and possibly my favourite reason to have an external recorder, not just a monitor, is recording proxies.
If you don’t already know; r3d files are BIG, even at higher compression rates.
Unless you have a pretty powerful editing system or, you’re happy to work with r3d files and view them at 1/8th quality while you work, your computer is going to shit the bed!
I need those crispy rushes for my reel!
(or, flexing on the gram)
Throughout the day you’re probably going to be cycling your red mags.
That means there’s a high chance you’re not going to get a copy of the rushes. Maybe you’ll get the last few cards you shot on.
But, if the camera’s rented and you’re not even going to have it because it’s going straight to the rental house after the shoot, you’re screwed.
Sometimes the awesome project or shot we were so hyped about on set either doesn’t make the cut or, the entire project doesn’t come out how we expected.
You know the ones, where you weren’t able to be at the grade or able to grade it yourself and some cowboy editor/colourist goes bat shit crazy with some “one size fits all” LUT.
Granted that’s only happened a couple of times. But, if you have a copy of the rushes you don’t have to worry about that.
THAT is why recording proxies separately to your own recorder on set is awesome!
You always have a copy of the rushes ready to add to your sweet reel that only gets 12 views on Vimeo.
Or better still, you can spend hours grading them in resolve then export the stills so you can flex on Instagram.
Well, that’s what I do at least.
Recording proxies means you can work with those straight away and relink to the r3d files later. Proxies save you a lot of time and money in the long run.
If you’re coming from a photography background or even just shooting video on dslr, the side grip will feel pretty familiar. You have a record button in the same place you’d find it on a dslr.
Another great reason I like to always keep the side grip on is ergonomics.
This is also great if you need a really compact build and don’t want to draw attention to yourself with a fully built out camera system.
Add a side handle on the operator side and you’ve got a super solid, easy to handle run-n-gun build.
SWAP IT LIKE IT’S HOT! *dsmc1 only
*Redvolt batteries don’t last long on their own but when running in addition to a v-lock they’re a life saver. When it’s time to change the the v-lock you can remove it without having to power down the camera as the redvolt will take over.
SHORT CUT KEY MAPPING
Another cool thing about the RED side handles is, you can map 2 short cuts to each button.
Making toggle checks for exposure and focus even faster. For example you could have ‘press button X’ display RAW view and ‘release button X’ turn off RAW view display.
3. QUALITY SUPPORT
I’m keeping this simple and only breaking it into two categories
If you’re making the jump from a dslr, mirrorless or smaller prosumer type camera, one of the major differences you’re going to notice is the weight.
Even a stripped down Dragon with no v-lock, running on a Redvolt with a photography lens, still weighs about 3kg (6.6lbs).
That’s significantly heavier than every dslr or mirrorless camera.
A Sony A7s with battery for example weighs a mere 589g (1.08lbs)
A good fluid head will be a far better investment than the camera itself. A solid set of sticks will last you 2 or 3 times longer than any camera. So buy once and buy a good one.
You know the saying: Buy Cheap, Buy Twice.
You’re going to need something with at least a 7-10kg payload. I’m not going to suggest a particular model as I don’t want this blog to be me trying to sell you anything.
….Well maybe I’d like to sell you the idea of following me on instagram ;) Yeah, Carter I’ll follow you!
While it’s possible to shoot handheld without any kind of support, I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re planning takes any longer than a couple of minutes.
Everyones body strength and endurance levels are different, regardless, you will get tired a lot faster without some kind of camera support.
On top of that, if you’re going to shoot like this over a long period of time you’re going to seriously damage your back.
Even if you’re in the gym trying to build some strength to give yourself a fighting chance, you’re still going to fuck up your back if you’re not careful.
I’ve spent a lot of money on chiropractors and deep tissue massages trying to repair the damage caused by insufficient camera support over extended periods of time.
The human spine is not designed to be held in that position at the best of times, let alone with a counter weight (the camera) putting more stress on it.
You only get one body, do your best to take care of it.
OK, spine rant over.
My two main options for handheld kit are:
Shoulder rigs are the classic set up for handheld work.
They’re great because they put the camera body pretty much at your eye level.
They’re cheap enough to buy or rent.
They’re great for mobility and have a very small foot print.
Sean Bobbitt, BSC did an awesome “Guide To Handheld Camera Operating” at the Arri workshop at Camerimage in Poland a few years ago. Definitely worth a watch.
Another advantage to a shoulder rig is, if your 1st AC is pulling focus from your onboard monitor theres a pretty good chance that it’s going to at a reasonable height that they can actually see it
Patrick O’Sullivan at The Wandering DP wrote a great article on his perfect should rig build. If you to know specifics of what equipment he suggests for the perfect shoulder rig go check it out. HERE
Personally I have a slightly love-hate relationship with Easyrigs.
They’re great if you’re tall and need to shoot mid level shots
I’m 6’2” and a lot of the time, if I’m shooting on the shoulder, the camera ends up way too high to the talent.
I like to shoot faces slightly (sometimes low AF) below the eye line. This can be difficult when shooting on the shoulder.
If I’m shooting on the shoulder I either have to stand with my feet super far apart or, find something that’s the right height that I can perch on.
Neither of those options are ideal if the talent is moving and I need to physically move with them.
That is where an Easyrig is super useful. You can raise or lower the camera to a fixed point in a fraction of a second. Plus you can still move with the camera… albeit in the restrictions of the rig itself.
“As a cinematographer, I’ll admit, I’m a massive nerd.”
As a cinematographer, I’ll admit, I’m a camera nerd and I like to geek out.
I always appreciate a full kitted out camera with all the bells and whistles. Teradek, Cine Tape, Follow Focus… and the Matte Box isn’t even holding any filters and is there purely just to look the part.
All jokes aside, the various accessories that we use are vital.
While they may not always be 100% essential and at times we could get the job done without some of them, they’re serving a purpose and making someones life on set a little easier.
For example, a focus puller could very well pull focus from my onboard monitor. But, you can pretty much guarantee they’re going to do a much better job pulling focus from their own wireless monitor.
There’s never enough time.
Being able to move piss taking-ly fast on set is vital. And that, is why quick release adapters/mounts and nato rails are a must have accessory when working with any cinema cameras not just Red cameras.
Changing the build from shoulder rig to tripod to dolly, would and could technically be built in one configuration but the balance will be fucked for at least one of those setups.
Even just to rotate a top handle 180 degree could take 45 seconds. Two screws out, rotate the handle, two screws back in. If you have that handle on a nato rail, you could rotate it in less than 3 seconds.
Now, 45 seconds doesn’t sound like much I know. But let’s say you also have to reposition the teradek and onboard monitor as well.
top handle 45 seconds
teradek 45 seconds
monitor 45 seconds
general dicking around time looking for different size noga arm etc - 1 minute
That’s 3 minutes 15 seconds. If we’re completely honest it would be more like 5 minutes a least, maybe more. Sometimes that really is the difference between getting that magic hour shot or not.
If you’re smart about it and have a kick ass camera department, I’d say those build changes could be done and the camera ready to go in a little over a minute.
So having all of your accessories on quick release adapters, 15mm rail mounts or nato rails will save you several minutes throughout the day and hopefully keep the 1st AD off your back.
Obviously this list is totally subjective.
These are the things that work for me and make my life easier and allow to work faster on set. Hopefully there’s something in there that you find useful and can take away to make your time on set easier, faster and more productive.
One last thing
When it comes to accessories I try to think about the kit I’ll potentially have a few years down the line.
“Will this piece of equipment work on X, Y or Z camera as well OR, will I have to replace this when I use a different camera?”
While the title of this post does say it’s specific to RED cameras, all but the side grip can be used for any camera. I’ve used my Odyssey 7q+ on everything from RED Weapon, to Arri Amira to the new Sony Venice.