U.S. Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Scott Matthews adamantly believes were selling ourselves short by failing to capture any footage of the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq in a more refined format. Fortunately, he also believes there is a solution for bridging the gap between the expense and tediousness nature of film and what he considers the visual shortcomings of video.
A cinematographer for Nashville, TN-based Glory Cubed Productions, Matthews was in the midst of a 10-month National Guard deployment in Afghanistan when he began shooting footage of the daily lives of deployed personnel. The footage ultimately became a one-hour documentary, which was so well received that it won Glory Cubed Productions a National Guard contract to shoot footage for training videos (seach for Glory Cubed on governmentvideo.com). At that time, Matthews was thrilled to have the opportunity to make the leap from SD to HD, because of the increased visual quality. Then, along came RED ONE from the Red Digital Cinema Camera Company, which promised film-like resolution at a fraction of the price.
I immediately thought about the potential it had for capturing footage of the war, recalled Matthews. If this camera was all it said it was, I realized that any footage gathered would be a quality not seen before and could be used not just for the Web and for TV, but for theater as well.
While the RED ONE was actually designed to replace film cameras for movies and episodic television, Matthews felt it could be an option for capturing footage of the conflicts abroad. He became determined to get his hands on one before his next deployment. Fortunately, he and business partner Brian Reisdorf were able to make the purchase so he could test his theory.
RED HOT OR HOT MESS?
As it turned out, Matthews deployment would be much shorter than normal, leaving him only four days to shoot footage with his new camera. To complicate matters, the only glass available to him at the time was a 40-pound Angenieux lens. Plus, he would have the opportunity to film only in the late afternoons and in an environment that was surrounded by large mountain ranges.
The camera has multiple options for exposing correctly, such as standard zebras and false color tools that make exposing on the fly a simpler process, but this would not wind up being an issue for Matthews. Instead, with only a few hours of daylight left and prominent shadows to contend with, his challenges became managing lower light levels and focus. With a 35mm lens, theres no option of auto focus. You have to take care of focusing by eye, said Matthews. Fortunately, theres a special tool inside the camera called the focus assist bar, which extends horizontally across the image on the LCD with a histogram at the bottom that spikes when the image in the bar is more in focus. Matthews rode a golf cart-like vehicle around the area while not on a rescue mission to catch cool moments, such as troops loading or different models of aircraft taking off or landing. He also tested the cameras in-air capabilities during a flight. He said the camera performed solidly, even while hanging from bungee cords that held it to the outside of the cabin door.
What makes the RED ONE most desirable to Matthews is the level of quality, scalability, and the abundance of creative possibilities it offers. Matthews said the RED ONE provides the opportunity to preserve a piece of history he feels is being disregarded. For the last six years, the conflict overseas has been recorded in video. While its great that we have this period of time documented … its just not going to stand the test of time, he argued. Now the equipment exists to continue to avoid the hassle of film in field scenarios while recording the daily life and routine of current military operations around the globe at a resolution that is not only appropriate for any use, but will hold up for posteritys sake and best preserve our history for generations to come.
THE RED TAPE
For all of its strengths, however, RED ONE is not a perfect solution. Lt. Charles Abbell, Officer in Charge for the Defense Imagery Management Operations Center that operates the Combat Camera Program (COMCAM), acknowledged the RED ONEs potential, though he isnt completely sold. Currently we have 60 COMCAM professionals who usually use HD equipment … and they still prefer less weight and easier operation versus cinematic quality, explained Abbell. When properly equipped, RED ONE is much larger and heavier than other camcorders used by COCAM, including SD and HD camcorders from Canon, Panasonic, and Sony. The camera also costs significantly more than the camcorder counterparts already in use by COCAM. The RED ONE is listed at $17,500 without lens while Sonys HVR-A1U, for example, is available for well under $3,000 (with built-in lens).
As far as image quality, its the viewers who define it, according to Abbell, and moving imagery over the Internet is their priority. That said, however, he is not opposed to testing out cameras like the RED ONE. We will always strive to be outfitted with the highest quality equipment affordable to produce high quality imagery, he explained. I think any COMCAM videographer would be happy to try one out, as long as it works as advertised. Thats music to Matthews ears. He plans to continue making a case for the value of RED ONE in a small, specialized team that supplements current video operations with higher quality footage.