Run Silent / Run Deep by Isaac Marchionna

 Science-y Stuff Happens Here!

Science-y Stuff Happens Here!

The Sounds of Silence
Maybe I'm spoiled on systems like the F900, Varicam, HVX200, even DSLRs, but I want my camera to be seen, and not heard. In the case of the Epic you usually oscillate between two settings, annoying, and hairdryer. There's a small grace period where your fans won't "sing you the song of their people," but it's a very tiny window, and when you've passed the point of no return be prepared to watch as your sound guy starts grinding his teeth in frustration.

So what's the solution? Well, according to RED and their new fan kit 2.0 setup, it's a new lower fan, and the addition of a top fan. The concept is that by having a bigger fan pushing a larger volume of air, in conjunction with a top fan pulling that air through the cooling duct, that theoretically you'll be able to keep the camera cooler for a longer period of time.

The Ideal
Keep the camera as quiet as possible, for as long as possible. This isn't a crazy request. The benchmark I usually hold up is the Arri Alexa, which has a subtle hum, but has never provoked the question on set of "seriously where is that sound coming from?!" The Alexa is also a bigger camera, with a lot more space for allowing the heat to be dissipated. The Epic is a modular design, and you've got a lot of electronics all crammed together. Simply put: 10 gallons of shit, in a 5 gallon bag.



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Yeah Mr. White, Yeah, Science!
Alright, so this isn't that scientific, nor did it involve a Winnebago in the desert. However I tried to use a realistic setting for the test, in this case my apartment, which comes close to simulating a nice middle-ground between studio and location audio. My apartment building has poured concrete walls, ceilings, and floors, and has very little noise to it, other than the occasional rustling from my dog sleeping.


The setup was as follows:

-Epic placed about 3.5' from the ground on my Oconnor tripod.
-Sennheiser 416 placed at various locations (2' and 6' from the camera). 3.5' high.

-Audio recorded on the Tascam HDP2
-Room temperature was a constant 73 degrees.
-Each configuration of the camera was allowed to achieve consistent idle temperatures.
-All record times were 15 minutes.



With that said this audio test represents an unrealistic extreme in physical setup. It's very unlikely that you'd ever willingly aim your microphone at the camera, nor would you do so this close. Also this test only captures the onboard noise from the camera. If I was able to design a more elaborate test I would suggest having speakers placed to simulate spoken dialogue, to best capture how the fan noise was impacting the audio off a boom mic.

However we're not splitting hairs in this test, but rather just looking for perceptible differences in fan configurations.

 RED Epic Original Lower Fan

RED Epic Original Lower Fan

Combined Audio Tests

Fan Kit 2.0


So lets start with the proposed 'ideal.' This involves the new bottom fan, and the new top fan. Camera was allowed to come to its idle temp after 30 minutes. This produced a natural resting state of 43/70. For those not familiar with the Epic the first measurement is the SENSOR temperature, and the second number is the CORE temperature. So in this case the Sensor is 43 degrees, with the Core temp being 70 degrees.



I normally keep my camera in the Quiet Record mode. However I noticed right off the bat this produced a pretty audible noise from the fans. Based on some forum feedback I heard the magic settings were to go with Adaptive, and keeping the core temperature at it's highest setting within Adaptive, which was 70 degrees. Once I selected this option the fans seemed to idle down. However the sound was certainly persistent, with the vast majority coming from the lower 2.0 lower fan.

The new lower fan can best be described as whiny, as it has a very noticeable electronic sound to it, that is frankly unpleasant.


I also noticed that engaging the camera into quiet record has NO effect on the lower fan's speed/noise. Whereas with the original 1.0 you'd get an immediate silencing of the internal fan. So with the 2.0 lower fan you can safely say that quiet record has no effect, therefore making adaptive the best choice if you're using the 2.0 lower fan.

The biggest thing to note is that with the 2.0 lower fan and top fan is that you will remain at 43/70 for the entire duration of recording. As mentioned earlier I took two samples, once at the beginning of the record duration, and then another 15 minutes later to see how much the fans may or may not have increased in sound. 15 minutes represents a fairly extreme end of the spectrum as far as record times go.

Bottom Fan 2.0 Only


Okay, this thing is a bigger lower fan. Hell, when you see a Camaro with a hood scope or a blower it just looks faster. So it's a bigger fan, it should be better! Well, not really.

Continuing to use the Adaptive mode (since silent record had no effect on the bottom fan's speed/sound). The same sounds persisted from the earlier combo test. The only difference was that the sensor temp raised one whole degree, holding at 44/70 from Idle, to record from start to finish. Not terribly shocking, since the lack of the top fan reduced the combined efficiency.

Original Bottom Fan (Stock Configuration)
This is the configuration your camera comes in by default. Since the original bottom fan responds properly to Adaptive Preview / Quiet Record, I opted to utilize it since the goal is to create the most silent recording possible, not necessarily the coolest camera.

I ran this test twice, once with the target fan speed set at 40 percent, and the second time set at the extremely low speed of 25 percent. The idle temperature speed using Adaptive Preview / Quiet Record was 45 for the Sensor, and 70 for the Core.

For the first test of 40 percent, the camera was audibly louder in Adaptive Preview. Once the record button was pressed the Epic instantly simmered down to it's silent recording, which while not dead silent, is essentially the epic sipping air for as long as possible. At some point the Epic's core temperature rises to a point where it has to speed up the revolutions of the fan. The temperature at which it does this is 76 degrees, which was uniform across all the tests. At 76 the Epic decides it can't hold its breath and needs to start sucking some sweet O2. The question becomes how long of a time period can the Epic hold it's breath in this Quiet Record mode.

In the case of the 40 percent fan speed the time was 1 minute 57 seconds. The sensor temperature had risen to 48 degrees, with the new core temperature at 76 degrees. It held this temperature for the remainder of recording for the 15 minute test. Fan noise was fairly noticeable for these tests.

For the 25 percent speed test the fans engaged at the 1 minute 50 second mark, with a Sensor temperature at 48 degrees, and a Core temperature of 76.

Original Bottom Fan + Top Fan


Here's where we get tricky. This is the same test as the one previous, with the addition of the top fan. Clearly the original bottom fan has something going for it in the ability to actually shut up in Quiet Record mode. But the limitations are that it can only hold its breath for +/- about 2 minutes depending on the targeted fan speed. The question becomes does the top fan extend that duration between silent recording, and when the fans have to rev up slightly to maintain operation.

Using Adaptive Record / Quiet Preview, the idle speed was a steady temperature of 46/70. The idle sound can best be described as louder than the 2.0 upper/lower combination, but lacking any electronic whining. However once you hit record, things change dramatically.

The camera immediately went quiet, and at 40 percent fan speed the Epic remained in its silent mode for 3 minutes 40 seconds. Only when the core temperature hit 76 degrees, did the lower fan speed up slightly, and it's increase was hardly what I would describe as aggressive. It maintained this sound level, never increasing during the 15 minute record.

The final test was at 25 percent fan speed. Once the record button was pressed the camera went silent, and stayed silent, for 4 minutes 45 seconds. Over a minute longer than the 40 percent speed. And just like the 40 percent test, once the camera did it's initial lower fan speed increase it held that temperature and volume for the entire period of the 15 minute recording duration

 

 RED Top Fan

RED Top Fan

 Final Verdict
So I'll try not to beat around the bush here. Why would you want the lower fan 2.0? Well I think if your goal isn't necessarily silence, but rather avoiding the dreaded hair dryer mode, in locations/environments that are normally not as permissive to Epic's current fan setup. 

Outside of that, I can't really think of anything. I've heard some reports, pardon the pun, that there are some lower fans out there that are as silent as the 1.0 fan. In fact on receiving my 2.0 kit I immediately became a little perplexed by the increased noise and electronic whining. This lower fan, used in testing, was sent to RED for examination. Their technicians verified it was working within specification. So if anyone proposes that the lower 2.0 fan in this test was flawed, I can disprove otherwise.

So what's the best setup for those chasing the concept of a quiet camera? To my ears, and equipment it's fairly apparent. It's keeping your 1.0 bottom fan, and adding the Top Fan. In the process of adding the upper fan you extend the Epic's quiet record mode by nearly 250 percent. This is a pretty dramatic increase, and even once the Epic cycles it's lower fan up at the 4 minute 45 second mark, the audio increase is fairly minor. In fact I'd even say the best upgrade for your Epic is just the new fan algorithms if you're on a tight budget!

The information gathered in these tests have given me enough confidence to say that the best combination for your money is the original bottom fan, and new top fan. If RED re-engineers the lower fan to be as silent as the original fan, especially in quiet record mode, while still moving the increased volume of air, then they'd have a winner hands down.

As it stands I think the results are quite deafening.


 Top Plate 2.0

Top Plate 2.0

Zero Dark Nerdy by Isaac Marchionna

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Fundamentally there's a few ways to film into the darkness of an evening. Option 1, bring a lot of lights. Option 2, bypass the whole "visible spectrum" and go right into Infrared. That isn't to say Option 2 isn't without it's quirks. All of which presented an interesting learning curve when utilized on a project for a company that specializes in illuminating the darkness. 

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Our client asked myself and my creative partner to film a night 'live fire' rifle shoot using night vision, utilizing their own in-house night vision system. This client specifically creates IR aiming and illumination systems from individual soldier rifles, all the way up to crew-served machine guns. The advantage is that this allows us to give 1-to-1 feedback on how we think their night vision system can be improved from the standpoint of filmmakers.

The BE Meyers OWL night scope is fairly unique in a few regards:
- It utilizes C-Mount lenses
- It creates a non-vignetted image on full-frame sensors

Why the two aspects listed are important is that normal systems, for example the AN/PVS-14, is limited to 40 degrees of field of vision. Suffice it to say this isn't very helpful. The PVS-14 also has two modes of adjustment, either a front objective lens for focusing, or a diopter end for adjustment to the human eye. Things get a bit hairy when you have to adapt a system developed for fighting, to one for fun. This involves step up rings, adapted to a donor lens, so now you have 3 systems of focus to nail, an objective end, a back-focus end from the night observation device (referred to hereafter as a NOD), and finally the focus of the donor optic connected to the NOD.

Simply put...this is a mess. And is an absolute soup-sandwich for filmmaking.

So when presented with the BE Meyers OWL we overcame a few problems right off the bat. First, we get the ability to interchange relatively low-cost lenses, with adjustable IRIS', repeatable and fixed focus system, and one step mounting. In the case of the OWL it was as simple as specifying that we wanted an Canon EF mount (swapping from PL and EF on the RED's side was as simple as removing 4 screws, swapping, and reinstalling).

Overall this means one system to achieve a desired result. As long as the back-focus of the OWL is set correctly this means that you can remove and reinstall reliably without any issues on the EPIC or Optic.

 

 Example: 'Zero Dark Thirty' (ARRI Alexa + NOD)

Example: 'Zero Dark Thirty' (ARRI Alexa + NOD)

Unfortunately we also learned a few downsides. The biggest being is that in this project's case we didn't learn till the night before that it used C-mounts, which while a pleasant surprise, wasn't a type of lens we had kicking around. So we were locked into the supplied 50mm. On the night of we simply rolled with the focal length we were dealt. But it does allow for intriguing future opportunities to source more C-mounts in shorter and longer focal lengths. C-mounts also tend to be fairly affordable and fast (this lens was an f/stop of 0.95).

The other technical issue is that it's all focus by hand. This means pulling focus or iris pulls becomes a fun game of guess work. A good quality NOD tube, the photo-electric plate that actually pulls light in and amplifies it a million times to a visible level, is running at about 600-800 lines per inch. This means you're essentially filming a barely 720p image through a 5K sensor, then outputed to a field monitor. As a result it's pretty tricky, but not impossible to get solid focus.

The C-mount lens is also un-geared, which prevented us from utilizing our ARRI Follow Focus, which in combination with a larger diameter focus wheel, would have made focus pulls less of a head scratcher. And because we only received our optic the night before, we weren't able to source any zip gears. After shooting that evening our hope is to see about either sourcing small enough zip gears, or having a set of delrin gears machined, and press-fit, on to the C-mount. This combination would essentially allow us to drive the lenses in the same manner as a normal DSLR or Cinema lens.

Another interesting facet of night production is that you're constrained to using either the natural moonlight (albeit amplified by a factor of a million) or additional infrared light. The OWL has it's own IR illuminator, but this amounts of an IR LED. As a result it tends to overexpose anything within a short throw of the OWL, without really getting the light where's it needed in the case of outdoor environments. Thankfully the products being filmed were incredibly powerful IR illuminators/designators, which meant that by essentially bouncing the light using one of these weapon-intended lights sources, we could kick additional IR light where we wanted.

Our schedule was fairly tight, and future testing would be nice to see how these IR illuminators would behave if used in conjunction with flags or reflectors. There's a whole world of possibilities we just didn't have time to test against. Next time for sure.

 Example: PVS-14 + Canon 5DmkIII Source: Roy Lin / Weapon Outfitters

Example: PVS-14 + Canon 5DmkIII
Source: Roy Lin / Weapon Outfitters

None of these are really complaints, but rather areas I see as improvements to what is normally a very finicky proposition when using other systems (PVS-14). But the results are rather spectacular. The OWL doesn't create the typical 'image in a donut' effect that we normally associate with NODs hooked up to cameras (example: Patriot Games). Instead the OWL fills the entire frame with a glorious green image. As a result this gives us the option to later on add back vignetting if we're trying to simulate the point of view of a soldier seeing through a NOD. But for the purposes of a product video it's certainly a requirement not to waste half your image with just straight blackness.

At the end of the day, or rather night as this case may be, it's an interesting experience to eschew conventional optics and visible light, in favor of systems designed for the military. The results were exceptional, and combined with the RED Epic allowed us to get some shots typically not seen on video. We feel that our 36 hours with the OWL were short, but provided valuable take-aways that we can come back to, and improve on.

Cut of Your Jib by Isaac Marchionna

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This past sunday I was given the opportunity to work with two local filmmakers, Sean Brown, and Tim Jankowski. Sean being a local cinematographer, and Tim being a Jib owner/operator. I don't get enough opportunities to fly my camera on a Jib, and Tim was looking for an excuse to get time with his new TALON head, which is a 2 Axis motion control head. This also allowed me to get the chance to run my Wireless HDMI kit, to see how it would function in advance of a shoot in July that both Tim and I will be working in concert in. Normally when I've done jib work I've played purely the role AC, controlling focus, iris, and zoom. This however was an interesting chance to get some time controlling the Talon head. Which uses two handwheels to control pan and tilt. And the experience...is well...interesting.

"The best way to describe it...it's like rubbing your tummy and patting your head, only you're trying to do it 60 feet away from your body, and everything is reversed..."

The Talon head is interesting in that it allows for recording of the operators X and Y movements, and then can play these back in real time, or over a longer period of time. Where this becomes extremely attractive is in motion control work for crowd replication, time lapses, etc. Basically if you have something with a Mitchell mount, this head will go on it. The mind boggles with the amazing things you can do, especially with a head of this weight capacity. Now, as for use...I'll say that Jib operators get mad respect from me, as either lacked the coordination, or the time, to fully acclimatize myself to trying to pan and tilt the camera using two separate controls. Simply put, the entire process of Jib operation is a total concert between 3 people, the AC (myself), the grip (Tim), and the Jib operator (Sean), and if any one part is late, or lacking, the entire shot falls apart. 

Now that said we filmed over in Brooklyn park, and besides a few raised eyebrows, everyone in the park were game to come over and see what were doing. This provided us with some child actors who provided moving subjects for all of us to practice.

 

Considering we were all coming into the Talon head as newbies the result isn't half bad. There's a few issues for sure, but this was done about an hour after setup. And the majority of time came from issues relating to debugging the camera, remote start/stop, and sensitivity on the hand-controls for the Talon's controls. I was very pleased that the Nyrius ARIES Wireless HDMI kit worked perfectly out of the box, and looked as good as the SDI feed would have. Plus it was totally wireless, which is frankly dark magic to me. I can see this kit getting a lot of love for when on dollies, shoulder rigs, and of course Jibs.

This won't be my last time on a Jib, as I'll be pulling focus with Tim on a project in July that looks to be a lot of fun. And this was an excellent opportunity to debug some camera issues so that we weren't doing so on a client's time, as well as dreaming up some awesome uses for what is a very awesome piece of motion control gear.

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