If, for whatever reason, you’ve had your eye pressed to the viewfinder for the past several months, the news that B&H is now a reseller for RED Digital Cinema cameras and associated products may have passed you by. If that was something that you were pining for, rejoice! However, that exuberance may be slightly offset when you see just how many options are available for building RED cameras. Many cameras on the market from other manufacturers are all-inclusive; everything you need to start shooting is right there in the box when you open it up. RED decided to buck this trend with its DSMC cameras when the company first introduced the RED EPIC as a follow-up to the ground-breaking RED ONE, and has continued following this modular modus operandi with its current DSMC2 offerings. While the modularity of the new cameras allows each customer to build their camera as they wish, here at B&H we understand that the sheer number of choices that provide this flexibility can be somewhat daunting. What follows will be a basic overview of the RED DSMC2 ecosystem and a guide to putting together a fully functioning RED DSMC2 kit. Since there’s a lot of ground to cover, I’ve decided to spread this subject over two articles. This first article will focus on introducing the DSMC2 ecosystem and going over the first three parts, each pertaining to a component of the RED DSMC2 camera system; the BRAIN, the expander modules, and the rear and side modules. Lens mounts, monitoring, media, and accessories will be covered in the next article.
DSMC2: What Does It Mean?
DSMC2 stands for the second generation of RED’s Digital Stills and Motion Camera. The original DSMC moniker was coined by RED when it advertised that the original EPIC MYSTERIUM-X camera could be used for high-resolution still photo capture, as well as 5K digital cinema and video acquisition. That compact form factor allowed RED to release a DSMC-compatible line of accessories, which would let users upgrade their cameras modularly to fit their workflow and shooting style. In 2015, RED moved on to the now-current DSMC2 form factor with the introduction of the WEAPON camera line. The original WEAPON camera, with 6K RED DRAGON sensor, was introduced as a smaller and more customizable solution than its first-gen DSMC predecessors.
DSMC2 System Explained
Part 1: Brains
It’s easy to think of the RED ecosystem as a network that is built around the BRAIN. A “BRAIN” is RED’s terminology for the main camera module that contains the sensor, ASICs (Application Specific Integrated Circuits) where all the image processing takes place, RED MINI-MAG slot for recording media, and connection points for all the interchangeable parts available in the DSMC2 ecosystem. The camera rig is then built around the central camera BRAIN through various modules, each designed to accommodate a different shooting scenario or style.
So, why offer a camera with so many options? If you bought into the RED DSMC2 ecosystem, you can retain all your accessories—rest assured that they will continue to work with a new DSMC2 BRAIN. Therefore, if you have a fully functioning SCARLET-W kit, and would like the greater capabilities of the RED EPIC-W, the BRAIN is all you need to replace. Additionally, if you are interested in expanding your business, you can buy a second camera BRAIN and open the possibilities for B-cam setups, second units, and dedicating cameras to specific purposes for faster set-up times on set.
Part 2: Expander Modules
This is where the RED ecosystem gets interesting. Employing different expander modules behind the BRAIN allows you, the end user, to determine into what kind of workflows you want your RED camera to fit. To start, expander modules are the most essential. The basic functionality of any expander module is to provide power and other connection interfaces to the BRAIN. With the DSMC2 line of cameras, RED sought to pare down the sheer number of modules available with the original DSMC form factor. The company did this by combining the functions of multiple DSMC modules and condensing the feature sets, offering more functionality in fewer modules.
DSMC2 Expanders can either draw from a mounted battery or accept external power through an AC adapter connected to mains power, or a DC power supply. The V-LOCK I/O Expander can do both, because it has a built-in V-mount. The Base Expander and REDVOLT Expander have DC inputs, as well as pogo pin plates, for attaching separate battery modules. On the other hand, the Jetpack has no battery plate, only a mains input. If that sounded complicated, I’ll break down these modules below while examining the I/O options, so you can know which module provides the connections you require.
Each Expander module comes with an I/O configuration designated for a specific workflow. Unlike original DSMC form-factor modules, DSMC2 Expander modules cannot be stacked.
- The V-LOCK I/O Expander offers essential I/O and an integrated V-mount bracket for battery power. With the installation of this module, power in, HDMI and SDI video outs, sync and control connections, USB, headphone, and microphone terminals will all be made available at the rear of the camera. The top of the plate also has a D-tap power output for sending power to accessories. This expander is a great starting point to use when building a rig because it has essential power and I/O connections in a form factor that keeps the camera slim, while offering an integrated pro battery solution.
- The Base Expander is almost identical to the V-LOCK I/O Expander, with the exception of the V-mount bracket and D-tap connection. In the place of the battery bracket and D-tap is a pogo pin plate for attaching your own battery module. This configuration offers more flexibility than the V-LOCK I/O Expander, though it requires an additional module for battery power. Attaching this module to your DSMC2 BRAIN gives you the configuration closest to the original DSMC cameras, which had basic I/O built into the BRAIN.
- As the largest of the bunch, the REDVOLT Expander offers a pretty exhaustive set of I/O. XLR inputs and multiple SDI and power output connections are available for setting up an advanced studio rig. While not the preferred option for handheld or gimbal-mounted workflows, this Expander module essentially transforms your small DSMC2 BRAIN into a full-fledged cinema camera. Oh—the REDVOLT bay on the operator side of the Expander lets you use a small REDVOLT battery to power the camera continuously, should there be a lapse in the mains power input for whatever reason.
- The Jetpack Expanders (offered in SDI or HDMI configurations) are the lowest profile of the bunch. They don’t allow for conventional battery mounting because they are designed for gimbals, drones, and other spatially challenged setups. The connections on these Expander modules are downward-facing, keeping the cables close to the camera body and further reducing the camera length for easy balancing.
Part 3: Rear and Side Modules
Beyond the expanders, other modules are available, as well. These can fit on the rear of the camera, or on the assistant side of the camera (opposite the recording-media slot). The rear modules are designated for power, while the side modules are used for control or handles.
- Rear Modules: Rear modules are designed to fit on the back of the camera, or at the rear mounting points available on some modules. Since the expander modules offer most of the essential functionality, rear modules are relegated to simply deliver power. Effectively, power modules build on the expander modules that will accept them, or attach directly to the rear of the BRAIN for a basic camera setup forgoing I/O connections. V-mount, Gold mount, and REDVOLT XL power modules are available. Third-party options from other manufacturers make additional offerings with extremely flexible power delivery for those who require it.
- Side Modules: An upside-down, L-shaped plate covers the side module interface. Remove it, and it can be replaced with the DSMC2 Sidekick or the Side Handle from RED. Both options offer convenient tactile control of your DSMC2 BRAIN. The Sidekick is low profile and features an OLED display, and the Side Handle has an ergonomic handgrip and programmable buttons for handheld operation and control.
After assembling the basic camera body, you’ll need a few other things to complete your camera system. Stay tuned for Part 2, which will continue with more exciting RED gear, including lens mounts, monitors, media, and other cool accessories to round out your RED camera.