In the last year, the RED Digital Cinema Company has redefined cinematography. That may sound like hype-speak, but in this case, it’s true. The RED One 4K digital cinema camera body, released in August 2007, delivers 35-mm film-quality images at the bargain price of $17,500 (with lenses and accessories, base cost is more like $40,000 vs. over $100,000 for a low-end 35mm film camera package). “This is the camera I’ve been waiting for my whole career: jaw-dropping imagery recorded onboard a camera light enough to hold with one hand,” said Steven Soderbergh on the reduser.com blog in 2007. “RED is going to change everything.”
Now, barely a year out of the gate, RED is about to change the paradigm again. The company recently announced the Fall 2009 release of its new DSMC (Digital Stills and Motion Camera) system, a collection of interchangeable, upgradable camera components that include lenses and camera “brains” (camera bodies and the image capture sensors inside them). Because they can be configured as either still or motion picture cameras, RED is billing the DSMC cameras as “DSLR Killers.”
Of particular interest to online video producers and directors of photography (DPs) is the most affordable of the new cameras, the RED Scarlet series. RED will offer a complete Scarlet package (2/3” sensor; 1-120fps; 8x 28mm fixed zoom lens) for $3,750 that promises to blow away any prosumer HD camera in its price range. The least expensive Scarlet “brain” (2/3” sensor inside a Scarlet body; no lens) will sell for only $2,500. With PL, B4, C & 35mm still-lens mounting options, DPs will be able to use a wide range of optics, including the Canon and Nikon DSLR lenses they currently use for stills.
RED targeted its first offering, the RED One, at professional feature film makers. Now, with the Scarlet’s entry into the under-$4,000 market, RED plans to deliver pro-quality images at amateur video prices. Some online video producers might rightly figure the quality of today’s prosumer cameras is good enough for PC monitors and mobile devices. More forward thinking producers will appreciate that high-quality images shot with affordable equipment could end up on living room HDTVs, or even 60’ digital cinema screens.
There were plenty of skeptics when the RED One was first announced in 2005. But over 2,000 believers plunked down $1,000 deposits, some more than a year in advance, based on a track-record-free promise. Most of those early adopters are now RED evangelists. Online content producers looking for superior quality images at an affordable price are hoping RED’s history repeats itself with the Scarlet.
Max Bloom is a television cameraman and journalist who writes frequently about new trends in digital media.