Back in 2005 when Jim Jannard took off his brightly colored and presumably shiny Oakley CEO hat and set out to start a revolution in digital cinema, most of us scoffed, writing off his intentions of building a 4K tapeless camera at an “affordable” price point as the ludicrous ravings of a millionaire seeking his extra 15 minutes. We ate our words a year ago, at NAB 2007, as the first Red Camera footage was put on display in a short film by mega-director Peter Jackson. As the year went by, and the fledgling company started to ship the camera in small doses, again, we started to feel the rumblings of a revolution as Stephen Soderbergh proclaimed his love for the new format.
But now it’s NAB 2008. So you’d think maybe this Red thing would pick up and start getting adopted.
“Screw 4K, let’s build a 5K camera” said Jannard and his cohorts. “Hell, why not build a 3K ‘pocket cam’ while we’re at it?” This bravado from such a young company comes thanks to the advent of vaporware. For those unfamiliar, let’s get a deinition on that one:
â€“noun Computer Slang. a product, esp. software, that is promoted or marketed while it is still in development and that may never be produced.
The concept of vaporware is very simple. Say you can build something, get people jazzed about it, then hopefully follow through on the promise. Oh yeah, get their money in the meantime. Now, this is a good business practice. I believe in giving innovators the money they need to get their ideas off the ground. After all, you can’t invent without capital, and aspiring minds should be as unburdened with financial woes as possible.
Which is why Red is such a fascinating company. The major camera manufacturers have their hands tied by trying to create so many damn things that innovation is a much muddier process for them. The pro video market isn’t so big, and ever since the XL1 came out like a decade ago, they’ve spent most of their energy getting cameras into “prosumers’” hands. What this means in the end is that even Sony and Panasonic can’t get out of the ditch their in because prosumers, those videographers trying to get a cam for under $10,000, are driving the market. So the idea that a startup could enter the industry without all that baggage intrigued many. Such a company, with the capital to back it, could really shake things up, and create much-needed competition in the high-resolution acquisition market.
But where is the elusive Red Camera?
Some say Soderbergh has been retooling it for the company. I don’t have any proof of this, though Mr. Soderbergh has shown considerible interest in the camera. Being that they shipped in November of 2007, it shouldn’t be expected that they’d be an industry standard by now, however, it is rather disconcerting that
hardly any work has been shot on them.
I have been one of the lucky few to see some footage off of the camera (secrets secrets), but it’s hard to judge what it really looks like, since I saw a highly compressed 1080p downconvert from the 4K original. And with that we hit upon the fundamental problem with 4K aqcuisition: there is currently no way to watch 4K video. unless you print it out to 35mm film, the advantages of the format are nebulous, at least in 2008. Even a downconvert should still benefit from the added resolution of the large “Mysterium” chip, but my trained eye (I look at video and film all day long) couldn’t see a real advantage to the latitude of the 4K format. In other words, the Red One seems to be plagued by the same problems as other HD formats. But like I said, I am yet to see a raw 4K projection of Red footage.
My gripe isn’t with the Red One. I’m more concerned about their new cameras, the 5K Epic and 3K scarlet. The 5K Epic will go for $40,000 when it comes out in “early 2009″, and the 3K Scarlet will run under $3,000 around the same time. The former will be big brother to the Red One, building upon its innovations. The latter is a “pocket-camera”, like a fatter Canon HV10 with a 2/3″ Mysterium sensor in it. A few points and then I want to wrap this rant up. First off, Red will give you a full refund for a Red One when you buy an Epic 5K. Wait, what? What does that sound like to you? To me, it sounds like the Red One, which hardly anyone has adopted yet, is already obsolete. Hold on, let’s chill back here and analyze.
THE RED ONE IS OBSOLETE. When it shipped, the Red One body cost $17,500 sans lens, grips, or any kind of VTR or Hard Drive system. While not chump change, it was still cheap enough to justify a revolution. The epic 5K will cost more than twice as much with the same limitations. Panasonic offers cameras at a similar price point, which makes one wonder if Red can really compete, though their cams top out at 1080 HD.
Now, as for the Scarlet, who needs this camera? It’s incredibly expensive for a system with a fixed lens. I can go on and on about this so I’ll be brief. The beauty of the Red system was that it had interchangeable lenses and only what you needed to make digital cinema possible. The Scarlet seems to throw all the limitations that the big boys have been holding us back with for years into a sexier little body.
But this is all academic. Because these cameras don’t actually exist yet. Will they ever? Or will they get lost in the silicon heaps of vaporware.
Mr. Jannard, please please deliver on your promises of revolution. We can only drink the kool-aid for so long.