Every April, NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) takes place in Las Vegas (where else). Usually this is the place where major manufacturers make major announcements about major new products, but this year, such announcements were pretty thin on the ground.
JVC announced a pair of Pro HDV cameras, with interchangeable lenses, which look interesting, if a little (i.e. very) overpriced, Panasonic released…a DV camera (huh?), Canon released…a lens (big wow) and Sony released…nothing.
As it turns out, Sony might, unintentionally, have made the best move of all, because no matter what was announced, it would inevitably have been completely overshadowed by ‘Red’.
If you’re asking who, or what, you’re not alone, as most people hadn’t heard of Red until a few months ago, when the then brand new start-up company began causing quite a buzz on the net. At the time no one knew whether they were for real or just vapourware merchants, but their presence at NAB seems to have answered many questions and the word on the street is that their Red One camera will be available by early next year…at the latest!
…and here’s what all the fuss is about…
The Red One is a completely modular digital cinema camera, based around a Super 35mm sized (24.4 x 13.7mm) 11.4 Megapixel (4520×2540 pixel) CMOS sensor, with a dynamic range claimed to be equivalent to, or better than 35mm motion picture stock.
Unlike most flavours of video camera which throw away information in order to compress data to a manageable size, the Red One records with native 4:4:4 colour sampling, at a native resolution of above 4K (4K being widely accepted as the theoretical resolution of a 35mm negative) and at frame rates of 1-60 progressive frames per second (F.P.S).
A PL mount on the front of the camera allows industry standard 35mm and Super-16mm lenses to be attached. Use it with a 35mm lens and you get the same depth of field that you would with a 35mm film camera. Use it with a 16mm lens and you can set the sensor to use a Super 16mm sized window that delivers the same depth of field as a Super 16mm film camera…and because only part of the sensor is being used by this window, as an added bonus, you get progressive frame rates of 1-120 F.P.S.
Of course, as any still photographer will testify (testify), there are issues concerning the use of conventional film lenses with CMOS sensors…which is why Red are developing their own range of Ultra High Definition lenses.
On the downside, there’s no optical viewfinder (though some people may find that an advantage) and the sound is only 24/48 (c’mon guys, would 24/192 break the bank?). On the upside, in addition to its native 4K+ and windowed 2K recording modes, the camera can also record at 2k, 1080p, 1080i & 720p, direct to flash memory, hard disk or RAID, making it compatible with pretty much every format and budget.
And talking of budget…the price? An industry shakingly low $17,500! Some people are suggesting this price is far too good to be true. It’s not. The truth is that, until now, the major film and video manufacturers have had a vested interest in keeping the prices of such technology artificially high, because they have an existing user base of major studios and broadcasters who are used to a certain price point…that in no way, shape or form reflects the relatively miniscule costs of putting a sensor and a hard drive in a box. In order to protect sales of their high end broadcast and digital cinema products, these manufacturers have been fobbing us off with deliberately crippled video formats such as DV and HDV (most of which aren’t fit to clean the lenses of even a budget Super 8 camera), in the process creating completely false price expectations.
What they’ve misunderstood is that there is a potentially huge and relatively untapped market of aspiring filmmakers (and successful directors seeking liberation from studios and distributors), that, given the right product, at the right price, far outweighs the market for high end kit (after all, it is said that in their entire history, Arri have only sold several thousand cameras).
To date, the only company to challenge this status quo, has been Panasonic, whose recently released AG-HVX200, is arguably the first and only product to truly recognize and embrace this burgeoning market. But good as it is, it pales into insignificance in the face of the Red One, which appears to give those of us who know one end of a camera from the other, more or less everything we have been asking for…without the built in obsolescence, as, being modular, everything is interchangeable…including (according to some reports) the sensor (hurrah!).
As with any product that is yet unreleased, especially since these specifications are subject to change, but as Red proclaim on their web site “We decided to skip several generations of evolution.” In my book, that equates to a revolution. Vive la revolution!
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