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The Scarlet X camera from RED, at last

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November 3, 2011

The 4K Scarlet X camera kit with a Canon lens

The 4K Scarlet X camera kit with a Canon lens

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It would be hard to imagine a greater contrast between today's launch by Canon of its EOS C300 digital cinema camera and the launch of RED's long-awaited Scarlet. Canon's event was huge and long-winded with a string of cinematography heavyweights on stage. At the RED gathering half an hour later, an ad hoc bunch of the faithful turned up at RED studios, ostensibly just to watch the same web page update as the rest of the world. Alas it didn't quite work out like that.

Due to what RED believes was a malicious attack, their servers (beefed up for the occasion) collapsed and red.com went dark. Head Honcho Jim Jannard had to come out and address the gathered 300 or so himself whilst the rest of the world gleaned tidbits over twitter. This sort of thing is part of the fun of RED that is both enjoyable and infuriating in equal measure. Let's not forget though that RED is, by far, the most successful manufacturer of digital cinema cameras with nearly 10,000 units in the wild and they are in use on the majority of Hollywood films in production.

The news of Scarlet itself was quite simple yet quite significant, and an interesting counterpoint to Canon. The concept for Scarlet announced three years ago envisaged a video-sized chip (2/3-in) providing a 3K picture for 2K deliverables after processing. All that has gone away. What the world wants, argues RED, is an EPIC (RED's flagship 5K cinema camera) for less money. So that's what's happening. Jim Jannard explained that the ASICs (Application Specific Integrated Circuits) in the Epic are expensive and advanced and many of them fail to reach the high performance required for the Epic's stellar spec's. These are of course rejected and just sit on a shelf. By matching these chips with less complex electronics and accepting the lower data rates and capabilities, RED's per unit costs drop dramatically and a baby Epic can be manufactured at a reasonable cost. So that's what Scarlet X is.

At 5K resolution Scarlet X will shoot 6 fps, suitable for high quality stills photography (similar resolution to Canon 7D, 60D, 600D etc.). At 4K resolution Scarlet X will shoot 1 to 24 fps, suitable for film making, and at QuadHD it will shoot 30 fps. At 2K it will shoot up to 60 fps, and at 1K it will shoot at up to 120 fps. The camera block (brain) is the same size as the Epic brain, the inputs and outputs are the same, and all the myriad RED accessories will fit both cameras. The lens mount is the standard cinema PL mount or, and this is genius, the Canon EF mount, with autofocus support.

Price for the Scarlet X brain plus a SSD (sold state disc drive) is US$9,750 (GBP6,000 / EUR7,000). For a kit with battery, controller and LCD the cost will be around $14,000 (GBP8,700 / EUR10,000) depending on options. Delivery on the PL mount version will be this month and the Canon mount version will be available in December. In a significant announcement Jim Jannard promised that as of next February RED will have ramped production such that for the first time in their history, cameras should be available from stock.

The 4K Scarlet X camera top plate

For people expecting some radical new product, this announcement will be a disappointment. In reality it's a very smart and rational move that allows RED to leverage its existing development work and its rapidly ramping manufacturing capability to compete head-on with the camera giants that are finally now starting to move into their space. The comparison with the Canon C300 announcement is interesting and it's one that RED wins on points. The Canon is marginally more expensive but only provides 1080P 4:2:2 output whereas the RED provides 4K RAW suitable for processing in RED's comprehensive (free) software. The Canon is rugged but only to the extent of other EOS cameras. The Scarlet is built, literally, like a tank and the EPIC has been proven in the field for a year now. The Canon lenses are doubtless superb but RED have their own range of cost-effective cinema lenses. In any case you can use Canon lenses on the Scarlet X, and you get autofocus, which ironically the Canon camera does not provide.

The biggest advantage of the Scarlet X though is this. RED provides a modular system that is guaranteed to increase in capability over the years. You can swap between the PL and Canon mounts for instance on the Scarlet. Not possible on the C300. RED software and firmware is guaranteed to be upgraded on a regular basis and RED guarantees that you will be able to upgrade the guts of your camera years down the line when the technology has moved on. It would go completely against Canon's business model to offer the same sort of upgradeability.

Like Arri and Sony, Canon have to provide 'good-enough' picture quality to gain customers through reputation, familiarity, brand loyalty, dealer reach and so on. Reports suggest that the picture from the Canon is very good. There is still only one 'king' of Hollywood digital film-making, however, and that is unlikely to change after today's announcements.

About the Author
Vincent Rice Vincent Rice has been an audio-visual design consultant for almost 30 years including six years with Warner Brothers Cinemas. He has designed several large retail installations in London and a dozen major nightclubs across the world from Belfast to Brno to Beruit. An accomplished musician and 3D computer graphics artist, Vince also writes for AV Magazine in the U.K. and the Loudscreen digital signage blog.   All articles by Vincent Rice
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7 Comments

Thank you for nice coverage of this. Not only does this bring performance beyond anything else in the field at this price point, as you say it's flexible and "future proof." The Scarlet is epic! I really, really want one. Forget all the fancy digital still cameras, a second video cam. I can have only this! And a micro four/thirds pocketable camera for those off the cuff occasions.

Gadgety
4th November, 2011 @ 01:26 am PDT

Just some food for thought.... Being a scientist who had actually worked in the film industry for over a decade. I look at all of the PRO...and PROSUMER cameras that are marveled at. I personally use an industrial High Speed digital with 4K and at up to 500 fps....granted it's far above what is needed for standard use in TV or film but .... considering my camera is 4 years old and yes technology changes..... However my $3,000 is quite a bit different than $9,000+ Again I say, "Just some food for thought..... "

Thoughtfully or Thoughtless?
4th November, 2011 @ 09:53 am PDT

saying that arri and sony are providing "good enough" image quality to gain customers through reputation shows that you haven't seen or used their cameras. The arri alexa is probably the best cinema camera out there right now, yes it does not shoot 4k right off the bat, but arri raw 3.5k to a recorder is pretty amazing image quality. That coupled with the fact you can actually review footage (you currently can't with the epic). And how logically it is laid out menus wise (The Red MX and EPIC have absolutely terrible menus). Also the arri alexa shooting 1080p pro res 4444 in log c is the king of dynamic range. most television shows are shooting 1080p on the alexa and movies are shooting 3.5k on the alexa. And sony has the F65 coming out, 4k on an 8k sensor, supposed to blow everything out the water with dynamic range. RED is a great company, they make great cameras that are a pleasure to work with, but saying that sony and arri aren't really competing with them on image quality is false. dynamic range his something that most cinematographers care for more than resolution, and in real world performance arri is beating them, and even the sony F3 shooting s-log at 4:4:4 is pretty good.

ajunr
4th November, 2011 @ 09:59 am PDT

Yeah RED camera! Really getting their business popping, happy to see them mature and grow and bring some much needed pressure to what seemed like a Canon prosumer DSLR video monopoly.

Blake Kimmel
4th November, 2011 @ 10:00 am PDT

I want it, I want it, I want it ;-)

C. Allan
7th November, 2011 @ 09:15 pm PST

Wait until the Vector Analysis! Haha alex.

STEMnerdMATT
8th November, 2011 @ 04:19 pm PST

Too bad that everybody is abandoning tge 1/2 inch and 2/3 inch chips in the design of new cameras. The epic was originally supposed to be a 2/3 inch camera. As a wildlife and scientific photog, I find advantage in the smaller chips by getting more "reach" with smaller lenses. The smaller chip is also an advantage for enlarging very small subjects while getting some decent depth of field. For the small and the far, a small chip is ideal so long as the resolution is comparable. The lenses are cheaper too since you do not need to cover as much sensor area.

I personally would like to see and epic or canon cinema sized camera with a short mount that could be adapted for any of the still camera mounts, the sony 1/2 inch video mount or a PL mount. Throw in a sensor stabilization system like on Sony still cameras and you would have my ideal camera in a package that would not need a sherpa to carry into the field. In my humble opinion, half of the difficulty in wildlife and scientiic photography is getting the equipment to the job and the typical shoulder mounted Pro video camera is too much of a hastle to trransport.

Leland Brun
11th November, 2011 @ 07:21 am PST
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