Competition is good: Life after Red
Moore’s law is the observation that over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years. I think this law has changed for our market. At least when it comes to camera technology. Back in 2007 the Red One camera was released. For most of us (who did not finance or were not personal friends of Jim Jannard) didn’t actually get the camera into our hands till 2008. At that time many were still transitioning into HD via Panasonic P2 and Sony SxS based camcorders. 4K was a novelty. Something only filmmakers would consider using. However most of the film makers I knew in 2008 (including myself) were shooting on S16 and 35mm film. A lot of the appeal of the Red One was that it had a S35 size sensor. Until that point on the Panavision Genesis, Sony F35, Dalsa Origin and Arri D20 had sensors that size. All were expensive to rent and ownership was out of the question for almost all but rental houses. Around the same time frame the Canon 5D Mark II was released and affordable HD video with a large sensor was all the rage. Not many people were interested in a $16,000 plus 4K camera when they could shoot 1080p with a Full frame DSLR for under four thousand dollars. The Canon 5D Mark II was pretty much responsible for killing off the depth of field adapter market as well. You could get that shallow look and the camera for the price of some of the adapter kits on the market. To be honest at that time so many people were vested in P2, SxS and HDV that it was not practical to invest in a camera that required a completely new way of working. The costs associated with workflows were too high even for many film producers. You needed a lot more video storage, there was audio issues with the camera, you needed a very fast workstation, there wasn’t many editing solutions that were affordable, etc, etc, etc. Everyone I knew that owned a Red One or had used it, including myself, ended up dumping down to a 1080p deliverable in the end.
Jump to 2010. The Sony F3 Super 35 Digital Cinema camera comes to market. The camera is 1080p but does S-Log and has 4:4:4 output for under $16,000. The camera is a huge success and thousands are sold. This is also true with every other S35 Digital Cinema camera that comes to market. The FS100, the C300, and FS700 etc are all selling very well. It is interesting since the Red Scarlet was released around the same time as the C300. Interesting in that the Scarlet shoots 4K and the C300 and F3 do not. Yet the two sell in numbers that the Scarlet cannot even compete with. If 4K is better then why buy a 1080p output camera? Workflow, highlight handling, ISO, hardware requirements and deliverable. These are all deficiency’s I see in Red and are the most commented to me on shoots, and in consult sessions. In the end its about what its viewed on. You can shoot 4K for a web video if you want to but 1080p does a fine job. The main benefit of Red of course is recording in Raw. Mind you Arri will have a 4K RAW camera and the C500 will output 4K RAW as well. If you have the storage, a Red Rocket card (if your a Epic / Scarlet user) and time, you can yield beautiful results which is great for VFX work, feature work, etc. These require a lot of resources but if you have them at your disposal it is worth it.
What Red needs to do now is focus on their weaknesses rather than continuing to out res everyone. Resolution only goes so far and like Moore’s law there is an apex eventually (human cognitive resolution on average is limited to around 330ppi) . Also when you use a Bayer pattern and you de-bayer in the end up loosing a portion of the true resolution you started with. Maybe its Red’s goal to double up to 8K so in the end you have a true 6K output to work with? The only problem with that is that if you increase resolution you also potentially increase moire opportunity depending on the methods used. Most all high res cameras have a OPL filter (optical low pass filter) on the sensor that basically softens the image. Graeme at Red claims this is not the issue with Red and they do not need to add a stronger OLP filter as the pixel size remains the same. Fair enough, but not all companies follow the same practices and I will have to take his word for it. Regardless of this, resolution does have a cap with the human eye and the brains ability to process that image. So while the argument for resolution not adding moire may be true, it still doesn’t change the fact of cognitive resolution by humans which means no benefit to the user in the end. Its best to just avoid Bayer all together or find better ways to arrange patterns to incorporate more green which I think is what most companies are focusing on. Canon C500, Sony F65 both do not use a standard Bayer pattern and therefore can retain more of their native resolution (not all of it as they are still Bayer pattern but have more green values) . The Arri Alexa starts with a sensor which is much larger than 1920×1080 knowing that the De-Bayer will yield a nice 2K/1080P output. Ideally in the future 4K versions of cameras coming out should have a goal of Bayer free 4K output with a 1080p output option.
So the rush is on to come out with 4K cameras that will output a nice usable true 1080p/2K deliverable for 90% of the market we are in and a nice 4K output for the feature film market. Canon, Sony, Arri and others are going full steam ahead with plans to accomplish this without requiring proprietary software and massive amounts of storage.
Red owned the 4K market. Some would arguably say they created it. Those of us who have had the opportunity to have used the Dalsa Origin (now defunct and sold to Teledyne), know this isn’t the case. Red did not create 4K but it absolutely started the ball rolling getting 4K marketed properly. Dalsa couldn’t have done what Red did. Sony, Canon and Arri probably still consider 1080p as a standard for highend delivery. Red has had a lock on the market for a while in ultra high resolution Digital Cinema. That of course is changing. Its changing fast. Moore’s Law is in full effect. Three big company’s are hard at work getting their 4K cameras ready for NAB 2013 announcements. All three have something Red currently does not deliver on. There is also a growing amount of contempt in the Red community with business practices, policies, attitudes, etc. I won’t talk about specifics here for fear that Jared Abrams will ban me from the forum (joke).
The Scarlet was a good start but its marketing was dishonest. This was a camera that was to be originally 3K for $3K, then it was to be 4K at $10,000. When all was said in done I think every Scarlet owner I know (and there is a lot, due to ideological pie in the sky ideas of renting it out etc) has spent at least $20k to properly outfit their camera. Many of them are in the process of selling or have sold their camera to trade up / saving up for an Epic, Alexa, C500 or EOS-1D C. Others are keeping their Scarlet and using it to shoot video with 1080p deliverables. Mind you you have to outfit any camera you get. The difference is some are more practical than others and hidden costs like needing a Red Rocket card (to be effective with delivery time frames, etc), proprietary SSDs, modules, docking stations, a computer with enough horsepower and a good GPU, all cost money. Lots of it. I also know a lot of C300 and F3 owners. Most of these guys and girls are constantly working. Almost all of them like the fact that the codecs in the camera are reasonable in regards to storage and that the cards are inexpensive. Another point of interest and something I noticed is that many of them did not buy a whole new workstation to post with there new cameras. They used what they had. Archiving R3D files take up a lot of space. Mind you it will depend on what Sony, Arri and Canon end up using for a codec but I am sure it will be well thought out and fairly space conservative.
The best part of Arri, Sony, Canon and others bringing real 4K competitive cameras to market is that it will make Red make changes. Just as Red forced change in the industry by setting the bar higher, these other companies are going to force change on Red to improve its products and the way its deals with its customers. I will not get into the details of why many Red users are unhappy as I think we have all heard the stories or know people personally who have been affected. Sony will never deny you support or ban you if you criticize them. Canon would never go on a tirade slamming everyone else in the business. Arri will not preach 4K if there camera really only outputs 2K. There is a lot of change that needs to happen. Jim Jannard asked for competition and now he will have it. Hopefully not to the detriment of the company. I personally like using the Epic (as long as I have enough lights). I hope this competition makes everyone better industry players. I hope it opens up more products and makes them available to more levels of the market.
Sony, Canon, Panasonic, Arri and others need 4K and Red needs an attitude adjustment. The ride is over. The puck has been dropped. Game on. Ready for fanboy attack mode as always.
Follow me on Twitter: MNS1974
p.s. Note of disclosure. I use and like: Arri, Vision Research, Fastec, Photron, Red, Silicon Imaging, Aaton, Weiscam, P+S Technik, Sony and Canon
p.s.s there is a very defensive group on www.reduser.net discussing this post. Most clearly have not read the core context and do not seem to get that we all want a better camera and a better camera company. Competition helps this on all fronts. That is the point.