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NAB Rundown

April 16, 2008

NAB is still going on out in Vegas, but I’m home in L.A. as of 3 A.M. this morning. Which was probably a mistake — the big Final Cut Pro User Group Super Meet is happening tonight and I would have liked to go — but I couldn’t justify another $100 night out of town when I’ve got so much to get done.

But people have been asking my thoughts on some of the big announcements at NAB:

Scarlet: RED’s new 3K, “pocket” camera. Fixed lens, 2/3″ sensor, REDCODE RAW to flash media, up to 120fps recording with 180fps possible in “burst” mode.

This is not only an HVX-killer, it’s an everything-in-this-market-segment-and-the-one-above-it killer. Assuming the increased dynamic range that’s being rumored with the new Mysterium X sensor, the only thing keeping this camera (which RED says will retail for under $3,000: “3K under $3K”) from destroying a huge chunk of the high-end camera market — including the Sony F23 and Viper FilmStream — will be the fixed lens.

Will we have a use for it? At that price, with those specs, no one with even a semi-serious interest in filmmaking/shooting can afford not to have it. It’s not the RED ONE, it’s not going to get 35mm depth of field, but it’s a massive step up from the HVX at HALF the price.

I’m aware that Panasonic has come out with two new solid-state cameras, as replacements for the DVX and the HVX. HD, heavily compressed (the HVX replacement DVCPRO HD, the DVX replacement the MPEG-2-based AVCHD), proprietary P2 card format, 1/3″ sensors, tops out at 60fps recording, and that only in 720p mode, and even the cheaper one costs more than Scarlet. They might as well pack up and go home. And don’t get me wrong, I love Panasonic to death. They made 24p happen in the prosumer market. But Scarlet fucks them raw.

Likewise Sony, with their announcement of the EX3. HD resolution, 1/2″ sensor, solid state recording. Lame, lame, same as Scarlet. The only thing the EX3 has that Scarlet doesn’t is the option for interchangeable lenses. But is that worth the $10,000 difference in price to most lo/no-budget shooters? I didn’t think so.

Epic: 5K, Super35 format. Up to 100fps at full-frame 5K resolution.

This one makes less sense to me than Scarlet does, and even with RED’s exceedingly generous and, I have a feeling, unprecedented upgrade path — buy a RED ONE now for $17,500, and trade it in towards the cost of an Epic next year at full, non-depreciated cash value as long as it still “works” — the $40K price tag makes it unlikely too many people will jump on that ship.

Based on the limited specs released so far, the Epic will boast the new Mysterium X sensor, meaning greater dynamic range, higher possible framerates, and higher possible bit rates. The thing is, Jim Jannard (founder/owner of RED) has stated that around the same time that Epic/Scarlet start shipping, R1 owners will receive a sensor upgrade as well. I’m sure the upgrade won’t be free, probably a couple thousand, but it will put a Mysterium X in your R1 — gaining you the dynamic range, frame rates, and bit rates, presumably.

So what’s Epic for, at that point? 5K recording? Call me unimaginative, but I don’t see what use 5K is when we don’t even have reasonable workflows for 4K yet, and most films shot on 35mm even today only scan/master in 2K.

Epic, as far as is known right now, is a camera with a 40% reduction in weight and a relatively unnecessary 40% boost in resolution from the flagship R1. Not that both of those things aren’t great, BUT, when you factor in that even with a full-value R1 trade in, and subtracting the money you’d pay anyway for an R1 sensor upgrade, you’re still looking at another $19,000 or so to pick up an Epic, I really don’t think anything I’ve seen, thus far, would be worth that, when you could grab another R1 body for the same price.

I personally think it would make more sense if Epic were a 65mm equivalent camera instead of Super35. For one thing, it’s the format that a lot of the old school epics were actually shot on. Films like Lawrence of Arabia, The Ten Commandments1, 2001, and Ben-Hur. If you’ve ever been on a movie-ride like the recently closed Back to the Future at Universal Studios, or 3D “spectaculars” like T2-3D: Battle Across Time (also at Universal), you’ve seen imagery shot on the 65mm format.2

It’s also basically the format of IMAX production, and in that may be facing a resurgence. Christopher Nolan was so impressed by the IMAX presentation of Batman Begins, scaled-up digitally with high-quality algorithms, that he committed to actually shoot chunks of its sequel, The Dark Knight, directly to the IMAX format.

Unlike a mere boost to 5K, an affordable Digital65 camera genuinely creates a whole new market tier, AND a good reason for the additional resolution boost. What they announced at NAB is really just RED TWO, and not a camera I would personally call “Epic”.

In terms of price, while compared to the RED ONE I don’t think that the small tech advances justify a more-than-doubling of the body price, when put into perspective it’s still a steal for $40K. The Sony F35, Sony’s Super35 response to RED, retails for $350,000, and it’s still only an HD chip with HD output. And you’d never see them offering full-cash-value trade-ins — or any trade-ins at all — to owners of their F900 series cameras (which retailed at around $150,000). So can you really complain about RED’s business model or pricing structure? No. It’s still a steal anyway you slice it.

But does upgrading to the Epic from my RED ONE make a lot of sense to me? Not from where I’m standing right now.

Stereoscopic (3D) Filmmaking: Stereoscopic (aka stereo, aka 3D) production and post-production was a concept that had surprising prevalence on the show floor. It seemed like every booth had one product geared toward stereo — projector systems, display systems, dual-channel color correctors, etc.

I’m going to do another post on the resurgence of 3D, but I wanted to mention that the people who produce product for this industry are not all looking at it as a gimmick. Many of them are starting to see it as a big, big deal.

Vegas: Just a quick note on Vegas. I spent most of the time in the city either on the show floor, at parties in the evenings, or in my hotel room. I was amused by the notion that I should be in Vegas and completely fail to do anything Vegas-y. And I kind of liked having the freedom to do that, to go to Vegas and not feel compelled to “Do Vegas”. Plus I saved a lot of money that way.

Anyway, glad to be back, getting back into the swing of things.


  1. Ten Commandments was technically shot on Vistavision, which is 35mm film run sideways through the camera so that the image prints on the same surface as would normally print two 35mm frames, for a 70mm widescreen frame. Vistavision never caught on as a capture/display format, but found new life in the special effects industry. Before computers, composites had to be made optically, and at each stage any grain or noise from the source would be added on top of the grain in the printed film. Vistavision had smaller grain proportional to the size of the image, so it could go through more optical generations with less of a quality hit. Even with digital compositing now being the standard, big movies like Spiderman 2 and The Matrix still sometimes shoot FX plates on 65mm/Vistavision for the quality boost.
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  3. Anyone remember the original 3D spectacular, Captain E-O? Also 65mm.
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One Comment
  1. Daniel Broadway permalink

    I agree with this whole article 100%. Red has some amazing produts coming to fruition. Sony, Panasonic, and Canon need to ditch this LONG GOP MPEG-2 crap. It can look good straight out of the camera, but as soon as you try to color correct or bluescreen it, it turns to mush.

    The new Panasonic Varicams are a variation of the AVC codec, which is H.264 based, except that it’s an Intra Frame compression scheme. This is a step in the right direction, but it’s still only 4:2:2.

    What Red is offering with Scarlet is just awesome. Up 120fps? Amazing. 2/3 sensor in a sub-$3k camera? Unheard of until now. I know lots of people are complaining about interchangeable lenses, but I do not need them in my type of shooting. I’m run and gun for the most part.

    Also, I have to ask about one of your quotes, because I know how you like to make puns…

    “But Scarlet fucks them raw

    Was “raw” an intentional pun based on the workflow of Red footage? Heh.

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