If 'Ali vs Frazier' of the Camera World is November 3, RED's 2/3'' SCARLET is Dead
As you already know, Canon is releasing a motion picture camera on November 3rd. Not one to let Canon steal their thunder, RED countered by scheduling their SCARLET announcement for the same day. In order to make such a bold move, I assumed RED had some advance insider knowledge of Canon’s plans, but RED’s head honcho Jim Jannard claims RED has “no idea what Canon is going to announce.” He also called the day “Ali vs. Frasier” [sic]. And he’s confident enough to say, “My bet is that after our November 3rd announcement… we will never, ever, be out of back-order. Ever. Really. Never… ever.” This kind of confidence does not come from announcing a camera with a sensor several times smaller than the competition’s.
The thing about RED is… they’re crazy. This is sometimes a good thing — no one would set out to upend the camera industry the way they have without being slightly crazy — and other times a bad thing (missed ship dates, buggy gear, and sometimes off-putting attitudes — which Jim acknowledges). But it’s been a fascinating five years since their NAB 2006 unveiling, to watch them grow from a startup of just a few engineers to their current team of 400 employees:
Say what you will about their missed ship dates and technical issues, but these days no one can accuse the EPIC of being vaporware given the number of features (and magazine covers) being shot on it presently. And this thread about RED’s history is nothing short of inspiring for anyone with startup dreams.
Okay, so what will RED announce on November 3rd? Interestingly enough, given how many times they’ve changed their roadmap and EPIC-S/SCARLET plans because of the competition (going so far as to say, “If we give you (and our competitors) all the info too soon, we are likely to be late and have helped the industry keep up with us”), the easiest way to extrapolate what RED will announce is to take a look at Canon’s plans.
When Canon was engineering and building their first entry into the “pro” motion picture camera market, who were they looking at as their competition? RED, because Canon was planning on going 4K based on this quote direct from Canon over a year ago: “4K is a real world for us, we’re not ignoring it, and we’re going 4K.” As the only one with a 4K camcorder at the time, RED was their competition by default. And given the rumors are that Canon’s entry on November 3rd will be somewhere in the $10-$15k range, to me this means they set their sites to compete with what we knew as the EPIC-S at the time, which was RED’s $12k, Super35 sensor camera. So while RED already released this footage from their 2/3″ SCARLET…
… I suspect this 2/3″ SCARLET is dead. Their competition is announcing a Super35 camcorder on the same day, and RED has claimed to be bringing a “bazooka to a knife fight.” As far as the camera analogy goes, Bazookas don’t have 2/3″ sensors last time I checked. Also, Jim Jannard has publicly stated that they do not make cameras for “soccer moms.” They are a “pro,” not a “prosumer,” company. And while 2/3″ sensors are good for documentaries, I see the small sensor arena as a crowded marketplace that isn’t exactly crying out for RAW or 120FPS features. Plus, while Sony is also getting into the 4K game with both a camera and home projectors, they have also called the camcorder marketplace “a 35mm world.” And Sony’s F3, as Philip Bloom recently discovered, gives the EPIC a run for its money in low-light situations. So after years of making small-chip camcorders, Sony and Canon are going large — is RED going to go small at the same time? Doubtful. Especially with their hype of “never going out of backorder,” they will almost certainly announce something new and improved compared to what we’d heard previously.
For some historic context of digital Super35 motion picture imaging, let’s take a look back at the very first feature film shot on the RED, Che — which was in fact two features — and why director/DP Steven Soderbergh has, in Jim Jannard’s own words, “the biggest balls of anyone I’ve ever met.”
After all this speculation and history, let me just say: yes, I know, a camera alone will rarely ever make or break a feature film. But you’d have to pretty damn jaded not to think November 3rd is going to impact indie feature films for years to come. Time and time again naysayers chime in with “if we spent as much time writing the script as we do talking about cameras, we’d make better movies,” but I’ve spend a hell of a lot more time on my script for Man-child than I have following the camera market. And I’ve still got many drafts ahead of me. So there, imaginary naysayers!
- Sorry, but if Jim Jannard is comparing the day to Ali vs. Frazier, I figured I could drop a reference to Guy Fawkes night. Especially with so much talk of “revolution.” [↩]