RED SCARLET-X First Impressions
I’ve had my RED SCARLET-X for about a week now, but am still waiting for some third party batteries which got unexpectedly delayed. Thankfully, Tonaci Tran (who was the first person to get his hands on a RED SCARLET-X and was also the first to post footage from it) has written up his first impressions, and shared feature film footage from the SCARLET. I also have some initial thoughts of my own based on running the camera on AC power. Here’s the new clip posted by Tonaci, and my own thoughts so far:
We’ve heard about some high-profile RED reliability issues, but here’s Tonaci with the flip side of the equation:
As of this writing, [the crew] just finished Day 13 and I am happy to report that the Red Scarlet-X has been running non-stop flawlessly. You have to keep in mind that in Vietnam, the budgets are too low to afford backup cameras. Fortunately, “knock on wood,” no Red camera has ever failed on us in the past 3 years working in Vietnam on 20 feature films and over one hundred commercials… A good bulk of my work is supporting feature films in Vietnam where there are very little resources. If Red cameras were unreliable, I would have zero chance of ever sustaining a rental business and shooting movies overseas. It’s not like I can drive down to Hollywood to pickup a backup camera. If my Red Epics gave me grief, I definitely would not have ordered the Scarlets. As of this writing today, I am currently managing five Red Epics and two Red Scarlets on seven different jobs all happening at once.
An aside about IR pollution
About the footage posted above: one, I think the EPIC/SCARLET handles highlights much nicer than did the RED ONE/MX. Two — and most everyone who’s shot on a RED will say this — the flexibility you have in post with a RED is so far above and beyond working with h.264 video files that they feel like different mediums. And this is why I think it’s harder to make snap judgements about RED clips than DSLR stuff: you’re not just judging the photographer, you’re also judging the colorist — the “developer” — much more so than on cameras that bake-in a look. That said, if I had to pick one bone with the RED stuff I’ve seen over the years, it would be that a lot of it has an overly brownish tint to my eye. Given you’re working with RAW files, this should be easy to remove in post, right? Or is something else going on?
Not to get too deep into it, but I wonder after watching this excellent demonstration of IR pollution (also known as “far red”) by Ryan E. Walters if that’s what I’ve been reacting to over the years. I won’t go too much into it — Ryan does so in his post — but check out how this RED EPIC (and any highly sensitive digital sensor) responds to infrared light once you start putting ND filters in front:
That there would be such a brownish/reddish cast, even after white balancing in post, was eye-opening to me. Certainly makes the Schneider Platinum IRND filters look like a must-have for the RED DSMCs. For the ARRI ALEXA, DP Art Adams recommends the Tiffen T1 filters. Anyone have any thoughts on IR pollution they’d like to share?
A note about why I haven’t been able to shoot anything on my SCARLET yet: despite RED often being in backorder for accessories, this is not their fault. I decided to buy the PL mount version of the SCARLET-X despite not owning any PL lenses at present, knowing that I would eventually upgrade to PL glass (and in the meantime I’ll have the flexibility of renting PL lenses). Because the PL version was shipping first, this is one of the reasons I received one of the earlier cameras — serial number 00072, to be precise — but until I receive my Canon mount, I don’t have any compatible glass sitting around. I also ordered third party batteries which have taken longer to ship than expected (and promised), so in addition to being without lenses, I’m also currently restricted to wall power. As soon as I get batteries in, I’m looking forward to doing some tests here in NYC in collaboration with some other shooters and production houses (who have PL glass). For the time being, then, here are some initial thoughts, coming from someone who has shot on traditional video cameras and HDSLRs for years:
The camera powers on quickly — the RED ONE took over a minute to boot up, whereas the SCARLET takes eleven seconds. The touchscreen menu is intuitive and informative, though as with all touchscreens, you will have “missed” button presses. The REDMOTE and Side Handle give you tactile buttons.
As I noted before, usually when you open a camera package you expect a warranty card, a printed manual, CDs with software and drivers, some sort of service contract with numbers to call, more documents that upsell you on accessories… for my SCARLET, at least, there was none of this. Just a (very securely packed) box with the “brain” inside.
It’s pro. Everything is thick, heavy duty metal. If someone tries to steal your RED, the best thing to do would be to hit them over the head… with your RED. It’s a rectangular brick; as they used to say about 80′s SUVs, the RED features “barn-door aerodynamics.” Anyone hit in the head with a flying RED will die instantly. In 4K.
A “nuclear reactor in a matchbox” requires a fan. Yes, many cameras these days use fans to keep cool, given the amount of processing that high-resolution, high frame-rate video requires — but the RED DSMC system is so compact (as compared to, say, the cooling needs in the much larger, but still fan-utilizing ARRI ALEXA) that the fan must stay on at all times — even when recording. The fan slows down when you hit REC, but it does not shut off; it’s still generating a bit of noise, so in a quiet room make sure your boom is pointing away from the camera. This is not so much a consideration for narrative features, but documentary filmmakers take note: do not ever expect to use an on-camera mic with a RED DSMC. There is a top facing fan and a front-facing fan, and both generate enough noise (even while recording) to ruin any chance at good on-camera audio. It can be an issue, even on narrative film sets. It’s not something I’ve heard discussed much, but it’s definitely something to be aware of. Other shooters have found that setting the fan at 35-40% during recording yields a fairly quiet camera that can run for extremely long takes; so far I’ve just left my SCARLET on “Auto,” but manual settings are available. Ultimately, I’d rather have a 4K RAW camera with fan noise than a silent 1080p camera, but again… as with all things RED, it’s not for everyone.
How much tighter is the space inside a RED than an ALEXA? See here:
A “nuclear reactor in a matchbox” also requires a lot of power. The SCARLET runs at approximately 60W/h, which makes it easy to predict runtimes: a 30Wh REDVOLT will power the camera for roughly 30 minutes of shooting (36 minutes seems to be what you get in practice). Note that power management is not enabled in firmware yet, so a REDVOLT gives you the same amount of runtime whether you’re recording or not — that number should increase in the future (by how much, no one really knows). A larger 140W/h REDBRICK should power the camera for over two hours. I ordered some 160/Wh V-mount batteries and they should last nearly three hours apiece. There’s also a REDVOLT XL on the way, which will be 90W/h. But compared to a Sony F3 or Canon C300, you are going to buy — and pack more — batteries with a RED.
In retrospect, I think it’s a good thing that RED didn’t release their “$3K for 3K” small sensor camcorder. Shooters who want a small sensor camera are being served well by Canon, Sony, JVC, and Panasonic, and RED’s entire ecosystem isn’t as “friendly” as those manufacturer’s. Most people want to pick up a camera and get a pretty image by default — RED is more akin to using a film camera. You have to “develop” your footage. I’m working on a feature and I’m a big fan of tinkering in post, which is why I bought one. People who are dissatisfied with the images straight out of the camera, however, may end up as dissatisfied customers, and compared to the massive HDSLR market, RED is — and should stay — a niche market. By “niche market,” I mean tens of thousands as opposed to millions.
RED’s polarizing effect
Ultimately, the RED is such a polarizing camera that I had to shut down comments on post about RED (a first for this site). Why is it so polarizing? Part of it is the at-times offputting attitude of RED. Some of it is a result of backlash against the fanboyism frequently found on REDUSER. Some people just don’t like their “badass” design aesthetic. And RED only sells direct, so for many camera stores it’s in their best interest to talk down the RED and talk up any camera they sell. But I think one of the main reason the RED is such a polarizing camera is because it’s designed for a very specific purpose, much more so than camcorders from Sony, Canon, or Panasonic. Those three manufacturers make cameras that fit into existing workflows, and with a few exceptions, they apply in-camera “looks” to try to get you as close as possible to a pleasing image out-of-the-box (in exchange for reduced flexibility in post). Their cameras feature long run times on small batteries, they are virtually silent, and they run seldom-updated, mature software: they are more convenient. RED cameras, on the other hand, are really designed to make narrative features. On a set. With a full crew. And a DIT. And lights. Yes, the DSMCs have definite applications for fashion shoots — partially because everyone wants video content in addition to stills these days, so they can create multimedia features — but my point is that the RED is not an ideal camera for the kind of run-and-gun, low profile, no lights shooting that HDSLR owners take for granted these days. You can still shoot in low light — the following was shot on a SCARLET at ISO 1600 for example — but I expect the F3 and C300 to be better in these kinds of conditions.
Keep in mind this was at T2.9.
I’m making a feature film and that’s why I bought a RED. But I think the more people read about the Canon C300 the more they come to understand the following: if you’re running a home production company, if you do corporate videos or weddings, if your primary delivery medium is the web or DVD — the RED is not designed for you. Yes, it’s small, yes, it’s sensitive, and yes you can configure it for run-and-gun situations — but if you want a camera to get you “most of the way there with minimal effort,” this is not your solution.
Personally, I can’t wait to unplug this thing from the wall, slap on some proper PL glass, and shoot. That said, I’m not going to be Johnny-on-the-spot with tests, given I’m working on a new draft of my script, I’m still looking for the right producer, and camera tests are only going to help me to the extent that they help Man Child. There are enough camera tests in this world and the just-shipping SCARLET, for most intents and purposes, yields the same image as the extant EPIC.
If you’re like me, you’ve shot with a variety of cameras over the years. Were you a Canon fanboy when you were shooting on Canon? Were you a Sony fanboy when you were shooting on Sony? Were you a Panasonic fanboy when you were shooting on Panasonic? No. You shoot with the best camera that’s in your price range for your particular needs at the time (I’ve owned cameras from all of the above). There’s an infamous quote by the former U.S. Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, who said, “You go to war with the army you have — not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” Similarly, you shoot your movie with the camera you have — not the camera you might want or wish to have at a later time. All things being equal, I love the dynamic range, colorimetry, and highlight detail/roll-off of the ARRI ALEXA. As a RED owner I’m not afraid to admit that. But if it comes down to shooting my sports feature on one rented ALEXA or multiple rented REDs (with my own thrown into the mix)… the latter makes the most sense.
So I’m not a fanboy, and I think that fact alone should make this site a good source of even-handed information about the SCARLET-X. But I will say this: I did not make the SCARLET the largest purchase of my life because I think it is the best camera just for the time being. Despite RED’s shortcomings — buggy firmware, availability issues, numerous delays — I don’t think anyone would deny that they’ve worked very hard, and effectively, at constantly improving things. REDCINE-X Pro is an improvement on the original software. They’re getting better at manufacturing, and their backorder times are dropping. The MX sensor was a step up from the original, and everyone expects the Dragon sensor to be a step up from the current EPIC/SCARLET sensor. As someone who has sold several obsolete cameras on eBay, I very much like the concept of dropping a new sensor into an existing camera. You can’t do that with anyone else’s camera, and I bought into the RED system because I think, compared to the other cameras on the market right now, the SCARLET will remain a good investment for a longer period of time. However, I wanted to share my thoughts on the power, fan, and other RED issues in case there are folks out there mulling over which system they’re going to invest in.
Now, back to working on the movie…