RED Announces Price and Availability of New 'Lower Cost' SCARLET-Friendly REDMAGS
I’ve pointed out in the past that one of the things keeping the RED SCARLET from being anywhere close to a $10k camera (as its price tag first indicates) is the price of its accompanying REDMAG media. RED recently dropped the price on REDMAGs, but even with the new pricing it’s still easy to spend half as much on the media as you did on the camera body — a ratio that is almost never true for other cameras. The EPIC needs high-speed media for its decreased compression and increased frame rates (and the ratio of media:camera is more friendly with a $1,000 media card when you’re spending $30k on the camera brain), but the SCARLET could use some correspondingly cheaper options. Not just in terms of capacity — also in terms of speed, given no one is shooting 5K at 120FPS on their SCARLET. Enter the new 48GB REDMAGs.
If you look closely at the picture above you’ll note there is also a red-colored 512GB card, which is a newer, faster option (though looking at the specs not much faster, at least with the current firmware — I suspect it’s mainly in consideration of Dragon). On the bottom is the new SCARLET-targeted, gray-colored (to match the Scarlet’s body) REDMAG. The one in the picture says 32GB as originally announced, but they’ve since been upgraded to 48GB and may in fact be larger than that (according to RED’s Jarred Land, “there is actually a few extra gigabytes that showed up along the way for free .. But we will continue to sell them as 48GB.”). Originally scheduled for release last week on 9/28, the testing process hit a few snags; here’s the update from Jarred:
Sorry for the delay in update… we found a (rare) self destruct sequence on the 48GB cards last week that required a card firmware change.. The fix is complete but it needs to go through a couple of weeks of testing to make sure everything is rock solid.
As far as availability is concerned, we’re looking at mid-October if the “couple weeks” holds true. Then later in the thread Jarred spilled the beans on the pricing of the cards, which will be “$495 each or 4 pack = 4 x $460.” I think most people were probably looking for something in the $300-$350 range as far as these cards were concerned, but then again they added an extra 50% to its capacity and its price probably rose correspondingly.
As far as proprietary pro media is concerned, the REDMAGs are actually priced more favorably per GB than a Sony SxS Pro Card or a Panasonic Series P2 Card (though does anyone still shoot with the latter?). But what’s working against RED is that cameras like the Blackmagic Cinema Camera are starting to accept off-the-shelf SSDs these days, and those are magnitudes cheaper. Furthermore, even something like the Convergent Design Gemini, which has its own certified SSDs that are every bit as fast as REDMAGs, uses a 256GB SSD that is basically the same price as RED’s 64GB SSD. The 256GB convergent is $2.90 per GB whereas the 256GB REDMAG, at $2,450, is $9.57 per GB.
REDCODE vs. Uncompressed
Enter RED’s not-so-secret weapon: REDCODE. It’s true that there are a lot of S-log/C-log/LogC-shooting cameras these days (see this excellent article at AbelCine if you’re not clear on the difference between log and RAW) and log gives shooters a lot more flexibility in the grade compared to standard video. But log and RAW are not the same, and if you like to shoot RAW these REDMAGs take on a new light. Why? Because a camera like the aforementioned Blackmagic Camera shoots uncompressed DNGs. They are huge. Even an option like the Convergent Gemini records uncompressed video. Top quality, yes, but also very impractical from a datarate/storage space perspective. So it turns out that the 64GB REDMAG at 4K holds about the same amount of footage as does the 256GB Convergent SSD at 1080p. Uncompressed sounds great until you realize 1080p/10-bit 4:4:4 fills up a 256GB SSD after only 22 minutes of footage (here are the Convergent’s data rates [PDF link]). If you shoot ARRIRAW to the Convergent you’re getting 25 minutes per 256GB card, whereas if you shoot at 4K at an excellent/typical compression ratio of 6:1 on the RED SCARLET you’re getting 23 minutes on a 64GB card, 46 minutes on a 128GB card, or 92 minutes on a 256GB card. So it’s virtually the same price, and with RED you don’t have to buy a costly/bulky external recorder.
So it’s all well and good to complain about RED’s price per gigabyte, but if you’re shooting uncompressed video or DNGs you’re going to eat up those gigabytes a lot faster than with the compressed RAW that RED offers. Yes, you could argue that uncompressed is “better” but SSDs are not your only cost — you need a lot more storage space for offloading, backing up, and editing, and each of these things brings additional costs as well. I’ve found compressed RAW to be an excellent editing option, especially with the latest Adobe products able to edit .R3Ds in real-time (on my Hackintosh no less), and so rather than talk about price per gigabyte I think the conversation should much more practically be about price per minute of footage. And that’s not even to get into the fact that I’m compared 4K to 1080p.
However, that’s comparing RED to Convergent’s SSDs. Even though they’re at much different price points, let’s compare the SCARLET to the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, because the latter uses off-the-shelf SSDs and the two are the only RAW-shooting cinema cameras under $10k as far as intro price is concerned (and of course the BMCC is very similar to the “3K for $3k” original RED SCARLET concept). When shooting with the BMCC, according to the tech specs on this page, “5 MB/frame in RAW 2.5K fits about 30 minutes of 24p video on a 256 GB solid state disk.” So with Cinema DNGs in RAW, the BMCC (30 minutes per 256GB) is very similar to ARRIRAW (25 minutes per 256GB). But here’s the thing: off-the-shelf 256GB SSDs are about $200. And that’s where RED’s pricing stops looking comparable. Many would argue that using third-party SSDs opens you to potential failures, loss of data, and that the docking mechanisms aren’t built for thousands of insertions and removals. But the community will have a lot to do with this — people will report which brands have worked great and the wisdom of the crowd will contribute to there being reliable options. So suddenly you’re looking at $200 for 30 minutes of 2.5K RAW BMCC footage versus $725 for (roughly, depending on compression) 30 minutes of 4K RAW RED footage (both at 24p). Per minute of footage, that’s $7/minute on the BMCC versus $24/minute for the RED. If you’re looking at buying a camera you have to ask yourself how much the Super35 sensor, variable frame rates (with windowing), REDCODE workflow, interchangeable lens mounts, and 4K resolution of the SCARLET is worth to you. Don’t discount the RED workflow — they’re years ahead of where CinemaDNG support is currently, especially since Adobe just dropped support for their own format in Premiere Pro — but then again, don’t discount the BMCC’s ability to record ProRes/DNxHD (which is what I suspect 90% of projects will use). And this is why the BMCC is so disruptive, because the package price is even more budget-friendly once you take into account off-the-shelf media.
RED and the Collection Plate
Ultimately it’s completely understandable that RED wants to make these cards with high margins. This is the reason to have proprietary media from a business standpoint — it’s a business model as old as time. Sony and Microsoft sell the Playstation and Xbox for cheap but makes money on the games. Gillette sells you the razor handle for cheap but makes money on the blades. No one paid much for their Holy Bible, but then the collection plate comes around.
Five years after coming out with the RED ONE, no one else is offering compressed RAW 4K internal recording — still. If it were cheap to make the cameras themselves, someone else would’ve already. So RED probably needs to sell high margin items like the media to be profitable — they are not producing at the economies of scale for the cost of production to come down drastically, though they have gotten several years out of that MX chip by now and that should help (for the same profitability reasons that Sony and Microsoft need to have the lifespan of their game consoles be as long as possible).
The Scarlet REDMAGs are… Slower?
But let’s get back to the topic of these particular new 48GB REDMAGs. The thing that makes them less appealing to me is: according to Jarred, they are not just smaller but also slower than the others. They have not announced the exact data rates but they are certainly not being built for high-speed EPIC shoots. Which is part of their raison d’être. But they’re basically the same $ per gigabyte as the expensive ones (a bit cheaper per GB than the 64GB REDMAG, but same as the 128GB, which is to say roughly $10/GB). So why would you pay the same per gigabyte… for slower speeds? For example, at the discount price of $460 each (if you buy four), the total is $1840 for 192GB — wouldn’t you rather have a faster 128GB and a 64GB card, to make that same 192GB total, for $1975 (just $135 more)? If you compare one 48GB card to one 64GB card, yes, the price per gigabyte is lower — but no one goes into a shoot with just one card. For most shoots (where you’ll want more than 128GB on set), these new REDMAGs bring down the cost of entry, but not the cost per minute.
I realize there are going to be plenty of people who want to comment “RED is overpriced, I’m buying a BMCC!” That’s fine, and that’s the reason there are a hundred million DSLRS out there compared to a few thousand Arri Alexas. More people can afford the cheaper camera. But I’m really looking to hear from other RED shooters, or people who’ve been thinking about getting a Scarlet. What are your thoughts on this new REDMAG, does it pique your interest or change the equation at all?