Red_scarlet-224x217In 2006, RED announced the RED ONE, their first camera. In 2008, RED announced that the successors to that first camera would fall into two categories: EPIC and SCARLET. EPIC, as the name would suggest, was the big-boy camera for large Hollywood productions, and it was going to carry a matching price tag. SCARLET was for indies and prosumers. They originally targeted the $2,500 price point with the cheapest version of SCARLET, a 2/3" chip camera with a fixed lens. But then the HDSLR revolution happened. Canon added 24p to their 5d Mark II and, despite the lack of pro audio options and infamous problems like aliasing and compression issues, the idea of SCARLET lost a lot of its sheen. As a result, RED is not abandoning SCARLET wholly, but they are moving it up-market and repositioning it as a "pro" tool -- effectively abandoning the prosumer and DSLR market.

This is a slightly oversimplified version of events -- RED has been in a bind ever since the global economy collapsed (thus wrecking havoc with their projected sales and corresponding economies of scale), and their manufacturing prices went up thanks to a lost partnership with "not a sweatshop" manufacturing partner Foxconn. But the primary reason for this repositioning of SCARLET is undeniably the HDSLR. In Jim Jannard's words, here's their take:

The concept of RED was to build a camera with as much capability as possible... for the professional market. Then we thought we could extend it down a bit to the prosumer level. Apparently, that was a mistake. We recently came to the conclusion that, indeed, we cater to the professional market. That's it. A pro camera company. We want to build the best tools possible for those that want to "man up". There are plenty of companies dedicated to selling prosumer (short for "almost right") cameras. We aren't going to be one of them. If you want a serious tool to use for professional projects... think RED. No more "soccer mom" thinking. Pros only. Life is short and the clock is ticking. We have decided who we are.

Basically: RED is not going to try to compete in the DSLR space, because they can't. It's a race to the bottom, as demonstrated by the speed with which new cameras come out from Canon that ape featuresets from Canon's own more expensive cameras -- see the Rebel T2i as an example of a camera that broke through a price/performance barrier that RED could simply not compete with. Canon sells millions of cameras and can crank them out in larger quantities than RED could, and there is no way RED could make much money on a $700 camera. Beyond just DSLRs, however, the larger camera manufacturers have also come around to putting large CMOS sensors in real videocamera bodies, and thus the Panasonic AF100 and forthcoming unnamed Sony (which I described as "gunning for RED") further encroach on SCARLET's planned market space. So it's probably a smart move for RED to position themselves as a pro-only camera company.

I say this with a few caveats:

  1. It all depends on their "new" price points for SCARLET -- they already announced that they've bumped the price up $1k in order to include HDRx, ((Re: HDRx, check out RED's new HDRx Magic Motion footage, which is being lauded as having a more filmic motion rendering.)) but a $7,000 camera is a different proposition from a $12k one.
  2. I still expect them to go after the lower-end market, just at a later date -- as their technology matures and they perfect their manufacturing process, it will be too easy to go after the larger mass market to stay away forever.
  3. They don't need to be dicks about it. Saying that spending more money on a camera is "manning up" is the kind of attitude that turns a lot of people off of RED. What are you saying, if you release a cheaper camera in the future, will you call it PINK? "Manning up" is making a film -- no matter what the hell camera you shoot it on. And what does a soccer mom have to do with any of this? I would say that passing multiple children through your birth canal requires a lot more "manning up" than selecting a camera...

Anyway, in October 2006, before the first RED camera was ever shipped, I wrote at DVguru (in a post otherwise full of flawed logic):

It's named the RED "One." It wouldn't shock me to see a RED Two camera announced in a few years with a Mysterium sensor -- and price tag -- cut in half.

I was exactly right about the announcement part -- only "Red Two" ended up being known as SCARLET. However, I still feel that RED will go after the prosumer $3k-$6k price point -- because of HDSLRs, however, they've decided to sit this round out.

My personal plan was to get one of the least-expensive SCARLETs in order to get comfortable with the RED workflow, and then rent an EPIC for important shoots. Now, I'm not so sure how that will work. What about you, were you planning on getting a SCARLET? How about after this announcement?