Red-dragon-sensor-e1334563324185-224x207In a move that surely has absolutely nothing to do with Sony's new cameras, RED has announced price drops on the EPIC and SCARLET cameras. They haven't said exactly how much the prices will drop, but they will be sharing those details on October 31st November 1st -- which is again, completely coincidentally, the day after Sony will announce their new camera(s), speculated to be the F5 and F55. This is reminiscent of when RED announced the SCARLET the same night as the Canon C300 in that RED has clearly taken a class in Headline Stealing 101 -- and by going second, they get to make last-minute adjustments based on their competition (and by being a much smaller, more agile company they can pivot more quickly). They also recently shared some updates on their Dragon sensor.

Regarding the price cuts, CEO Jim Jannard had this to say (see the full post at that link):

Everything in the electronics world changes... usually for the better, cheaper and faster. EPIC just did.

We have learned how to make EPICs in quantity, lowered our assembly costs, found better suppliers and paid off our NRE. ((NRE stands for non-recurring engineering.))

That means we can continue to charge the same for an EPIC (and now make an obscene amount of profit) or lower the price.

Those of you that paid the initial price hopefully got your money's worth. It was the best price we could offer at the time. You rented your cameras. You used them to generate income by shooting projects.

The industry struggles how to handle it when technology gets better for cheaper. We just tell the truth.

We are ready to lower prices on EPIC.

So if you bought an EPIC did you lose? Only if you did not put your EPIC to work. These are professional tools. They need to work. That is your responsibility.

Is your EPIC still relevant? Absolutely. Can it be upgraded to Dragon? Yes. Is it frustrating that you paid $X and it will soon be sold for some percentage less than X? Yes. But this is the nature of electronics. It has been. It is. And it always will be.

If you bought an EPIC in the past 30 days... we will offer a credit towards accessories. That amount will be posted along with the new EPIC pricing. Nov. 1st is when it happens.

While Jim only mentioned the EPIC initially, when asked about SCARLET he later responded with "I would expect across the lineup." While this could only refer to EPIC-M and EPIC-M Monochrome, I'm interpreting it to also mean the Scarlet -- cheaper component prices apply to both, after all -- and will correct this post if we find otherwise.

In that initial thread, Jim is clearly doing some damage control to prevent current EPIC/SCARLET owners from feeling like they paid too much (although if you bought that recent SCARLET deal you should feel fine). So how do I feel as one of these SCARLET owners who paid full price (keeping in mind the price was initially lower before it went up)? Especially given I haven't had a chance to shoot that much with it? Am I re-thinking my somewhat controversial ordering of the camera a year ago? What about in regards to how rapidly the camera market is changing with new entrants like the Blackmagic Cinema Camera and the Sony FS700, would I buy something different today? No. Not at all. And this speaks to exactly what Jim's talking about -- a camera is an investment. It's not a matter of whether you feel good about it sitting in your closet, if you get to brag about your specs, if you like what it may be capable of in some hypothetical situation. It's a question of whether you use it, whether you rent it out, whether purchasing it has furthered your art/knowledge/career/life. I can answer yes to all of the latter, and in my case, I've been sub-renting my camera through the rental house Hello World Communications here in New York -- so even though my recent days have been spent writing in the coffee shop more shooting than on-set, the camera has been generating a return on the investment. It should be fully paid off by the time we start shooting MANCHILD. And a paid-off camera you own beats paying for a rental (I expect we will rent additional cameras, but one is better than none).

Plus, the SCARLET is upgradable. Some folks would argue that spending several thousand dollars on a new sensor equates to selling an old camera and buying a new one, but I personally like the idea of having the same workflow and tools work from one generation to the next. Plus I'm getting tired of the disposable nature of electronics -- I just bought the iPad 3 and assumed I'd be using the latest, greatest Apple tablet for a year, but then Apple released the iPad 4 a short seven months later. The train of progress marches on (so do mixed metaphors). RED cameras are made in the USA (though who knows how many of the reported 18,000 individual components that make up an EPIC are USA-sourced), and they're upgradeable, and those are things RED doesn't get enough credit for in my opinion. Which brings us to:

RED Dragon Delayed

Regarding the Dragon sensor upgrade, RED's Jarred Land had this to say:

We actually had to re-redesign our camera ASIC yet again to handle how good the sensor turned out in terms of latitude and noise floor.. so when it's upgrade time you guys will all be getting new ones of those as well dropped into your cameras.

That is also the reason we haven't committed to a Dragon-upgraded Scarlet yet.. we gotta wait to see how the new ASIC handles things.

There is some bad news in all this though.... Even though the sensor will be done by the end of the year as expected, and we will have some Dragon-Epic prototypes floating around we will share as best we can..... realistically you guys will need to wait a couple more more months until the new new ASICs come out of the oven to start the whole customer upgrade process.

Red-dragon-sensor-224x159To translate: as far as most of us are concerned, the RED Dragon sensor (pictured) will not be available to shoot with in the year of the dragon. If you're at the front of the line with EPIC-M #000XX you may in fact get the new sensor before February 10, 2013, when the Chinese zodiac switches to the year of the snake -- and there will surely be some Dragon sensors floating around in EPICs before then as far as the Finchers, Jacksons, and Soderberghs of the world are concerned -- but don't plan on getting upgraded until 2013.

To further translate: "ASIC" means application-specific integrated circuit. RED originally mentioned that SCARLET cameras would need some new boards/chips to handle the Dragon upgrade but it now appears that even EPIC cameras will also need new circuitry to go with the new sensor. RED says they're keeping the price of the upgrade at $6,000 for the EPIC even though it's a more involved and costly procedure (not to mention the considerable cost of developing a new ASIC... speaking of non-recurring engineering costs). The Dragon sensor is pumping out more data than they expected -- see Jarred's comments about "latitude" -- and so the required processing power goes up. For EPIC owners, this is certainly a good thing -- they're saying that you're getting a better upgrade for the same price. RED has not released any images from the Dragon sensor or dynamic range specifications yet, but when asked how the Dragon sensor compares to the Arri Alexa and Sony F65, Jarred responded with "Why do you think Jim has been so happy the last couple weeks?" So that's great for EPIC owners -- and shooters everywhere, as competition benefits all of us.

SCARLET and Dragon

However, this got me to thinking. If the Dragon upgrade is $6k for EPIC, and even the EPIC boards can't handle its output (at the current EPIC frame/data rates), what does this mean for SCARLET, whose upgrade was already going to be more expensive than the Dragon upgrade? Surely the upgrade is getting even more costly -- and considering RED was recently selling barely-used SCARLETs for $7k and is announcing a price drop on the regularly-priced ($12k with lens mount and SSD slot) SCARLET in a week, how could they make a SCARLET Dragon upgrade work? Wouldn't you be basically paying 100% the price of your camera for a sensor upgrade? Asked about the SCARLET Dragon upgrade (pre price-drop announcement), Jarred Land shared:

You will know by the end of the year for sure. We will make sure Scarlet owners have some way to get to Dragon.. We just don't know what that looks like yet, or how much it will cost, and just how much of the Dragon's fire we can squeeze into the Scarlet infrastructure.. There is a point with Scarlet where you replace so many internal bits that a brain upgrade becomes a more economical (for you) path. But we don't know that yet...

Warning: you are now entering the realm of pure speculation on my part. I've done this in the past and got that one right, so... why not?

As far as the Dragon upgrade is concerned, I'm guessing SCARLET owners fall into two camps:

  1. Those who want the Dragon upgrade to be as cheap as possible and chiefly want more dynamic range out of their current camera
  2. Those who want an upgrade path to EPIC

The SCARLET is a gateway drug in that the menu system is the exact same as the EPIC and you are often teased with a frame size/rate or compression setting that you wish you had... but don't. This is fine and I'm not complaining, the camera is 1/3 the price of an EPIC and has way more than 1/3 of the functionality/quality -- but if you bought a SCARLET in late 2011 and have paid it off or put it to a lot of good use, in 2013 you may be looking to upgrade to EPIC. This is exactly what my DP friend Timur Civan did -- the work he was able to get with a SCARLET/F3 allowed him to move up to the EPIC. Along with the fact that Jarred is talking about the point at which "a brain upgrade becomes a more economical (for you) path," there certainly seems to be a possibility that there will be an EPIC upgrade path.

Who knows what this would cost. But RED are a bunch of smart guys, what are they going to do with all those boards they're pulling out of the EPICs that are coming in for Dragon upgrades? What if those old EPIC boards can be dropped into SCARLETs -- the cameras are the exact same form factor, after all, and while they've discovered the current EPIC circuitry can't handle the Dragon sensor output at the promised 120FPS at 5K data rate, those EPIC boards should be able to handle Dragon's output at lower specs... right? Say... SCARLET specs? I wonder if this might be the upgrade path for SCARLET -- you get pre-Dragon EPIC boards. Otherwise I don't see how any SCARLET upgrade could make sense except an upgrade path to EPIC.

Redone_11-300x175Another thing to note: RED is still selling the RED ONE. Part of "obsolescence obsolete" seems to be upgrading older cameras and keeping them in the store. So what will RED do with all the MX sensors coming in from Epic owners upgrading to Dragon? Throw them in the trash even though they're still working? Or could they keep the SCARLET MX for sale after Dragon is out, and move the camera even further downmarket? They are coming out with RED Mini Mags (details yet unknown), which could make for cheaper recording to DNxHD/ProRes when and if RED releases a module that's less extreme than their kitchen sink-ish Meizer Module. Indeed the Side SSD is now a separate purchase from the SCARLET body, so they could sell a SCARLET MX with a cheaper recording options and drop the price (further?). These could even be "battle-tested" with used sensors. Why do you think they seem to always have battle-tested LCOS BOMB EVFs in stock these days? I'm guessing it's because people are sending in their LCOS EVFs for upgrades to the OLED model, and that leaves RED with a bunch of leftover LCOS viewfinder screens that they can pop into a new housing and sell at a substantial discount ($2,000 instead of $3,200).

This is all speculation but the Dragon sensor could bring with it not just a move upmarket but also some new options on the low-end since they'll certainly have a lot of boards and sensors floating around, and that could give them flexibility to hit different price points.

Speaking of price points... Right now RED's camera prices are (brain only): SCARLET $9,700, EPIC-X $34,500, EPIC-M $39,500. Once these price drops take effect, what do you think the EPIC and SCARLET will cost as of November 1st, 2012?

Link: Everything changes... IMPORTANT post - REDUSER