RED has always done things differently. Whether you prefer using the company's cameras or not, it's undeniable that it's moved the industry forward. At times, to its own detriment; see Hydrogen One, see Mini-Mag price drop. With the launch of Komodo, a $6000 6K Super 35 cine camera, RED has opened up its beta testing to anyone who wants to get their hands on one early.
Normally, before a camera is introduced to market, the company releasing it will connect with a select few to test its features. To put the camera through its paces. They're usually prominent individuals in the community that the company has built a relationship with over the years. When Blackmagic Design introduced the URSA Mini Pro 12K, it was DP John Brawley who got his hands on it early. Other companies, like Sony and Canon, have ambassadors who they pay to test the camera. Others like Fujifilm or Panasonic will reach out to individuals for one-off collaborations, like in the case of cinematographer Matthew Libatique, who shot a short using the XT-3.
It's all about feedback.
Companies tend to keep this pool very small, or may not reach out to third-party users at all prior to its release. Meaning, they'll lean on their own internal testing and what the engineers have designed. It's why we sometimes see immediate firmware updates after the launch of a camera. Users will find faults that the manufacturer has missed.For Komodo, RED has opened its doors completely for initial feedback. The obvious caveat to all of this is that you must buy the camera. But even with unfinished software, a quick internet search shows that there are a lot of people footing the bill. It's unsure if RED has changed its return policy for Komodo, but it seems those users are all in. Software companies do this all the time. Apple is well-known for releasing beta software for its iOS. When it comes to high-end cinema cameras, it's new territory.
While serendipity may be the root behind RED's actions, the cause seems to be the pandemic. It has handcuffed everyone. Well, not David Geffen. By the way, f*ck David Geffen.
In a social media post, RED president Jarred Land said, "The Beta Komodo program has turned into something rather special as you all have been putting your stormtroopers to good use. Beta has grown from a few select Rockstars [sic] to a rather impressive Army and never before has engineering had so many beta users and beta data to work with, and the next beta build that should roll out to you all at the end of next week should be pretty solid because of that. So thank you all."
By doing this, it theoretically should create the potential for Komodo to be a better camera upon arrival.
In a July 30th interview, Land opens up about the challenges the company faces by expanding the beta testing pool. "The engineers hate it. I mean, the business folks hate. They say, what do you mean we're sending cameras out to normal people..." But so far it's paid off. Land says the feedback they're getting from real shooters taking their own cameras out, and not just loaners, is worth more than testing for months in a lab. In that same interview, Land admits the black point for Komodo wasn't decided on until a few days before the interview because of the feedback. That means RED saw the same Komodo footage released online the same day we all did, and then went back into the lab.
For those who think this is RED marketing hype, that's wrong. It's actually quite the opposite. We get to see every step of the way as the camera is being developed. There's nothing for them to hide behind. Now that's not to say RED hasn't marketed a product before. Again, sometimes to its own detriment, but this isn't a product release.
It's not like when a company rolls out something new and you see every content creator sharing their first impressions or review, asking for you to subscribe or use an affiliate link to make the purchase. That's marketing hype. That's putting a product in front of as many eyes as possible to drive sales. Some of those content creators are even getting paid to do that. No Film School is very much part of that world. There isn't a day that goes by where we're not emailed embargoed information about a product to share with our readers. It's the nature of the business.
Now not every camera company would open its doors to this idea. But imagine for a second. Imagine if Canon released the EOS R5 and R6 to anyone who wanted to beta test the camera. Many of us would have brought up the issue of its overheating and recovery time. Then with the data, Canon could have adopted a solution before releasing it to the masses. Now, Canon is somewhat playing catch up with those who were given early versions of the camera and asking questions. Imagine if Sony gave users the opportunity to give feedback during the development of the a7S III. Do you think creators would have asked for something different? Something other that just an articulating screen and cleaner menus?
What do you think? Could camera manufacturers start opening the doors to a larger beta testing pool? Could these huge multi-million dollar companies like Canon and Sony essentially give uses a black box and say, "What do you want? Let us try and make it." Or is the current system of waiting for the next model to see if it's what you do want in a camera the better way? It just seems creators are more informed and educated about the technology they want to invest in, so something may have to change.