Let me preface by saying that I am not a RED true believer. As many of you know, there are RED fans out there that think the company can do no wrong and they are Gods amid mere mortals in the film world. I am not one of those people. I am just a DP using another camera. So, now that that’s outta the way, what’s the deal with the Scarlet?
The Canon DSLR large format sensor helped pave the way for a new revolution in 35mm sensors. I think even Canon was blown away at the overwhelming positive response from filmmakers all over the world with this seemingly new idea of an affordable 35mm sensor. This simple concept gave us depth that other video cameras simply could not achieve. Within a few months, some great marketing and word of mouth mania made every film school student buy a 7D or a 5D, and a few months later, and every production company had at least one in their quiver too.
But there is always a caveat…DSLR’s are terrible on anything wide. I’m sure I will get some lip from people about this, but let’s be honest; anything wide or with patterns (or with high contrast for that mater), look poor with a DSLR. Not to mention, the aliasing issue and rolling shutter are so bad with the 7D and 5D, that in my opinion, they are un-usable cameras for any professional application in many situations.
Please note, I said “in many situations.” Meaning that the DSLR’s are great for many things, just not everything. For example, shooting people with shallow depth with a 5D looks great, as there are no hard lines, stark contrasted angles, and usually not a ton of movement. Interviews, close-ups, etc. look awesome! But when you pull wide, a whole new look becomes painfully apparent…the DSLR’s just can’t handle the digital information. Patterns look terrible, hard lines such as shingles on a roof, or window shutters turn into digital noise and technicolor rainbows. Anything with a lot of movement turns into a weird, wobbly, jello-looking picture, and I don’t care what anyone says; high contrast setups reveal poor latitude.
The RED Scarlet is the filmmaker’s answer to the problems of the DSLR.
I have finally been able to use the camera enough to feel comfortable doing this little write-up, and I am very excited about it’s capabilities. I’ve put a few categories here and given them a rating of 1-10. One being poor, ten being perfect. These are only my opinions, so take them as you will, but they may help someone who is on the fence of buying a new camera decide what they should invest in.
GENERAL BUILD QUALITY AND FEEL – 9
I never could understand why an $800 DSLR could be built like a tank with nice rubber lining over aluminum, but a $6000 camcorder was built like a plastic POS. I bought a Sony FS100 when it came out, and immediately returned it due to poor build quality. I just knew it wouldn’t last a day on a real shoot. The RED Scarlet is built beefy, heavy, and like a tank…not quite an Arri, but pretty hefty. Some will complain about weight, but I’ll take weight and durability over plastic light garbage any day of the week. Gear get’s beat up and abused, and the Scarlet seems to be built to handle real-life production environments.
MENUS AND SETTINGS – 7.5
Usually when I buy a new camera I spend a day just messing with the settings and menu items over and over again. This allows you to know the menu’s inside and out so when you’re on a shoot and your AC accidentally hits a button and all your shots look flat, you can say “oh, he must have hit the RAW Image button, no problem.”
The Scarlet’s Menu’s are extremely simple and easy to grasp especially if you have past experience with the DSLR’s. The touch screen is pretty neat, but I’ve found I use it less and less lately due to the fact that the side handle is much easier for me. The sensitivity of the screen is fair at best, but the side handle is absolutely awesome, and a must-have. The custom buttons are very nice to set up how you choose, and the feel is just nice. A top handle is mandatory, and I would get a longer EVF cable to mount the touch screen off to the side if you can.
IMAGE AND SHOOTING – 9
Shooting is really a joy with this camera. It really combines all the DSLR things we like (ISO instead if gain, EOS lens compatibility, etc) with a real video camera. I have read a few reviews where people are complaining about the crop factor of the RED, and it should be addressed.
As most know, if you are shooting 4K, vs. 2K, there is a major crop factor. I really LIKE the crop factor. It lets me carry half the glass. I am usually shooting 4K, but say I only have my 70-200, and I want a really punched in look. No problem, I switch to 2K, and bam, I have more like a 600mm lens without having to lug around a $10,000 twenty pound piece of glass that I only wanted to use once that day! I love the crop factor; it just gives me more to work with. Do you get super slow motion? No, and that would be cool…but if I need that, I can rent an Epic for the day.
The latitude is amazing on the Scarlet. I feel absolutely no need to dive into the HDRx mode, and don’t think I’ll ever use it. Twelve stops are plenty for me. The aliasing issue that you find with the DSLR’s are gone, enough said. And the color tones are great. There is no need to shoot super flat anymore (though some still prefer it) and I find in many shots no need for secondary color correction at all.
The low light sensitivity is fair, but nothing to write home about. To be honest, my EX1 shoots better in low light. So if you are shooting a lot in the dark, cosider buying a very fast lens such as a 1.4.
POST-PRODUCTION AND WORKFLOW – 6
(Re-scaling and frame grabs -10)
Okay, here’s the one many will jump on. The workflow is not fast; not even with the Red Rocket. RedcineX is where your footage gets transcoded if you’re editing on FCP, and it does take some time. This doesn’t bother me, as I usually don’t shoot more that I have to. Actually, I hate nothing more than having hours of the same take. I’m a one-and-done kind of guy. But if you shooting style is “keep it rolling” than you’re going to have to change your style…or have a lot of patience. With the Rocket, 1:1, without, a pretty painful 5:1 rendering time. Again, I don’t mind this, and all of us that used to shoot film are not going to have a huge issue with this either. But if you’re used to a camera straight to post workflow, this will annoy you a bit.
Other than the time, RedcineX is pretty cool! I guarantee you that people will be over coloring, and over-stylizing their shots with the ease of RAW, but if you tone it down and don’t over-saturate the crap out of your shots and don’t crush the living hell out of the blacks, you can do a nice 1st light with RedcineX. After that, you will want to use Resolve or Apple Color for your secodaries.
I really love the re-scaling capabilities with RedcineX. They make it very easy to re-scale, and the 4K images makes it possible. This along with the frame-grabbing ease makes the RED worth it right there. Keep in mind; you’re no going to be frame grabbing action shots due to your shutter speeds (unless you are shooting high shutters specifically for photos).
OVERALL – 8.5
Overall, I am extremely impressed with this camera, especially for it’s relatively small price tag. The next competitor is the EPIC or Alexa, which creep into a whole new range of consumer. The Canon mount lets the buyer keep the RED in the sub $20k range, and have a professional camera. Many people forget the cost of PL mount glass. For $5000 I can have a hell of a good range of L-series glass for the Scarlet. Even the low priced CP.2 PL primes are almost $5000 each! And for a wide zoom? Forget it, unless you have at least 10K for a Focus Optics Ruby.
In short, the ease of shooting, the outstanding picture, and the advantages over the DSLR’s make this camera a perfect choice for someone looking to up their production quality. So until the Alexa cuts 70% of it’s price tag, I’ll stick with the RED Scarlet-X.
Just my 2 cents,