Scarlet Fever

I have a confession to make. Although I’ve seen plenty of RED ONEs and EPICs on sets and have placed my hands on models at trade shows (when they’re not encased behind glass), I’ve actually never shot with one. As you may know, RED’s long-awaited Scarlet-X has had many starts and stops over the years. It originally was announced back in December of ’09 as a hybrid digital camera system with a 2⁄3-inch sensor that captured 3K resolution. But at the time, the DSLR revolution was well underway, forcing RED back to the drawing board. After a few years—and after the release of the Mysterium-X sensor and the EPIC—the Scarlet-X is finally out.

As you also probably know, the Scarlet-X was announced on the same day as the Canon EOS C300 (literally minutes after Canon’s red carpet premiere at Paramount Studios). For this reason, and because of their similar price point and form factor, the two systems inevitably will be compared. But after shooting with both systems for a few days separately and working with their vastly different workflows, comparing the C300 to the Scarlet-X is like comparing apples to oranges. In short, I believe the Scarlet-X is best designed for the professional filmmaker, who will go that extra mile in delivering a professional-looking image that can be archived for years to come.

A RAW, BUT GOOD DEAL

The great thing about working in the RAW format is that with the exception of setting your exposure and frame rate, most settings in developing your final look (white balance, gamma, ISO settings, etc.) are basically suggestions to RED’s debayering algorithm that processes the image. For some shooters, this is a difficult concept to grasp since it’s counterpoint to many of the principles of traditional cinematography, which is to capture the best-looking image on set in-camera (i.e., working in a Rec. 709 space). But for today’s modern workflow, making adjustments to your image far down the postproduction pipeline is a reality, and more often than not, a cinematographer will no longer be part of the decision-making.

The Scarlet-X contains a 14-megapixel Mysterium-X sensor (5120×2700 resolution)…and can capture 5K stills and 4K motion.

But back to the Scarlet-X. Like the RED ONE and EPIC, the Scarlet-X is a modular camera system—you buy the body, or Brain, and then add a lens mount, a handle, accessories, etc. In terms of tech specs, the Scarlet-X contains a 14-megapixel Mysterium-X sensor (5120×2700 resolution), has a maximum depth of field that’s equivalent to Super 35 and can capture 5K stills and 4K motion. If this sounds familiar (an EPIC-X Brain runs $34,500), it’s because the two cameras are quite similar. For production on the Scarlet-X, RED has a surplus of chips built for the EPIC that have been bought, but for one reason or another, aren’t quite up to specs for the performance that’s needed for the EPIC—mainly on higher frame rates. The ASICs (Application-Specific Integrated Circuits) are essentially free for RED, thus the Scarlet-X has a much lower price point.

One of the most discussed aspects of the Scarlet-X is that RED offers an EF- and/or a PL-mount for the camera. Canon DSLRs, especially the EOS 5D Mark II, have been a real sore spot for RED founder and CEO Jim Jannard, who frequently criticizes the line-skipping technology that DSLRs employ. But Jannard is also a businessman who’s smart enough to realize the number of EF lenses in the marketplace (up to 70 million) and that most indie filmmakers can’t afford to purchase cinema-style PL lenses. This was a good move on RED’s part.

The Scarlet-X Brain runs $9,700, which is basically just the body of the camera. To start your production with a complete camera system (not including lenses), RED offers a Canon EF-mount package for $15,965, which includes the Brain, EF-mount, SSD side module, side handle, 5-inch touch-screen LCD and cables, 2x REDVolt batteries, 1.8-inch 64 GB REDMAG, RED Station, AC power and charger, and a warranty. The equivalent Ti PL-mount package goes for $17,465. The Scarlet package with the Canon mount is priced in line with the C300 and the Sony PMW-F3, but it should be noted that the Scarlet-X is the only camera in that price range that offers both 4K and RAW capture.

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