ethics statement: my opinion is my own. I have never been under contract with any camera manufacturer nor will I. Impartiality is key. Without it then what is the point in writing something like this? These are my thoughts. My experiences and always take them as such. Never base any purchasing decision on one single person’s opinion!
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I feel this is a really important blog post, as I am reading in so many places some worryingly ill-informed comments from people. It’s less worrying when it’s about a GH2 or T2i that cost less than $1k, but when we are talking about AT LEAST 10 times that I think it’s important that I put down my thoughts about this exciting new camera that is perfect for some but not for all…The Scarlet is now out in the big wide world, so it’s about time I wrote this!
First off, and this is the biggie: Buying a Scarlet is NOT going to make you a better filmmaker. It is NOT going to make your camerawork any better. It WILL cost you more than many of you think, financially. So I just want to put down the facts on paper, so you can make a better informed choice and I also want to give my opinions…less important than facts but maybe worth listening to! These facts are gathered from my own experience as a RED Epic owner for the past 5 months…
First off I love my Epic. The images out of it are so beautiful. I also swear at my Epic more than I have ever cursed another camera…why? Because it goes wrong. The reliability is not the same as any other camera I have owned. Nothing close. But, this is expected (and effin annoying!). The Epic is effectively a BETA camera. When you buy this you need to know this. It’s constantly getting better and improving. In the latest Beta firmware we finally have HDMI working (but not at the same time as the SDI, one or the other. This will change) An alpha release yesterday gave us something essential…playback. BUT it is alpha, so no way am I using this on a shoot. But from my little bit of fiddling with it, I am impressed. Looks great and you can trim and delete clips now. This makes the camera so much better!
So, what is the Scarlet? Well it is not what we were expecting. 2/3″ is gone, now we have an Epic without most of the bells and whistles.
Below is the list of specs…thanks to Phil Holland for these…
So…unlike the Epic, the Scarlet is really a 4k camera, not 5k. 5k can only be achieved at 12 fps..pretty useless for shooting to be blunt, so you lose out on the APS-H sized sensor goodness. That’s ok…most older PL lenses cannot cover that frame anyway, and EF-S lenses cannot either. At 4k you can record up 25p. That’s OK. 4k is about S35 sized and 24p and 25p are the most important frame rates…but no useable HDR-X here (the ability to record 2 streams to capture extra highlight information). You will only get 12FPS in HDRx at 4k.
Our first usable off-speed is at 3k. We can record up to 48Fps. Now remember, there is no downscaling. This is all done via cropping as you can see above. So 3k is effectively more “zoomed in” than 5k. Your lenses’ field of view will be longer. The more common up to 60FPS can only be achieved via 2k mode which is a 3.24x crop of a full frame sensor. To get the rather yummy 120FPS, we are talking a lower than even 720p resolution of 1k. Not great.
This will change as the quality is improving, but currently the 2k on my Epic is rather ugly. Very blocky looking noise. I wonder what the quality of the 1k will be.
For comparison, this is what my Epic does. The Epic is a lot more money. The body only is almost 3 times the price of the Scarlet body.
5k FF up to 96Fps, HDRx 48FPS,
5K 2.4:1 up to 120FPS. HDRx up to 60dps
3K (with new firmware) up to 150FPS. HDRx I assume up to 75FPS
2K up to 300 FPS
So the EPIC does a lot more frame rates, a lot more high speed, has usable 5k and usable HDRx. Quite a lot that the Scarlet doesn’t do. But of course it doesn’t. If the Scarlet came close to these specs then why would you buy an Epic? The differences are rather huge. So on that note, as a Scarlet user are you being short changed? No, it’s still a sub $20k (with bits) 4k 24p camera that shoots RAW. So it’s still very good, just don’t expect to do much usable, if any off-speed stuff with it.
Now what do you get for your money? The sub $10k price is attractive, but in reality what can you do with it? Nothing. It’s a paperweight. With no recording media, no power supply, no batteries, no cards, no screen it can not even turn on! So what do you need to make the camera work? Well the $14k EF version or the $15.5K PL version contains the bare minimum to get you started.
SSD side module
Side handle (essential to hold the red volts and to change menus)
5″ touch screen
2 Red Volts (which will give you no much more than 20-25 minutes of on time each. EDIT I am hearing reports that the Scarlet lasts 35minutes in standby which is better)
1 64gb Redmag (which will give you about 35 or so minutes of record time give or take depending on compression)
Red Station for reading the mags
Red Volt Travel charger.
Is this enough to shoot with…just…barely. Two Red volts that take 25 minutes to discharge and 2 hours + to charge is not great, although you do have an AC adaptor which I didn’t even get with my Epic M package!
To be honest on all my Epic shoots I have come close to filling up all 4 of my 128gb SSD cards, never running out, but close. If I shot a feature doc on them for sure I would run out, unless I compressed the redcode to the max. Each one of those cards costs $1800. Yes, you don’t need that many for some shoots, but unless you have someone on hand to offload for you during the shoot, you are playing with fire not having enough cards. It will grind your production to a halt and cost you time!
4 of those cards is almost $8000!!! That has bumped the price up rather!!
If you run JUST on Red Volts, which I do sometimes, and no AC then you will burn through those batteries like crazy. I have 12 of them which will JUST get me through the day. V mount batteries with ViewFactors V mount adaptor is the most cost effective solution. That is $700 but my IDX batteries power my EPIC for WAYYYY longer than a Red Volt. Still they are not cheap either, nor are the good chargers. Just remember 12 Red Volts=$2340 and that is without extra chargers.BTW I love the full metal jacket cage feature below. It’s fab and adds so many important mounting points to the camera.
Now we are talking, this is enough to do a PROPER days shoot on location. It’s not $10k anymore, nowhere near, it’s a hell of a lot more. I don’t want to scare you with the cost so please do the maths yourself!
You don’t need all the cards if you have someone to offload, but be really careful if you go down that path. Those cards take an age to offload! Firewire 800 (obviously faster with Esata) will take around 90 minutes to offload to two drives with my MBP (NEVER offload to just one,two is bare minimum…I recommend 3)…There is a reason the M package comes with 4!! It’s always a worrying thing to do format cards in the middle of a shoot. If you are doing it yourself. Best to get it a dedicated person to do that if you are going down that road…
OK…price out of the way. Why do you want 4k? Future proof? Future proofing is a cool argument if you are shooting a movie, but really? I see no future proofing needed for my work. For me I love the resolution. The ability to re-frame is a great “get out of jail free” card. Also the ability to grab frame grabs which are as good as proper stills is amazing. Downsides? Workflow. Not using a RedRocket card or a crazy specced up PC means LONG conversion times and I mean long. I had one project which was 4 cards take around 3.5 days on my MacBook Pro to convert to ProResHQ (all full debayer 2k 300 fps stuff). I now have a Mobile Red Rocket which is big, bulky and expensive (around $6.5k) and it gives me lovely fast conversion…Just at a cost. Are you watching 4k at home? No…it’s a long way off. Full HD looks amazing and is more than adequate for most work. After all, most scripted TV shows are being shot on the 2k Alexa right now and they look rather splendid!
Re-Framing is cool but must NOT be seen as a way to be a lazy cinematographer. Just because you can do a tight shot crop in post from a wide does not mean you should not get proper coverage. GET THE TIGHT SHOT OPTICALLY! It looks better. Don’t do it and it’s just a downhill slope!
One other thing…the Scarlet is not killer in low light. When it gets the (paid for) upgrade to the Dragon chip maybe next year it will be, until then the chip is old tech first seen in the RED ONE MX update, which is already showing it’s age. It’s great at what it does, it is just not good in low light. Push it past 1250 ISO and you will get a lot of noise. Not surprising given its age and the amount of pixels it has. Until the Dragon remember, the Scarlet, like the Epic is a camera that needs to be lit for. Don’t shoot like you would with your 5DmkII. It needs a lot more light than that, and compared to the F3 it is way inferior.
BUT it does shoot RAW, and once you have worked with RAW you don’t want to work with anything else. I love it. I love the power and flexibility. I just wish it could see more in low light! Pushing the ISO past 800 in the camera is the same as pushing exposure in post. Everything from 800 upwards adds noise…Remember that!!
Who are you and what will this camera give you?
The ability to charge more than with your current camera? Probably, though while it is a RED, it will be seen by clients as the cheap RED, and there will be a lot of them on the market in a few months. This is one popular camera!
But what are you? Are you a production company? A DP? Looking for rental? If you are a production company, I can see a lot of value in this… as a freelance DP, I would not recommend it for all. Renting is far better…and that gets us onto the question of buying one for rent…this will be like the RED one market over-saturation that we had when that came out…maybe even worse. So don’t buy this camera with just rental in mind. Just my opinion.
So all in all, is this the camera for you? Possibly. Weigh up the pros and cons and the costs especially. Working with the Epic is a dream and a massive pain in the butt that almost always pays off in the end. Despite having 3 shoots which have had huge issues with my Epic. Total lockdown on my first commercial, had to be sent back. BAD skipped frames on “Host” making sync a nightmare. On my last piece done for fun, the Redneck Hippie, buzzing all over the audio. I still love the camera and will continue to shoot with it a lot. But this is the first time in 23 years of shooting that I have gone on a job with a camera that I don’t trust. I worry about how reliable the Scarlet will be. I really hope the all the issues will be ironed out so nobody goes through what I have gone through.
My F3…how many times has it gone wrong? Never. How many issues have I had? None.
All I can say is: look at your desire and need for 4k…do you need it now? Is it REALLY necessary? I think the Scarlet has a lot of limitations on it which is fine considering its price, but it’s the price part that is the issue. It is a RED Epic in all but recording frame rates. All the same accessories, same body, same chip (although not as good QC). All the bits you need for the expensive Epic you need for the cheaper Scarlet, and they cost the same price as they work across both cameras.
You may decide to just go with the the bundle and work your way from there. Just remember that you will have to spend more money, a lot more, sooner rather than later.
I honestly don’t think it’s the best camera for everyone. If the C300 was half the price it is, I would say to all go get that, but it isn’t (although to be honest I have not shot on it yet, so am speculating and just going from what I saw).
Remember what I said at the start. It won’t make you shoot any better!!
I will leave you with some of work with my EPIC. I do love that image!
EDIT: I want to address a comment that has come up. Someone wants to use their Ki-Pro mini instead and save on media, but to be honest I don’t see the point…you don’t get the two key selling points of the Scarlet when outputting SDI to the KiPro. No RAW, no 4k. So you get a nice ProRes workflow from a 13.5 stop dynamic range camera, which as I said does not perform well in low light. Doesn’t make much sense to me. Better off going the F3, S-Log route. Better low light, Log recording, 14 stop DR and cheaper…just sayin’. If you get the Scarlet to make the most of it you must record internally…
EDIT: I have cancelled my order for a RED Scarlet.