Red cameras encroach on Canon, Hasselblad turf

A high-end video camera maker is expanding into hybrid still and video cameras. But will pro photographers take to cinematography?

The Red cameras come with a lot of not-so-cheap accessories.
The Red cameras come with a lot of not-so-cheap accessories. Red Digital Cinema Camera

Red Digital Cinema Camera, a new maker of high-end digital movie cameras, is expanding its turf closer to traditional camera makers such as Canon and Hasselblad.

On Thursday, Red announced a new range of modular camera designs that it plans to deliver mostly over the coming year and a half that can take not just high-resolution video but also still images. The move comes just as Canon and Nikon have begun adding video support to their SLR (single-lens reflex) cameras.

Red hopes to ship a large-format camera sensor in 2010.
Red hopes to ship a large-format camera sensor in 2010. Red Digital Cinema Camera

Various new models from Red will be able to accept lenses from Canon, Nikon, and Mamiya, a move that could make them a more serious possibility for professional photographers, but the prices--thousands of dollars to tens of thousands--restrict this equipment to a very small market.

Certainly Red's new cameras will never be as widely used as video-enabled SLRs costing less than $3,000. But Red, if it can deliver on its promised road map, holds the potential now of shaking up professional markets. Its original Red One video camera did, winning high-profile accolades from Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson among others for its ability to outdo film.

What's unclear is how well cinematographers used to video will take to still imagery and photographers will take to video, but the two realms are certainly growing ever closer in the consumer market.

High-end sensors
The models come with a variety of high-end sensors: a 24-megapixel chip the size of the 36x24mm full-frame sensors in the top-end cameras from Nikon and Canon; a 65-megapixel 56x42mm sensor competitive with those in medium-format digital cameras; and one large "617" format sensor that measures a whopping 186x56mm and whose 28,000x9,334 pixel resolution comes to 261 megapixels.

Red divides these new camera models into two lines, the more compact Scarlet models and the more powerful Epic models that can reach higher frame rates with high-resolution sensors. Also accompanying are a wide range of cinematography accessories such as a 1,080p LCD video monitor, an input-output module, lens mounts, battery packs, and wireless controllers. One fascinating combination: a harness that sports a pair of cameras for shooting 3D movies.

Red has a line of lenses for its cameras.
Red has a line of lenses for its cameras. Red Digital Cinema Camera

With the models, Red is trying to establish a new category called "digital still and motion cameras" (DSMC). Whether it will succeed with the jargon is anyone's guess, but the technology certainly is coming: Nikon's new midrange D90 became the first SLR camera that can shoot video, too, and Canon's higher-end full-frame EOS 5D Mark II is about to ship.

The 5D Mark II can shoot 1080p video, but Red's cameras record at higher resolutions geared for digital movie projection systems.

One area where digital photography has wrestled with film is in dynamic range--the difference between light and dark areas. With poor dynamic range, dark areas disappear into black murk and bright areas wash out. Red boasts of a wide range, though, with its full-frame, medium-format, and large-format Monstro-brand sensors all producing 16-bit data spanning more than 13 stops of dynamic range. The cameras shoot video or still images using a raw image format that accommodates the data.

The rest of the industry will have time to adapt to Red's arrival. Its first Scarlet models are due in the spring or summer of 2009. The full-frame models--the $12,000 Scarlet FF35 and the $35,000 Epic FF35--are due in the winter of 2009. The medium-format Epic 645 and large-format Epic 617 are due in the spring of 2010.

For fuller details and specifications, check Red's Scarlet and Epic site.

The new Red cameras can be mounted in a double configuration for shooting 3D movies.
The new Red cameras can be mounted in a double configuration for shooting 3D movies. Red Digital Cinema Camera

About the author

Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and covers browsers, Web development, digital photography and new technology. In the past he has been CNET's beat reporter for Google, Yahoo, Linux, open-source software, servers and supercomputers. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces.


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