With the announcement of the price list and the looming release of the first RED cameras, we speak to Ted Schilowitz, Leader of the Rebellion at the RED Digital Cinema Company about NAB, RED CODE RAW, the various options you can buy for the camera as you start planning for a 4k workflow.
It was said to be impossible, unachievable, and it was said it would be delayed at best, – but with the first RED cameras to be shown at NAB and distributed shortly after, – never underestimate a small well funded team who believe they are going to change the world. In this weeks podcast we work through the logic of each of the newly announced camera options with company Leader Ted Schilowitz. In the 30 minute interview he gives a candid opinion of what options represent the best value for the money and how the camera works with the various lens options, the RED lens and the B4 and stills lens mounts.
Not since the Apple Mac has a product in the post and production workspace had such a cult following. In many respects RED is the first company to harness the power of social networking and user communities to sell a product into broadcast and production. Announcing their plans just a short 11 months ago, RED has set itself up as an underdog out to bring full quality digital cinematography to the masses.
A year ago when it was first outlined, two things struck a cord with DOPs and production : 4K at $17,500. When the smoke cleared, and the first RED Tent was closing at NAB, hundreds of cameras would have been pre-ordered, by this week the number was close to 1500 cameras.
Only this month, could the reality of the cost of ownership finally be calculated as the prices of additional pieces of the camera became publicly available. While the camera will produce 4K images, without a lens, a viewfinder, a screen, even a power supply, or any way to record a frame – $17,500 does not maketh a working camera. The weakness of RED is also its greatest strength. And to understand that fully you need to look at the fundamentals of what a RED is.
RED is not a video camera nor a film camera, as both of these are defined by their recording media and the base RED has no recording media as standard. Most cameras are either film or tape. If not they are a remote head that feeds a signal back to a video recording device. It is this one fundamental point that makes a very serious design constraint to the function of any modern camera. Frames per second and resolution are all defined not by the camera but by the recording media. If the recording media is only 16mm – then the resolution you can get and the rate you can pulldown the small pieces of plastic backed emulsion have physical upper limits. If the recording media is a video tape recorder the effects are even more constrained. It does not matter how good your sensor or how fast it can produce data, the camera is defined by how fast the recording media can write to moving tape.
RED by removing the recording media from the camera, was able to say we’ll run as fast and as high resolution as the sensor can go, and then we’ll work out where to put the data. As anyone who has ever done a tape backup will know, high capacity tape media is slow compared to hard discs or flash memory. Once you allow the camera to max out at the sensor end of the equation without regard to recording formats, it becomes relatively easier to make a 60fps 4K camera. But the benefits don’t stop there. If you no longer have to gaffer tape a professional $60,000 video tape recorder to the back of your camera – you can make the camera body much cheaper. If you further remove almost every other item – lens, power supply, view finder etc, then a sensor in a camera body becomes cheap to make, $17,500 cheap.
For those early adopters who perhaps failed to fully grasp that their base camera could not even be plugged in for $17,500 – all pre NAB pre-sale customers get a $2,500 gift certificate to the RED store, to help them buy power supplies and viewfinders. This $2,500 is per camera and goes a long way to reducing the cost of ownership for early adopters.
But does this modular design make the RED camera any less valuable, or any less revolutionary? The answer is no, the opposite is true. RED is a tapeless modular design that is freed up from being a one format, one trick pony. As the P2 camera has shown – people can happily film high end images and store them on data cards, so long as there is capacity and reliability. RED is free to record out to any media that someone can work out how to connect up. It’s capacity – (frame rate and resolution) will be defined by the sensor and not the media, thus the tail no longer wags the dog. RED now has options published to allow you to fit a range of FLASH DRIVES, – RED RAM, RED FLASH (CF) or RED SATA FLASH and/or 320 Gigabyte HARD DRIVES
The problem identified by the RED designers from the outset, is that 4K at high frame rates is such a jump – few will have the bandwidth or capacity to store the data stream. This could have been its Achilles heel. So what if I get 4K at high frame rates -” I have no where to store it and it’s too slow to work with!”. People have already joked about the use of a 32GB Flash media option – when the frame rate and Resolution of the Camera is so high. This is where the depth of the RED plan really shines, and we predict could possible be the thing that makes or breaks RED. The format RED CODE RAW.
If you think of the RED camera as a giant digital still camera taking 11.5 Megapixel stills up to 60 times a second sustained, then it is easy to think of working in RAW mode, where the images you finally get are the RAW files from the camera and not some pre-existing media format. We are all used to this concept with a digital still camera. Get a JPEG happy snap or a CANON RAW file which has much more range and has not had white balance and other filtering applied. The RED camera does have this option for an additional $6,500 – Almost one third again the cost of the base camera, but it is not the price that causes RED to think the option will be unpopular, it is a third option that sits between the CAMERA RAW option and some compressed video format like HD-SR (which is 1920×1080 2x compression) . The third option is RED CODE RAW. For sure it is a confusing name – sounds too much like RED RAW, – but this codec is the “secret” or increasingly “not so secret” weapon of the RED Digital Camera Company. RED CODE RAW is a file format – native to the RED Camera that will produce professional ‘virtually’ uncompressed, high quality – keyable – 4K images – at extremely manageable data rates. It allows a 1GB storage device to hold 40sec of full resolution 4K RED CODE RAW material. So a 320 GB dive will hold around 200 minutes of your footage. To be fair the company has been mentioning this from the outset, but not everyone believed the team could pull it off.
In a screening in LA, material was shown projected as CAMERA RAW 4K, via a Sony 4K projector, a single shot was then shown again as RED CODE RAW and according to Ted Schilowitz the audience was left stunned when they were told the later was compressed. The real world acceptance of RED CODE RAW will be the pivotal aspect of RED at NAB. Will RED CODE RAW be accepted as a production standard? If it is, then making Non-linear Editors (NLE) that will cut and online 4K is doable with current computer generation hardware. If not then most people will need to immediately down res any RED footage to a more manageable HD resolution to use it.
The RED CODE RAW will be the center codec of a program to be shown at NAB which will allow RED CODE RAW to be converted to most other popular Codecs such as quicktime. This program is intended to be free to RED camera owners but it is unclear if post-production companies and professionals will need to buy it – or it will be free.
At NAB fxguide will review the new software, RED CODE RAW and discuss the workflow options for visual effects and editing with the RED TEAM – as part of our daily NAB Podcasts. We will also be interviewing Ted Schilowitz again about the new announcements from the show, and which other equipment manufacturers have adopted RED CODE RAW workflows.
For a discussion of all the RED CAMERA options listen to this week’s pod cast where Ted Schilowitz explains each option and how to configure your RED camera for your needs.
Disclaimer: Fxphd.com (our sister training site) is on the pre-sale list for a RED camera, as it will be providing RED training.
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