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Industry still high on Red One despite early glitches

Playback Magazine article by: Don Angus
February 18, 2008

Industry enthusiasm for the new tapeless 4K Red One camera continues to grow, tempered by a few initial glitches, including no viewfinder and functions that aren't functional.

Last fall, problems with early models forced Lake Forest, CA manufacturer Red Digital Cinema Camera Company to recall and replace all of the first 100 units delivered in 2007. At that time, Rob Sim, president of rental house Sim Video, had yet to receive any of the 50 Red cameras he had ordered. Back in December, he told Playback that "there have been quite a few serious issues" with the revolutionary imaging device.

Sim Video, based in Toronto with branches in Halifax, Vancouver, Los Angeles and San Francisco, received its first production model early in January, and Rob Sim is now considerably less upset.

The Red One was a star attraction at Sim's annual technology open house Jan. 17, and Sim now says "we are cautiously optimistic about the camera. More and more features have been enabled, and every time they do a software revision, more things work in the camera."

He and technical manager David French listed audio, 2K resolution, time lapse and post-production software as functions that have been rectified. French said that as new releases have come out, the post software has gotten faster and more stable.

Despite the buzz at the open house about the first digital camera capable of 4K image and a 35mm depth of field, Sim said, "We don't intend to start renting the camera for a while" - at least a month or two, and certainly not until there is a viewfinder. French added that "we'll do as much testing as we can," and Sim noted he's had offers from some directors of photography to shoot tests.

Allan Lennox, resident digital cinematography project leader at PS Production Services, said Red has always maintained that it would develop its product in the marketplace.

"I think there are a lot of positive things," Lennox said. "Yes, there have been problems, but we all knew about that. I think [the tapeless camera] is definitely the way of the future."

Playback looked to speak to Red founder Jim Jannard about the camera's delays and problems, only to be told he doesn't do interviews. But in a statement off the Red website, Jannard candidly writes, "Keep in mind that we believe in the dates and timeframes we quote. If we are late, it is not because we tried to trick is because we are revolutionizing an industry and we have never been here before...This declaration should cover hardware, software, and every other thing we are doing."

Toronto DOP Gregor Hagey (Rub & Tug) is sticking by the Red One that his brother Garth, a director and digital intermediate technician, bought at NAB2006 for US$38,000, including lenses and accessories - one of the first in Canada. (The camera alone now sells for US$17,500.)

Gregor and Garth have been shooting commercials and shorts with the camera since October, and Gregor thinks the Red is the greatest thing since, well, film.

He said he likes the many high-tech features of the Red, including the Super 35mm-sized, 12-megapixel imager, tapeless workflow and 4K resolution.

He also likes that "it records to a raw image file, which gives me the most flexibility in post to create the look I need to."

He explained that a raw image file is one that hasn't been processed for use with an edit or color-grading system. It contains metadata about the camera settings - including ISO, white balance, sharpness and contrast - but these settings aren't yet "baked in" to the image.

"A DOP can change his or her mind when the files are being converted for use by the editors, or go back to the raw images for the final color correct," he explained. "This gives the DOP incredible latitude with the image. Traditionally, the big drawback is that raw images are very large."

He added that Red has developed its own wavelet codec to compress the raw file down to 27.5 MB/second, compared to the standard 400 MB/second, allowing the DOP to record to a simple high-speed card.
Nice, but several cinematographers at the Sim open house wondered how many post houses are set up to handle the speed and volume of data the Red can churn out.

"It's a new puzzle," admitted Gregor Hagey after the show. "I think the simplest way to treat [the problem] is to process the digital file and transfer it to HD tape...and that HD tape becomes your master," as is done with film post-production.

"It's a little tricky to go 100 percent tapeless, because most workflows are set up to have a tape [element] in there somewhere." Going tapeless from start to finish, he added, "is not quite worked out yet."