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The Big Day Arrives!

I am a little tired this morning.  In the wee small hours this morning I was watching a Twitter stream flashing past with hashtags like #C300 and #Scarlet.  This was mixed with a largely fruitless search for any web feeds that were responding with new information.  I finally gave up when the tweets started to get more like #Ihateyouwitheveryfibreofmybeingforlikingthatcamera.  For camera geeks it was their birthday and Christmas all in one day.

So what kind of perspective does a good nights sleep bring and how well did I do in my predictions?  I was a bit hit and miss about the individual cameras as the C300 is more a hybrid of my imagined two models.  The C300 does borrow some tech from the XF305 but we have a brand new form factor.  We do have a choice of EF or PL mounts.  It is a proper fully functional video camera and blissfully free of any regional market foibles.  Its natural rival is the Sony F3, both in functionality and price. This is no convergence device, stills are available but only at 1080p - there is no attempt to use the full 8Mp sensor.  I was right about it not looking like a hair dryer.  It is a very high density body - more in the style of the Epic and FS100 than the more conventional F3.  Time will tell whether Canon have achieved this without the ergonomic eccentricities of the FS100.  

Canon C300

They also came through with cinema prime lenses but at $6800 a lens!  Thats about twice the going rate for a CP2, I guess that pent up demand is going to stay pent up.

New Canon cine primes

There seem to be a lot of people who have had access to this camera during its development including shooters and accessory manufacturers.  I think Canon must have had the NDAs hand delivered by ninjas to keep everything quiet - I didn't see anything even vaguely revealing the form factor on the web.  Everyone said very nice things about it at the launch but they always do.  It doesn't seem like we should have to wait to long before we see reviews in a more neutral environment.  My favourite film from those in the know comes from Mr Laforet (again) check out his blog

There was no respite between the lights dimming on the Canon presentation starting and the fanfares blaring out from RED.  Finally Scarlet is revealed TADA!  Only it isn't Scarlet, this is Scarlet-X.  Its certainly nothing like the camera Ted from RED showed us at the FXPHD live back at NAB.  What it looks like in fact is the Epic S which mysteriously disappeared from the RED roadmap recently.  This is no bad thing as I wasn't seeing a lot of love for the 2/3 chip and fixed lens on the NAB version. What we have instead is a slightly crippled Epic.  To be fair, the term crippled is a bit disingenuous in camera terms.  This is a "Usain Bolt running in brogues" sort of crippled - mere mortals are still only going to see what he looks like from the back in a race. Its so close to the Epic that RED seemed to have dropped the mass manufactured X model and I only see the machined M version listed.

Scarlet-X kit

Choosing to launch head-to-head with the C300 was a canny piece of marketing from RED.  Any other day and they would have faced a mixed press - delight over the spec and some questions over the price.  The promise of 3k for $3k was a long time ago (in camera years at least) but it keeps coming back to haunt them.  They managed to keep the sticker price under $10k and Scarlet is a 4k camera. Any heat they may have taken over the price inflation was completely covered when the C300 was pegged as a $20k camera.  Anyone who prefers a simplistic form of maths or is predisposed to a certain outcome will think "RED cheap, Canon expensive".

Such is the way of price relativism these days.  I would strongly recommend any potential buyer to take a step back and try and gain a sense of perspective before they make any judgments about cameras.   Just a few years ago having a camera capable of mainstream movie production under $20k was almost inconceivable.  The RED One spearheaded a downward trend but we were still a long way from affordable.  Then along came the 5D Mark2 and changed everything.  OK, so a full mainstream movie is a bit of a stretch, but it didn't stop a paradigm shift in peoples pricing expectations.  Suddenly everything else was compared to its $3k price point.  Even entry level "proper" large chip camcorders like the AF100 and FS100 were seen as a bit expensive when they arrived.  There is a reason why DSLRs are so cheap - they are subsidised.  They are subsidised by a group of people called photographers who buy them to take stills with.  Crazy idea I know, but there are a lot of them out there.  If you want to buy something that is primarily a video camera then you are restricting yourself to a much smaller pond and forsaking the economies of scale of the convergence devices.

So concentrating on large chip video cameras where do we stand?  We seem to now have 3 distinct sectors and I am going to go with UK ex VAT pricing for consistency.  We have the entry level cameras like the FS100 and Af100 which are about £3500 body only.  We have a mid-range with Scarlet, F3 and C300 in the £10-15000 range and then a big step up to the Epic, Alexa and F65 which are in the "if you have to ask you cant afford it" range.

The most interesting battle ground is the middle one.  I must admit that the F3 really impressed me in the Zacuto shoot out.  Only the Alexa consistently out pointed it to my eye and not by much. Its "old-school" EX body is a bit big and clunky for someone coming off DSLRs but battle tested and with all the pro bells and whistles.  To get the very best out of it though you do need to invest in some extras to record off-board, but you can use it straight away with HDCAM.  So how does the C300 stack up against the F3?  Well for someone who started with a 5D2 very well.  I have lots of nice EOS lenses and nothing else.  This is not a good place to start from with an F3.  If you go through a list of weaknesses with a DSLR the C300 checks every box:  sound recording, monitoring, clean out, SDI, ND, XLR, codec, remote operation - all there.  It also keeps all the DSLR strengths of low light performance, compactness and inexpensive media.  The big exception of course is that it is of no interest to photographers - so no subsidy.

So that leaves the Scarlet.  Like the C300 it comes with an EF mount option, RED even seem to be squeezing a bit more from the Canon mount than Canon.  On sticker price alone the Scarlet ducks under the £10k barrier but the basic option is not really useable unless you already have an Epic in your camera collection.  Take due consideration of the traditional RED appetite for power and media and a workable kit is inline with its competitors.  It is, however, just a fraction of the price of an Epic M and what has been taken away is far less remarkable than whats has been left in.  That must make it a bargain then.

The spec sheet and the RED Faithful would make you think this was "Game Over" and I am not saying they don't have a case.  Canon may talk 4k about the C300 but 2k of that goes missing in the signal processing.  RED outguns the Canon with RAW, HDRx and faster frame rates.  The RED UI with the touch screen always looked slick in the demos and we are yet to see much on the Canons control system.  There is a catch to all this tech though and that is complexity.  I saw one tweet rather unkindly implying the RED was a "science project".  I prefer to think of it like an F1 car.  On a F1 car you can adjust everything to extract the ounce of track performance, but you need some new skills and some powerful workflow to achieve this.  An F1 car is pretty useless though when you need to go down to the shops for a pint of milk.  I got the impression from the Canon launch materials that their focus has been to deliver great performance effortlessly.  I struggle with this part because the geek side of me yearns for all that RED tech, whilst my sensible side of me says that the Canon would be better for my kind of use.

In fact my sensible side also points out that my 5D is better for my kind of use than either of them and that I should spend more time catching up on editing than surfing on camera sites and blogs.  It goes on to say that my stuff would stand a better chance of improving if I shot more and researched less.  I don't think I am really that fond of my sensible side. 

But what was THAT…in that keynote slide…a DSLR with a new red badge…thats my perfect camera right there…I wonder what it does?

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Reader Comments (1)

I think I may have been premature about the Epic X. I now think this is off the website as its not in general availability, they are still working through the RED One owners who want to upgrade.

November 8, 2011 | Registered CommenterAndrew Howe

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