November 04, 2011

Red turns Scarlet into low-cost Epic

Red Digital Cinema has finally introduced its long-awaited Scarlet, low-cost digital cinema camera. The Scarlet-X will record 4K video from 1-30 frames per second, and also shoot stills in burst modes of up to 12fps at full 5K resolution, so that photographers and cinematographers can simultaneously capture motion and stills.

Scarlet-X has a compact, modular design, like the high-end Epic, and will cost from $9,750 if ordered before December 31st for Brain (sensor unit), Side SSD and Canon aluminium mount (with auto-focus support). In 2012 the price will be $9,700 for the Brain only. Scarlet-X with a Ti PL mount (add $1,500) will begin shipping November 17th. The Canon mount version begins shipping December 1st.

The two mounts can be swapped easily using Scarlet-X’s interchangeable lens mount system. Panavision, Anamorphic, and Nikon lenses are also compatible with the camera.

When Scarlet had been talked about initially, it was supposed to have a 2/3-inch sensor and be about a third of the price announced now. "A 2/3-inch sensor is not big enough. The world has moved past small sensors and low resolution," said Red's founder, Jim Jannard. "Think of Scarlet-X as Epic's little sister." All Epic Modules will work on Scarlet-X. "Everything in the Epic/Scarlet system is interchangeable."

It uses the Mysterium-X S35 sensor, and has a data rate of up to 55MBps (440Mbps), recording Redcode Raw. Epic costs a lot more ($58,000 for a production kit), but lowering the data rates and processing power (which will also extend battery life), enabled them to keep Scarlet's price low (about half that of Canon's new EOS C300). "ASICs that weren't fast enough for Epic, just became a gold mine for Scarlet. This, and board component reduction, allows us to lower the data rate throughput and significantly reduce our costs over volume," explained Jannard.

However, it does have consequences for recording high dynamic range shots, which it does at lower resolutions/frame rates than Epic, but that could change. "We are working on a future version of HDRx with modified compression to enable this possibility. It will be a firmware upgrade and free," said Jannard. HDRx can give it up to 18 stops of dynamic range.

Scarlet-X can be upgraded to the new Dragon sensor when it is released in the second half of 2012. "However the upgrade will be more expensive than upgrading an Epic due to the necessity to change several primary boards. There will still be data rate limitations to Scarlet after the upgrade as compared with Epic," he said.

"We will continue to add features as time goes on, some of which were never expected. Scarlet-X feature additions and improvements will happen simultaneously with Epic," and be available as free upgrades.

Some things will be in short supply initially, such as Side Handles, Redmote and the electronic viewfinder, but "any delay in Scarlet is most likely to be caused by the Canon aluminium mount," he revealed. It is likely to be February before all of the items are in good supply.

By David Fox.

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