High class:Red Digital’s first camera model, the Red One, has already found its way into the production of major Hollywood films, despite being released only late last year.
But it’s the high video resolution that’s most intriguing to photographers: it should enable users to take frame grabs straight from video recordings with at least five megapixels of resolution–more than twice as high as those possible with most of today’s high-end camcorders.
That’s helping interest photographers outside the newspaper world, who need that higher quality. Robin Balas, a commercial photographer and photography teacher in Norway and a frequent participant in online photography forums, says the Scarlet could give him more spontaneity in the way he works, allowing him to film models or wedding participants in action instead of forcing them to pose, for example. “Scarlet would be even better than Red One, since it’s lighter, and a lot less expensive,” Balas says. “The resolution is good enough for what I have in mind.”
And Scarlet’s announced use of the raw image format, which is minimally compressed and thus offers more flexibility, has also piqued the interest of professional photographers. Most high-end handheld camcorders record data in compressed formats.
Yet, excitement over the Scarlet is not unalloyed. On the Red online user forum, potential buyers have sharply questioned some of the company’s design decisions, particularly plans for a fixed rather than interchangeable lens, a feature that might also dissuade professional still photographers.
Company executives have reacted somewhat defensively to the criticism.
“This is a camera that can be sold in large quantities and deliver pro performance at the same time,” Jannard wrote on the company’s user forums. “Interchangeable lenses means a different product that will sell in limited quantities…which means a higher price. Much higher.”
Balas notes that the Scarlet’s two-thirds-inch image sensor, while large for a camcorder, cannot provide the tight focus or depth of field adjustment delivered by a professional-grade digital single-lens reflex (SLR) camera, which uses a larger image sensor. Other professionals remark that very high-end still cameras now offer as much as 21 megapixels–a level still far beyond the reach of video cameras.
Aside from any technological limitations, there’s also the matter of the inherent differences between filmmaking and still photography. Many photographers say that the process of shooting video is simply different from creating still images, a reality that limits the possibility of any true convergence.
“In still photography, one is stalking moments–you line up a shot and wait for the elements to converge,” says Miami Herald multimedia producer Chuck Fadely, whose paper has also begun publishing HD-video-frame grabs. “In video, you’re assembling a chronology and moments mean little…. You can’t just go shoot video and expect to get good still photos from it after the fact.”
Yet, at least from a technological perspective, the two mediums are undeniably coming together, and Red Digital appears to be leading the pack in more ways than one.
Toronto-based filmmaker Gregor Hagey, one of the earliest owners of the Red One, calls his camera, “essentially a digital SLR on steroids,” and says that its raw data output has forced him to analyze environmental features such as light and exposure more like a still photographer than a filmmaker. “You get a much better understanding if you dive into the professional digital SLR world and understand how they’re working with the same technology,” Hagey says. “I think there’s more and more crossover between cinematographers and still photographers, given how the technology is evolving.”