Lights, bytes, action!: The Epic digital camera starts at around $31,000. The camera has become popular among Hollywood directors, but now faces competition from electronics firms like Canon.
The body of the Red camera isn’t much bigger than a professional-sized still camera. All the same, it isn’t as though the cinematographer walks around the movie set with the camera strapped around his neck, snapping pictures like a tourist. A fully configured Red system, with lenses, dollies, and the rest, can be as imposing as a traditional film camera.
But filmmakers say they like to take advantage of Red’s greater portability when they need it. The lower price also means that some crews use multiple cameras. The crew filming The Hobbit in New Zealand is using 48 Red cameras, including models configured for 3-D effects.
Digital cameras can also capture more images per second than standard film, enhancing the image quality. Jackson, who is directing The Hobbit, has said the effect is “like the back of the cinema has had a hole cut out of it where the screen is, and you are actually looking into the real world.”
Digital movie cameras are one of the last steps towards a “film” industry in which actual celluloid film plays no role. Currently, even movies shot on film are usually digitized afterwards, so that editing and effects can be done on computer. The movies are then printed back onto film, and shipped to theaters, most of which still use traditional threaded film projectors.
But theaters are also in the midst of an epic transition to digital projectors, which could allow studios to simply transmit copies of movies to theaters using high-speed Internet connections. Not an ounce of celluloid will be required once big-screen movies are both filmed and projected digitally.
Exact figures on the film vs. digital split in Hollywood moviemaking are hard to come by, but there is little doubt that film’s market is shrinking. Both Kodak and Fuji still sell movie-film stock, but many of Los Angeles’s developing and transfer facilities for film are closing down or consolidating. Executives from film camera companies have been quoted in the trade press as saying they expect 85 percent of moviemaking to be digital a few years from now, but they aren’t making predictions much beyond that.
As a private company, Red won’t reveal information about sales or profits. Clearly, it will need more than an innovator’s head start to remain a leader in what is becoming a very crowded market. Incumbents like Panavision, with deep roots in Hollywood, are busily promoting their digital models, and Sony is active in the market as well. Canon just checked in with a feature-caliber digital system of its own, recruiting no less a figure than Martin Scorsese to sing its praises.
Red will press on, of course. Schilowitz wants to make clear his company is not on any anti-film vendetta, even though its camera had been called the “Panavision killer.” Schilowitz says, “It was never our goal to kill film. Instead, we wanted to evolve it.”