Monday, August 25, 2008

Red One Camera Ushers In A New Era

Photo: Old truck by Alan Green

Remember the last time you bought a roll of film? It's a pain, huh. I've been a photographer since I was a kid and film has always been the single most restricting limiting factor I've had to deal with. Cameras and lenses cost a lot but keeping film in my camera would leave me broke. Sometimes, I couldn't afford to buy a roll and would have to forget about my hobby for a while. Those days are over thanks to digital photography. Yes, the cameras cost more than ever but the savings in film more than make up for it. I've shot about 40,000 images (in about 10 months) on the digital camera I'm currently using. Using very conservative estimates (36 exposures per roll x 1000 rolls = 36,000 exposures at a cost of $10 to buy each roll and $10 to process it. That's $20 per roll x 1000), it would have cost me at least $20,000 to buy and process the film needed to shoot that many exposures. That means, back in the day, a pro photog could shoot $20-100k worth of film in a year. Today, the only thing you need to process that many images digitally is a storage card, a computer, and back-up archive storage.

To shoot a movie you need thousands of feet of film, miles of it. Figure in all the costs involved and you spend a pretty penny on film alone. Production of dailies, transfer of negative film to positive film, etc -- costs gobs.

Photo: Red One digital video camera

Enter the Red One digital video camera. This is the first digital video camera capable of producing 'film quality' movies. The Red camera is being used by Steven Soderbergh to shoot 'The Informant' with Matt Damon, and other films have already been shot on Red prototypes. Certain parts of 'Jumper' were shot on one.

Photo: Still from Crossing the Line

This is a still from 'Crossing the Line' which is being shot (at least in part) on Red cameras by Peter Jackson. This shot doesn't have that pasty blocked-up look common to other digital video cameras. The high values in the clouds are particularly clean and there is no noise in the shadows. Skin tones are natural. (There's a bit of subject blur in this still that shouldn't be blamed on the camera).

Here's another still from 'Crossing the Line' which shows off the technical quality of the camera.

Photo: still from Crossing the Line

Click here or the image to see a full-sized file (4096x1743 pixels). The sharpness and resolution rivals what a professional digital still camera can produce, although the tonality is a bit flat. That was never the case for stills from movies shot on film -- they always looked lousy, gritty, horribly grainy, with bad sharpness, and color from another planet.

Here's a section of 'Crossing the Line' that was shot entirely with the Red camera:

Here's the trailer for 'Crossing the Line':

I think it looks great. The image sharpness and tone is better than film. The action doesn't have that jittery look common to digital video -- it's very smooth and 'filmic'. I can't pin down whether 'Crossing the Line' is shot entirely on the Red or not. implies it is, but other sources refer to the movie as being shot in part on the digi-cam.

I've never aspired to be a director but I might make a movie if I could afford a digital camera that produced 'film' quality imagery. (I just can't stomach the thought of shooting a movie on film [thank you, no] and the current crop of consumer digi-cams, although better than ever, do nothing for me.) Right now the cheapest Red costs more than a new Hummer, but the price is coming down quickly. Hopefully, there will be a pro-sumer version within a few years. Alternatively, makers like Canon may be forced to sell higher quality digi-cams at lower prices once the Red hits the consumer market. Until then I'll be saving my pennies.

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