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Beta Sight: Red Digital Cinema Red One

Steve Tammi of the 4K Ninjas readies the Red Digital Cinema Red One camera system with a waterhousing for some surf cinematography.

I have been shooting with the Red Digital Cinema Red One Camera for almost six months now. Although I have been asked to write about my first impression of the camera, it is important to realize that shooting with the Red One camera is a continuous progression of first impressions. New camera accessories, firmware, and production software have been released on a continual basis since I’ve taken delivery of my camera. Unlike other camera companies, Red Digital Cinema plans to continually upgrade and refine the original cameras — a welcome change to the usual cycle of purchasing new cameras every few years and sending the old model to the auction block or shelf to collect dust. With that in mind, let’s talk about what the last six months of first impressions have been like.

On Friday Aug. 31, 2007, at Red Digital Cinema corporate headquarters in Lake Forest, Calif., the company held an event — Red Day — to deliver the first 25 customer cameras. I was there to pick up camera number 17. After a morning of learning about the camera, workflow, and company philosophy, the time came. Fresh out of the box, it was unlike any camera body I had seen before. About 12″×10″×6″, the Red was about the size of a shoebox and weighed just more than 10lbs. My immediate impression was how light and compact it was for a camera that would be producing 4K images. My second thought was about how bare the camera body looked.

Without any handles or pads designed into the body, the roughly rectangular shape has a combination of large radius edges, rounded corners, and elegantly styled blends and chamfers that make the camera body slippery to hold right out of the box. It might seem a bit awkward a first, but by Red not integrating some sort of handheld package directly into the camera body, as is the case with many ENG cameras, you gain a lot of freedom in the configuration possibilities of the Red camera. This allows you to shoot the way you want to shoot, a design paradigm you will really appreciate.

Configuring the camera to shoot handheld, tripod, jib, Steadicam, or whatever requires that accessories be added to the camera body to create the necessary mounting points. Initially, the assembly process seemed a bit daunting because there were many accessories available and several configurations possible. But after performing the assembly for the first time and getting over the newness of it all, the concept clicked, and it was easy to envision the possibilities.

Directly from the store there are accessories for adding a 19mm rod system to the top and bottom of the camera. To add attachment points, add Red universal mounts, side handles, and handheld handles to the 19mm rod system. Additionally, the universal mounts and side handles are peppered with 1/4-20 threaded holes for mounting just about anything. If that isn’t enough, you still have top handles, a cheese plate, shoulder mount, and various battery-plate options to add to the mix. And if you already have an investment in camera equipment, such as matte box and follow focus based on a 15mm rod system, you can add either an Arriflex 15mm base or 15mm adapter from Red’s accessory choices.

Lots of accessories are available for the Red Digital Cinema Red One camera, which leads to many configurations. It is daunting at first, but after the first assembly, it is easy to imagine the possibilities.

The choices don’t end with the accessories available directly from Red. A plethora of high quality Red-centric accessories have sprung up since the arrival of the Red One camera. A quick visit to accessories section of will give you a pretty good roundup of what is available now or in the near future. If all that doesn’t load your tool box with enough flexibility to adapt to any situation, you can also add your choice of digital recording media — CompactFlash or hard drive — and soon-to-be-released lens adapters for Nikon, Canon, and B4 lenses.

In the past six months, adding or removing accessories has enabled the camera to be conveniently rigged for Steadicam, jib, car mount, shoulder mount, handheld, underwater housing, helicopter mounts and, of course, attached to a tripod. The Red One camera has proved itself to be a true chameleon when it comes to rigging — adaptingeasily to fit the environment and performing very well.

I think it is important to note that even though the Red One camera body can be purchased for $17,500, a nicely accessorized Red One can run in the neighborhood of $25,000 to $30,000. This does not include other big-ticket items such as glass, camera support, matte box, or follow focus. If you are new to purchasing pro gear, be prepared for the expense — but also realize that purchasing a Red One camera is an incredible deal compared to purchasing and outfitting many other professional cameras offered on the pro market.

Steve Tammi is a member of the 4K Ninjas, a group of independent professionals skilled in the use of the Red One 4K camera system and offering complete camera-package rentals combined with broadly experienced on-set camera technicians.