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More Than 4K for a Little More Than $5K

With Raven, did RED reinvent imaging again?

In 2006, RED Digital Cinema’s announcement of the RED ONE had a huge impact on the filmmaking community. Instead of renting a Panavision or ARRI digital cinema camera package, why not own a high-end 4K digital camera system and rent it out when not in use? The camera created a new marketplace of professional shooters looking for a better ROI. The first 25 RED ONE models shipped in September 2007.

In 2010, RED began shipping its first DSMC (Digital Stills and Motion Camera) system, which, when used in conjunction with RED’s postproduction workflow software REDCINE-X, gave users a single camera capable of shooting high-resolution video and exporting high-resolution stills (at multiple frames per second) good enough for print. DSMC cameras are modular in nature. Camera modules may be added to extend functionality. The first models in the DSMC line were Scarlet and EPIC with Mysterium-X sensors.

A lot has changed since the release of the RED ONE, especially in the low-budget filmmaking market. We’ve seen the release of the Canon EOS 5D Mark II and GoPro HERO, as well as handheld gimbals and drones that have given shooters the ability to create professional looking images at a fraction of the cost. Today, online video sharing sites like YouTube and Vimeo have become dominant platforms for indie film, especially 4K content.

Close-up of the RED Weapon 4.7-inch LCD Touch

Announced in late 2015, RED Raven is one of the newest members of RED’s DSMC2 line of cameras and is targeted at emerging pro shooters such as indie filmmakers, event videographers and web shooters. The 3.5-pound box-shaped camera delivers access to the Dragon sensor in RED’s lightest and most compact camera to date. Scarlet’s 4.5K Dragon sensor can record 4.5K REDCODE RAW (R3D) files at up to 120 fps. With a retail price of $5,950 (Brain only), Scarlet is also RED’s least expensive camera. I recently got a chance to visit RED’s headquarters in Irvine, Calif., where I was introduced to Raven.

Instead of optical devices, today’s modern digital cameras are more like networking devices—essentially computers with a lens mount. Operating the 4.7-inch touchscreen LCD on Raven feels more like using a smartphone or tablet.

Raven contains a 9.9-megapixel Dragon sensor that, at 23.04mm x 10.8mm, is slightly smaller than APS-C. The maximum image area of the sensor is 4608 x 2160 and RED claims more than 16.5 stops of latitude.

In terms of frame rates, Raven captures up to 120 fps at 4K Full Frame and 4.5K, up to 150 fps at 3K Full Frame and up to 240 fps at 2K Full Frame.

RED Raven Maximum Frame Rates

The big difference between Raven and RED’s upcoming Scarlet-W ($9,950) is that Scarlet-W can capture 5K and tops out at 60 fps at 5K. The Scarlet-W also has an interchangeable lens mount, an interchangeable OLPF (optical low-pass filter), and is upgradable to Weapon, while Raven has an EF mount only and a fixed OLPF.

RED Raven Base I/O Package

With more than 100 million EF lenses out in the world—from consumer still lenses to professional cine-style zooms—it’s a good bet that the majority of shooters have access to a few EF lenses. RED employing an EF mount on Raven definitely aims the camera at DSLR users—in particular Canon shooters who want to step up and shoot with a true digital cinema camera with video features including peaking, zebras, waveform and false color.

RED offers a number of OLPFs that sit in front of the Dragon sensor to maximize its strengths, including ones that are optimized for low-light environments, skin tones, infrared and underwater shooting. (There are currently four OLPF models for DSMC2 cameras and seven OLPF models for DSMC cameras.)

Instead of swapping out OLPFs like you do with the Weapon or Scarlet-W, Raven contains an integrated OLPF that reportedly sits in between the Low Light Optimized OLPF and Skin Tone-Highlight OLPF in terms of ISO sensitivity and highlight/shadow detail.

RED Raven Jetpack Package

One recent feature available in all of RED’s latest cameras is the capacity to capture ProRes and REDCODE RAW simultaneously. Although REDCODE RAW is the preferred format, Raven will record high-quality, edit-ready HD ProRes 422 HQ, ProRes 422 and ProRes 422 LT up to 60 fps. RED recently announced that Avid DNxHR and DNxHD recording formats will be supported on all DSMC2 cameras in mid-2016 via a free firmware update. RED’s support of these intermediate formats is beneficial to shooters who are not yet familiar with how to process R3D files in REDCINE-X or have no immediate use for 4K.

At first glance, the compact Raven has a similar form factor to the original Scarlet, but Raven has a cleaner design, with cable-free attachments. There’s both 3G-SDI and HDMI outputs for monitoring, as well as 1080p RGB output with DSMC2 expander modules. With a Zeiss Milvus prime lens attached to the review unit, the Raven had the appearance of an old-school medium format camera.

Like all RED cameras, Raven offers the ability to apply different compression rates to REDCODE RAW files. Typically for theatrical productions, cinematographers capture lower compression rates of 5:1 or 6:1. For television, it’s usually around 8:1. For the web, which typically uses compressed H.264 or VP9 codecs, it’s safe to shoot at a high 10:1 or 11:1 rate. Doing so should offer more storage space on your RED Mini-Mags, which are available in 120 GB, 240 GB, 512 GB and 1 TB sizes. Prices of Mini-Mags range from $850 for 120 GB to $3,900 for 1 TB.

Raven is a modular camera system that’s designed to allow shooters to use many of the same monitoring options from previous systems, including the RED Weapon 7-inch LCD Touch and RED Weapon 4.7-inch LCD Touch. With Weapon LEMO adapter, Raven may be operated with other RED LCD/EVFs.

Because of its compact size and low weight, Raven is easy to shoot handheld, although the ergonomics aren’t as comfortable as that of cameras like the Sony PXW-FS5 or Canon EOS C100. At the moment there is a simple L-shaped side handle, the DSMC2 Outrigger Handle, which attaches to the top of the camera to enable a better handheld experience.

If you want to clip or tag still images, you can do so on the touchscreen of the LCD.

When it ships, Raven will be available in three configurations. The Raven Brain-only package is $5,950.

The RED Raven Jetpack Package ($9,750) is designed for use with handheld gimbals, drones, jibs and cranes. It includes the RED Raven Brain (with media bay and Canon EF mount), DSMC2 Jetpack Expander, DSMC AC power adapter, RED Mini-Mag 120 GB, DSMC battery belt clip, DSMC2 RED Touch 4.7-inch LCD, DSMC2 Outrigger Handle and DSMC2 package case. The Jetpack Expander is specifically designed for aerial, gimbal, handheld and other lightweight/remote configurations.

RED Raven Brain

The RED Raven Base I/O Package ($9,950) is designed for professional productions. It includes the RED Raven Brain, DSMC2 V-Lock I/O Expander, DSMC AC power adapter, 120 GB Mini-Mag, DSMC2 RED Touch 4.7-inch LCD, DSMC2 Universal Handle and DSMC2 package case. The V-Lock I/O Expander offers a variety of I/O connections and a V-Lock mount to power the camera using RED Brick batteries.

At the moment there aren’t many third-party camera accessories for Raven, although Raven is compatible with all of RED’s proprietary DSMC2 accessories and peripherals. Offhollywood Camera is releasing an OMOD camera module for Raven that will offer multiple functionalities (XLR connectors, genlock, power outputs, etc.), making Raven a more professional camera system for professional camera crews.

Although I wasn’t able to take the camera out to test on my own, I was able to shoot some sample footage with the camera at RED’s headquarters. I captured 4K R3D files, which I imported to REDCINE-X. I implemented Dragoncolor2 color space and REDgamma4 gamma curve and exported as ProRes 422 HQ files. The footage looked stunning on my 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K display. I suggest using high-quality glass with this camera.

Although this isn’t an official “hands-on” review, all in all, Raven looks like a solid and affordable digital camera system. I can see it as a great solution for run-and-gun indie filmmakers making a short, or potential YouTube stars who want to capture high-quality 4K that will differentiate their videos from 1080p DSLR content.

In terms of specs, the closest competitors (in the price ballpark) are Blackmagic Design’s new URSA Mini 4.6K EF camera (MSRP $4,995 body only) and the Sony PXW-FS5 (MSRP $6,699 body only). I prefer the size of Raven to that of URSA Mini and I favor the ergonomics of the FS5—although the FS5 doesn’t capture raw footage like Raven does. As far as budget is concerned, it’s important to keep in mind that a fully functional Raven configuration will be closer to $10,000, and that price does not include lenses. But the ability to shoot 4K raw with a Dragon sensor is definitely worth the price.