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How RED Cameras Changed Filmmaking as We Know It

RED digital cameras have become a go-to for big-budget studio productions, Netflix shows — and, of course, Fincher and Soderbergh. There's a new one perfect for indie filmmakers.

Erik Messerschmidt on the set of "Mank"

Erik Messerschmidt on the set of “Mank” with the RED camera specially made for David Fincher.

Miles Crist/NETFLIX

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Digital filmmaking was mostly resigned to DSLR, until RED digital came into the picture. The camera company quickly became a favorite among directors and cinematographers, including Steven Soderbergh, one of the earliest to use a RED camera when he shot both installments of “Che” in 2008. Given the hefty price tag, RED cameras are too pricey to buy for some indie filmmakers — other than the RED Komodo, which are geared for indie productions, most indie filmmakers would rent these cameras rather than buy them unless they’re big studio productions. A RED camera can run you anywhere from $6,000 to upwards of $50,000, and despite being used in productions of all sizes, you’ll typically find them on the sets of major studio films including “The Suicide Squad,” “Army of the Dead,” “Captain Marvel,” “Hustlers,” “The Spongebob Movie: Sponge on the Run,” “Dolittle,” “The Irishman,” “Entourage,” “Birdbox” and the Oscar-winning Netflix documentary “My Octopus Teacher.”

RED Digital has also been used for “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” “Stranger Things,” “The Queen’s Gambit,” “Peaky Blinders” “The Morning Show,” “Mr. Robot,”  “Godfather of Harlem,” and other TV shows, particular Netflix series.

The RED One model, released in 2007, paved the way for an entire fleet of game-changing cameras. RED’s flagship camera captured up to 120 frames per second at 2K resolution, and 60fps at 4K resolution. The company has since discontinued several of its older models and introduced a fresh batch of cameras favored by the likes of Michael Bay, David Fincher, and more.

Fincher was among the first studio directors to embrace digital filmmaking. He’s been using RED cameras since “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,”  and “Mank,” which won Oscars for Best Cinematography and Best Production Design, was shot on a specially made Red Ranger Helium Monochrome black and white camera. (Made for Fincher to his specifications, that is one camera you just can’t get your hands on.)

“David and I needed to be able to look at a monitor and get very specific about everything that exists in the frame — the set dressing, the composition, the lighting, the overall tone,” said cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt. “Being able to see the image on the monitor and make those creative decisions analytically is crucial to David’s process. In contrast, there is an imprecise nature to composing a shot with a film camera. It just doesn’t provide the same level of control we need.”

“For this movie we wanted to shoot very deep focus photography for most of the film and then be very specific about where we used shallow focus,” continued Messerschmidt. “Shooting on film would have significantly limited our creative choices, particularly with focus and depth of field.”

Below, find pricing and capabilities of some of the cameras in the RED Digital product line. Note: most of these are not “out of the box” ready and would require other accessories before you can shoot. And for cheaper recommendations check out the best affordable cameras for all budgets.


Red Digital Cinema V-Raptor St 8K VV DSMC3 Camera

RED Digital’s latest cinema camera, the V-Raptor 8K VV Camera was unveiled in September. Touted as the brand’s most powerful camera to date, the DSMC3 device features the highest dynamic range, fastest cinema quality sensor scan time, cleanest shadows, and highest frame rates of any other RED camera. The camera retails for $24,500 and is currently available in the white ST version pictured above (the black edition will drop at the end of the year). V-RAPTOR has a multi-format 8K sensor (40.96mm x 21.60mm) with the ability to shoot 8K large format or 6K S35. Far exceeding previous censor capabilities, the V-RAPTOR gives users the option to capture 8K full sensor at up to 120 frames per second (150fps at 2.4:1), 6K up to 160 fps (200fps at 2.4:1), and 2K (2.4:1) at  600 frames per second while still capturing over 17 stops of dynamic range.

RED Komodo 6K Camera

The Komodo 6K is a compact cinema camera for a budget-friendly price (as far as RED cameras go). It’s been introduced specifically for indie filmmakers. Apart from 6K resolution with shooting capabilities of 40-60 fps, and S35 sensor (27.03 mm x 14.26 mm), the Komodo offers unparalleled image quality, plus it’s pretty versatile, and the 4” x 4” camera weighs just two pounds. You can also get the Komodo 6K starter pack for $7,200.

RED Ranger Camera System with Helium 8K S35 Sensor

If you’re looking for an integrated but less complex system (with a larger fan), and you have at least $30,000 to spend, this all-in-one camera system features 8K resolution, and more independent SDI and AUX power outputs. It also has integrated XLR audio input, weighs just over seven pounds, and supports a wide input volt of 11.5V to 32V. Additional feature include a built-in microphone, Genlock, interchangeable lenses, and a CMOS sensor. The box comes complete with Shimmed PL Mount and PL Mount Shim Pack, LCD/EVF Adapter D, RED RANGER AC Power Adapter, and a 10′ 3-Pin XLR-to-RED RANGER Power Cable.

RED DSMC2 Gemini 5K Education Kit

The RED Digital DSMC2 Gemini 5K camera kit comes with more than $1,400 worth of free equipment. The kit includes a DSMC2 BRAIN with a GEMINI 5K S35 Sensor with a4.7” Ultra LDC Monitor, a RED MINI-MAG, DSMC2 All Cannon Mount, V-lock I/O expander, a battery and charger, a  3/16” wrench, and a case to carry it all.

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