Over the past couple of years RED has seemingly been looking to take over the very high end cinema camera market, with Arri directly in their crosshairs. But with the recent official announcement of their new entry level camera – The Raven, it looks like the company’s strategy may be shifting. Although the idea of an entry level RED camera sounds nice in theory, in my opinion the Raven is not the cinema camera that many indie filmmakers have been waiting for.
For those of you that haven’t already heard about the RED Raven, it is a sub $6000 4K camera (body only) that will offer some pretty fantastic features in an a Weapon-like package. Here are some of the specs from nofilmschool:
- 8.8 Megapixel DRAGON Sensor
- 20.48 mm x 10.8 mm (Smaller than APS-C, Bigger than Micro 4/3)
- Fixed Canon EF Mount
- Standard OLPF (Roughly 800 base ISO, maybe less)
- 16.5 Stops of Dynamic Range
- RAW: 4K (4096 × 2160) up to 120 fps
- RAW: 3K (3072 × 1620) up to 160 fps
- RAW: 2K (2048 × 1080) up to 240 fps
- 3:1 maximum available REDCODE for 4K (4096 × 2160) at 24 fps
- 7:1 maximum available REDCODE for 4K (4096 × 2160) at 60 fps
- 13:1 maximum available REDCODE for 4K (4096 × 2160) at 120 fps
- Apple ProRes 422 HQ, 422, LT: up to 2K (2048 × 1080) and up to 60 fps
- Audio: Integrated dual channel digital stereo microphones, uncompressed, 24-bit 48 kHz (Optional 2 additional channels with Expander Module, uncompressed, 24-bit 48 kHz)
- Monitoring: works with current RED monitors with appropriate adapters (if necessary)
- Shoots with RED Mini-Mags
- Built-in Wireless Control (Not for Monitoring)
- Ethernet, RS232, and GPI Trigger with Expander Modules.
- ~3.5 lbs (BRAIN with Media Bay and Canon Lens Mount) for this Alluminum Alloy Body
- Availability: February 2016 for Brain and Brain/Jetpack Package, March 2016 for Base I/O Package
- Price: $5950 Body Only, Brain/Jetpack Package: $9,750, Brain/Base I/O Package: $9,950
There are some notable differences between the Raven and RED’s higher end offerings – namely the smaller sensor size (which falls in between MFT and APS-C), different frame rates, and a slightly lighter body, to name a few. But perhaps the “feature” RED is really trying to push the most with the Raven is the price, which at first glance seems exceptionally reasonable considering the usual cost of RED cameras. Unfortunately, things aren’t that simple though –
Anyone that’s ever owned a RED knows that the real cost of owning one is not the camera body itself, it’s the accessories. The media, touch screens, and other necessary components that are required just to get the camera up and running can collectively cost at least the same amount as the body itself… Depending on how you configure it of course.
One of the biggest issues I’ve had with the RED system over the years has been their proprietary approach to accessories, specifically because it drives the cost of buying their cameras up so much. Unlike manufacturers such as Blackmagic who will allow customers to use standard accessories and media (for instance CFast cards), RED prefers that you accessorize your camera using their gear, and the Raven is no exception. Like it’s more expensive counterparts, the Raven will use Mini-mags and other proprietary RED gear, meaning the real cost of investment in their system is far greater than just the brain.
This won’t be a deal breaker for everyone as obviously different shooters have different needs, and certain DP’s have deeper pockets than others. That said, this really isn’t a “budget” cinema camera when compared to other sub $10K or even sub $5K offerings on the market today.
Before I get into my short critique of this camera, I want to offer up a bit of a disclaimer. I really admire what RED has done as a company and have in fact used their cameras on dozens of my own personal and commercial productions. I think they make really amazing tools and I don’t doubt that the Raven like many of their other products will deliver stellar results… But at the same time there are a number of reasons why this specific camera isn’t for me, and why I believe it has missed the mark in certain ways. That doesn’t mean it’s not right for everyone, but just that given my personal taste in gear at the moment I believe there are stronger options for less money that I would personally choose over the Raven. That’s just me though…
Who Is The Raven For?
One of the big questions I have with the Raven, is who is RED really targeting with it? On one hand the camera body is around $6K which makes it seem (at first glance at least) that it would ideal for a budget conscious shooter = Perhaps someone looking at an URSA or an FS7. But on the other hand once you tally up the cost of even the most basic accessories you’ll need to make it shootable, you’re looking at the $10K – $15K range. And I would bet that many DPs and filmmakers that can afford to spend upwards of $15K will be more enticed by the other options in that price range – whether it be a used Epic/Dragon, Sony F5, or any of the other fantastic options out there.
And for those shooters that really can’t afford to spend that much on their camera package, cameras like the URSA Mini, FS7, C100 Mark II and others may be far more enticing. At the end of the day, having the ability to spend less money on your camera package and leave more in the pot for accessories, additional media, and 3rd party tools that can also work with their other camera systems is a no-brainer. At least that’s the case if you truly are trying to keep your costs down.
I completely understand RED wanting to go after the lower budget market, and am happy to see that it’s on their radar at the moment. But at the same time, I think some customers looking for a budget-concious solution from RED are not going to respond favorably to the Raven. After all, $6K may not sound like a lot in cinema camera terms, but it’s still a hefty chunk of change for your average indie filmmaker, and of course that’s just the tip of the iceberg. And again if it was truly a $6000 camera all-in, this would be a whole other discussion.
I’m sure the Raven will capture some stunning images, and would bet it’ll find a home in rental houses and as a B or C camera on Weapon/Dragon productions. But for many low-budget owner/operators, it’s going to be a really tough sell. Not only because the price is so high, but also because the competition at the moment is so stiff –
There has really never been a better time to buy an entry level cinema camera, as the options at the moment are practically endless. For shooters that are looking for an affordable alternative to RED or Arri, Blackmagic offers some of the best bang for your buck cameras out there, in my opinion at least. Sony’s FS7 and newly announced FS5 are fantastic tools as well that cater to a different market than Blackmagic does. Canon has lost their footing in many ways over the past two years, but are now showing signs of competing more aggressively again, and many of their lower cost C-series cameras are enticing to filmmakers on a budget. Not to mention the DSLR market is still thriving (more-so the mirrorless market, really) and cameras like the GH4, A7S II, and even the Samsung NX1 are viable options for so many budding DPs.
The bottom line is, if someone wants a true 4K cinema-style camera for under $10K – RED is still not really option. And once you get into the $10K + price range, there are so many other cameras to consider (including RED’s own Scarlet or a used Epic), that the Raven might not be ideal for many shooters.
My guess is that RED is testing the waters at the moment. They have already been maxing out their high end camera lineup as much as possible by offering up to 8K resolution on their top tier Weapon body, and now they’re obviously looking to tap into the lower budget market. The Raven is definitely a step in the right direction – but the pricing and proprietary nature of the system will likely prevent many independent shooters from pulling the trigger on it.
Once again, these are just my two cents. RED has pushed the technological boundaries of digital cinema since the RED ONE was released and I hope they continue to do so for many years. This particular camera, just doesn’t fit the bill for this particular filmmaker.