Before the RED camera was invented the only viable options for high-end movie production were film (celluloid) and high-definition cameras like the F900 or the Viper. The problem was that the footage produced by these “high-end” HD cameras looked very much like video, particularly in its rendition of highlights. Most disappointingly, the motion was too fluid and video-like, despite running at 24fps. Those cameras simply did not produce footage that was even remotely comparable to the beauty and texture of celluloid. (Do not confuse HD with HDV.)
The invention of the RED camera has changed that. The RED camera produces beautiful footage that does not have any of the telltale signs of the ugly electronic look. Its highlights look great, it has a beautiful soft texture and its acquisition is at full 4K.
The advent of the RED camera is quite simply a huge relief. We no longer have to choose between the ugliness of regular HD cameras and the hideous expense of film. It is now a no-brainer: you can produce footage that truly approximates the look of celluloid (and in many ways improves upon it) for a tiny fraction of the cost. For this reason the RED camera is kicking the other high-definition cameras into the ground. Don’t get me wrong — I can tell the difference between film and RED footage. The novelty is that, for the first time, film’s alternative looks very good. Not identical — just GOOD.
It is also speeding up the demise of film. Film has been on life support from many years among indie filmmakers, but the invention of the RED camera is really bringing matters to a head. Every film festival I have attended so far has had Kodak representatives in attendance trying to introduce young filmmakers to shooting on film, in a gallant attempt to rescue the format.
Film has an absolutely beautiful look that has so far been virtually impossible to mimic electronically, for the simple reason that film is based on an analog photochemical process rather than on electronic chips. The problem with film is that it is ridiculously expensive. As long as the only alternatives were high-definition cameras that produced ugly footage, film had an edge. Now that we have a camera — the RED camera — that produces footage that is almost indistinguishable at a fraction of the cost, all bets are off as far as indie filmmakers are concerned. (Film is still a better option if you are shooting a period piece and can afford it.)
It’s a pity, because, I’ll say it again, the look of celluloid is heartwarmingly beautiful. Unfortunately, it will increasingly be the preserve of productions with large budgets. I am relieved that those with more modest budgets now have an option the look of which is comparable to film, but at regular high-definition camera prices. Kudos to the RED folks!