So, having been through the confusion of buying my first Epic and Scarlet on the Red website, I realized that a guide might be helpful to newcomers to Red. I came from the digital stills world, so I really wish I had something like this when I first took the plunge.
This is an early draft. Looking for corrections and feedback. Thanks! (split into many posts to meet posting regs)
Scarlet Buying Guide
So, you’ve decided to take the plunge and get a Scarlet RED digital cinema camera. Congrats! Now just hop over the website store and….well, crap. That’s a LOT of stuff. What the hell do I buy? There are a million little parts…which one do I need? If I just buy the package, will that work? Dammit! There are FIVE packages! Now what do I do?
If you’re like me, figuring out what you need to buy off the RED website can be a frustrating and intimidating process. And, if you’re like me, you are probably trying to figure out how to spend the LEAST amount of money to get your rig up and running. That’s why I wrote this guide. If you are new to the world of film, coming from the world of DSLR or still photography, this guide should help you on your new spending spree. It’s really not that hard to figure out once you get going, but I hope to get you up and running faster, and with more confidence, than my first RED buying experience.
Now, this guide is NOT for experienced hollywood DP’s. We are assuming you are brand new to film and video and to RED in particular. If you are a pro, this guide will probably seem quaint and overly simplistic. It may present opinions you disagree with, but that’s okay. Newcomers can form their own opinions after reading this and buying their first round of gear, and I’m sure they will all be different. It’s more important to have one starting viewpoint rather than a dozen conflicting ones. As always, your mileage may vary.
Parsing Red Product Names
RED products are listed with often cryptic abbreviations. They are often more confusing to newcomers than helpful. Here is a guide:
DSMC - This stands for “Digital Still and Motion Camera.” It’s just RED’s name for their entire line of camera systems (Scarlet and Epic) instead of the Red One. So putting DSMC in front of nearly every RED product description is a bit redundant and it is also inconsistent (just because it doesn't say DSMC doesn't mean it won't work on your Scarlet. You can ignore this part of the name.
TI - Stands for Titanium. Many lens mounts for Red are made with titanium for maximum strength and minimal weight.
AL - Stands for Aluminum. A cheaper alternative to TI (titanium), but arguably not as strong, especially when dealing with really heavy lenses. That said, nearly all of the “rig” bits of the camera (grips, bolt on parts, etc.) are made with aircraft grade aluminum to very high standards. AL is fine for these parts.
MODULE - A Module is a piece of (nearly always) electronics that you can bolt or clip onto your brain to add functionality. For example, you can use a battery module to add power, or a SSD module to add storage. A MODULE usually contains electronics, vs the other types of parts you can attach to the camera.
SSD - This stands for “solid state drive” and is the only storage medium currently for RED Scarlet cameras. SSD’s come from the computer world, where instead of using a hard drive with its fragile spinning parts, many computer enthusiasts are switching their hard drives to solid state…which is like RAM that remembers what it has stored on it even when the power is off. It has no moving parts, just chips, and is much faster than a regular hard drive.
REDMAG - A Redmag is the name of the SSD storage cartridge that the Red Scarlet uses.
RED ONE - Red One is Red’s original camera system. It is not generally compatible or interchangeable with the Scarlet. You should ignore any parts with Red One in their name.
Epic vs Scarlet
Nearly every accessory you see listed for Red’s Epic camera will also work with Scarlet. These two camera share the exact same dimension and mounting points. If you want to be sure, when you are viewing an item in the Red store, you will see a place near the item price that has a compatibility callout that show which camera models the accessory or item will work with.
I’m going to leave the packages alone for now. Before you can figure out if you want a package, you need to figure out what all the package components do for you. Now, the most important thing to remember, is that at the time of this writing, the package price is the SAME as the buying the individual components. There is no package discount. You could buy each part separately if you wanted to.
The entire RED camera system is designed to be modular. This is very different from the way that others cameras are made. Its sort of like lego…or maybe more like an erector set. You can bolt on, mix and match and custom configure your camera in a huge array of ways. This is a huge strength, but is also the reason why it can be so confusing.
At the heart of the system is the brain. This is the box that contains the sensor and electronics and…well, that’s about it. There is no storage, no power, no lens mount. The most important thing to realize, is that it also lacks controls of any kind. Aside from a power button, there is no way to control the camera. Controlling the camera is an option, just like everything else. Oh, that and there is no way to see what you are filming on the brain, you will need the Red touch screen or an external monitor for that.
So, there is very little to decide when you buy the brain. You’ve already chosen a Scarlet over and Epic, so now you have to decide what type of lenses you want. That will determine the lens mount you want to have for your brain.
Another thing that makes RED unique, is the fact that you can use a wide variety of lenses with the system. RED made the brain modular and offers several different lens mounts for your brain. Right now, there are two major systems of lenses and one specialized mount (for Leica M lenses).
Let’s also talk about autofocus. Yes, your Scarlet can autofocus! Canon lenses, when mounted via the Canon lens mount, will electronically talk to your brain and provide lens information, as well as let you control aperture via the camera’s controls. Focusing on the Scarlet can be single or continuous, center focus, or touch focus (tap the area of the screen you want to focus on) as well as rack focus (a movie term for a shot which changes from one focus distance to another as part of the aesthetic of the shot). As of now, only Canon and Canon compatible lenses are capable of autofocus. PL lenses are designed for manual control and do not offer autofocus.
PL Mount - PL stands for “positive lock” and is a lens mount developed by Arri, the renowned motion picture camera company. Since Arri has such a long career in motion pictures, many lenses were made for this type of lens mount since it was introduced in 1982. If you know you will be shooting with cinema lenses as opposed to still lenses, this would be the mount to get. It is only available in titanium, noted as “TI” on the product name, since cinema lenses tend to be VERY large and heavy.
Canon Mount - The Canon lens mount comes in two flavors, “TI” for titanium and “AL” for aluminum. What most people overlook, is that the Canon lens mount isn’t just for Canon lenses. Many still lenses for other camera systems can be adapted to the Canon lens mount. So the Canon mount is like a gateway to a wide range of still lenses. As for construction, the aluminum mount at $700 is less than half the cost of the titanium mount at $2000. So far on Reduser.net forums, I have heard of no failures of the aluminum mount. Another concern is flexing of the mount with extremely heavy or long lenses, esp. when focusing or manipulating the aperture, but again this has yet to seen in the field. If you are shooting very heavy lenses, you might opt for the TI version of this mount, but for most people, the aluminum one will work just fine.
Leica M Mount - The Leica M mount allows you to mount lenses from the Leica M series of lenses made for the M series of 35mm still digital and film cameras. This mount is very specialized, since it will only mount M lenses that do not have rear elements that project beyond the rearmost face of the lens’s mounting lugs. This is because on some M wide angle lenses, the rearward motion of the elements will not clear the sensor port housing on the Scarlet. In practice, this limits you to lenses 50mm and above. Red has said this mount was really designed to let people use just a single lens, the 50mm f0.95 and f1 Noctilux (a lens fabled for its image qualities and bokeh).
Other Mounts - Red continues to develop other mounts for the Scarlet. Next up is supposed to be the Nikon mount, for example.
Red One Mounts - You will also find mounts listed for sale that are only for use with the Red One camera system. These will not work for your Scarlet.