Seeing RED

You’ve probably heard of the RED ONE video camera if you have any interest at all in making movies. It’s a revolutionary modular camera that can shoot 4096 pixel wide (4K) video at up to 30 frames per second in 12 bit RAW. Two new models, one with a larger image size and one smaller are due next year; the 5K EPIC will make shooting movies on film a thing of the past (already studios are turning to RED ONE.) SCARLET – a 3K camera – promises to be significantly more affordable.

Last month, RED camera’s Jim Jannard posted a comment about a new camera, a “DSMC (Digital Still & Motion Camera)” to compete – or rather revolutionise – the DSLR market. Given the example of RED ONE, it will be worth waiting for – and expect to wait until around 2010 (Jannard’s post says “late 2009“.) It is likely to offer higher resolution, faster image writes, better compression codecs than existing high-end DSLRs as well as significantly under-cutting the prices of the top-level models. It is also likely to be a modular system – even to the extent of allowing sensor upgrades. So far there are 39 forum pages of comments (and a wish list page with more)  if you have a day or two spare to read them; Jannard says he won’t make detailed comments until Jan 1, 2009. And there is a wish list and

For some rather more concise but detailed speculation, take a look at Wired, where they set out their wish list for the camera. One of the nicest thoughts they have is that one manifestation of it might be a camera that would “‘out-Leica’ Leica“, giving us “a digital rangefinder camera that actually works.” I do hope so.

Leica are not quite standing still, although their  official Photokina 2008 product announcements on the Leica User Forum  (you will need to register to see the details there, but doubtless they will soon be available everywhere else) don’t fill me with great excitement. Certainly they don’t live up to some of the rumours that were around.

The Leica M8.2 has the new shutter and hard cover glass previously announced as an upgrade for the M8, along with a snapshot mode, quick override settings and a more robust finish. Nothing of great significance – and certainly nothing that will make the camera live up to it’s pedigree.

The snapshot mode usefully includes auto ISO speed, which can also be used on other settings. Leica seem also to have responded to photographer’s complaint over insufficient detent on the main switch (we get fed up of finding we have the camera on self-timer by mistake) and also claim improved bright line frames. Although their accuracy was a feature of some earlier cameras, on the original M8 only the 35mm outline seems to give acceptable accuracy.

Apart from these minor camera improvements there are some new lenses. The 21mm and 24mm f1.4 lenses seem interesting although are likely to be unaffordable when they become available in December 2008. Doubtless they will be superb performers, although I find the statement that “in the 21 mm lens, distortion is only -2,3%, and only -2.2% for the 24 mm lens, and is therefore hardly visible” rather debatable.

Personally I’d find a 21mm f2.8 with a considerably smaller size and cost very much more interesting. What Leica have still to realise is that with digital it’s better to go for a lower noise sensor than to bother  with very wide apertures – and they also have a new Noctilux 50mm f0.95 to prove they’ve yet to get the point.

The 24mm f3.8, equivalent to 32mm on a full-frame camera, is described by Leica as being “moderate cost.” I suspect that means only around a thousand pounds, but I could be seriously underestimating.

So, rather than wait for Leica to bring out the M9 (or even the M11, given how far they have to go) , I think we are now crossing our fingers for the RED M.

6 Responses to “Seeing RED”

  1. ChrisL says:

    Disappointment here also that the possibility of upgrading the M8 to 8.2 status is only partial as there are some worthwhile improvements but a recent purchase of a near mint M2 with a recent CLA shows what a fantastic tool Leica made. This 50 year old camera is smooth as silk in operation, has clean single framelines and even takes the latest firmware ( the improved ~TMax400). Shooting for pleasure is indeed a pleasure and the M8 looks like trading against a D700. I have to disagree on wide apertures though, the shallow DOF brigade will pay anything to show they don’t use a point and shoot and if it brings the money in to keep Leica going, provided I’m not paying the price, I’m all in favour.

  2. Hi Chris,

    I’ve always liked the M2, though I saved money buying one with a few dents. Mine also has a rather neat handle fitted to the rewind knob which cost me a few quid extra but makes rewinding less hassle – turning that knob could be very tricky, even painful, with cold hands in the biting wind. That was the only real improvement they ever made on the design, though the M7 seemed a nice enough camera too.

  3. ChrisL says:

    Mint M7 at Aperture £1350, my M2 £400, nice enough but nearly £1,000 pounds nicer ?

  4. Well, if I was using it for a living I’d go for the M7, no doubt. But few of us can seriously shoot film now, and there are very few reasons to want to do so. One of my friends was telling me the other day he was using a Canon 5D to do what he used to use 5×4 for – and in almost all respects the Canon was better.

    Most people buy a Leica for decoration. Which I think is also why those big heavy wide aperture lenses sell – they look more impressive. Many of us would love a good digital rangefinder but the chances of Leica seriously getting their act together seem low, unless Panasonic decide the concept is worth investing in.

  5. ChrisL says:

    “unless Panasonic decide the concept is worth investing in.”

    Or Nikon ;-)

  6. No, I don’t believe that Canon or Nikon have really got the kind of thinking that would make a good digital rangefinder. Panasonic possibly have, and could presumably use Leica lenses.
    Actually I think what we are more likely to get (from RED) won’t actually be a rangefinder but will have a very high quality EVF which will give a larger image than is recorded, with a simulated but 100% accurate bright line frame. Which would mean you could use of a zoom or multifocal length lens without the frame changing size and get the advantages of SLR and rangefinder in a viewfinder. The ‘live-view’ modes of some cameras are now very detailed and responsive, it’s just a pain you see them on the camera back rather than through a viewfinder.

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