Seeing Red

Photographer David McLain Uses Ultra High-Definition Red One Camcorder to Shoot a Print and Video Campaign in Baja.

Oct 3, 2008
By Dan Havlik

Red One

The Red One can capture 4K digital video, which is more than four times the resolution of high definition at a price ($17,500) that puts it far below comparable digital cinema cameras. Of course, that doesn't include essential extras which can cause the price of the Red One to skyrocket.
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Even if they've never shot a single frame of digital video in their lives, most photographers have probably heard the name Red One. Hailed as the "next big thing" in camcorders since it was only a whisper of a rumor three years ago, the Red One aimed to do for digital cinema cameras what the Nikon D1 did for digital SLRs in 1999: create an easy-to-use and affordable tool for capturing beautiful, high-resolution, digital imagery.

To say "high-resolution" in conjunction with the Red One is a crazy understatement. The camcorder can capture what is called "4K" digital video which is more than four times the resolution of High Definition, all at a price ($17,500) that makes it six times cheaper than comparable digital cinema cameras. Of course, add on lenses and assorted essential extras—such as a computer that is powerful enough to edit all that 4K footage—and that price can quickly skyrocket.

But partially what has made the Red One so appealing to photographers is its capacity to use—via special mounts—Nikon and Canon still photography lenses. Even more dramatically, photographers have been drawn to the potential to pull high-resolution still images from the 4K footage to use in print ad campaigns, effectively making the Red One the two-in-one professional digital imaging device they've sought for so long.

Built for Cinematographers, Designed by Photographers

Although it is still struggling to meet the demand for its products from cinematographers, Red has made no secret of its affection for still photographers as well. Red's billionaire founder, Jim Jannard, who made his fortune by starting the Oakley sunglasses empire, is an avid photographer himself, while Red's chief product "evangelist," Ted Schilowitz, has described the Red One to PDN simply as "a digital still camera that can shoot video."

Indeed, when you read Red's spec list, it almost sounds like you're describing a top-of-the-line digital SLR—way top of the line: 12-megapixel "Mysterium" sensor, able to capture 12-bit RAW footage at 60 frames per second; 35mm Cine "full-frame" size sensor; optional Nikon and Canon mounts, etc.

Red One's futuristic-looking, rough-and-tumble body—it looks like what you would probably want to use if you were hired to shoot an "Alien vs. Predator" fight—has also appealed to professional photographers who are already used to banging around dust-proof, water-resistant, gasketed and sealed professional digital SLRs.

In other words, if you hired a photographer to design a camcorder, it might look something like the Red One.

Merging with the Red One

One photographer who got on the Red One bandwagon early on and hasn't looked back is David McLain, a National Geographic shooter based in Portland, Maine. Faced with an increasingly competitive market for still photography while sensing the looming potential of the new media landscape, McLain decided that rather than fight change, he would embrace it. In 2003 he launched Merge, a boutique production company that combines still photography with video to produce multimedia advertisements for companies interested in building their brands.

Working with video expert Jerome Thelia, McClain had been using a Panasonic AG-HVX200 to create unique mixed-media spots for his clients that blended high-resolution still pictures with the motion and clarity of high-definition video. When the Red One came along, McLain saw it as the next evolutionary step in his Merge concept.

"There's so much cynicism in photography now because it's all changing and you can either run from change and stick your head in the sand or you can embrace it." McLain says. "To me, Red seemed like the perfect tool to embrace change and that's what Merge was all about."

Getting his hands on a Red One wasn't easy, though, because of the heavy demand. After putting his name on a waiting list last year, McLain had been told he would receive his Red camcorder by June, just in time for a planned shoot in Baja, California, for one of his clients, an activewear clothing company called Horny Toad. Only problem was, by the time June rolled around, he still didn't have his camera.

Instead of scrapping their concept to shoot the Horny Toad commercials with the Red One, McLain and Thelia decided to rent a Red camera and proceed to Baja as planned. After eight days of using the rented camcorder to shoot the commercial spots, they came back more convinced than ever about the potential of Red.

"We were scared at first," Thelia admits. "But it turned out really well. The client was so thrilled with what we were able to deliver and we couldn't be more psyched. We were expecting a lot of technical problems; the camera overheating because we were going to be shooting on extremely hot days; all sorts of glitches; but everything went smoothly and the camera performed well."

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