As 2013 comes to an end, many of us are starting to think about fresh starts and goals for the New Year. For most, 2014 will mean expanding and upgrading gear or even taking a leap of faith. Personally, I’ve taken a very counter-intuitive leap of faith. I sold the most expensive video asset that I've ever had: My RED Scarlet.
(Disclaimer: Before I get too far. I want to remind you to take everything I’m saying with a grain of salt. I hope that hearing my story will inspire you to ask questions and start a dialog about the gear-choices you make.)
The Back Story
When I started my video company, Innovate Imageworks, in 2010, I shot with Canon DSLRs. I started with the t2i and quickly moved up to the 5D Mark II. These DSLRs are revolutionary tools that opened doors to people like me. My clients have always loved the look of my DSLR footage and have never had issues with lack of quality. In hindsight, I would be sitting on a fairly sizable chunk of money right now if the 5D was still my main camera (but where’s the fun in that?).
By 2012, I began to feel the need to separate myself from fellow DSLR shooters. Work was going well and I could afford to make a major camera investment. As my gear-lust grew, a few newly-released cameras caught my eye.
It was the innovation and undeniable cool factor that lead me to the RED cult. The Scarlet was an indie-filmmaker’s dream. Suddenly I had access to the same camera that many big-budget Hollywood crews were using. I drained my bank account and bought a Red Scarlet.
I’m glad that I was booking so much work, because I definitely needed the income. I remember hearing filmmaker Philip Bloom refer to the RED Scarlet as a gateway drug and he couldn’t be more right. Suddenly a $16,000 investment grew much larger. My DSLR gear needed to be upgrade to support the RED, so I invested in a new steadicam rig, jib, slider, batteries, handles and many, many external harddrives.
(Photo by Jon-Mark Wiltshire)
The Scarlet blew my 5D out of the water in terms of resolution and cinematic image. I may have bought the RED because of its hype, but I quickly realized that many clients were hiring me because of that same hype. The RED was more than a camera; it was a status symbol.
My content suffered. Plain and simple. I began to prioritize pixels instead of content. Suddenly loading in gear, setting up shots, editing and delivering the final product became a much longer process. This isn’t to say that I believe everything should be shot run-and-gun, but there is a certain laziness that hits me when I’m holding a RED camera. I find I’m far less eager to grab the RED and capture a quick candid shot.
I also found myself disappointed with the color I got from the camera. I acknowledge that the RED team does an amazing job of updating their color science and releasing new firmware regularly, but I never felt the RED color matched my style. I’m sure that RED’s new Dragon sensor will be incredible, but it just isn’t worth another 5-figure investment for me.
When Canon released it’s c100 many people wrote it off because of it’s AVCHD codec and awful viewfinder. If you look at the specs, the c100 is a huge downgrade in almost every category. The RED beats it out for resolution, codec and dynamics range. I pegged the c100 as a documentary camera that would have sub-par image quality.
This all changed when Stillmotion jumped on the c100 train. I have a huge amount of respect for Patrick and his team and instantly became interested in the camera. Soon after I saw some of Joe Simon’s c100 work. Joe mentioned that he was able to effortlessly change over from a DSLR workflow. I was sold.
After using the c100, I realize how wrong I was. In my opinion, the Canon C100 is the best of both worlds:
A sharp and dynamic image in a compact body with professional audio inputs and amazing battery life/record time.
(Photo by Jon-Mark Wiltshire)
The RED Scarlet is easily one of the best cameras to come out in the past 5 years. The fact that I owned and shot with the same camera as Peter Jackson or David Fincher without going into debt is incredible. That being said, I feel that the RED wasn’t a good fit for me and hurt my creativity and content.
I’ve learned that you should buy a camera based off of your own needs, not your idols’ needs. Movies like The Social Network may look amazing, but owning a RED doesn’t mean that your footage with look anything like David Fincher’s. Sometimes less is more. In my case, I’d much rather shoot with a $6,000 rig than a $20,000 rig.
(Quick A/B test I did between the two cameras)
After owning the c100 for a month, I made the choice to sell my RED last week. Not necessarily to pocket the extra income, but to help simplify my approach and focus on creativity and content going into 2014. I couldn’t be more excited.
I know that many of you have the same gear lust that I did and it may be the best choice you ever make. I just hope that you’ll take a second to clearly identify your needs: from complex things like image quality, to “little” things like battery life.
Good luck with your next big purchase!