Versatile Low-Pass Filters, a Full Super 35 Sensor and Lens-Mount Options Make Scarlet-W a Flexible Cinema Camera

Founded in 2005 by Oakley founder Jim Jannard, Irvine-based Red Digital Cinema shook up the production world by releasing a surprisingly affordable, professional 4K digital motion picture camera, the Red One. Ten years later, Oscar-nominated hits such as The Martian, Straight Outta Compton, and Room have been shot with Red cameras, and influential Hollywood filmmakers such as David Fincher, Peter Jackson, and Steven Soderbergh are loyal users.

Targeting both professional filmmakers and still photographers, Red created a camera category it called Digital Still and Motion Cameras (DSMCs). When used in conjunction with Red's post-production workflow software, RedCine-X, DSMC users were able to produce high-resolution video and export high-resolution stills (at multiple frames per second) that were good enough for a Vogue magazine cover. Red's DSMC offerings include the Epic 6K and Scarlet 5K cameras.

Red's DSMCLineup
Over the past year, Red has been rolling out v2 of the DSMC line, which they are calling DSMC2. The first release, in late 2015, was the flagship Weapon 6K camera, which captures full-frame 6144 x 3160 at 75-fps. Since their cameras are modular, you’ll be able to upgrade to an 8K sensor in the future. According to Jarred Land, president of Red, the 8K sensor is 40.96 mm x 21.6 mm with a resolution of 8192×4320 and a max frame rate of 75 fps at 8K. Upgrading to the new sensor will cost approximately $20,000.

Red recently started shipping Raven, a 3.5-pound DSMC2 camera system targeted at up-and-coming filmmakers as well as event and web shooters. Sporting an EF lens mount, Raven is Red’s lightest and most affordable camera. It has a 4.5K Dragon sensor and can record 4.5K RedCode Raw (R3D) files at up to 120 fps and 2K at up to 240 fps. 

Sandwiched between Weapon and Raven is Red’s latest camera system, Scarlet-W. I recently observed a product demo of Scarlet-W at Red’s Irvine headquarters.

Scarlet-W right side view

Scarlet-W Specifications
Scarlet-W’s specs are impressive. It contains interchangeable lens mounts, RedCode Raw and Apple ProRes recording simultaneously (with Avid DNxHD/HR support launching soon), a choice of different optical low-pass filters (OLPFs), in-camera 3D LUTs, and the ability to shoot 5K at 60 fps, 4K at 150 fps, or 2K at 300 fps. The Scarlet-W’s Dragon sensor is a 13.8 Super 35mm CMOS with effective pixel resolution of 5120×2700 that can capture about 16.5 stops of latitude. Body-wise, the compact Scarlet-W has an aluminum alloy build and weighs only 3.5 lbs.

Scarlet-W Base I/O V-Lock Expander

The Scarlet-W costs $9,950 for the body, aka "brain," and its Base I/O V-Lock package ($14,500) includes the brain, Ai Canon Mount, Base I/O V-Lock Battery Mount, Red Mini-Mag 120 GB, DSMC2 Red Touch 4.7-inch LCD, DSMC AC Power Adapter, and DSMC2 Universal Handle. Scarlet-W’s monitor outputs include 3G-SDI (HD-SDI) and HDMI with the DSMC2 expander module.

One new feature on all DSMCcameras is the ability to capture ProRes and RedCode simultaneously. The available ProRes formats include 422 HQ, 422, and 422 LT up to 60 fps, and Avid DNxHR and DNxHD will be coming soon via a free firmware update.

So why do you need ProRes if you have the ability to capture raw? ProRes is an edit-ready codec that is designed for shooters who either don’t have the time in post to process RedCode in RedCine-X or have an immediate use for 4K capture. You can only capture ProRes at 2K up to 60 fps. You should be aware that ProRes files can be larger than RedCode files at efficient compression rates, so make sure you have a lot of storage drives on set.

Scarlet-W left-side view

Scarlet-W vs Raven
Although they are both targeted at indie filmmakers, there are a few important differences between Scarlet-W and Raven. Although they look similar at first glance, Scarlet-W is a bit more rugged-looking than Raven and has a blue/gray color compared with Raven’s charcoal finish. Although both have the familiar box-like build Red is known for, Scarlet-W’s build contains sharp edges, multiple mounting screws and skeleton illustrations all throughout the body.

If you can afford it, buying a Scarlet-W over a Raven gives you more options for the future. Unlike Raven, Scarlet-W can be upgraded to Weapon and uses the same accessories, which allows you to switch between camera systems without purchasing more gear. Scarlet-W also gives you additional lens mount options, including EF, PL, Nikon and an upcoming Leica M mount. Raven comes standard with an EF mount that can’t be removed. My guess is EF will remain the most popular mount for Scarlet-W shooters due to the widespread use of EF lenses, but on a pro shoot, using PL lenses gives you more options. Scarlet-W also gives you more lens coverage because it contains the full Super 35 Dragon Sensor (25.6×13.5mm) compared to Raven’s smaller Dragon sensor (23.04×10.8mm).

Another big advantage is that the Scarlet-W lets you use Red’s latest OLPF system, which greatly enhances image control. Red offers three OLPFs, including Standard (an optimal balance of low light and highlight control), Low-Light Optimized (better color and tonal reproduction in low light), and Skin Tone-Highlight (capturing accurate colors in well-lit environments for better skin tones). To compare, Raven contains a single fixed OLPF that combines Red's Low Light and Skin Tone OLFPs. 

More than any of its competitors, Scarlet-W — like Red cameras in general — feels more like a networking device than an optical one. Almost all of your adjustments (white balance, exposure, ISO, shutter speed, etc.) are made through the touchscreen monitor, which is very efficient once you get accustomed to the menu system. One aspect of the original Scarlet-X camera that I had problems with was the amount of fan noise when the camera neede cooling while being used in a quiet setting. Shooting inside Red’s headquarters, Scarlet-W was as quiet as a mouse, even when shooting at high frame rates.

Shooting with the Scarlet-W

Picture Quality
Although I wasn’t able to take the camera with me for further testing, I was able to take home short 5K and 2K (300 fps) clips we shot at headquarters on a hard drive. I imported the RedCode files into RedCine-X and implemented the Dragoncolor 2 color space and Redgamma4 gamma curve. I then exported as ProRes 422 files into Premiere Pro CC for editing. You can also work with .R3D files natively in Premiere Pro CC and Final Cut Pro X. Even without color grading, the footage, especially skin tones, looked absolutely stunning on my 5K Retina iMac.

Scarlet-W’s $9,950 price point ($14,500 for Base I/O V-Lock package) is out of reach for most DSLR shooters looking to upgrade to a digital motion picture camera, but the ability to upgrade to a Weapon sensor is its best selling point. Specs and price-wise, Scarlet-W’s competitors include the new Panasonic VariCam LT ($18,000 body) and the Sony PMW-F5 ($19,400 body). Because digital cameras have become more like film stocks, your choice will really depend on what image looks best to you and what’s best for your needs. For cinema productions, Scarlet-W is affordable enough for shooters who want to own their own professional, future-proofed camera system.