NOTE: This article was written on 4/27/16 and has not been updated since then. Please note that some of the information is out of date and hasn’t been updated with the new RED cameras/sensors that have been released since then.
One of my most commonly asked questions is: “which RED should I buy?”
RED has opened up the doors to all levels of filmmakers with the introduction of their latest and cheapest Raven body. As good as the Raven is though, the question of upgrading is always there: should I upgrade to the Scarlet-W? Should I just get a Weapon? Is the Raven good enough for me? Is the Raven even an upgrade for me?
I always answer all these questions with a preface: it depends. It depends on what you can afford, what you’re shooting, and what you need in your production. I don’t think that one-body-fits-all works for everyone because each person has their own unique set of circumstances. In this comparison, I’ll try to break down the main differences between the 3 bodies in a simple, clear, and concise way.
BODY AND BRAINS
First off, I want to start off by clearing RED’s nomenclature which causes a lot of confusion:
- Dragon is the sensor
- Raven/Scarlet-W/Weapon are DSMC2 bodies
- ALL DSMC2 bodies have the Dragon sensor
- Mysterium-X (MX) is the old sensor that has been retired
- Epic/Scarlet are DSMC1 bodies, which can be paired with either the Dragon or MX sensors
- DSMC stands for Digital Stills and Motion Camera with two generations: DSMC1 (Epic, Scarlet) and DSMC2 (Raven, Scarlet-W, Weapon)
RED identifies their camera bodies as “brains” which is a fitting name; it’s the processing power and sensor size beneath the hood that differentiates the models. While all the new DSMC2 bodies contain the Dragon sensor, the sensor size, max resolution, and data rates differ between the three. Quite frankly, the image quality between the Weapon, Scarlet-W, and Raven will be exactly the same assuming you are using the same OLPF and camera settings. There is NO image difference between the three cameras at common resolution, compression, and settings.
RED’s cheapest body, the Raven, consists of a smaller cut of the Dragon sensor that measures 23.04mm x 10.8mm. It is slightly smaller than Academy 35 and very close to APS-C size. The Raven maxes out at 4.5K (4608 x 2161) and features a fixed EF mount and non-swappable Standard OLPF. It’s designed for lightweight aerial and gimbal work with it’s lighter aluminum construction. Of course, it’s image is still on par with the other RED Dragon cameras.
- Starts at $6950 for the body only
- Great for first time RED owners who might not need the features of the Scarlet-W or Weapon
- Amazing “B”-Cam
- Great for people that do a lot of aerial and gimbal work and want a dedicated flying body
- Great for anyone with a tight on a budget but is wanting a professional-grade cinema camera
- Fixed Canon EF mount
- Fixed Standard OLPF (though the Standard OLPF is still amazing and all you may ever need)
- Smaller sensor size
- Maxes out at 4.5K resolution
- Narrower field of view vs. 5K/6K
- Not as good in low-light (smaller sensor and resolution, noise appears larger, no access to Low-Light OLPF)
- High Frame-Rate options limited at higher resolutions
- 3D LUTs not supported
- Record out limited to 1080P HD with SDI/HDMI
The “Scarlet” name gets a bad rep, mainly because people usually associate it with the much older and retired “Scarlet M-X” but they don’t realize it’s just as capable as any of the Weapon or Epic bodies when equipped with the Dragon sensor, just at 5K.
The Scarlet-W to me is the best value RED camera with all the features that most people would need in a cinema camera. The Scarlet-W sports its trademark “battleship gray” color and features a 5K Dragon sensor that measures 25.6mm x 13.5mm with a max resolution of 5120 x 2700. It’s a true Super 35 sized sensor (slightly wider than S35 actually).
It’s best for any filmmaker who is past the “beginner’s curve” and has budgets that can accommodate a need for PL glass. It’s really for anyone who wants to futureproof themselves and might find that they’ll outgrow the Raven quickly.
- Starts at $9950 for the body
- Interchangeable mounts (EF, PL, Nikon, Leica M, whatever you want)
- Interchangable OLPFs
- 5K Resolution
- More robust and versatile than the Raven (more resolution, high framerate options, more compression options, lens options, OLPF options)
- Super 35 field of view
- Limited to 5K resolution
- Narrower field of view vs. 6K
- Higher compression rates than Weapon
- Limited ProRes recording options (max 2K ProRes 422HQ)
- “Scarlet” name
RED’s flagship camera, the Weapon. Capable of 6K resolution with 8K coming soon, the RED Weapon encapsulates all that is RED. 6K Full Frame sensor measuring 30.7mm x 15.8mm and max resolution of 6114 x 3160. The 8K sensor will measure 40.96 x 21.60 with a resolution of 8192 x 4320.
What many people may not know is that there are actually three versions of the Weapon body: Forged Carbon Fiber (CF), Woven CF, and Magnesium (MG). There are differences between these bodies and differences to how they can be upgraded in the future.
- Forged CF – Aside from it’s aesthetics and the $10,000 price difference, there is no difference between the forged and woven CF models. (edited & corrected: Forged CF Weapons do not get priority in the 8K upgrade queue)
- Woven CF – Faster data rates than the MG, supports 33x33x33 3D LUTs, 4K UHD ProRes 422HQ, and 2K ProRes simultaneous recording of up to 120 FPS. Eligible for the 8K sensor upgrade.
- Magnesium – Not eligible for the 8K Dragon sensor upgrade (as of now). Only 17x17x17 3D LUT support and limited to 2K ProRes 444XQ simultaneous recording of up to 60 FPS (4K UHD ProRes not supported). Slightly heavier than CF bodies. (3.35 lbs compared to the 3.27 lbs of the CF)
- 6K and 8K sensors
- Higher Framerates at higher resolution and lower compression
- Lower Compression at all resolutions
- 4K ProRes recording (422 HQ), and 2K ProRes recording (4444 XQ)
- Looks awesome
- Lens coverage at 6K and 8K limited
Ultimately, it’s really up to you and what your budget can afford. If you feel that you can afford the premium for a Scarlet-W or Weapon and can pay it off in a timely manner without ruining your financial position, then by all means the Scarlet-W/Weapon is the way to go. That doesn’t mean that the Raven still isn’t a good option — there’s still the draw of the RED name and the Dragon sensor that I’m sure even the Raven can get you the jobs you need. If your production understands that the camera maxes out at 4.5K and you don’t need to go any higher, then it’s the perfect choice.
I always recommend referring to Phil Holland’s graphics for seeing the difference in field of view and resolution between the 3 bodies. What you want to focus on are the white squares that refer to each body.
Thanks for reading and please feel free to leave any comments or questions you have!