Apr 27

CHOOSING YOUR RED CAMERA: RAVEN, SCARLET-W, OR WEAPON

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.

 

RAVEN

raven-angles

 

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.

 

The Good:

  • 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

 

The Bad:

  • 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

 

SCARLET-W

s-w-angles

 

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.

 

The Good:

  • 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

 

The Bad:

  • 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

 

WEAPON

weapon-angles

From left to right: Forged Carbon Fiber, Woven Carbon Fiber, Magnesium

 

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)

 

The Good:

  • 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)
  • Lighter
  • Looks awesome

 

The Bad:

  • Expensive
  • Lens coverage at 6K and 8K limited

 

VERDICT?

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.

 

phfx_REDDSMC2BRAINS_formatsAndFilm

 

Thanks for reading and please feel free to leave any comments or questions you have!

-Brian

About the Author:
Brian is a freelance cinematographer based out of Los Angeles, CA. He's currently a Cinematography Fellow at the prestigious AFI Conservatory.


9 Comments:

  1. nuk
    May 15, 2016
    Reply

    i was thinking of ordering the scarlet -w any word how long its gonna take to get one the these things?

    • Brian
      May 15, 2016
      Reply

      Word is that you’re looking at Fall if you order one now. There’s a big backlog.

  2. Jose Mojica
    July 08, 2016
    Reply

    Hi Brian,

    I agree that the Scarlet-W seems like a better deal than the Raven, if you can afford it. I’m wondering, what if you had to choose between a Raven and the older Scarlet Dragon? Would you choose the Raven then?

    Thanks!

    • Brian
      July 10, 2016
      Reply

      Hey Jose,

      Really good question. There are a lot of things to consider; even though the Scarlet Dragon is older, I would probably choose it over the Raven mainly due to it’s functionality as a fully professional cinema camera. Just the fact that you can have a PL mount and use real cinema glass is the biggest benefit, along with the larger 5K Super 35 sensor. The Raven benefits in it’s ability to shoot internal ProRes and newer body design but that’s about it.

      • Jose Mojica
        July 13, 2016
        Reply

        Thanks, Brian! I’m in the wait list for a Scarlet-W, but there’s such a long wait that I’ve also been considering other options, like the Scarlet Dragon, and the Varicam LT. If I can’t get the Scarlet-W by the end of the year, I’ll have to decide between the other two. I saw your comparison between the Scarlet-W and the Varicam LT, and I know you liked the Varicam, but I am afraid of not having extra pixels above 4K, and not having RAW yet. It is also really nice that you can edit RED footage easily in FCPX.

  3. Eddie
    August 14, 2016
    Reply

    Thank you for doing this. I am wondering if there is a definitely buying guide for Raven and Scarlet W. Like a first timer (me) going to a either camera. For example, buy the battery pack from X company, and the screen you should buy from here, and the handle you can get from here. That way you know what to buy from RED.com vs Woodencamera, etc… and know the best most practical and affordable solution for setting it up.

  4. Ife Duckie
    September 10, 2016
    Reply

    Thank you, your article has helped me come to a decision.

  5. Nausheen Dadabhoy
    March 05, 2017
    Reply

    OMG! I’m looking for tips to shoot on a Scarlet X and I came across your blog. You’re FAMOUS! Please send me any helpful hints 😉

    • Brian
      March 06, 2017
      Reply

      😀 Yeah, some of my posts have gotten good traction! What do you need to know? Shoot me an e-mail/text!


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