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The Red One digital camera is perhaps the most powerful video camera on the market as of this writing. It certainly has the highest resolution, coming in at over 4,000 horizontal scan lines (hence, the term 4K technology).

Part 1: Overview

This Red camera literally came out of nowhere and blindsided the major manufacturers like Sony and Panasonic, who didn't take the camera seriously even when the found out about it. This is exactly what happened to Avid when Apple stole a large chunk of the post-production market with their editing system Final Cut Pro.

Red vs. The Competition

To understand the leap in technology, you must compare the Red camera to its competition. The Red has a resolution of 4,096 lines. Presently, the next best video camera has a maximum resolution of 1,080 lines. The Red's technology is so far ahead of the current crop of HD cameras that it has been coined Ultra HD.

Red vs. 35mm

The Red camera's 4K image quality is closer to 65mm than it is to 35mm. Footage shot in 35mm is transferred to video for digital post-production. Consequently, the final 35mm image is equivalent to 1K lines of horizontal resolution by the time it is projected in theaters. There is a comprehensive study confirming this (see link below).


Just as amazing as the image quality is the price. The camera body initially cost $17,500. At that time, the cheapest HD camera of this caliber was $65,000.

The Red One was introduced by a small mom and pop company called Red Digital Cinema. There was no marketing campaign, just word of mouth. In addition, it sold factory direct without a middleman.

Needless to say jaws dropped in the industry when the Red One was unveiled. Extremely high quality at an extremely low price--everyone wanted one. The camera was back-ordered for over a year and new owners said it was worth the wait. Many put in follow up orders.

Part 2: Recording & Storage

In Part 1 we introduced the ultra high definition Red One digital camera. At 4,096 horizontal scan lines, it has the highest resolution of any HD camera currently on the market.

The camera also has the lowest price of any camera in its class because it is sold factory direct without a middleman. The next cheapest camera is five times more expensive and offers a quarter of the resolution!

Let's take a closer look at this revolutionary camera.

Camera Dimensions

The Red camera body is made out of cast aluminum. Unlike most other digital cameras on the market, no plastic is used in its construction. The camera body is 12″ long and 6″ high. It weighs 10 pounds. Fully configured with lens, matte box, and media recorder, it weighs 30 pounds.


The Red One gives you the option to record using 4K, 3K, or 2K lines of resolution. By comparison, the next best HD camera offers only 1K recording. The Red camera cannot natively record in the lower HD resolutions of 1080 and 720 lines. The clips, however, can be scaled down to these resolutions in post-production. They can also be scaled down to standard definition (SD) video.

Recording Format

Competing HD cameras use formats and recording CODECS that involve some form of compression or color subsampling of data, which ultimately degrades the image. The RED camera records the signal in RAW, which is uncompressed and unprocessed. Each frame has as much information as you might find in a digital still photograph, and indeed, RAW is the same format used by digital still cameras.

Image Sensor

Competing HD cameras use three CCD chips with three corresponding channels for the red, green, and blue signals (RGB). The Red camera uses one CMOS sensor and the data travels in a single path through the camera. The design is much more simple and streamline compared to conventional video cameras.

The CMOS image sensor is a large one. It is 12 megapixels and measures 24.4mm x 13.7mm (.96 x.54 inches). With a trademark name of Mysterium, the sensor is proprietary to Red Digital Cinema, its designer.

4K recordings use the full surface area of the sensor, while 3K and 2K recordings use windowed areas. It's best to shoot in 4K and scale down later because it offers more flexibility. The benefits of shooting in 3K and 2K are that it allows higher frame rates and longer recording times.


The red camera has four channels for audio recording. There is no microphone. Instead, the camera has four mini XLR input connectors for external microphones.

We hope this information gives you a better understanding of the form and function of the Red One digital camera. In the Part 3 we will investigate how the camera records and stores image files. You may find it interesting that the manufacturer doesn't consider the Red One a video camera in the classic sense. What is it then?

Part 3: Recording & Storage

In Parts 1 and 2, we looked at the general specs and capabilities of the revolutionary Red One digital camera. Now we will examine how the camera records and stores images.

Firmware Builds

One of the innovations of the Red camera, in addition to the extraordinary 4,096 lines of horizontal resolution, is that it can be re-programmed as developments are made by the manufacturer. A reprogramming is known as a "firmware build."

Firmware builds add new features and refine existing ones in such areas as recording, exposure control, and color science. Ultimately this gives the camera capabilities beyond its original design.

Firmware builds are available to owners right off the Internet, free of charge. The camera displays its current firmware build when it boots up.


As we discussed in the previous article, the Red camera records in RAW, like a digital still camera. RAW images are uncompressed and involve no color subsampling. In essence, the raw data is all the information that the camera's 12 megapixel sensor "sees."

The amount of recorded data is so vast that white balance and gain are not required prior to shooting. These adjustments can be made after the fact in post-production. In fact, the only adjustment that needs to be made at the time of shooting is exposure.

Because the Red camera records RAW and there is only one data path (no RGB as in typical video recording), it is closer to a digital still camera than a video camera. Technically, it does not shoot video, which is defined as an RGB signal, but rather high speed still images. It seems strange but that's how the manufacturer, Red Digital Cinema, views the camera.

Despite this, the signal can be converted to RGB to play on HD monitors. The camera has HD outputs for this purpose. There is no SD output.

Redcode RAW

Redcode RAW is the CODEC that the Red camera uses to compress 4K clips into manageable file sizes. This allows the files to be recorded on different media including compact flash cards.

Redcode RAW has two levels of compression Redcode 28 and Redcode 36. Redcode 28 is for recording normal scenes, while Redcode 36 uses less compression and is appropriate for highly detailed images.


The Red camera offers three way to store recordings:

1. Compact Flash Card - records up to 10 minutes
2. RAID Hard Drive - records up to 6 hours
3. Red RAM - records up to 1 hour

The first method is recommended because it is simple and dependable. It requires a RED CF module which attaches to the camera. After shooting, the flash card is easily popped out of the camera and into a computer for editing.

As of this writing, flash cards can store up to 16GB, with a 4K recording time of 10 minutes. This may not seem like much, but it is the same running time of a 35mm film magazine.

The RAID hard drive and Red RAM are viable options, but they add weight to the camera and a slightly more involved workflow when compared to the ease of handling a small flash card.

We hope this series on the Red One camera has been helpful. Red Digital Cinema has managed to democratize production by bringing an affordable Ultra HD camera to the market in much the same way Apple helped indie film editors with Final Cut Pro.

The company is in the process of designing lower and higher end cameras, along with a 4K monitor and projector. These will prove to be a treat to filmmakers at all budget levels.  -

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