Yes, I have RED envy.
I would love nothing more than be able to film on what is probably the best camera platform in the world right now. It’s hard to ignore the impressive specs that the RED Cameras boast:
- 8K RAW
- 16.5 Stops of Dynamic Range
- Amazing Slow Motion Capabilities (120 fps @ 4K | 96 fps @ 5K)
- Virtually unbeatable image quality
- Simple to use Menu Structure
But with prices starting at $29,000 USD for the Brain alone (upwards of $65,000 USD for a complete kit) it all but excludes the use of this platform for smaller production houses like my own. An item of note; this isn’t RED’s top of the line camera even!
Let’s talk about YouTube for a moment.
In it’s short 13 year history, YouTube has revolutionized how businesses market themselves. It has brought so much to the table I could go on and on about how crucial YouTube is to business today. 5150, like so many other production houses, has targeted this platform for their releases. Say it with me now…
12 megabits per second.
For cinematographers like me, this is pretty much the worst thing you can say to us. It’s basically a hand-cuff. You might as well make fun of the size of our lens or make fun of the fact that we’re probably wearing a utility belt full of camera gear at this very moment.
For consumers of YouTube content however, this statement means absolutely nothing other than the fact that YouTube videos will work on even the most dismal of internet connections. Even for 4K video, YouTube only increases their bit-rates to a laughable 25-30 Megabits per second.
But what exactly are Megabits Per Second, or Mbps for short? Mbps is essential the data-rate at which a video camera records footage. Essentially, the bigger this number is, the better the quality that the footage will be.
High-end Cameras like the RED lineup, have data-rates in the 500 Mbps and up (Way Up) for compressed footage. Any footage recorded in RAW can’t even be measured using Mbps; but needs a larger unit of measure…Gigabits! To give you a real-world example, a modern day Blu-Ray player presents your favorite movie around 50 Mbps. So this is the perfect segue for me to explain why I use a $15,000 SONY rig instead of a $65,000 RED setup; more on YouTube data-rates in a moment.
Yes the RED is impressive. If someone gave me one to film with, I would do so merrily, but to be honest, there are things that I like about the SONY lineup a bit better. I’ve been using SONY Professional Cameras for 5 years now on both Run-and-Gun as well as Studio jobs. Here is why I have continued to use the FS lineup:
Price: Not to beat a dead horse too much, but for smaller production shops the FS5/FS7/FS700 fit very well into their budgets and tend to keep production costs down.
Low-Light: Their low-light performance is amazing; and because I do a lot of Run-and-gun documentary filming, this is a huge advantage. With my “Come Drive With Us” series, when I conduct a track-side interview I literally have 4 seconds to setup for my shot. In a corporate video or in a studio setting, I can literally have hours to frame, block & set the lighting for my shot. It’s in this frantic, often chaotic & hyper emotional setting where the SONY lineup really shines. It really comes down to simply putting your subject into the quadrant of the screen you want, checking exposure, remembering your interview questions and hitting RECORD!
One of the most difficult shoots I was on last year was a race held inside an Arena. The lighting was awful, and then add to that constant dust floating in the air. The end-result however, looks amazing:
Specs: In any 5150 produced movie or video I use two cameras from the SONY lineup. My “A-Camera” is the SONY FS7 and the “B-Camera” is the trusty FS700. Both have very impressive specs considering their price:
- 4K RAW
- 14 Stops of Dynamic Range
- Slow Motion Capabilities (180 fps @ 2K RAW)
- 4K RAW
- 12 stops of Dynamic Range
- Slow Motion Capabilities (240 fps @ 4K RAW (6 second burst) | 240 fps @2K RAW)
Both of these cameras also have high bit-rates on the image. I almost never shoot RAW and I tend to use formats that are in the 150-200 Mbps range.
This is where YouTube comes back into the conversation. The bit-rates that I record at are still well beyond the 12 Mbps that YouTube converts my video to once uploaded. Will the image quality of the RED footage look better than my SONY cameras even at these lower bit-rates? Yes; very likely. Will it be noticeable to your customers? Nope!
My Point in all of this, is don’t exclude production companies that don’t shoot with RED cameras. If they show up with an iPhone you know there just might be a problem, but in the end, high end cameras like the SONY FS Cameras, the Blackmagic Lineup or even a high quality DSLR will produce absolutely amazing looking content. This will help your company production quality and will put you a step ahead of your competitors.
Thanks for Reading! In the mean time, don’t forget to checkout one of my favorite docs shot on SONY equipment!