Digital cameras of note

Trailer for Knowing starring Nicolas Cage. Notable as this movie was shot on the Red One, recently profiled in Wired magazine.

I had a chance to visit Red headquarters last week and play with a couple of Red Ones they had set up with different lenses and configurations. What's amazing about the Red One is that what it allows a filmmaker to do is potentially shoot, edit, and output a 2K resolution movie (the Red One shoots 4K but 2K is close to the resolution of what you see in most movie theaters) all using equipment you can afford and put in your own house. On the price-performance curve, if you plot every camera from your average camcorder you can buy at Best Buy to something like a Panavision 35mm camera or even an IMAX camera, the Red One is an outlier.

The sensor in the Red One can be thought of as similar to the 12 megapixel sensor in your digital SLR, except the Red One can shoot 24 fps (or higher, if you want to overcrank), whereas your SLR shoots maybe 11fps in burst mode and eventually has to stop to clear its buffer.

If you can't afford a Red One, which while cheap is still a $17,500 body, todays specs for the new Nikon D90 should be really intriguing. The D90 follows in the footsteps of other Nikon Digital SLRs, but there's a twist. This 12.3 megapixel SLR can also shoot HD, 720p, 24fps video.

As David Pogue points out, there are some limitations:

  • Shooting HD, the max shot length is 5 minutes.

  • The audio is mono.

  • The camera shoots in .avi file formats that eat up a ton of memory card space.

  • Once you start recording video, autofocus no longer works.

The last one was the biggest disappointment to me as it would have been amazing to shoot a fast-moving subject in high dev without having to have an AC (assistant cameraperson). On a professional film shoot, when making a movie, the 1st AC is responsible for pulling focus, or adjusting the focus on the lens during a shot. So there is no autofocus on a professional film shoot, like you have on a prosumer camcorder. But that's by design. Anyone who's watched a consumer home video and watched the focus drift in and out as the camera's autofocus struggles to figure out where you want focus to lie knows that manually controlling focus is one of the professional cinematographer's tools, not a hindrance.

But for the average consumer, shooting their child at a soccer game with their D90, having the full capabilities of the Nikon's autofocus systems to track their child as they spring towards the camera would be amazing.

Still, all that being said, adding HD video capabilities to an SLR is a nifty trick. I don't need a D90, but I'd sure love one. It won't be too long after these are released until we see the first short film shot entirely on the D90.

By the way, you can buy a Nikon mount for the Red One so that it accepts Nikon lenses to shoot with also. Every day, digital SLRs and digital camcorders converge.