By Doug Gritzmacher
Creative Director, Z-Channel Films, Denver, Colorado Google+
I suspect that’s because those video production companies want impress potential clients. What they’re doing is quite the opposite—sending up a red flag that should give potential clients pause.
In 2007 a talented cinematographer (and admitted camera geek) invited me and other video production professionals to his video production studio to get a first look at a new camera he had purchased. That new camera was a RED One.
It’s not prestige you’re getting, it’s overhead.
We had heard the rumors about this camera for a while and were eager to get our fingers on its buttons. In the span of my 20-year career, no other piece of production gear has spawned as much fevered interest. That attention was warranted—the RED One video camera was the first 4K capable camera on the market. It shot in RAW format, also a first, and was capable of shooting 60 frames per second in 4K, yet another first. Nothing else on the market came anywhere close. It was clear why my colleague had bought one—in 2007 shooting with it would gain him a substantial competitive advantage in the marketplace and instant stature in our city’s video production community.
But in 2018? Not so much.
It may have taken more than a decade, but other video camera manufacturers have finally caught up. That includes not only the usual suspects—Arri, Panasonic, Sony, and Canon—but also several other manufacturers that weren’t even in the camera game back in 2007. That includes Black Magic, Kinefinity, and Fuji.
With the exception of Arri cameras (Hollywood’s current go-to ), what all these cameras have in common is they are substantially cheaper than the RED. By a lot.
Consider that the “entry-level” RED camera, the Gemini, is $20,000. And that’s after a $5,000 price drop announced last May. That only includes the “brain”. If you want a monitor, batteries, media cards, and handheld system—in other words, items you actually need to shoot something with it—then you have a lot more dough to fork out.
A Panasonic EVA1 camera that has pretty much the same capabilities? $8,000.
RED defenders will bring you down into the camera tech weeds to point out all the spec differences the RED has, chief among them the ability to record in RAW, one area where other manufactures are still playing catch-up.
This is true. But the EVA1, like Sony and Canon video cameras in the same class, shoot in LOG mode, which is not the same as RAW, but a pretty close substitute. Is the difference worth $16,000?
What really explains the vast price difference? Branding.
RED has done a masterful job creating a cachet around their product that is the envy of other video camera manufacturers (with the possible excpetion of Arri, but their cameras are just as pricey, if not more so). They’ve also led the way in modular design (no one was using the term “brain” to describe a camera body before RED, now the term is commonplace) and have pushed the envelope when it comes to resolution. That’s great. But that kind of industry leadership and aura comes with a price.
When a video production company has a RED, someone’s got to pay for it. That someone is going to be their clients in the form of higher prices for those video production companies’ services.
Now, this doesn’t hold 100 percent of the time. In fact, we use RED cameras, but only when our clients request it. In 2015 DirecTV commissioned us to produce a feature documentary film for their Audience Network. Steve and I directed the film, with me serving as the director of photography. I used the RED Epic camera exclusively. In that instance, the network owned the camera and insisted we use it. And I’ve used a RED camera for other documentary and commercial productions were the client wanted it and was willing to pay the additional cost.
Did Van Gogh advertise his radical “performance brushes” or Shakespeare humble brag about his quill?
But for most corporate videos productions, it’s a red flag: If you work with a Denver video production company that advertises the RED and they are the ones insisting on using it, then it’s not prestige you’re getting, it’s overhead.
So what do you do? By avoiding companies that advertise their overhead, you can get similar results for a better price. The smart choice is to work with a video production company that makes better decisions about video production gear.
After all, cameras are just tools. Did Van Gogh brag about his brushes or Shakespeare humble-brag about his quill?
Of course not. That’s why we focus 100 percent of our attention and resources on creating extreme storytelling value for our clients.
It’s storytelling that moves people. It’s storytelling that sets your corporate brand apart and achieves your marketing goals. It’s storytelling that helps your nonprofit raise money and awareness.
Those original RED One video camera specs are still impressive more than a decade later. In retrospect, it’s remarkable how far ahead of the curve RED truly was. But with other far less expensive options available today, the RED is no longer a badge of prestige, it’s a badge of higher prices.