I’d like to encourage everyone reading this to pick up a copy of this month’s Wired magazine (Sept. 2008, page 128) and read the article. Then I’d like you to write to both Wired magazine’s editorial department (email@example.com) and the article’s author (Michael Behar, whose email address is listed at the end of the article).
This is one of the SLOPPIEST pieces of journalism I have ever read pertaining to the film industry. Here is the email I just sent to both the author and the editorial department:
I’ve just read your article about the RED camera (“A Star is Born,” Sept. 2008) and I’d like to correct a number of errors.
On page 132 the article states a digital cinema camera requires a 35mm-sized sensor to give filmmakers control over depth of field, color saturation, tonality “and a half dozen other other factors that 35mm film provides.” The 35mm-sized sensor affects only resolution. Tonality and color saturation have little or nothing to do with sensor size.
Because the RED uses a Bayer pattern sensor the effective resolution of the system is not a full 4k. It is either 3.2k or 2.8k, depending on who’s doing the testing. (See https://www.provideocoalition.com/index.php/awilt/story/more_red_res_testing_the_mysteryium_resolved/ for one such test.)
The article implies that depth of field has something to do with analog capture versus digital capture. The “Analog Advantage” box on page 133 says “Analog film lets moviemakers control the depth of field; 2k and HD cameras force everything into focus.” This is just plain wrong: depth of field has to do with optics and sensor size, and nothing to do with analog or digital capture.
For a given angle of view and subject size, cameras with smaller sensors require a wider lens to capture the same angle of view than a larger sensor camera would. The RED’s 4k sensor is similar in size to a 35mm film frame, so the same lens on either camera will produce roughly the same angle of view and depth of field. So will the same lens mounted on the Vision Research Phantom HD camera, the Panavision Genesis HD camera, the Dalsa Origin HD camera, the Arri D20 or D21 HD cameras, and the soon-to-be-released Sony F35 HD camera, all of which have 35mm film-sized sensors.
Other professional HD cameras, such as the Sony F23 and the Panasonic Varicam, use a prism block with three 2/3″ sensors attached. The smaller size of the sensor means that lenses must be approximately two times shorter in focal length to capture the same image size as seen on a 35mm sensor. Shorter focal length equals wider lenses equals more depth of field, so more of the image ends up in focus. Super 16mm film cameras capture frames that are roughly the same size as a 2/3″ HD sensor, and the resulting image has the same depth of field as the F23 and Varicam–even though the capture medium is analog film. Analog versus digital capture has nothing at all to do with depth of field.
The comparison chart on pages 132-133 is misleading. The cost for a RED camera body is $17,500, and that buys you a black box with a lens mount and the word “RED” printed on it. The accessories required to turn it into a full-featured production camera can cost well over $100,000. This includes lenses, monitors, hard drives, tripod/fluid head, filters, viewfinder, follow focus, matte box, etc. “Camera Operator Magazine,” put out by the Society of Camera Operators (soc.org), recently published an article entitled “How a $17,500 Camera Cost Me $100,000” by cinematographer James Mathers, a RED owner.
To compare the monthly rental cost of a Panaflex camera PACKAGE to the CAMERA BODY ONLY purchase price of a RED is extremely misleading, as the Panavision package will contain all the accessories needed to make that camera a complete and reliable production tool. The RED, at its $17,500 base price, does not. If all you ordered was the base RED camera, and you didn’t own any other motion picture equipment, you’d have a very expensive (but cool looking) door stop.
I’m curious about Bengt Jan Jonsson (page 160) who is quoted as being “cinematographer” on the TV series “Bones,” implying that he is the primary (first unit) cinematographer. I know the gaffer on that series and he is working with cinematographer Gordon Lonsdale on the current season. IMDB.com lists no one named Bengt Jan Jonsson as working on that show. He is certainly not the primary cinematographer as this article leads us to believe.
Mr. Jonsson is quoted on that same page as saying that if one proposed using the film workflow in Hollywood today, one would be taken to the “city square and hung.” How ironic, then, that the show he is supposedly shooting (“Bones”) is, according to the spring/summer issue of Camera Operator Magazine, shot on 35mm Kodak film using Moviecam film cameras.
The RED camera is fairly spectacular for what it does at the price it costs, but it has had a lot of growing pains. I do like using the camera more than many other HD solutions that I’ve tried to date because it is the most film-like camera available at that price point; but the RED’s greatest strength has not always been its technology–it’s been the marketing.
Last but not least, on page 133 it says that the article is continued on page 163, whereas it really continues and ends on page 160. This makes me wonder just how much fact checking went into not just this article but the entire issue.