Cameramaker's prototypes not ready

In many businesses, some brands break through the clutter and develop a cultlike following. Think Starbucks for coffee, Apple for computers, and Google for search.

And for cameras, think Red.

But the company has no booth this year in Las Vegas. Is there trouble in Red land?

Not at all, according to Red’s Ted Schilowitz, whose official title is leader of the rebellion. He says camera sales are proceeding well — about 6,000 Red One cameras have left the factory and have been shipped worldwide — and that nearly 800 feature films of all budget categories, including Steven Soderbergh’s last five movies, have been shot on Red Ones. The camera also has found a home in TV: Shows from “ER” to “Southland” have used it.

The big issue, per Schilowitz, is delays among Red’s suppliers. “The new cameras have been affected by manufacturer slowdowns,” he says. “The economy is wreaking havoc on a lot of tech suppliers, so we’re a little bit late in having a working prototype, especially in the kind of volume we wanted to have at NAB, with the kind of marketing dollars we’d need to spend there.”

Red founder Jim Jannard confirms, “We pulled out of NAB this year only because we were not prepared to show working models of (new cameras) Scarlet and Epic.”

(Jannard, who also founded the Oakley sunglasses brand, ranks 207th on the Forbes list of the 400 wealthiest Americans.)

When the Red Digital Cinema Co. burst upon the scene in 2006, it promised 4K image acquisition in a lightweight unit, able to accommodate most existing film-camera lenses as well as new Red lenses, for the absurdly low price of $17,500.

The resolution, close to that of 35mm film, far surpassed that of all existing — and far more expensive — HD and digital cameras, with the exception of the now-defunct Dalsa (which carried a higher price and bulk).

A Red “movement” quickly emerged. Hundreds of hopeful users plunked down $1,000 deposits for the camera, sight unseen. For three years, lines of Red fans snaked around the company’s booth at NAB — first to peek at prototypes, then to see demos of the real thing.

And, with some hiccups along the way, Red delivered on its promise. Peter Jackson shot a demo film on Red, wowing auds at NAB ’07. Last year, as NAB crowds grew, Red announced product extensions beyond the original Red One model — namely the 3K Scarlet and the 5K Epic.

Ambitions remain high at Red. Manufacturers including Quantel and Adobe have integrated the camera’s output into their post workflow. Plus, the configuration of the Scarlet and Epic models “has changed over the last few months to a more flexible system,” Schilowitz says. There will be four different camera bodies. The 3K version of Scarlet will be priced at $2,500. Other Scarlet models will capture at 5K and 6K. Epic cameras will capture at 5K, 6K, 9K and a whopping 28K.

“We bring a lot to the table in terms of cost benefits at the front end and without the costs of the film stock and the lab,” Schilowitz says.

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