The evolving RED Raven review

RED RAVEN DRAGON 4.5K REVIEW!

Processed with VSCO with acg preset

The first time taking my Raven out of the box

EDIT: THIS REVIEW IS A WORK IN PROGRESS, DONE WITH FIRMWARE DSMC RELEASE BUILD V6.3.27. THERE IS NEWER FIRMWARE (DSMC RELEASE BUILD V6.3.78 AS OF 02/03/17) OUT THAT I WILL BE TESTING AND UPDATING IN THE FUTURE.

This is my first review for a camera but certainly not my first camera that I’ve owned.

I came a long way to finally be a RED owner/operator. I began with RCA VHS camcorders back in the early 90s, moved forward with HI-8, Mini-DV (shout out to the Sony VX2100), and then entered the HD realm with Sony Handycam HD camcorders, eventually DSLR’s (I still have my Canon 5D Mark iii at the time of me writing this) and now a RED Raven Dragon 4.5K camera.

Now, with this being my first review, don’t expect the polish and in-depth information you’d receive from other professionals in the field who are experts in the craft of reviews and are also paid for their time to accomplish said reviews. I will give what information I can, with what time I have to give, and update as I go while I continue to use the camera.

My two cameras side by side in a hotel room in Philadelphia

My two cameras side by side in a hotel room in Philadelphia

I’ve owned my Raven since August 2016 but refrained from posting much until now because I wanted to get some hours on the camera and not just a weekend. My experience with RED prior to me owning the Raven has always been fairly positive. I first worked with RED as a 2nd A/C on a feature film that was using a RED Epic MX back in 2013 (which isn’t very hands on if you’ve ever 2nd A/C’d). Previously having worked with Super 16mm film had already given me the experience with a more professional workflow of filmmaking, so the process of working around the RED system wasn’t anything foreign to me, but instead, quite familiar. It sure was a slower work-pace than commonly experienced with DSLR type camera environments, but it felt more professional and it felt like you were a part of something bigger.

I later was able to 1st A/C / Camera Operate a project in 2014 on the RED Epic MX, which is where I really got to know the camera and its quirks (such as black shading between temperature changes, compression ratios, working with the REDcode, the joy of False Color, etc.) This camera really was similar to working with the film process, just a lot more technical with immediate control of your image.

I then shot a short film on the RED Scarlet MX, which I still think is a fine camera, however, my biggest gripe with REDcode back then was the struggle in low-light. I found the shadows to be quite muddy and noisy and compression rates tended to really effect the image in low-light environments. The lack of ProRes always was a downer, eliminating some alternative options of use with the camera. Overall though, the image was spectacular with proper lighting and the ability to get that cinematic look, with the resolution it could produce, was indeed ahead of its time. Being able to achieve quality that was commonplace in the movie theaters was just an incredible feeling. Not to mention the complete control and amazing experience working with RAW files. I had experience working with RAW still images and once I finally had the first hand experience to get just that with video, thanks to RED, I immediately fell in love.

I eventually was able to work the RED Epic Dragon sensor and that’s when I saw this camera really show its true potential. But, this is a review of the RED Raven so I’ll cut to the chase. I used to always say the day RED makes a camera under $7,000, I would buy one and nearly weeks after I began making that statement, the RED Raven was announced. I dropped the deposit in September days after the announcement and began my anxious wait for the March 2016 release date. And I waited . . . and I waited . . . and waited . . . and this is where it became a bit of a problem.

March 16th rolled around and RED had little information on my allocation for the September pre-order. Then April rolled around, then May, and at this point my faith with RED began to be shaken. I pre-ordered within days of the announcement, we were past the announced release time-frame and there was still no camera words in sight (or is it in ear? in hear? regardless!), let alone when I would receive it. I eventually didn’t end up receiving my RED Raven until August 2016, nearly 1 year after my pre-order. In this time-frame, people gave up waiting, moved over to other camera platforms, and RED even increased the price of the camera by $1,000. I was lucky enough to be a part of the early adopter pricing of just under $6,000 for the brain. Of course it costs a lot more to get the camera all up and running. In the end, I feel RED underestimated the demand of the camera, undercut itself in pricing, and backed itself in a corner by offering such a great camera at such a low price point. Now, there are comparable cameras at price point offered by other brands such as Blackmagic Design, but there is something magical about RED’s sensors and the name RED does hold weight and for good reason.

The first time I filmed with the Raven, I only thought it was right to let it spread it's wings.

The first time I filmed with the Raven, I only thought it was right to let it spread its wings.

Now that I gave you a backstory and enough talk about everything BUT the review, I can say it was well worth the wait. I am absolutely satisfied (somewhat) in this camera with no gripes or complaints (sort of)!

I’ll “begin” by explaining how this is RED’s new DSMC2 generation of cameras. DSMC stands for Digital Stills Motion Camera and 2 for it being the second generation of body style. The DSMC2 is more modular, smaller and a lighter solution for RED that allows more ease at user customization, drone and gimbal rigging, as well as overall mobility of the camera. I am a fan of the body style and for those wishing to achieve that “big-budget camera look,” trust me, this thing can be built up as large and heavy as the rest of the bunch if need be!

The camera uses the Dragon sensor, which is significantly improved upon its predecessor, the MX sensor. This sensor allows for higher dynamic range, better abilities in low-light, as well as better managing compression rate ratios in camera, which basically allows you to shoot at higher compression rates without negatively effecting the quality of your image.

RED can be confusing with its name, labels, camera body, sensors, etc. You often find clients asking for a RED Epic, which could mean Epic as in the style and build of the camera, which there is a DSMC and a DSMC2 version, as well as there is an Epic with a MX sensor, and a Epic with a Dragon sensor, as well as an Epic with a 8K Helium sensor known as the Epic-W. You can ask for a RED Dragon, and technically, you may think you mean Epic Dragon, but you end up with a RED Scarlet Dragon or even a RED Raven which is indeed a Dragon sensor! Or you can ask for a RED Scarlet, which could be a RED Scarlet MX sensor DSMC body, or a RED Scarlet Dragon, or a RED Scarlet W, Dragon sensor, DSMC2 body. And now we have the new Helium sensors and can shoot anywhere between 4K and 8K and a RED Scarlet MX can shoot 4K while a RED Scarlet Dragon and Scarlet-W can shoot 5K while a RED Raven Dragon can shoot 4.5K. Are you still following? Good!

The RED Raven is a DSMC2 generation body style with a Dragon sensor that shoots in 4.5K RAW and 2K ProRes! Now, does this camera replace any camera in RED’s arsenal? Kind of yes, kind of no, its kind of in its own league. RED is very strategic in making sure its cameras service a very specific need so as to not obsolete its relative cameras. RED Raven is more advanced than a RED Scarlet MX and it is also more advanced than a RED Epic MX, in some ways, except a RED Epic MX can shoot 5K, while the RED Raven is 4.5K, But the Raven can shoot ProRes, where the original Epic can’t, and the Raven can handle compression rates better, but has a slightly narrower field of view making it slightly less effective in low-light, but technically, it can handle low-light a little better due to the Dragon sensor, as well as handle compression rates more effectively, so technically, it should be able to perform better in low-light than an Epic MX. See what I mean? They perform similar to Apple, where they have a MacBook Air, MacBook, and MacBook Pro. They know their market, they offer something for everyone, yet just because you get a RED Raven doesn’t mean you won’t benefit from a Scarlet-W, and vice versa. So, if you’re reading this wondering which one is best for you, it depends! (And a post comparing the RED Raven and RED Scarlet-W will be coming up shortly in the near future! My business partner recently received his RED Scarlet-W so expect it very soon!)

So, what can this camera do? Let’s get to the long and short of it. (I’ve pretty much already gave you the long!)

-It records ProRes in 2K either stand-alone or simultaneously with RAW recording.
-It has lower compression ratios and handles higher compression ratios better than previous sensor.
-It has auto sensor calibration which means it auto black shades)
-It DOES NOT have 3D LUT support. (they left this feature for its Scarlet-W, Weapon and Epic-W line of cameras)
*The work around I have for this is I own a SmallHD 701 monitor that I load my LUTs on and use that as reference
-It has built in WiFi
-It is lighter! It is smaller! It is modular!
-It shoots in 4.5K up to 120fps! (240fps in 2K)
-16.5+ stops of dynamic range!
-It has a FIXED EF mount. (No PL option here!)
-It has a FIXED Standard OLPF. (No swapping!)
-You know what? You can get all this stuff on RED.com! Go there and read up on the tech specs! Let’s keep moving!

My current studio build for the RED Raven equipped with gear from Redrock Micro, Wooden Camera, Tilta, Switronix, Tiffen, Canon and SmallHD.

My current studio build for the RED Raven equipped with gear from Redrock Micro, Wooden Camera, Tilta, Switronix, Tiffen, Canon, Zacuto and SmallHD.

Above is a recent image of my RED Raven. It is displayed equipped with a Redrock Micro studio matte box with Tiffin 4 x 5.6 ND filters, Wooden Camera Easy Riser w/ 15mm bracket, Zacuto 6.5″ aluminum rods, Tilta follow-focus, Core SWX HyperCore Slim RED V-mount batteries, SmallHD 701 (on opposite side) and a Canon 24-105L. I’ll say this now, the Canon 16-35L ii is a much better all around lens for the camera, as it is f/2.8 and better serves the crop-factor the camera dishes out. I own the Canon 16-35L ii as seen in the above picture of the Raven flying high in the sky but was doing 24-105L tests when this picture was taken.

Let’s quick talk crop-factors!

courtesy of Phil Holland from REDUser forum

courtesy of Phil Holland from REDUser forum

Good talk!

No, seriously, this pretty much explains it in an easy / confusing / easy (it is! okay, its kind of crop-factor overload, but it can get way more difficult than this so thank Phil for taking one for the team and making it easy! Okay, LESS confusing!)

I bet you just want to see some footage by now. Okay, okay. Below you’ll find some footage shot with the RED that I’ll follow up with some closing thoughts!

RED Raven RIGGED UP! from Christopher Murray on Vimeo.

A Glimpse into a Cornfield from Christopher Murray on Vimeo.

The Raven Spreads It's Wings from Christopher Murray on Vimeo.

20 Katie Lane from Christopher Murray on Vimeo.

RED Raven Unboxing from Christopher Murray on Vimeo.

There you have it! I know there is definitely more I could say but I feel this post is running its course in length. Some final thoughts are that I love the size. It really makes it more feasible to be more mobile with this camera, however, you have to pay to achieve mobility. If you get just a top handle, it will be weird and uncomfortable to go handheld that way and I often find that the placement of the handle (height) with the monitor makes the handle slightly in the way of the LCD but not really. Wooden Camera makes a cable that allows you to get the live-mounted LCD monitor off of the brain for use but that is a couple hundred dollars, plus the cine-arm you’ll need. A DSMC2 side handle is around $900 and the cheaper option for a side handle is around $500 so you do have to spend a little to make the camera comfortable to use off of a tripod.

So, I guess you can say, the awesome ability for this camera to be fully modular also can be a bit of a hinderance if you want a camera to be ready to up-and-go out of the box. I would plan to spend anywhere between $10,000-$15,000 to get this camera to be what you truly want from studio setting, to handheld, to shoulder rig. But that still is not bad pricing to shoot 4.5K RAW with a RED Dragon sensor.

I will continue to post things, both video and thoughts, as I progress through my journey with this camera but I will end this post on that note and open up a discussion in the comments for me to better address your questions and comments without dragging this on for eternity! If requested, I can consider doing a review video for this or others in the future if that would be more effective than a full on blogpost. Things to think about moving forward!



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