The Battle for Cheap 4K: A Red Scarlet vs Canon C300 vs 1DC vs Sony F5 Price Comparison

Sony PMW F5

It’s going to be year of 4K workflows. Well, maybe not in 2013, but at least in 2014!

By then, most of the major players will have had all their 4K systems out in the open with nowhere to hide. But that’s not going to tell us anything, really. These games have been going on since the dawn of video.

What will really queer the pitch is when a 4K Ultra HD television lands in our homes as a matter of due course.

For filmmakers and media professionals, getting your 4K workflow down early will give you the edge. But herein lies the problem (the same age-old problem that will resurface next week): Which camera is the best? Is there a good 4K camera under $20,000?

I am in such a conundrum myself, really. I pulled the plug on my BMCC order so I can go 4K, but it’s a serious investment. My mission is to find the best 4K system within a reasonable budget – a camera system that will pay for itself, and then some. A lot more ‘some’.

For those who have read the Comprehensive Guide to Rigging ANY Camera, you know I always start by making lists. Here’s mine:

Camera body
Red Scarlet-X Canon EOS 1DC Canon EOS C300 Sony PMW F5
Price of Camera body $10,150.00 $11,999.00 $14,999.00 $16,490.00
What it includes SSD Side Module and EF Mount Monitor, viewfinder, LPE4N battery Monitor, Handle, 5200mAh battery, viewfinder Audio Input Box

Obviously, ‘camera body’ means different things to different people. A Red Scarlet body is pretty much useless by itself, while a C300 body is possibly all you need to get shooting.

The budget conscious will also try to save some dough by choosing an aluminum EF mount over the expensive titanium PL mount option for the Red Scarlet. I am referring to myself, of course.

Note: To keep things as even as possible, prices are taken from Red.com and bhphotovideo.com. Specifications are taken from the operations manual. In case of the Canon 1DC, I’ve referred to the Canon Europe page. The prices and specs might be inaccurate or is subject to change. Refer to the manufacturer’s website for correct data.

The first task is to bring all the cameras “up to speed” to make a proper comparison:

Bringing them up to speed
Red Scarlet-X Canon EOS 1DC Canon EOS C300 Sony PMW F5
Viewfinder Bomb EVF (OLED) $3,900 $0.00 $0.00 Sony – DVF-EL100 $4,930.00
External Monitor
Red 7″ LCD Pro $2,500 / Marshall Electronics V-LCD70MD 7″ $999
$0.00 $0.00 Sony -DVF-L700 7″ $5,000 / Marshall Electronics V-LCD70MD 7″ $999
Battery Model, Price, Capacity Redvolt, 2250mAh, $195 LP-E4N 2450mAh $169.00 BP-955 5200mAh $159.95 BP-GL65, 4500mAh, $307.95
Operation time (in hrs) 0.50 1.50 1.00 4.00
Batteries required for 8 hours 16 5 8 2
Total cost for batteries $3,120.00 $901.33 $1,120.00 $615.90
4K Recorder $0.00 $0.00 $0.00 Sony AXS-R5 $5,350
Audio system Pro I/O Module $3,750* Audio quality unknown $0.00 $0.00
Battery Charger Redvolt Charger Quad $595 LC-E4N $369 Pearstone Duo $79.95 Sony -BC-L70 dual $709.95
Battery Extension/Module Pro Battery Module and Adapter $2,250 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
Operation Redmote $550 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00

*For audio and external recording if necessary. I’m not considering this in this comparison, but you’ll hear about it again at the end.

Even though both Red and Sony have proprietary external monitors, their prices are sometimes unjustifiable to a budget-conscious filmmaker, so to keep things even I decide to use a Marshall Monitor instead.

Regarding my calculations on batteries, I’ve already explained everything quite clearly in Chapter 14: Power Supplies of the Comprehensive Rigging Guide. I have used a general scenario that’s not too extreme and not small enough to be erratic.

Among all the cameras, the Canon C300 obviously does not shoot 4K. I’ve included it in the list to see where it stands otherwise. It is the camera I use the most nowadays, and is an integral part of my workflow. This is the camera the new 4K champion will replace.

The Sony PMW-F5 needs an external recorder for 4K, which is sort of a bummer. Here’s a pickle: The Sony FS700 can record 4K using the same external recorder, the AXS-R5, but it needs the HXR-IFR5 Interface via 3G-SDI. This module isn’t expected to ship until mid next year, which explains why the FS700 isn’t on this list. There’s no information, except that this interface is around the $2,000 mark.

Where the Red Scarlet falls behind, is power draw. I’ve used Redvolts just to keep things fair. Otherwise, I’d prefer to operate it via Red or Anton Bauer bricks, and the cost escalates.
Red Scarlet-X
Another peculiarity of using Redvolts is that you’re almost forced to use a battery module, with an additional $300 adapter. If you don’t mind changing batteries from the side grip every half-hour, you can live without it. Just so that you know, on the set, half an hour seems like five minutes, so you’ll feel like you’re changing batteries every five minutes!

The Red Scarlet-X also needs a Redmote for proper operation, so you need to factor that in as well. With this list I’m already getting a feeler of sorts. The Red Scarlet looks good, but we’re not done yet.

Next we’ll look at media:

Media
Red Scarlet-X Canon EOS 1DC Canon EOS C300 Sony PMW F5
Media Type Redmag SSD CF CF Sony SxS Pro
Capacity per hour (in GB) 193.36 246.09 21.97 21.97
Media size, Cost 128GB, $1,250 128GB, $642.85 32 GB, $85.80 32 GB, $648.00
Estimated hours of recording/day 4.00 4.00 4.00 4.00
Media Cards Required per day of shooting** 6 8 3 3
Total cost of media cards $7,553.10 $4,943.79 $235.66 $1,779.79
Media Reader Red Station $250 Sandisk $32.95 Sandisk $32.95 Sony AXS-CR1 $550

**To know how I estimate media capacity and number of cards, read Chapter 6: Media from the Comprehensive Guide to Rigging ANY Camera.

This is where you’re hit in the gut, or at least I was. For the cost of Redmag SSDs I can buy an FS700! The Sony SxS Pro Memory Cards aren’t cheap either. It’s so important for us that Sandisk stay in business! Otherwise we’ll be skinned alive.

I’ve used a simple 4 hour estimation, which is slightly on the higher side for the average production. Cutting corners while budgeting leads to serious ramifications later, I’ve learned from experience!

The low-down

So what do we get for all our efforts? Here’s the 4K version:

4K Budget
Red Scarlet-X Canon EOS 1DC Canon EOS C300 Sony PMW F5
Video Format 3840 x 2160 4096 x 2160 N/A 4K
Color 12-bit 8-bit 4:2:2 16-bit
Compression and Codec Redcode RAW 6:1 Motion JPEG RAW
Maximum frame rate, rounded off 30 24 120
Data Rate MB/s 55.00 70.00 5.5 Gbps***
Total Cost  $29,367.10  $18,246.07  $31,424.64

***Estimated, not confirmed. The data rate for 120 fps 16-bit RAW is mind-boggling.

And here’s the 1080p HD version:

1080p+ Budget
Red Scarlet-X Canon EOS 1DC Canon EOS C300 Sony PMW F5
Video Format N/A directly, able to stream off HD-SDI or transcode via Redcine-X 1920 x 1080 24p, 25p, 30p, 50p and 60p 1920 x 1080: 59.94i/29.97p/23.98p; 50i/25p; true 24p (24.00) 1920 x 1080 (50i, 59.94i, 23.98p, 25p, 29.97p) (60p with XAVC HD)
Color 8-bit 4:2:0 8-bit 4:2:2 8-bit 4:2:2 (10-bit with XAVC HD)
Compression and Codec AVCHD/H.264 – both Intra and Inter frame MPEG 2 MXF 422P@HL MPEG-2 422P@HL
Maximum frame rate, rounded off 60 30 30 (60p with XAVC HD)
Data Rate MB/s 11.4**** 6.25 6.25
Total Cost   $18,246.07 $16,984.61  $26,074.64

****Estimated, based on the Canon 1DX All-I Codec

Some advantages and disadvantages:
Red Scarlet-X Canon EOS 1DC Canon EOS C300 Sony PMW F5
Key Advantages Choice of resolutions, manageable data rate Small footprint, Weatherproof XLR Audio, As plug and play as it gets, excellent low light peformance Choice of all key broadcast specs, 2K and 4K at 120 fps+
Key Disadvantages No HD, no XLR without adapter Form factor, HDMI, Viewfinder Form factor, 8-bit color, no 4K No viewfinder, firmware updates might not come on time

What about lenses?

It’s important to choose the right lens mount. A cash-starved filmmaker won’t look for a cheap camera and then splurge on the most expensive PL mount lenses. When comparing, I see a Zeiss CP.2 or a Canon EF Cine Prime vs the Sony PL Prime or a Red Prime – and they’re all in the same price league.

Nobody’s looking for an Arri Zeiss Ultra or Master Prime or Cooke S4 or S5 on these cameras – or are they? Even if they are, it’s safe to assume these will be rented, rather than bought.

TAKEAWAYS

So, what’s the story? My aim was to look for the best 4K camera in the market, under $20,000. The only camera that comes in under $20,000 is the Canon 1DC, which is a DSLR recording 4K at a maximum of 24 fps. Yup, no 25 fps or 30 fps. Nothing wrong with that, you can always conform 24p to PAL or NTSC, but for twenty grand?

Why should anyone spend more time and money correcting something that should have been done by the camera in the first place? On the other hand, the Canon 1DC is built like a tank and can shoot HD at 60p, something the Canon C300 can’t do! And don’t forget, the 1DC can shoot stills just like the 1DX.

Red Scarlet vs Sony PMW F5

The Red Scarlet-X is clearly competing against the Sony PMW-F5. The F5 can do 120 fps at 16-bit – that’s unprecedented and without equal anywhere in the video world. Also scary is the data rate that comes with it, which I don’t even want to get into.

What really cuts Scarlet’s chances is the lack of a good HD workflow. The F5 can record to a broadcast codec when necessary. HD is not going away anytime soon, so this key. I’ll need to either transcode all my footage in Redcine-X or buy an external recorder to stream HD. But why would anyone go through the hassle of owning a Red Scarlet just to shoot HD?

The knockout punch comes in the form of audio. To receive XLR I’ll need an additional module that costs $3K or so. Sony comes with an audio module that I can remove if I don’t want it!

Icing on the cake? Red’s crappy ordering and delivery process – you wait and wait and then wait some. When Sony delivers, they deliver everything.

Drum roll… the winner, for best 4K camera (and the overall camera) in this shootout by miles is the Sony PMW-F5. If I was only shooting HD, nothing comes close to the Canon C300. So, my HD workflow is safe.

But I’ve failed in my attempt to get a sub-$20,000 4K camera with a Super35-sized sensor (or the JVC would have been my pick hands down!).

What about the FS700?

Yeah, what about the FS700? The cost of this camera with media (for 4K), the interface and the recorder comes to about $18,000. Unfortunately, the interface is estimated to arrive by June 2013. And, we don’t know what 4K from the 3G-SDI will be like – what data rate, resolution, color, sampling, etc. My main worry is, by the time this interface is released, tested and ratified by the powers that be, the FS700 might be end of life! Now you really know why it’s not on this list.

Either dish out $30,000 now or wait for what 2013 brings. I’ve decided to wait.

27 replies on “The Battle for Cheap 4K: A Red Scarlet vs Canon C300 vs 1DC vs Sony F5 Price Comparison”

  1. FrankSuero The F5 no does 4k up to 60p  internally with an upgraded firmware you can purchase from Sony….why no one knows about this is beyond me…SO yeah update your post and include the fact that theres a 4k internal upgrade to the F5 its like 900 bucks.

  2. This is thru. We are putting things together here. At the end of the day we must ask. If I need 4K witch camera it is not only cheaper but offer me the best quality and best options. In the 4K world at this price point nothing beats the reds. Also the scarlet can be upgraded now to the dragon. Just wait another year and that price will go way lower, as with everything.
    Now is also the upcoming BLACK MAGIC PRODUCTION CAMERA AT 4K. That camera it is holding me from getting a SCARLET.

  3. Really nice information. I belief that AT&T his moment you should upgrade this post to get the new information. First them anything the sony is not a 4k camera, for that you need a external recorder that bring the price up. Second the red scarlet audio module is not 3000′ get the wooden camera for 500 or one form another manufactures for Just 300
    The actual cost of the scarlet is way lower them the sony f5 and you get 4k out of the camera. Workflow in the scarlet is not a problem at all. FCX support it’s and I am editing in a mac book pro.
    For me the canon 1DC quality does not even touch the scarlet and boy you need tat least another 5000 to get a good rig for that camera, even I love the 1DC for it simplicity an d the form factor.
    I belief that in this article the clear winner is the RED SCARLET FOR WAY TOO MANY REAZONS.
    Second best camera even if it is not 4K is the c300. Skin tones are not the best but wow what amazing camera to use and to work with
    Thanks on e more for the work you have done here

  4. really appreciate the time you took to do this as im close to taking a loan from the bank for a C300.. its crap living in a third world country where there are no rental places. but as you said might wait and see what 2013 brings….if only C300 had a higher frame rate
    cheers

    1. marwan13 Which country are you from, Marwan? I don’t think it is wise to take a loan for a C300 (don’t forget lenses, accessories, etc.) unless you can pay it off in 4-6 months.
      Look at the options this year: 4K BMCC and RAW from the 5D3, both of which are perfectly acceptable and within budget.

  5. Sareesh Sudhakaran Sareesh Sudhakaran CesarRubio …simply purchasing a Sound Devices Pix 240 adds pro audio AND any flavor of HD workflow you want, while also getting a 4K RAW recording with matching timecode.  Makes for easy editing in ProRes too, no need for a “proxy” video.  And you’ve added a pretty nice 5″ monitor.  This costs $2900, and the SSD recording media is $175 for a 240GB drive, another $200 for the Pix Caddy. 
    Re: power, like you stated later, bricks are the way to go…a 95 watt at B&H costs $300 each, buy three and a Wooden Camera quick plate and you’re good-to-go, for $1300 for thousands less than your list, while also addressing the HD-workflow issue.

  6. Your storage numbers are TOTALLY WRONG WTF???!!! You are budgetting 4 hours of recoding hd on the sony vs raw on the red. You don’t include the cost of supporting the sony raw format.

    1. LarryTowersTOTALLY! Here’s the line: “Also scary is the data rate that comes with it, which I don’t even want to get into.”
      Redcode isn’t uncompressed RAW, and 4K Sony RAW is true 16-bit. There can be no direct comparison.
      By the way, this article was written at the time of release, almost 5 months ago. :)

      1. Sareesh Sudhakaran LarryTowers 
        There is a direct comparison. Red Raw is visually lossless at it’s lowest compression rate and WAY better than the on board recording options. 12 bit IS good enough for most productions and there is no RED rocket equivalent for sony’s media.

        1. Sareesh Sudhakaran LarryTowers  And your math is wrong. No way does it cost $7500 + for media to shoot on red.

        2. LarryTowers The Red Rocket is required because Redcode is compressed. Debayering doesn’t take that much power, but wavelet compression does. Sony and Arriraw are uncompressed, so no extra card required.

        3. LarryTowers No worries, Larry. It’s based on my system of recording, which tends to be conservative. You can always shoot a whole movie on one card, if that’s your thing.

        4. Sareesh Sudhakaran LarryTowers  You aren’t comparing apples to apples for recording times. Red raw recording is closer to arrow raw than it is HD thus the cost should be compared on that basis. Otherwise you could just attach an HD recorder to the red camera for less than the price or recording media.

  7. Quite a hatchet job on the Scarlet-X! 18K US$ is what you really need to go Scarlet! plus a DIT! You need 2x64Gb Media and a laptop and hard disks! And you get Full 4K RED RAW! Scarlet-X not the way to go for TV productions unless you have a station that converts all footage to quicktime to edit!

  8. Nice to see a comparison but what is the C300 doing in there?  It’s not a 4K camera.  You should have put the C500 with an external recorder if you want 4K.

  9. BTW, of all the options you have here, I would pick the Sony F5 without looking elsewhere…but if I had the money, then you can not beat the F55 with its global shutter!
    CR.

  10. Also I downloaded your book AFRAID and its awesome man!
    I don’t remember laughing so much and learning a LOT all at the same time!
    You must be the greatest “teacher/comedian” ever!
    You can download my book that is free like your too:

    But I wish I had the same sense of humor like you do man, but oh well I hope you can find something useful there, as I have found yours VERY useful.
    Thanks again and keep up the excellent work my friend,
    CR.

  11. Hi Sareesh:
    This article is excellent.
    You reminds me a little bit of myself, I like to break things like you more or less.
    Very insightful information here.
    Thanks for your HARD work my friend!
    Cesar Rubio.

      1. Sareesh Sudhakaran CesarRubio …simply purchasing a Pix 240 adds pro audio AND any flavor of HD workflow you want, while also getting a 4K RAW recording with matching timecode.  Makes for easy editing in ProRes too, no need for a “proxy” video.  And you’ve got a pretty nice 5″ monitor too.  This adds $2900 to the cost, and the recording media is SSD’s, about $175 for a 240GB drive. 
        Re: power, like you stated later, bricks are the way to go…a 95 watt at B&H costs $300 each, buy three and a Wooden Camera quick plate and you’re good-to-go, for $1300.

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