RED Helium 8K Sensor
The new Helium 8K sensor. Picture courtesy of RED.com

UPDATE (May 2018)

Once again RED have changed things up and this article is now out of date and will no longer be updated. Their lineup now consists of only one body (the 'DSMC2 Brain') and three sensors - the Monstro, Helium and Gemini, all with Weapon specs. More info here.

UPDATE (March 2018)

Article updated to reflect RED's current lineup of DSMC2 cameras. The table and sensor size diagram have been updated: the Gemini 5K has been added and the Weapon Dragon 8K has been replaced with the Monstro 8K. Some of the text has been amended too. The RED Raven is now only available as a kit (with batteries, a lens etc) and can't be purchased as body only (at least from RED.com; it was $6,950) The Scarlet-W has also gone up in price from $9,950 to $12,500.


RED Digital Cinema have a number of different camera bodies and sensors, the combinations of which bring the total number of different DSMC2 (Digital Stills and Motion Camera) cameras currently available to seven (not counting monochrome editions). But let's compare them. What's the difference between them all? Which RED camera is for you?

The cameras are all the same size and about the same weight, so any accessories are compatible and interchangeable if you were to upgrade your body. Therefore, the biggest difference between all of the cameras is the sensor.

There are currently four different bodies in the DSMC2 lineup: Weapon, Epic-W, Scarlet-W and Raven. Not to be confused with the original DSMC Epic and Scarlet, the Epic-W and Scarlet-W are entirely new cameras. Despite misconceptions, the 'W' does not stand for Weapon. Otherwise this would follow the same nomenclature as calling a camera an 'Epic-Scarlet': they're different cameras. Confusing and perhaps misleading, yes, but it isn't clear what the W actually stands for (if anything). Previous cameras have been suffixed with X... perhaps RED are just cycling through letters near the end of the alphabet.

Inside each body is a different sensor. The Scarlet-W and Raven both feature a Dragon sensor whereas the Epic-W and Weapon have a choice of different sensors available. Think of it as different editions of the same car model. Hopefully the below explanations and table will clear up any remaining confusion.

The Dragon is RED's oldest sensor still currently in use and was seen in their earlier DSMC system such as the original Epic. The pixel size is larger than that of the Helium, meaning despite a smaller resolution, the physical size of the sensor is larger. At 6K, the sensor is a bit bigger than Super-35, meaning that some cinema lenses do not project a large enough image circle to cover the whole sensor. As a result, many Dragon cameras are seen used with full frame lenses - which are designed for much larger sensors. That said however, more Super-35 format lenses are being produced recently with an image circle of up to 36mm (the format is beginning to be called 'Ultra 35') to facilitate larger sensor cameras such as these. The Dragon sensor can record at lower resolutions however, with which typical Super-35 lenses can be used without issue. It does this by recording in a windowed, or cropped area - using a smaller number of pixels from the centre of the sensor. 5K for instance, is Super-35 sized. Lower resolutions are therefore smaller than Super-35.

The Dragon sensor was available in 8K (Vista Vision size) in the Weapon in very small numbers, though has now been superseded by the Monstro. Producing the 8K Dragon sensor however resulted in a low yield - meaning only a low percentage of all sensors manufactured were without issue and therefore suitable for use. The Dragon sensor was available as an '8K anamorphic' version - this was just an 8K Dragon sensor with defective pixels on the sides which were cut off. It wouldn't record 8K spherical, but once desqueezed from 2x anamorphic, produces an 8K image.

The Dragon sensor however is also available in smaller versions in the Scarlet-W and Raven cameras. The Scarlet-W features a Dragon sensor with 5K resolution, and the Raven has a 4.5K Dragon sensor. Both of these sensors are identical in quality to the full size, 6K Dragon sensor, however are simply smaller and therefore more affordable.

The Helium sensor was the first new sensor for DSMC2. Super-35 sized - this is a standard sensor size in the cinema world. This means that all typical cinema glass will cover the sensor without vignetting - something that can be a problem with the Dragon sensor. The Helium has a resolution of 8192 x 4320 pixels - meaning 8K images for unprecedented detail. High ISO performance is also improved over the Dragon sensor too. Incidentally, it should be noted that the Helium sensor is actually slightly larger than Super-35. Not quite as big as the Dragon however and most Super-35 lenses have an image circle of 33mm or greater, barely enough to cover the Helium sensor at full 8K without vignetting. Shooting in 2.40:1 or 16:9 aspects results in a slightly smaller footprint on the sensor, meaning greater compatibility with Super-35 lenses.

The Monstro sensor replaces the Dragon 8K. The same dimensions, resolution and pixel pitch but presumably made with a different recipe, it boasts improved sensitivity and dynamic range and a far more efficient yield! These 8K sensors differ from the 8K Helium sensor in that rather than squeezing more pixels into the same area, the pixel size hasn't changed from the existing 6K Dragon; there's simply more of them - meaning an even larger format. This sensor size is called 'Vista Vision', or 'VV' by RED - in reference to the old 35mm film format of the same name.

Finally, the Gemini 5K is RED's newest sensor. The key difference is it features the largest pixels yet seen in a RED camera; it's designed primarily for low light applications. Even bigger than the Dragon 6K, the image circle required to cover the whole sensor is much larger than most Super-35 lenses are capable of providing. Some lenses such as the new Angénieux Optimo 12x however are being designed for this larger Super-35 format - which is beginning to be called Ultra-35, somewhere between Full Frame and Super-35. Also interesting to note is that with the exception of the Monstro (which, being Vista Vision, is inherently large enough), the Gemini is the only sensor in the RED lineup that will cover the necessary 18mm height for true, 'full-format' anamorphic capture. More info and analysis of the Gemini sensor can be found here.

RED DSMC2 Sensor Sizes
RED DSMC2 sensor sizes and lens image circle coverage. Click to enlarge.

Whilst the full tech specs of each camera are available on RED's website, there currently isn't a comparison page - so below is a table outlining their main differences.  All of the other cameras require  All specs taken from RED's website and are accurate at the time of writing.

The crop factors below are for reference only and calculated using the full sensor diagonal. They do not take in to account shooting in different aspect ratios or resolutions (all of which will be smaller). RED have an extremely useful crop factor calculator which also uses the sensor diagonal, despite their article claiming it uses the width. (Try yourself - set the reference frame to Helium 8K Full Frame and play around with the Frame Size in the different 8K aspect ratios. If it were calculated with the width, the resulting crop factor would always be x1.0.) Whilst using the width figure would make sense given that different aspect ratios are done by masking off the tops and bottoms of an image to the desired size, using the diagonal is a more accurate way of calculating whether any given lens' image circle will cover the format. Worth noting however, is that, regardless of sensor size, RED occasionally describe the sensors as shooting in 'full frame'. This is simply used to describe the available frame rates whilst shooting using the full sensor without any windowing or look-around. This should not be confused with a 36x24mm sized, full frame sensor!

Body Weapon Epic-W Scarlet-W Raven
Sensor Monstro Helium Dragon Helium Gemini Dragon
Sensor Size Vista Vision >Super-35 >Ultra-35 Super-35 <Super-35
Maximum resolution 8K
(8192 x 4320)
6K
(6144 x 3160)
8K
(8192 x 4320)
5K
(5120 x 3000)
5K
(5120 x 2700)
4.5K
(4608 × 2160)
Sensor size (mm) 40.96 x 21.60
(ø 46.31)
29.9 x 15.77
(ø 33.8)
30.7 x 15.8
(ø 34.5)
29.9 x 15.77
(ø 33.8)
 30.72x18.00
(ø35.61)
25.6 x 13.5
(ø 28.9)
23.0 x 10.8
(ø 25.5)
Sensor aspect ratio 1.90:1 1.71:1 1.90:1  2.13:1
Pixel pitch (µm) 5.00 3.65 5.00 3.65 6.00 5.00
Crop factor
x1.0 = Full frame
(ø 43.3mm)
x0.94 x1.28 x1.26 x1.28 x1.22 x1.50 x1.70
Crop factor
x1.0 = S35 4-perf
(ø 31.11mm)
x0.67 x0.92 x0.90 x0.92 x0.87 x1.08 x1.22
Crop factor
x1.0 = S35 3-perf
(ø 28.48mm)
x0.61 x0.84 x0.83 x0.84 x0.80 x0.99 x1.12
Dynamic range
(claimed, stops)
17+ 16.5+
Maximum data rate 300MB/s 275MB/s 140MB/s
Maximum frame rate
@ maximum resolution
60fps @ 8K 75fps @ 6K 30fps @ 8K 96fps @ 5K 50fps @ 5K 120fps @ 4.5K
Minimum compression
@ maximum resolution
5:1 @ 8K 3:1 @ 8K 6:1 @ 8K 3:1 @ 5K 5:1 @ 5K 3:1 @ 4.5K
Construction Carbon Fibre Magnesium Alloy Aluminium
Weight
(body only, kg)
1.50 1.52 1.59
Included lens mount Magnesium PL None Canon EF
Interchangeable lens mount? Yes No
Interchangeable OLPF? Yes No
DSMC2 Sidekick included? Yes No
Price from
(plus VAT)
$79,500
€80,220
$49,500
€49,950
$49,500
€49,950
$29,500
€29,770
$24,500
€24,725
$12,500
€12,615
$15,000*
€14,165*
(*complete shooting kit)

So which one is for you? This likely comes down to how big your wallet is. Also consider that a number of peripherals are required to actually use the camera. They all require an expander, a power solution, media and a screen just to operate. Expect to spend several thousand in addition to the camera itself. The exception to this is the Raven: it is now only available as a complete, shoot-ready camera kit. It includes batteries, media, a screen and even a lens - in fact everything you need to shoot right out of the box.

Each camera has a specific market in mind and is priced to reflect that. Even if you may only be able to afford a Raven or Scarlet-W, the fantastic upgrade program of the DSMC2 system means you'll be able to swap out the camera brain for a better one when you can afford it, along with a generous existing-owner discount making your investment all the more future-proof.

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