The Endless Possibilities Now That Nikon Has Acquired Cinema Camera Manufacturer RED

The Endless Possibilities Now That Nikon Has Acquired Cinema Camera Manufacturer RED

I woke up this morning to some pretty exciting news. Nikon, the legendary still camera manufacturer, has agreed to purchase RED, the company behind some of the most popular cinema cameras on the market today.

Now, I should say that I first heard of this via a post from a satirical Instagram channel focused on the filmmaking industry. So, at first, I wasn't 100% sure that I wasn't falling for a fake news post. Then, I googled the news. And, yes, in fact, it is true. Nikon has purchased RED, bringing both brands under the same umbrella.

Personally, I find this to be excellent news. As someone who has worked as both a professional photographer and a filmmaker for three decades now, I’ve always had something of a split gear closet. Nikon is the brand of still camera that I have used to build and sustain my career as a professional still photographer. But, when it comes to my filmmaking, I often find myself having to rent different brands because, until now, Nikon has never had a huge hold on the cinema world. I’ve written several times about how much I love my Nikon Z9. Much of that love is due to the fact that it is the first Nikon camera that I’ve felt has really offered me the necessary tools I need as a Director/DP to operate at a level comparable to other systems. I’ve used my Z9 to create multiple films now, as well as commercial content. Films I’ve shot on the Z9 have literally shared the same movie screen with projects shot with Alexa and Panavision cameras without missing a beat. The only real quibble I’ve had with my Z9 is that I wish I could get the exact same features in the box form of a cinema body.  

With that said, there has, no doubt, inevitably been a bit of pushback from some of my crew members. To be clear, the Z9 is one of the best mirrorless cameras on the market for capturing professional video. But, since the film world is incredibly brand conscious, and Nikon doesn’t yet have the reputation in the motion picture industry in the way that companies like Arri, RED, or Sony do, many industry veterans just aren’t used to thinking of Nikon cameras in that way. They end up liking the results. But it can take some convincing.

RED, on the other hand, has built up a stellar reputation in the motion picture industry. With cameras from the original RED ONE to the V-Raptor and Komodo, the company is known for dependable products that have served productions large and small for going on 20 years. I’ve had the pleasure of shooting multiple projects on RED systems. And, while I don’t currently own a RED camera, the systems have been in my shopping cart on more than one occasion.

In many ways, the prospect of these two companies merging into one seems like the least likely scenario. Especially because of the well-known patent lawsuit RED and Nikon waged last year over Nikon’s implementation of raw video capabilities. When that lawsuit settled discretely, the belief was that the two companies had just agreed to coexist. But, perhaps, part of the behind-the-scenes conversation was how to come out of the dispute with a win-win.

By purchasing RED, Nikon has an immediate place within the established film industry. This negates the need for Nikon to develop a cinema camera line of its own, which is something I’ve hoped for in the past. Or, if it does still develop a Nikon-branded cinema camera, it can do so incorporating some of RED’s technology to combine the best of both worlds. Overnight, the company becomes a powerhouse in both the still and motion markets.

With all the possibilities ahead, I still have a couple of questions which will no doubt be worked out over time. For instance, how will Nikon position the brands within the ecosystem? As I see it, both companies bring unique values to the combination. Nikon has a storied history among still photographers. It has a legendary collection of lenses, many of which have been used on motion picture sets for decades. It has amazing autofocus technology and a strong presence in both the consumer and prosumer markets.

RED brings a reputation among professional filmmakers. Its REDCODE Raw is a commonly used codec in the industry. I've raved about the new Nikon NRaw video. But it is still relatively new to the market. And a well-entrenched filmmaking community is used to its creature comforts. Colorists who have been used to working with REDCODE Raw over the years are simply more familiar with it than NRaw. In terms of physical dimensions, RED has the experience producing products designed for filmmakers. Nikon's mirrorless cameras are amazing for the hybrid market. But they don't yet have any dedicated cameras for filmmaking. RED brings simple things like more filmmaker-friendly form factors and tools such as their goalposts and traffic lights for exposure that can advance Nikon's offerings.

But, without a doubt, what RED brings most to this acquisition is name recognition. One of the things that absolutely infuriates me about the film world is that gear really does matter. Not the gear itself, mind you. If you know what you're doing, you can make a great film with almost any modern camera. But the name badge holds far more sway in the film world than it does in the still market. I've pitched clients on projects that could be shot for half the price using my Nikon and still get the same results. Yet, most clients still opt to spend more money rather than less just because they are more comfortable with the industry's established brand name cameras. I'm not complaining about those cameras. They are excellent. But the Nikon cameras are excellent video producers as well, yet often aren't even allowed into the conversation. The same cannot be said for RED which is welcome in any discussion among clients and agencies regardless of the scale of the project. This frees filmmakers up, in practical terms, to incorporate more Nikon products onto professional film sets. Over time, this accomplishes Nikon's goal of making more inroads into a video market that has proven reluctant to give the new kid on the block its chance.

So Nikon will need to be careful with how it rolls out the first batch of RED cameras following the acquisition. They could choose to leave everything as is, with little outward facing acknowledgment that the Komodo II (or whatever comes next) is a Nikon product. Or, they could go to the complete opposite end of the spectrum and start branding everything with a yellow logo instead of a red one. I have no idea what their plans are. If it were me, I might leave the higher end products like the V-Raptor, Komodo, Komondo-X, etc., as RED-branded products. Then I would firmly establish Nikon mirrorless cameras as video leaders in the consumer and prosumer market. Think the Sony a7S III versus Sony Venice. Nikon would be the leader among content creators, while RED would be the brand for professional filmmakers. All the revenue would end up in Nikon's pocket. But this strategy would allow the company to continue to build on the RED established brand name while building its own reputation for the Nikon line of cinema products.

The acquisition also offers a great chance to merge the companies' technologies. Could we see REDCODE RAW available in a Nikon Z9?, for example. Can a firmware update give the RED Komodo the autofocus capabilities of the Z9? Could we get things like goal posts and traffic lights in Nikon cameras? Might RED cameras now be able to capture stills using the Nikon raw format? I'm assuming that RED cameras going forward will be developed with the Z mount as opposed to the Canon RF mount? Think what this might spur in terms of product development on the cinema lens side from manufacturers now needing to offer the Z mount as an option. All these little things would just serve to further entrench Nikon into the cinema world without cannibalizing its current product lines. And, even better, this joining also gives Nikon a complete line of camera products in much the same way that Canon and Sony have cameras for everyone from the point-and-shoot market to Academy Award-winning cinematographers.

The possibilities are endless. And, as a longtime Nikonian and filmmaker, I am quite excited about this news. I might finally be able to bring all my camera needs under one roof. I see this as a big step in making Nikon a major player in the filmmaking world (even if the label itself still says RED). But what about you? What questions do you have following the announcement of the acquisition?

Christopher Malcolm's picture

Christopher Malcolm is a Los Angeles-based lifestyle, fitness, and advertising photographer, director, and cinematographer shooting for clients such as Nike, lululemon, ASICS, and Verizon.

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who builds the sensors for Red?

With RED mainly supporting Canon RF lenses. How's that support/transition going to go? You know they are going to have support for Z lenses. I doubt they will continue to support RF lenses long-term and on future products.

RED used to support swappable mounts, I could see them bringing that back. I can't see Nikon dropping EF/RF support with RED simply because so many productions and rental houses are completely loaded with gear from that mount. Meanwhile, Z has no cine-tier lenses at all from any maker, as far as I know. RED would be driven into the ground as everyone jumps ship to Arri (big budget) or the likes of companies like Blackmagic (low budget) so that they can still make use of, in many cases, millions of dollars worth of EF/RF cine lenses.

Maybe someday a decade or more down the road once Nikon has developed a Z Mount cine line that is competitive with stuff like what Zeiss or other elite cine brands are doing and there has been huge adoption because the Z mount flange allows those cine lenses an advantage over EF/RF ones but that is a long road but in the meantime you won't see productions giving up their $30,000 Cine lenses or $50,000 anamorphics to go shoot with Nikon's limited Z mount photography line.

This is a huge move for Nikon that could be a game changer for the Z mount, but they have to go about it tactically or RED will crash and burn making this just a VERY expensive way to get the 12 bit raw recording patent. The cinema world doesn't tolerate the walled garden approach like Nikon uses for the Photo world.

One thing not spoken about is the politics and styles of these 2 companies. Nikon being mature and conservative and RED outspoken with a history of choosing names and logos for the equipment that teenage boys might choose.(skulls,dinosaurs, ect.). Nikon would introduce a product conventionally in corporate terms. RED would go to a trade show and build a set featuring a serial killer motif with fake body parts turning off some attendees. Many RED products featured the theme of weapons.
My guess Nikon will make RED equipment more like its own style within a year removing the eralier bad taste.

I expect we will see a simillar pattern that has happened with Dell and Alienware. Dell recognizes the value of a brand like Alienware so had made sure to continue to cultivate it even if the computers themselves have become more and more like regular Dell machines with a fancy LED skin on top. I really can't see Nikon investing in such a huge acquisition with just the plan of taking the patent they wanted and letting the rest crash and burn.

RED by Dr. Nikon sticker would be enough.

This is exciting for a number of reasons. For me, the biggest one is that it means Nikon has pulled themselves out of their financial woes. There was a while there where I was worried Nikon would go under but there is no way that they would be making an investment like this if they were still barely keeping their head above water.

It also means, I hope, that Nikon will finally start taking video more seriously on their cameras. (Which I know they already have sorta started, but lets be real, the Blackmagic camera app on my iPhone still has more pro features than a Z9)

1. hopefully the engineers can have a productive collab and select the best technologies from each company without NIH syndrome raising its ugly head.

2. Nikon glass could be the big winner going forwards. Is a lens adapter possible for the current RED's?

3. support the RED codecs on the Z range of cameras. Color science would be interesting as well.

4. RED should be responsible for the software side going forwards as Nikon software has always been clunky (I use it daily)

Interesting times and Nikon certainly could well have pulled a fast one on their competition if they manage it right.

Well I never saw this coming

I'm on the old side for sure, 70 years old to be exact - I have shot Nikon for decades, can't really imagine shooting anything else when it comes to stills - However, when it comes to motion, I've been entrenched in the Canon cinema market - I am self-taught on the cinema side and quite honestly struggled with my end product for awhile - This development with Red I find absolutely exciting - I look forward to seeing what develops in the future, no pun intended.

This could be huge for Nikon as it looks to be a very bold move. Canon and Sony and the other minor players need to watch out.

I think Nikon just checkmated the other minor players. Meanwhile, Canon cinema cameras have no real substantive foothold in major filmmaking. The major targets here are Sony and Arri. Especially Sony.

I suspect what will happen is that Nikon will take the same branding approach with RED that it took with Mark Roberts Motion Control, or SLM Solutions Group AG. Like the below...

Nikon should use this opportunity to add swappable mounts to their cameras future, and at least start with native support for Z mount and and RF lenses. It will go a long way to increasing market share by making it less of an issue for potential customers to worry about their current lens collection.

This is huge! I think Nikon will produce a complete line of Z-Mount Cinema Lens's, and Z-mount adapters for existing Red cameras. What will be tricky for Nikon is knowing what to release first.

Maybe they will produce Z-mount Red cameras first with adapters for the existing Red lens's.

This is purley sepculative on my part. Exciting times!