In a nutshell
- RED and ARRI cameras each have their own unique strengths, with RED excelling in high resolution and versatility, and ARRI being renowned for its color science and reliability.
- Both brands have distinct looks and styles; RED delivers a more dramatic, high-contrast image, whereas ARRI provides a warmer, more organic look.
- Budget considerations are key, with RED offering a more accessible entry point for indie filmmakers, while ARRI is often the go-to for high-end, big-budget productions.
If you’ve ever wondered what cameras are behind your favorite movies and TV shows, chances are it’s either a RED or an ARRI. Both are top choices for cinematographers across the industry. But which one is better? ARRI is the first choice for many Hollywood filmmakers, and RED dominates many TV shows and independent productions. But, there are some key differences that set them apart. Let’s pit them against each other — RED vs. ARRI — to discuss what those differences are and determine which offers the better library of cinema cameras.
The history of two cinema camera giants
Founded in 1917, ARRI has been a staple in the movie-making world for over a century. Its Arriflex 35, introduced in 1937, was groundbreaking. It was the world’s first reflex mirror shutter camera, a design that’s still in use today.
Over the years, ARRI has been involved in countless award-winning films — such as “Avatar: The Way of Water” (2022) and “Inception” (2010) — and has introduced multiple technological milestones. ARRI models, such as the ARRI Alexa Mini and the ARRI Amira, became instant hits and are still industry favorites today.
More recently, RED made its mark in 2007, hitting the ground running with its notably cutting-edge tech. RED revolutionized the industry with its RED ONE camera, which allowed filmmakers to shoot in 4K resolution — a feature previously reserved for the most expensive Hollywood productions. Also, the introduction of the unique RED color science and sensor technology — known as REDCODE — provided filmmakers with unprecedented flexibility in post-production.
Blockbusters like “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (2012) and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” (2017) have used RED cameras. Some of the most well-known RED models are the RED KOMODO and the RED RANGER MONSTRO.
RED vs. ARRI: The look of their images
Firstly, both RED and ARRI are known for their exceptional image quality, offering high resolution, dynamic range and color reproduction. Both brands also allow for large-format shooting, which provides filmmakers with the flexibility to capture stunning visuals in a variety of conditions. However, there are key differences in how each brand achieves this quality.
RED cameras are famous for their high-resolution capabilities, sometimes reaching up to 8K. This allows for immense detail and gives filmmakers the ability to crop in post-production without losing quality.
Also, The REDCODE RAW format enables a wide range of post-production adjustments, lending itself to a more digital, crisp look that can be highly customizable in post-production.
Meanwhile, ARRI is renowned for its color science and skin tone reproduction. ARRI cameras are also said to offer a more organic look straight out of the camera. The ALEXA series, for example, has a proprietary sensor that delivers a broad dynamic range, capturing detailed images in both bright and low-light conditions.
ARRI cameras usually max out at lower resolutions than RED, often around 3.2K or 4K, but the brand focuses on the overall texture and feel of the image rather than just resolution.
A side-by-side comparison: RED vs. ARRI
This Potato Jet video puts the RED Scarlet-W against an ARRI Alexa Mini side-by-side, and you can see the subtle differences. Both cameras are set up the same (white balance, exposure, etc.) and the following shots are filmed in the same environment.
The RED camera makes things look more dramatic and kind of moody, like a dark comic book. Specifically, RED seems to add a lot of contrast to the shadows, so it’ll naturally have a darker look. The ARRI stays more even throughout and looks more warm, creamy and saturated.
On the other hand, the ARRI camera keeps the colors looking more even. It also makes everything look warmer and fuller, like a cozy living room.
So, really, both cameras make your videos look amazing; it just depends on what kind of mood you’re going for. Do you like your stories dark and full of action, or warm and comfy? That will help you decide which camera’s style you like more.
Handling the cameras
RED cameras are picky about what gear you use with them. RED wants you to use RED-brand gear. However, the lightweight RED design allows the user to use it in different ways, such as with a gimbal. This means RED cameras have more versatility, making them an appealing option for both big movie shoots or just taking it on the go. However, you must be aware of overheating when shooting in the heat or for extended periods.
But while the RED is much more versatile, the ARRI is a lot more reliable. RED cameras have gotten multiple complaints from consumers for suddenly shutting off and not working. ARRI cameras don’t have the same reputation. Overheating is also not a big problem from ARRI.
Problems with ARRI
One thing that’s not so great about the ARRI is its viewfinder. This is the part you look through to see what you’re filming. It’s really expensive, but you don’t actually need it because you can control the camera with Wi-Fi.
As shown in the video, Potato Jet said the screen on the viewfinder sometimes acts weird, and once even stopped working. For something that costs as much as a used car or even an entire decent camera kit, it should be better.
ARRI cameras typically opt for SDI ports instead of HDMI. Though SDI is a more solid connection, it can be a nuisance for smaller and on-the-go productions to not have HDMI as an option.
Problems with RED
Doesn’t use the full sensor at lower resolutions
If you don’t shoot at the full resolution, you’re not going to utilize the full sensor. It’s essentially just cropping everything out. Unless you’re the type to buy a sports car and never drive it over 30 mph, you should keep it at full resolution so you can use the full sensor.
Harder to learn
While both cameras look daunting to operate, the ARRI Alexa is slightly easier to learn, especially if you know your way around a DSLR. The RED is going to take more time learning the settings, navigating the menus and making sense of the different RED components and accessories to assemble a functional rig.
RED vs. ARRI: The price makes a different
RED cameras typically offer a more accessible entry point when it comes to cost. Models like the KOMODO start at around $6,000, making them a viable option for enthusiasts serious about stepping into the professional realm. However, higher-end models like the RANGER MONSTRO 8K can easily reach prices upwards of $50,000, offering an array of advanced features, such as superior dynamic range and large sensor sizes. Add-ons and accessories can bump up the price even further.
ARRI, however, is generally considered a premium choice with a price tag to match. The company’s entry-level models, like the ALEXA Mini LF start at around $50,000, roughly matching the upper end of RED offerings. However, some of the top-of-the-line ARRI models can soar up to $100,000 or more. These cameras are often the choice for big-budget films and high-end commercials. Filmmakers also often rent these high-end cameras out for each production rather than shell out the cash to own one themselves.
In the end, RED cameras, in general, seem to be the go-to for independent filmmakers looking for cinema quality without a large budget. Conversely, ARRI is the higher-end option for the upper echelon of productions with a budget to spend. Your budget will undoubtedly play a role in which brand you lean toward.
Which cinema camera would you pick?
There’s no wrong answer. Both cinema camera brands are top-tier. RED clearly offers the most value to smaller productions, providing professional-grade cinematic footage at a much lower barrier of entry in terms of budget. When looking at the higher-end RED cameras that match the prices of ARRI models, it really is up to your personal preference and needs in terms of design and image look.
Contributing authors to this article include Kyle Alsberry and Sean Berry.