Nikon buys film camera maker RED

Ever heard of Oakley Sunglasses? The guy who founded that – Jim Jannard – became a billionaire after selling a lot of sunnies, then went on to found RED digital cinema, one of the first major digital cinema camera brands. Today, Nikon announced that Nikon Corporation has announced its agreement to acquire the camera manufacturer, and turning into a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Nikon Corporation.

The company was originally founded in 2005, and was a response to television and movie cameras being caught between a rock and a hard place: Digital production workflows were becoming more and more popular, but the other digital video cameras on the market simply weren’t cutting it to reach the quality bar for high-end television and low-end movie production. The goal of the company was to create a 4K digital cinema camera that was both innovative and relatively affordable – a huge leap over the prevalent 2K standard at the time.

The RED company set out to develop a sensor that could match the high quality of DSLR cameras (especially in low light) without compromising frame rate. This sensor’s physical size was comparable to analog film, bridging the gap between digital and traditional film production. The first results were showcased at the 2006 at the NAB Show, where Jannard announced the Red One camera, immediately capturing the industry’s attention and opening for pre-orders. The camera’s potential was further demonstrated in 2007 by director Peter Jackson’s short film “Crossing the Line,” shot with prototype Red One cameras. This short film convinced director Steven Soderbergh to shoot his film “Che” with Red technology, marking a significant milestone in digital cinema.

Once the camera started shipping in earnest in August of 2007, RED quickly became the camera brand to beat for television and movie production, and many of us who were following the photography industry early on got very excited about the camera. This was the first actually usable digital video camera which shot in a raw video formats (giving a lot more leeway for the editing process), and combining that with compression algorithms that made the enormous amount of data generated by the camera manageable.

Despite Jim Jannard’s retirement in 2013, Red’s legacy of innovation continued under the leadership of Jarred Land. The company’s cameras became a staple in the film industry. The company’s cameras were used to film over 25% of the top 100 grossing films filmed on digital video in the US shot on digital video by 2016.

Nikon’s acquisition of the camera brand is monumental and strategically extremely shrewd: Canon has long had a solid foothold in the industry with its C-series cameras, and Sony’s cinema-line cameras have been industry stalwarts, while Fujifilm – well, you can’t walk around a film set for long before bumping into one of their offerings.

RED’s cameras are a logical and important addition to the Nikon brand – it’ll be interesting to see what RED can do when it is backed by a Nikon budget.