When asked what pain points the new Komodo X camera fills on set, Jarred Land, president of RED Digital Cinema, replied, “Komodo X really is filling the gap between our utility camera (Komodo) and our Raptor. Komodo was designed as a C, D, E, F crash camera, but a lot of Komodo users wanted a little more, for it to be more of an A camera or B camera but not at the level or price of what Raptor is.” Let’s dig into this new release and see how RED responded to the market’s request for a tiny camera that can work as your “A” cam.
What makes the RED Komodo unique?
In 2020, RED introduced the Komodo, a tiny “crash cam” designed for shooting action sequences. It featured a groundbreaking 6K sensor and a global shutter in a tiny package. The camera was designed in response to the need for a more professional alternative to using GoPros in action scenes. One key factor was producing a camera at a low enough price point that a big production could wreck it in an action sequence without taking too big of a financial hit. So even though it wasn’t intended to be a main camera, Jarred realized that “the image is just so good, and [it’s] so romantic to hold,” that people would use it as their main camera. He confessed, “I myself am guilty of using it as an A cam too.”
Using Komodo as an “A” camera can be a pain
As “romantic” as it is to hold the little RED camera, the pain points are less romantic. Komodo uses small Canon batteries instead of standard V-lock batteries. Its RF mount doesn’t lock down and flexes with a lens motor. And most significantly, it only has a single 12G SDI output. This proved to be a single-point-of-faliure. On any brand, a 12G SDI port can blow out due to plugging and unplugging power and SDI cables out of order (power in, then video in, video out, then power out). And even though Komodo can output a feed to your mobile device, this isn’t a true replacement for a hardwired monitor in most cases. The result of these shortcomings when trying to use the Komodo as an A cam resulted in companies like Mutiny creating ingenious accessories to allow the little Komodo to level up.
RED realized there was a hole in their lineup
Land recognized that this situation wasn’t ideal. He said, “The work-arounds were people using the camera as it wasn't ever intended. [It was] our fault for not filling that hole earlier.” So in response to the way customers were using the camera, RED began to design a new version that wouldn’t replace their original “utility” camera but rather work as an “A” camera to the original Komodo or a “B” camera to their high-end V-Raptor. And that’s how the Komodo X was conceived.
Komodo X improvements tackle the original’s limitations
Once the team at RED nailed their focus down to making an “A” camera with the DNA of the original camera, they got to work on making improvements that would enhance and streamline the experience of shooting with Komodo.
Multiple monitor outputs
At the top of the list was giving more options for the monitor output. The new Komodo X features the same “pogo pins” as the original Komodo. However, this time they arrive with the ability to drive a monitor, just like the higher-end V-Raptor. This connection allows for the RED/Small HD 7” monitor with the “RMI” cable to be used on both Komodo X and V-Raptor. The 12G SDI output will be mainly used for accessories like a Teradek Bolt wireless transmitter. RED also released a more compact top handle for attaching the DSMC3 monitor. This handle addresses significant ergonomic challenges with rigging the original Komodo.
Improved frame rates
Komodo X offers frame rates up to 80 fps at 6K and 120 fps at 4K. That doubles the speed of the original Komodo. That frame rate would be fine for the intended use as a “crash cam,” but a main camera needs to hit that 60 frames per second number without windowing down on the sensor. For many shooters, 60fps is the magic number for usable slow-motion shots in commercials. So when the original Komodo only offered 40 fps at 6K, it felt like it was just missing the mark.
Komodo X utilizes CFExpress Type B media rather than the CFast cards of the original Komodo. This improvement brings it in line with the media from the V-Raptor. CFExpress cards feel more robust, offload data faster and offer higher capacities. This change means shooters can condense the array of card readers, and DITs can bring uniformity to their workflows.
Physically speaking, the biggest improvement is the type of battery the new camera employs. The Micro V-lock battery aligns it with its big brother, the V-Raptor. This simplifies things for productions using the two cameras side-by-side. In Scott Balkum’s launch day live stream, Land mentioned that most people using the Komodo as an A cam were using v-lock adapters with their camera instead of the stock Canon batteries. This improvement alone will substantially streamline camera rigs for most users. RED also released the REDVOLT Nano-V, a tiny 49 Wh battery for those shooters looking for the most compact power solution possible.
Locking RF lens mount
RED introduced the locking EF mount with the DSMC2 system years ago. Komodo introduced the new Canon RF mount to their lineup. However, many users struggled with lens mount flex when trying to use Komodo with cine-style lenses. This problem became more acute when a focus motor would be included in the setup. RED eventually addressed this by releasing a sturdy RF to PL adapter, but that didn’t resolve the issue for those using EF or RF glass. The new locking ring will add much-needed rigidity to the lens mount allowing for a greater selection of lenses and motors to be used on the system. And it will also reduce the amount of hardware needed to stabilize lens adapters.
It is no secret that audio has played second fiddle to image quality on many RED cameras. The Komodo has a particularly weak pre-amp and offers no phantom power for microphones. This shortcoming makes sense on a “utility” camera. But the moment you try to use Komodo as an A camera, you start a journey down the road of how to incorporate proper audio and timecode without creating a rig so unwieldy that it defeats the purpose of buying a small camera.
On Komodo X, RED has included a 5-pin Lemo connector with an improved pre-amp. This aligns it with the V-Raptor and ARRI’s ALEXA lineup. Users will need to make sure that they purchase the proper adapter for their audio gear (3.5mm or XLR). Using the 5-pin lemo connection, RED can offer improved audio while keeping the overall size of the camera smaller than if full-size XLRs were incorporated into the body itself. There is a good chance this will be the most critical improvement for documentary shooters.
A USB-C output module is available as an add-on for the original Komodo. However, Komodo X incorporates it right into the body of the camera. Again, this simplifies rigging and provides a connection for wired control over IP. Through their RED Control Pro app, RED has worked hard to provide advanced tools for controlling multi-camera arrays for advanced users. The integrated USB-C port will make it much easier to setup up those rigs. However, most users will find that the free RED Control app will meet most of their needs.
Alongside the Komodo X, RED is offering an advanced RF to PL adapter with an electronic ND cartridge system. This features two cartridges, one clear and one ND. The level of the ND can be controlled via buttons on the lens mount or controls within the menu system. This option is especially attractive to users mounting the camera on gimbals. This mount eliminates the need for a matte box in many situations.
RED teased an upcoming I/O module, which features dedicated connections for genlock, timecode and more. It will allow for full-size V-mount batteries. The module also sports a unique v-notch that allows improved cable routing. Finally, RED has teased that they’ve got an EVF (electronic viewfinder) and additional monitors in the works.
Pricing and availability
RED released a batch of limited edition white (a.k.a stormtrooper) Komodo X cameras. That run sold out in 2 hours. (Other resellers may still have some stock at the time that this article goes live) RED has now begun production of the black Komodo X, and, according to RED, it will ship in June.
Komodo X retails for $9,995. That places it between their other Super 35 cameras, the Komodo ($5,995) and the V-Raptor S35 ($19,500) while leaning toward the lower end of the pricing scale.
RED should be commended for crafting a camera based on user feedback. The improvements are all based on the challenges of using the Komodo in the field “not as intended.” But instead of telling people that they were “using the camera wrong” or telling them to step up to V-Raptor, RED made a camera for them. From the monitor, lens mount, power, media, audio, handle and even to the placement of the record button, RED has shown that they are listening to their customers. Now it will be time for users to test it in the field and see if its image, functionality and stability can live up to the physical improvements they’ve made in this new camera.