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How Nikon's takeover of RED Cinema will have huge implications

Nikon's takeover of RED wasn't on our 2024 bingo card!
3 minute read
Nikon's takeover of RED wasn't on our 2024 bingo card!

The announcement today that Nikon is taking over 100% of RED.com LLC sent shockwaves through the industry. It could send shockwaves through camera development as well.

Short of Nikon taking over Panavision or Sony, the announcement that it was taking over RED Cinema LLC will possibly turn out to be the most earth shattering and totally unexpected news of 2024. The news also throws up a whole raft of questions as to where this might take the camera market.

When RED first came into being back in 2005, it created shockwaves of its own. It's pretty fair to say that the company was, ahem, controversial right from the off. It's also fair to say that there was a lot of scepticism about whether it was even possible for a new startup to make its own camera with a brand new sensor design, bring it to market and then also make a success of it.red one

Back near the beginning: The Mysterium-X was the second generation RED ONE released in 2009, this one owned by one of RED's first employees, Mark Pederson

The rest, as they say, is history, and RED has become a highly successful professional cinema camera company. Strangely, for a company that deals with high-end products in the production realm, RED has always been as much about company image as it has about the products that it makes. RED is a company that is followed by huge swathes of people who will never be able to afford to own one of its cameras - or even rent one.

Our understanding is that RED will still remain as its own entity, but as a subsidiary of Nikon. However, the takeover means that Nikon now owns all of RED's intellectual properties and patents. I think you can see where this is going...

Legal battles

Recently, Nikon was embroiled in a legal battle with RED over the use of the Nikon compressed raw codec inside its Z9 mirrorless camera. An agreement was eventually made, the details of which we might never know, but the long and short of it was that Nikon reinstated the firmware for the camera and Nikon RAW became available once again. It's highly likely that the agreement that was reached was in fact what has directly lead to today's announcement.

The big question on everybody's lips is, and given Nikon's legal argument at the time, will it open things up so that the compressed raw patent debacle is put to bed forever? Placing my cynic's hat on, I'm fairly sceptical that now the company has acquired the patents for itself, that it will readily allow competitors to just go ahead carte blanche with compressed raw codecs inside their cameras. Of course, it remains to be seen, but I don't think this will be the end of such legal battles and challenges. I do hope to be surprised, however.

The RED Komodo-X, with locking Canon RF lens mount. Image: RED

Trickle down tech

What the acquisition could very much mean is that we see a trickle down of RED's camera technology into the professional and prosumer mirrorless market, as well as cross pollination the other way, too. A good example of this might be the introduction of Nikkor cinema lenses. It might also mean an expansion of the Z Mount system, given that some recent RED cameras have used Canon's RF mount.

The appearance of REDCODE, perhaps with a rebranding, is likely to be a dead cert for inclusion into Nikon's higher-end mirrorless cameras. And then there's the question of what this means for sensor development, with the mirrorless ranges taking advantage of the trickle down from higher-end developments for the RED Cinema line.

Something else to think about is how this affects Nikon from a company image perspective. While it might seem like a superficial thing, owning a company like RED is a bit like owning a surf brand, and comes with its own company image enhancing properties. RED is a company that is constantly in the limelight, with a vast number of followers on social media, and so by simple association Nikon is getting a huge boost to its market footprint.

Of course, this is all speculation, but the acquisition of RED is going to send reverberations through the industry for a long time to come, and it's difficult to see how this could be anything but a good thing in terms of camera development going forward. The big question is what it means for other companies and the openness of some of those pesky patents? Watch this space.

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