There’s plenty happening at the moment in the world of digital cinema cameras and I thought I’d take a little time to make sense of some of the new cameras we’re seeing.
First up, we have to talk about 4K. It’s the buzz-word at the moment and people are lapping it up.
If you look at this image below, you’ll get a decent understanding of the resolution difference – all the way from 480p to 4K.
When the broadcast standards dudes decided to give names to the output resolutions as we jumped from a 4:3 ratio, with PAL or NTSC resolutions to “High-Definition” 16:9 content, they decided that they would put a “p” after the height number, standing for progressive footage. In other words, footage obtained from a sensor that captures an image by scanning from the top to the bottom of the sensor in one progressive movement. The old way used to use interlaced capture.
But I digress… 720p was the “HD-Ready” signal and 1080p was the full-blown “High-Definition” image. Obviously manufactures loved this since they could spread the technology over their range of televisions and cameras using “HD” in both, and confuse the heck out of consumers, not many of which knew the difference between “HD-Ready” and “High-Defintion”.
Today, we’ve got the words 2K and 4K floating around. It almost feels like déjà vu. This time round, they’ve simply opted for the width ratio to add a letter after. In other words, any ratio that has more than 2,000 pixels across is considered 2K and the same with any picture that has more than 4,000 pixels across, which is called 4K. This time round however, the jump in resolution, is much greater than the jump in resolution that you find between 720p and 1080p.
So what’s it all mean? Well, it means if you used to shoot at 1080p and you now shoot at 4K, you’ve got just over 4 times the resolution. It’s pretty amazing.
And with the buzz-word, comes a whole bunch of new tech. It means cameras that can shoot at 4K, and TV’s that can show 4K.
Now if you’re a cinematographer, should you rush out and pay a fortune for 4K? Well that depends what you want to do with the footage.
For once, the camera manufacturers are ahead of the game. RED, the famous digital cinema camera manufacturers, have had their RED EPIC camera – which actually shoots 5K – around since it was announced on April 15, 2010, at the 2010 NAB show. So RED happen to be way ahead of the game with 5K resolution existing for 2 years now.
Admittedly, RED Cinema camera’s are hardly mainstream consumer products, and as a result, it’s only now that we’re starting to see 4K camera’s from other manufacturers popping up – however none of them are that cheap either.
In the same breath, there’s some point – but not much – in shooting footage that you can’t view. While some 8K prototypes from TV manufacturers exists, 4K TV’s aren’t mainstream either, and won’t be for at least 2 years.
But there’s nothing wrong with being future proof. Shooting video in 4K now, means you can show it off when your friends get their 4K TV’s, or if you’re lucky enough, screen it on a 4K projector. It also means you can crop into footage very nicely, without losing too much detail, and then export it as 1080p.
4K AND THE MAINSTREAM
The problem, is that 4K cameras are still very expensive. Far out of the reach of most indie filmmakers and those “famous” gear reviewers who just get handed the gear for free. But then you’d expect that from a new technology. The issue however, is that manufacturers seem to have forgotten all about the Indie DSLR revolution and completely leapfrogged 2K.
Canon have gone bonkers. 4 years ago, their 5D mk II was the best thing since sliced bread – the first DSLR to shoot 1080p video for under $3000. 4 years later, and you’d think that Canon’s 5D mk III would try to hold onto it’s crown and become the world’s first DSLR to shoot at 4K, 3K, or 2K at the least.
Of course, 2K is only a little bit bigger than 1080p, but still, it’s something. Instead, we were left with an improved 5D mk II. I know I for one, was rather insulted.
Then Canon announced that they were going to make cinema cameras – clearly the DSLR photo/video products were giving them headaches. The C300 was announced – a cinema camera that was a vast improvement over its DSLR cousins.
But it still only shoots at 1080p, and can only shoot at 60 frames per second if it’s in 720p recording mode. It’s not full-frame, the colour space is 4:2:2 and it’s only 8-bit. The price? It was $16,ooo when it launched.
In contrast, the RED Scarlet-X with Canon Mount and side SSD is $11,900.00, it shoots at 4K, 16-bit RAW footage, has 13,5 stops of Dynamic Range, writes to Solid State Drives, and was announced the same day as the C300.
A few days ago, at the 2012 NAB show, Canon announced the C500 and 1D C cinema cameras. The C500 is the big brother to the C300, capable of 4K footage, 120 frames per second, and features a 4:4:4 colour space, and 10 bit depth. Decent specs for sure, but it also comes with a hefty $30,000 price tag.
The 1D C is $15,000, is 4K and has a 4:2:2 colour space and 8 bit depth, with no 25p recording ability (which should get fixed with a firmware update).
At this point, you really have to ask what Canon’s thinking? It’s as if they sat around a table, had some sake and decided, screw it, let’s forget the Indie market and get into the Hollywood film industry instead. Is there a bigger slap in the face? Now don’t get me wrong, there’s no reason they shouldn’t put there hands up in Hollywood, I’m just saying they shouldn’t forget about the people that made them popular in the first place.
So what does the Indie market want then? Well for starters, we have practically no budget. That means, whatever you make, it better be cheap for us to buy. Anything above the $3000 mark becomes a problem.
Next up, resolution. Sure, there’s 4K, which is ridiculously expensive, and we don’t really need it just yet, but what about 2K? Yes, it’s very similar to 1080p, but is slightly bigger and carries with it a “future-proof” feel, which is massively important for people like us when we’re shelving out hard earned cash.
Then there’s the frames per second issue. Us Indie folks are creative people. We like slow-mo footage that can be coupled with an epic song. So that means we need at least 120fps, but more is better.
How about the compression? Yes, we’re tired of the H.264 and MJPEG compression. It’s limiting the camera’s potential and is crushing the dynamic range. We shoot RAW when we take photographs. We want RAW when we shoot film.
Dynamic range and bit depth. We want at least a 10-bit depth, we’d love a 4:4:4 colour space (but will take 4:2:2), and we want a big dynamic range like 13 stops or so.
We want whatever the camera records at, to be available for external records and LCD’s, and built-in ND filters would be nice. But we can do without.
The 5D mk II gave Indie Filmmakers a voice, and in many respects it still does. The same with the 5D mk III – we can still make decent stuff on it, it’s just that we were expecting Canon to be revolutionary 4 years down the line. Instead, they played it safe, gave us a 5D mk III that was little more than a mk II upgrade, and turned their focus to Hollywood.
In the meantime, Sony launched their FS700. Unfortunately it’s still expensive, but is much cheaper than the C300 and the 1D C and is 4K capable (with a future firmware upgrade) and can shoot up to 960 frames per second at lower resolutions, but still a decent 240fps at 1080p.
But since it’s $10,000, what do we Indie folks have?
Well, the BlackMagic Cinema Camera is the first attempt to appease the Indie Filmmakers. It’s got a 16mm 2.5K sensor, 12-bit depth, 13 stops dynamic range, fantastic touch screen UI and captures footage in RAW to SSD, for $2,995. Oh, and it looks pretty cool.
Finally! Someone who’s listening!
Of course, it’s still early days – we haven’t seen proper footage from this camera and from the little I have seen on a pre-production model, it’s not very sharp and somewhat noisy. But then again, the 5D mk III isn’t exactly that sharp either, even being thumped by a hacked GH2.
The BlackMagic Cinema Camera can also only shoot at a maximum of 30fps, so there’s no slow mo for us. Sad Panda.
But that’s not really the point. The point is that while other manufactures are seemingly ignoring us, BlackMagic has made a massive leap forward, trying to give Indie Filmmakers exactly what they want.
If you had taken me back 6 months and told me all the above specs were from the up and coming 5D mk III, I wouldn’t have been surprised. After all, it was 4 years in the making, and their 5D mk II was ground-breaking. But no, this is BlackMagic.
So in my opinion, Canon have let us down. A lot of fanboys will disagree, but all I know is I’m not impressed with the 5D mk III and I can’t afford anything more expensive.
And even if it turns out that the BlackMagic Cinema Camera isn’t as great as everyone hopes, it’s certianly a wake up call to the big camera giants that consumers are getting pissed off and small companies are seeing that gap as an opportunity.
On the flip-side, if it turns out that the BlackMagic Cinema Cam is in fact pretty awesome, Canon, Sony and the like, have just lost out on a massive market share.
Only time will tell if companies like Canon are clever enough to introduce a much cheaper C100 to fill the gap, but if they are, they had better do it quickly – because while 4K may be pretty new now, in two years it’s going to start feeling old.