More Content / Content Suggestion?

More content like this is available on Ryan's Website.

Is there a video that you would like to see published?
Email your suggestion to: mail @ (No Spaces) and Ryan will take it into consideration.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Camera Conundrum: What "K" is the Right "K" at NAB 2012

WOW! What a time to be alive! I can't think of a more exciting time to be alive and involved in the filmmaking world than now (Except maybe when it all began). It feels like everywhere you turn a new camera is popping up. It seemed like yesterday the Digital Bolex was announced, and now at NAB Canon has launched two new cameras and Blackmagic Design has surprised everyone and released a camera. It's hard to keep up with it all ... so I wanted to provide some perspective and help you to evaluate where things are at so that you can make the best choice for your situation as you ponder your next camera purchase. For those of you who just want to cut to the chase, here are the results: Canon is not the best, Sony is not the best, Red is not the best, Blackmagic Design is not the fact no one camera meets everyones needs all the time. Different tools for different projects- but some of these cameras still leave me asking some significant questions if they are going to survive in the market place. For a more detailed analysis continue reading ...

Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera:
MSRP: $2,995
Dynamic Range: 13 stops
Max EI*: 1600 (6 over / 7 under)
Native EI*: 800 (5 over / 8 under)
Max Frame Rate: 30 fps
Resolution: 2.5k
Sensor Size: 4/3
Lens Mount: EOS (PL Coming according to the Rep at NAB)
Recording Format: 12 Bit RAW (Cinema DNG) / ProRes / DNxHD
Recording Media: SSD's (Non-propriatry - off the shelf)
Recording Time: 512GB SSD = about 40 mintes RAW, about 5+ hours ProRes (According to the Rep at NAB)
Power: Internal Battery (Lasts about 1.5 hrs according to the Rep at NAB)
Connections: Thunderbolt, SDI out, Headphone, LANC Remote, External Power, 1/4" Mic/Line Audio In
Misc: 5" Touch Screen is the primary control method for the camera, with minimal buttons on the body. Includes a full copy of Davinci Resolve.
Release date: Projected for July 2012
More Details: 

*EI = Exposure Index. I find this to be more helpful terminology then ISO or ASA in the digital world as ISO and ASA do not function the same with digital cameras as they do with film cameras.

What I Love:
This is the "3K" for 3K camera. The camera allows you to record RAW 2.5k imagery with 13 stops of dynamic range and a "native" EI of 800. Cinema DNG is already supported by many software companies, and it is easily integrated into an Adobe / Resolve workflow. Additionally, you can choose in between RAW and ProRes recording in the camera. So for the work in which you need the highest quality image you can use the Cinema DNG files, and for work that has a tight schedule, or doesn't need RAW, you can shoot in ProRes. And there are no record time limits - it is only the size of the drive that will limit your run time (Up to 1TB drives are acceptable according to the rep I spoke with.). The media is not proprietary, so it can be bought anywhere without a high proprietary markup. And who doesn't like a full copy of Davinci Resolve?

What I'm Not So excited About:
This is a camera that has the form factor of a brick, which leaves me very underwhelmed. There is going to have to be a lot of rigging via cages etc. to actually make this camera useable (Letus - can you please make something?). By the time this camera is rigged up, it is going to make accessing the LCD cumbersome and awkward. The LANC remote port, is not going to do much to alleviate this problem ... And speaking of the LCD, I'm NOT a fan of touch screens. I have found them frustrating to work with in the cold - the screen has issues, and the coldness of my fingers prevents activation if the screen is working. I want physical buttons in addition to the touch screen. I'm disappointed that the lens mount isn't a 4/3" mount. If it would have been a 4/3's mount, just about any lens could have been used, and there are a plethora of 3rd party adapters which open up a whole world of possibilities. Or at the very least, the lens mount on the camera should be swappable. The fast 512GB SSD's are $600 - $700 as of this posting, which makes the camera more expensive than it first appears. This cost only adds up on the post side if you shoot RAW, as that increases the drive space needed for backups and archiving. And can someone tell me what 1/4" audio inputs are doing on a CINEMA camera? While 1/4" may be "a standard", it is a standard for the music industry, not the film industry. I'd rather have one XLR input than two 1/4". I'm just saying ... Also, what is the deal with the non-swappable, non-user replacable, internal battery? I thought this was a CINEMA camera, not an iPhone? The 4/3" sensor does mean a crop factor when using full frame and Super 35mm lenses, and thus more depth of field to compensate for the loss in the field of view. I'm not super excited about the limits of 30 fps. While I don't do a lot of high speed work, I like to have the option to go to 60 fps when I need it.

Other Thoughts:
I'm seriously considering getting this camera. Despite the drawbacks, there are a lot of benefits that this camera possesses and the cost of the camera is only $3,000. At that price, I can overlook a lot of the misgivings I have about it. I would feel more than comfortable buying this camera and having it sit on the shelf for the jobs that it is not appropriate for. It fills a perfect spot for me- high quality imagery at an afforable price - so affordable that I'm willing to be more forgiving towards its limitations. It doesn't break the bank, or worry me about recouping my investment through rentals.

The Canon Cameras:
1D C - The 4k DSLR
MSRP: TBD (Rumored to be around $15,000)
Dynamic Range: 12 Stops
Max EI: 204,800
Max Frame Rate: 24 fps in 4k, 60 fps in 1080p
Resolution: 4k or 1080p
Sensor Size: Full Frame
Lens Mount: EOS
Recording Format: 4K is 4:2:2 intra-frame Motion JPEG, 1080p is 4:2:0 MPEG-4
Recording Media: CF Cards (Yes, Even for 4k)
Recording Time: Only limited by the size of the card (No other limits).
Power: Canon Batteries
Connections: HDMI, Mini-Jack
Misc: The signal out of the HDMI is uncompressed 1080p. Canon C-Log is available in camera.
Release Date: Later this year. (I couldn't get a date or time frame from the rep at the booth).
More Details:

What I Love:
I really like the small form factor of this camera- that is one of the continued strengths of the whole DSLR movement. Smaller and lighter cameras allow for more quick setups and less down time on set - especially with smaller crews. (The bigger the crew the less of an issue this becomes). Canon also made a good move by going with 4:2:2 intra-frame Motion JPEG for their 4k recording. Which is a step up from the H.264 they are using on the 7D / 5D. The max EI of 204,800 astounds me! The "clean" high EI of the 5D MKIII has been impressing me, so I'm very curious to see how this camera performs. I have a hunch that it will do well. I also appreciate that there is an option to record C-Log. If there is one thing that continues to bring me back towards Canon cameras, it is their color science. They do a great job at skin tones and overall color rendition. The last thing that I like about this camera is that you can get a clean, uncompressed 1080p signal out of the HDMI port which opens up the option for an external recorder if needed.

What I'm Not So Excited About:
While I'm excited about the move towards a more robust codec in the 1D C, and it is a step in the right direction, the codec is still not completely there for me. (I'd like to see a more robust recording codec). Additionally, I think it is great that there is the ability to get an uncompressed 1080p out of the camera, but HDMI is a consumer grade connection - not something for the pro level. (The rest of the inputs and outputs are consumer level too, which is frustrating.) When I got my hands on the camera at the Canon booth and panned it back and forth, (at nominal speeds) the nasty rolling shutter showed up in a major way- another artifact of the inexpensive DSLR world. And finally, I'm not excited about the price- it seems too expensive, it is overpriced for what it is offering.

Other Thoughts:
Overall I'm disappointed by the 1D C. It appears that Canon has carried over all of the issues of DSLR's, put them into a 4K DSLR and then slapped a pro level price tag onto the camera. The brilliance of Canon and the DSLR revolution has been the feature set for the price. At its projected price point I expect more out of a camera than what I am seeing out of the 1D C. If it was priced like the Blackmagic Design camera, I could be more forgiving- just like I'm more forgiving of the 5D MKIII. I don't expect professional quality out of a prosumer quality tool. And unless the 1D C comes in around $5,000, I think it is an overpriced DSLR that just inflates the frame size and problems of the 1080p DSLR world. (Something I NEVER wanted to see in 4k.) As of this writing, the only place I could see this fitting into on one of my productions is as a C or D camera when I could not fit any other camera into the required space and the shot had to be in 4k. (Like the interior of a car for example). I did get a chance to watch the 1D C footage projected at 4k at the Canon booth and it still left me underwhelmed. In contrast, the footage that I saw projected on that same screen, at the same screen size from the C300 and the C500 was great. Nice and sharp, full of detail and texture- just like an image should be on the big screen. (And the C300 was in 1080p!) What makes me even more disappointed about the footage from the 1D C, is that if I read in-between the lines, (Here, Here, and Here) Shane has a whole post processing method that he has developed with his team to help minimize the DLSR issues (Rolling Shutter, Compression, etc.) and it is highly probable that this same process was applied to this footage. And yet it still did not hold up to the 1080p footage from the C300. There was a night and day difference between these two cameras that fall around the same price point. So it is a no brainer choice for me - I'll choose a 1080p camera that produces great images and doesn't have the DLSR problems over a 4k DSLR any day. The last thing that worries me about the test footage from the 1D C is that people will see it and not realize all of the post processing that went into it, and think that they could get the same imagery straight out of the camera. This will be difficult to do without spending an arm and a leg in professional post suites- which again misses the point of the DSLR revolution. Canon had a great thing going for it with the 5D/7D and they seemed to have lost that direction ... One final note is that the 1D C is rumored to have overheating problems and with the prototype camera it was overheating every 5 minutes. I think that there is some weight to this rumor as when I touched the camera early in the morning its body was warmer than what I would expect it to be for being on for such a short period of time. Will this be fixed by the time the camera ships - who knows ...

C500 (Canon's 4k Camera)
MSRP: TBD (Rumored to be around $35,000)
Dynamic Range: 12 Stops
Max EI: 20,000
Max Frame Rate: 60p in 4k via dual link SDI
Resolution: 4k & 1080p
Sensor Size: Super 35mm
Lens Mount: EOS
Recording Format: MPEG-2 HD at 50 Mbps at 1080p internally, Uncompressed 4k externally via 3G SDI.
Recording Media: CF Cards internally (1080p) / External recorder for 4k- choose your own external box
Recording Time: Only limited by the media.
Power: Canon Batteries
Connections: Standard connections just like the C300
Misc: Canon log
Release Date: Later this year. (I couldn't get a firm date).
More Details:

What I Love:
Again, I think Canon has done an amazing job at perfecting its color science and noise signature. Straight out of the box, I still think Canon has the best skintones out there, and with their latest offering of cameras, the noise that exists at high ISO's is actually acceptable. (And this comes from a guy who distains noise in digital cameras). I'm happy to see Canon Log as this enables the user to really capture the widest range possible and then grade it accordingly in post. And I also like that you can record up to 60 fps in 4k if you need. (Greater frame rates are rarely needed in the work that I typically do. So I do not feel limited by 60 fps). When I saw the C500 footage projected it was quite a site to behold- beautiful colors, crisp details and textures, nice highlight roll off into over-exposure- everything I wanted to see in 4k imagery.

What I'm Not So Excited About:
I'm disappointed by the fact that if you want to record 4k, you have to record externally to a separate device. For me this completely defeats the purpose of a small form factor camera. At the booth, the literature even touted how small and lightweight the camera is- but by the time you add on the external recorder the camera is no longer small and lightweight. Add to that the additional cost, and the additional points of possible failure in the camera system, and this is not the kind of 4k I can get excited about.

Other Thoughts:
Like the 1D C, I'm disappointed by the C500 as I feel that for the price it is being rumored at it is not offering professional level solutions. 4k only via additional accessories and expense? By the time you add the external recorder, the price will easily be around $40,000 and for that price I'd rather get a couple of C330's, Scarlets, or an Epic. (Or continue saving towards an Alexa.) I don't see any savings offered in media storage by this camera in comparison to the Scarlet or the Epic, so cost savings is a moot point too. And both of the cameras from Red do actually get you the small, lightweight, form factor that the C500 promises but doesn't deliver. This camera just seems to be another awkward offering from Canon. It feels like the 1D C and the C500 were both rushed to market. Neither of them are at a price point, or a feature set that make me want to work with them on any of my projects. For now, I'm going to continue to stick with the 5D MKIII and the C300 when a Canon camera is the right tool for the job.

The Sony FS700
MSRP: TBD (Rumored to be $8,000 - $10,000)
Dynamic Range: Not published. (My guess is that it is similar to the FS100)
Max EI: 16,000
Max Frame Rate: 960 fps (240 fps in 1080p)
Resolution: 1080p & "4k ready"
Sensor Size: Super 35mm (4k res)
Lens Mount: E-Mount (Lots of adapters exist to go to other mounts) 
Recording Format: AVCHD
Recording Media: SD cards and Sony's 128GB SSD.
Recording Time: Limited only by the size of the media used.
Power: Sony Batteries
Connections: Same as FS100 with the addition of 3G HD-SDI
Misc: Internal ND filters of 2, 4, & 6 stops. Will be upgradable to 4k in the future. The body is very similar to the FS100, just a little larger, and it has a more robust lens mount. The camera can also dual record to the SD card and Sony's SSD for immediate dual back up.
Release Date: July
More Details:

What I Love About This Camera:
This camera is offering me everything I want for the content I'm producing today at an affordable price level. 240 fps at 1080p is unheard of at this price point. And recording to a decent codec like AVCHD means I'll have a good starting point to jump off from in post. The fact that I can dual record in the field is a HUGE plus for me. I can instantly have two copies and know my footage is safe. While the extra SSD does incur additional expense- it is not an objectionable one in my opinion. Especially since SD cards are so cheap - so the overall cost of recording media is offset. I'm also diggin the internal ND's, as that was frustrating not to have on the FS100. While I will still probably prefer to use my Schneider Platinum IRND's when I have the time- if I have to run and gun, without the time for a proper matte box and filtration, then these ND's will be a lifesaver. I also really like Sony's ability to pump the gain up without introducing much, if any noise. So I look forward to testing out the 16,000 EI of the camera. The Sony E-mount is not very exciting to me except that I can get an E-mount to PL mount which will allow me to mount my Cooke Panchro /i's to it, which, any time I can mount Cooke Glass to a camera, that excites me ... And finally, I really appreciate the professional audio inputs (XLR) and professional outputs (HD-SDI). This makes the FS700 a very well-rounded system that is worth the money.

What I'm not so excited about:
This camera is a brick. It is one of the most unfriendly, unergonomic cameras to work with unless you kit it out with a cage and accessories. So I am grateful for Letus, and the ability to turn it into a useful camera! But even so, I'm still not excited about its form factor, or where they placed the XLR's. I understand they got the whole thing as small as possible, but the split placement of the XLR's frustrates me. Furthermore, the fact that no mention of the dynamic range has been made leads me to believe that nothing has improved in terms of response from the FS100. I'm hoping that with the larger sensor down sampling to 1080p that it means that the image is cleaner at higher ISO's. But since this has not been mentioned either, I think that may not be the case ... While I'm also happy about the AVCHD codec, as it is more robust then H.264, it is fairly processor intensive, so the extra down time in post will be a bit of a bummer. But with a quick system, that should not really be noticed. (Which is another expense that the end user needs to take into account.). I'm also not excited about the line skipping to get the higher frame rates. But at this price point, I'll accept it. I will have to test out those frame rates for myself to see how much of an issue it really turns out to be in the final image. Finally, I have never been very happy with Sony's color science. Of all of the camera manufacturers, Sony has been, and continues to be my least favorite in this area. Grading does help, and it does produce nice images- they just are not my favorite if I had to choose only one look / camera manufacturer. The Sony imagery always seems to have a colder, more harsh, and less forgiving quality to it. Hand in hand with this issue is how the camera rolls off into the highlights. Sony cameras seem to have a quick, hard roll off to them, much more of a video look than a Canon camera for example. If it is lit and shot well, it looks great- if not, it can look very reminiscent of video to my eye. And finally, I'm not excited about Sony's E-Mount. I never felt like it was very solid in the FS100. While it looks like it is more robust in the FS700, and I hope it is, I still have my doubts ...

Additional Thoughts:
While I don't do a lot of high speed work typically, the latest spots I've been shooting for Adidas have needed to have some work at 120 fps. These shots have been in the controlled enviroment of a studio so the FS700 would have been a perfect choice had it existed. Instead, I've been shooting on a high speed Alexa as the spots are only destined for broadcast and web so more then 1080p is pointless. (And I've had very tight schedules where I just need a camera that works without adding additional complexity on set and in post). The FS700 will fill a lot of the current needs that I have, and it should get a lot of work over the next 18 months.

I think the whole "4k ready" thing is a joke - a waste of money and time. As a marketing tool it is great for Sony as people will buy it thinking that it is 4k ready. They will see it as an affordable camera that in the future they can use to record 4k. What is not to like about that? For me, there are two issues that come to mind: 1. Availability. When will the camera actually be able to record 4k- one month, six months, or 18+ months from now? There hasn't been even a hint of when that will happen. And then the second issue- Cost. I think the cost to record 4k from the FS700 will be around $4,000 - $6,000 and when that does happen, it will make an affordable camera no longer affordable for those who originally bought into the system thinking they were going to be able to shoot 4k cheaply. Furthermore, when you put these things together, it creates a perfect storm around a useless feature. By the time 4k for the FS700 actually comes out, there will be new cameras out there, (Think IBC 2012) that will perform better at a better price point than the cost of the FS700 and the upgrade. So I think it is a marketing strategy aimed toward those people who just care about the spec and don't think through the issues clearly enough. Which brings up one more point about the whole 4k issue with the FS700 - what will be lost by recording the full sensors output? When you downsample from 4k to 1080p you can actually hide some of the sensors flaws like noise for example. So if we no longer downsample the image, what will be seen, and will it be tolerable?

But before you think I'm being a negative nancy about this camera, I should let you know I am seriously considering buying this camera. If I can make the camera pencil out in an 18 month period, I'll be buying it, as it checks off the majority of boxes that a working camera needs to have for the work that I do. But if I can't make it pencil out, or something amazing comes out before this is available (eh-hem, Panasonic ...) then this camera will remain a rental only- along with all the other cameras I rent.

Summary Judgement
The state of things has not changed post NAB. We now have more options and more tools to choose from, which I think is great. But there is no perfect camera- a lot of room for improvement is left by all of the camera manufacturers - yes, that includes Red as well. The truth of the matter is that you should get the camera that suits your needs and allows you to be profitable. Just upgrading your camera to have the latest and greatest is a foolish move in my opinion. If you are not profitable, then it doesn't matter what camera you have- you are going to fail. So while I do care a lot about the creative side - as that is what I'm most passionate about - in the end this is a business. So if you are still raking in money with your 7D, or 5D MKII keep at it! No sense in being less profitable just to have a cool toy. If on the other hand, you have some cash to throw around, then this is an exciting time to be buying a camera. You have a lot of good choices through the whole range of camera systems. Choose one that best fits your needs, your budget, and will allow you to be profitable.

And I'll close with this thought- I'm glad that the perfect camera didn't come out this year. Imagine how boring NAB 2013 would be if "the" perfect camera really was launched this year- what do you launch next year? Anyway ... ;)

Until Next Time - Get Out There And Shoot,
Ryan E. Walters, Cinematographer 


  1. Great article. I sincerely appreciate this!!!

    1. Thanks for reading, and I'm glad it was helpful. :)

  2. Was looking hard at purchasing the C300, but this FS700 evaluation had really got me thinking a bit more...

    1. Yep- it is a tough call for sure. I wouldn't pull the plug until you get a chance to work with the FS700. So far I have enjoyed working with the C300. It has been a solid performer for me. My biggest complaint has been that I have to go to 720p to get 60 fps- which I find frustrating. I also don't like the Canon LCD, and the fact that is doesn't send the waveform out the HD-SDI. But I think that Canon has better color rendition out of the box then the FS700 does - Grading can help this issue. So it is not a cut and dry issue. I can't wait to get a hold of the FS700 and test it out for myself. It sure does seem like a very solid choice, with the least amount of compromises at this price level. :)

    2. Ryan, most of my existing lenses that have shallow DOF are EF mount. IF I were to go with the Sony, am I losing anything if I throw on a 3rd party adapter to go from PL to EF?

    3. The Sony FS700 is E mount- NOT PL mount. So what you would want to get, would be an adapter to go from Sony E Mount to Canon EF mount. There are lots of options out there, but I would highly recommend going with a smart mount. (One that can control the EF lens, otherwise you will be stuck at one aperture on the lens.) I have not tried any of these adapters, so I cannot make recommendation based on experience. However, this mount from Metabones looks interesting - I would check it out and research it further:

  3. Thanks for this article! And FYI, Canon announced a list price for the C500 of $30K, so a likely street price of around $25K. And the AJA Ki Pro Quad will be about $4K, but the SSD drives probably over $1K each, so a realistic price of around $7K to $10K for 4K recording. And that's compressed to ProRes of around 190MB/s up to 30fps... higher speeds and uncompressed will require a high-priced external array.

    Almost completely agree about the Sony FS700. Especially the '4K-ready', which puts the buyer at the complete whim of Sony. Probably no uncompressed 4K possible with this camera, plus no word yet if it will support 3rd party recorders at all. I'm less of a fan of AVCHD than you. Could never use that codec professionally, except maybe for the high speed footage. So I would also need an external 1080 recorder. And as you expected, the Sony reps at NAB said that it should have about the same dynamic range and low light sensitivity of the FS100.

    1. Thanks for the update about the price- good to know. :) (Which is why i listed it as a rumor- I couldn't get a confirmed answer at the show.) Even at those prices, it still seems like way to much money, and to many additional failure points ...

      AVCHD is definitely not the End all, be all codec. I like it more then H.264. And depending on the project, I have not found it to be a problem in a professional environment. I used the FS100 (AVCHD) recently to shoot an Adidas spot (RGIII: ) and for that project it worked great. It is definitely not for everything- but I can't say never- just like I can't say never about H.264 (And I WISH I could say never about that codec ...)

      I'm also not a fan of external recorders. I think it is great that they allow for much better codecs, but I've found them to be to finicky and temperamental in the production work I do. (Just like the temperamentalness I've experienced with the Epic ...). It is GREAT when it works. However, I just want the camera to disappear and work like it should. Rather then having to trouble shoot it on set ...

      Good to know about the DR about the FS700. The rep I spoke with wasn't sure, but said it shouldn't be any less then the FS100.

      Thanks again for the input. :)