Panasonic is wowing at NAB in Las Vegas with its new GH4 4K camera.
Ditto that with Sony and the A7s, a low light demon.
But where on earth is Canon?
I’ve been watching the NAB Twitter feeds like a hawk. Lots of interest and excitement about the GH4 and A7s. Both seem like solid entries, especially for the price. Panasonic will sell the GH4 for $1,700 and Sony is expected to retail the A7s for around $2,000. Not too bad. In the world of wine we’d call them QPR champs.
Canon did announce a few new professional camcorders. They look good. But I’m ready to make the move to a cinema camera. I want something that is built from the get-go for video; not a stills camera that needs a bunch of rigging (monitor, mic holder/XLR inputs, extra batteries, etc.) to make it suitable for the run-and-gun that we like to do so much here on Stark Insider.
FROM DSLR TO CINEMA
I’m quite loyal to Canon. It runs in the Stark family. My grandfather shot on a bunch of Canons, including the TL1, and accumulated a rather sweet collection of EF glass (that 100mm is a beauty!). My father too followed his footsteps. I’ll never forget the early days with the AE1. I started in earnest with a Canon Vixia camcorder, shooting video interviews in theaters around Silicon Valley. Then I moved to DSLR – the crazy had begun. So I made the jump to the Rebel T2i. Then the EOS 60D. Then last year to the marvelous auto-focus beast that is the 70D.
Once I got a taste of bokeh, and the film-like potential of DSLR (at least compared to old school camcorder video) there was no going back. I loved being able to switch out lenses. And the aesthetic of the results had something special about it. Plus–bonus of bonuses–these things could still shoot great stills. Imagine that.
The problem with DSLR cameras, however, is their design. Originally targeted at photographers, they’re simply not as well suited for video. For example, there are no pro-level XLR inputs, no peaking/focus assist (not in the 70D at least). Battery life, while OK, is not the best, and the codecs and quality of the video files themselves are also just OK.
Canon answered the call with the C100 EOS Cinema Camera. Designed from the ground up for video, the C100 doesn’t even take stills. It is a single purpose device, and built solely for capturing 1080p video with decent dynamic range. Depending on your mindset, at $5,000 it’s either expensive or cheap. While many alternatives, such as the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera ($995), tempt with lower price points and equally beautiful results, you have to factor in all the add-ons to get up and running. For the most part the C100 is ready to go, out-of-the-box. Just add a mic, a memory card, and off you go.
Everyone is talking 4K. UltraHD.
At NAB 2014, 4K is the story… at least thus far.
The C100 shoots “only” 1080p. That’s not a real limitation for me. I shoot for the web. Aka the small screen. Yes, retina is here. Monitors have resolution that goes beyond 1080p, and, yes, YouTube can stream 4K. But, by and large, I think we’re years away when the masses–the non early adopters such as you and me–really care that they’re clips of Jimmy Fallon or Steven Colbert are in 4K.
Still, there are other practical purposes for shooting a resolution higher than what you expect to deliver. For me, the top reason would be the flexibility to crop. I can reframe a 4K source into a 1080 window without sacrificing resolution. A great example. Just last weekend I had singer Colbie Caillat give us a great call sign for Stark Insider after an interview. When I shot it, my host and eternal trooper Loni Stark was in the frame. That looked awkward. So I cropped the shot in Premiere, scarifying resolution in the process. Not too big a deal since no one is watching these vids on 100-foot theater screens. Still, the loss of quality is there. And 4K (or even 2.5K) gives you more freedom in post.
PANASONIC GH4 or SONY A7s or BLACKMAGIC or CANON C100
Originally I had my heart set on Blackmagic – just so much quality result for the money. But, ergonomics are a problem. Battery life is poor. The BMCC has 1/4″ jacks, not XLR. The LCDs are not great, almost useless in sunlight. Basic features are missing, such as the ability to format a SSD or SD card in camera. Or to even tell how much recording time remains (this blows my mind, dealbreaker).
Then in my quest to step up from my 70D I gave serious consideration to the Canon C100. It’s a big step in price. Again $5,000. But you get it all. It’s ready to go. And battle tested. A 35mm sensor. Good dynamic range. Very good low light performance. And the EF mount, of course, means all my Canon glass will work. Most reviews are extremely positive. This is a great cinema camera. But the one problem? It doesn’t shoot 4K. Again, I’m not sure that bugs me too much. Except, if we’re going to spend that much money we do want to future proof our operation as much as possible. In a year, or two, 1080p could be the new 480p. Avoid at all costs. Plus, if I’m shooting so much footage and b-roll it would be nice to capture it in a high quality format – I mean, why go to all that work over a lifetime, and then look back realizing you blew it!?
Net-net: I was hoping Canon would release a C150 or C200 at NAB. Something that would take all the good stuff from the C100–ergonomics, build quality, connectability–and give it a kick in the codec/resolution pants. Up the game. So far, though… crickets.
Meanwhile, Panasonic is tearing it up with the GH4. I like it. Unlike the Sony A7s, it records 4K internally (you don’t need a recorder). That’s a huge plus. Focus is wicked fast.
The problem with the GH4 and A7s is that both are housed in DSLR-like bodies. They’re compromises–again, shooting stills and video. Whereas something like the C100 is designed solely for video, especially doc/ENG/run-and-gun.
For an early adopter it pains me to use that word. Reality is, the GH4 and A7s are first-gen 4K products. This time next year, or soon thereafter, their successors will land. And they will be orders of magnitude better, if history is any indication.
If Canon doesn’t release new cinema models at NAB this year, they would likely some time in 2014. I suspect–I hope–competitive pressure is finally making its way up the management chain.
Meantime I shoot happily away with the EOS 70D, a pretty darn good little camera. And, don’t forget, the 70D, with its touch screen, even does auto-focus better than the C100 (which now has the dual pixel AF option).
Regardless of what happens next, it’s a pretty special time to be in this game. So many amazing pro products (don’t forget the quirky, compelling Digital Bolex!) for such ridiculously low prices, that it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed, and spoiled at the same time.