Canon, RED, and Digital Cinema

A couple of things happened yesterday on the digital camera front. First, the Canon 5D Mark II reportedly hit stores, and second, Jim Jannard announced that more changes to the RED lineup would be announced on December 3rd. I doubt that the two news items are related, but the RED announcement is odd because there was already an official announcement last week that made the direction of the new DSMC line pretty clear.

Imaginary Scarlet CameraSince it’s been awhile since I’ve written anything on this, let me recap the situation. In April, RED announced that they would be adding the larger Epic and smaller, $3,000 2/3” fixed-lens Scarlet to their product set. In late August, Nikon announced that their D90 SLR would have 720p video capability and cost less than a grand. A few weeks later, Canon responded by adding similar functionality to their new 5D MkII, offering full frame 1080p for $2,700. A few days later, RED decided to redesign their camera systems in light of these new market changes. It took almost two months for them to work out this new modular plan.

And since this all unfolded on the internet, much forum furor ensued as various photographers and filmmakers organized themselves into vicious factions to fight over which option was actually “the future.”

As it turns out, the DLSR options from Nikon and Canon are fantastic still cameras, but not so great for video. The D90 has serious jello-cam issues and is limited to 720p at a minimal bitrate, while the 5D has a fixed framerate of 30p. Neither camera offers much manual control when in video mode, and audio support is minimal.

Tangible Canon 5DThis is totally understandable, because SLRs aren’t really designed with video in mind. The video features seem like more of a marketing afterthought, but it’s an obvious progression; my 30D takes much bigger and much nicer pictures than my XL H1, and if only it could take them faster (say, 24 pictures per second), it would be a vastly superior video camera (for most things). How hard could it be to just up the processing power and bandwidth a little bit so I can shoot faster?

Canon and Nikon’s latest cameras don’t really do this, at least not yet. They only record HD video, not super megapixel frames, and they save highly-compressed h264 files, not raw images. The RED options are superior in every video-related way except two: They cost far more (A Scarlet brain competing with the 5D’s sensor is now $12,000, not including any recording, output, or viewfinder options), and they don’t exist yet.

Besides, it’s a little unfair to compare products that you can buy right now, today, with something that we’ve been sort-of promised in the future, especially since it took RED almost twenty months to ship the first Red One after its announcement. I think the various Scarlet options will be great when they show up, but I imagine that by then Canon and Nikon and others will have made a lot more headway in bringing better video features to DSLRs that already have great sensors, lenses, and raw data options.

The first-generation Scarlets are close to what I want, but the second or third-generation Canon DLSRs may be just as powerful and could beat RED to market. In any case, the competition is good for filmmakers. And as usual, Stu Maschwitz’s blog has been the best place to get info on the DLSR and RED developments.

  1. I can’t wait to receive my 5D Mark II!!

    - Lydia
  2. I think it might be a while until I can get a 5D. :-P

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