Canon Expo kicked off with a bang as the venerable imaging giant stunned crowds with its working prototype 4K camera! Is this the future of digital cinema?
Ug. I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.
There’s so much wrong with this prototype “concept camera” (as Philip kindly points out below, it’s important to understand that this is not a camera Canon plans on bringing to market) that I hardly know where to begin. It’s an atrocity of aesthetics and ergonomics. It has a fixed, not-very-special 20x zoom lens. The sensor is only 2/3”. It shoots 60fps. Nothing about this camera reflects any awareness of what digital cinematographers want. It’s as if Canon brass lifted the internet ban on the engineer’s dungeon just long enough for them to visit to RED’s web site, and then shut it down again after they’d read as far as “4K.”
Of course, this isn’t a camera, or even a plan for a camera. It’s a statement by Canon. They meant to say “We get it. We know what’s important.” What they actually said is “Ooh, bigger numbers!” I expect this kind of technology dick-swinging from Sony, but not from Canon.
What’s most troubling about this non-camera is that Canon made it at all. Anyone invested in Canon’s gear should be pissed at Canon for squandering their time and resources building this toy. I look at this thing and see my parents returning from Vegas with a sheepish expression on their faces, saying “Remember your college fund?”
Canon, please stop building fake “4K” video cameras when you can’t even make an SLR that shoots actual 1080p HD.
We’ve discussed the very real aliasing/moiré issue with Canon’s HDSLRs. It is both a real problem and a somewhat workable limitation that many happily accept. What is not in dispute is that these are symptoms of a poorly-sampled, low-resolution image. Readers of this site know that I am not a spatial resolution fetishist, but even I am painfully aware that my 5D and 7D footage is lacking detail.
Canon makes it incredibly easy to demonstrate this, since the 5D Mark II that makes such fuzzy pseudo-HD video also makes ridiculously high-fidelity stills. The frames below are a 1:1 frame grab from a 5D video, and the same scene shot as a still and then scaled down to 1920x1080. I did the scaling in Lightroom, using no Develop or Output Sharpening.
Feel free to download the full-res originals and compare yourself, or look at the 1:1 comparisons below:
The difference is staggering. And remember, I don’t even care all that much about spatial resolution. What I do know is this: a sharp 1920x1080 camera can make an image with more detail than most female movie stars are comfortable with for close-ups. So for today we can dispense with a discussion about the merits of mastering at 4K. Canon is nowhere near that conversation with their HDSLRs. They’re still falling way short of HD.
To be clear: What you are seeing above is two different ways that the same camera made a 1920x1080 image. One image was hastily yanked off a sensor (skipping entire rows of pixels) and then compressed to H.264 in realtime; the other was captured as raw 5.6K bayer data, decoded slowly to RGB by an engine optimized for quality, then downsampled to HD using every 5.6K pixel to build a 1920x1080 image with as much detail as appropriate for a true HD image.
Does the latter sound unfeasible for “real” video work? Well it shouldn’t — it’s what we do with our RED One cameras now.
The RED One is more than just a “4K camera.” It’s a 4K sensor, some very clever software, an even more clever compressed raw codec, and then more clever software. Not to mention a decent form factor, decent colorimetry, smart proxy workflows for editorial, and viewfinders that actually help you expose and focus. It’s a full-fledged 4K ecosystem.
And look how painful it was for RED to get all that working.
Canon, you have none of that stuff, you have no idea how to make it, and you don’t even know that you don’t know this.
So stop dicking around with your fake 4K toys and start making cameras we can use. That we want to use.
Build a full-frame DSLR that shoots high-quality HD video at a variety of frame rates and the world is yours.
I’m terrified that you won’t though — because then you’d have to put it on a pedestal at a trade show and say “Look, we finally built a camera that actually does what we claim our current cameras do.”
So much more fun to say “Hey look, 4K!”
“We so get it.”