mousetion_impossibleWho will Get The Cheese? It’s an odd question, and I’ll offer an explanation in just a moment. First, some history…

In the last year and a half, our industry has seen an amazing revolution. Many videographers, filmmakers, and indies have pushed aside their technically superior, properly-designed HD camcorders for a deeply flawed, imperfect tool: the DSLR that shoots video. They have done this for many good reasons, but there is no questioning that DSLRs were not designed to shoot video.

We DSLR video shooters love that these imperfect tools give us amazing things we’ve never had access to in this price range; massive, production-quality image sensors that can practically see in the dark and offer filmic depth-of-field and incredible dynamic range; a seemingly endless array of high-quality interchangeable lens options; solid-state recording on affordable, industry-standard media; and finally a tiny form factor that enables us to do things and shoot places we’ve never shot before.

We put up with all the flaws, the aliasing, the highly-compressed acquisition codec, short record times, the non-standard form-factor, all these negatives we put up with, because the positives are so compelling. Does that mean these are perfect cameras? Not by a long shot. It means they are Good Enough that we’ll deal with all the crap that comes with it. To be fair, many users won’t deal with it…there are lots of applications where DSLRs simply don’t work. But the whole time that so many users have embraced this flawed tech which offers us so much, we’ve been wondering when someone will finally get it right and put all this tech into a proper camcorder body with proper professional camera features. Who will be the first to recognize that this is what users want?

This is not to say that the camcorder market has not already been shifting…it has. Just a few years ago, it was standard practice to deliver new solid-state cameras with a proprietary media solution. Panasonic’s P2 media and Sony’s SxS are very expensive formats. Unnecessarily expensive…as we all learned, when E-Films released a SxS adapter dubbed MxR that accepted standard el-cheapo SDHC media. Now it’s hard to find a Sony EX1 or EX3 shooter who doesn’t have these cheap SD card adapters and uses them regularly. As a result, now cameras are coming to market with CF card and SDHC media. This year Canon announced a pro-level camcorder that offers a 50 Mbit MPEG2 recording format that can be edited directly off the card without re-wrapping on ingest. It’s an incremental step, but a solid one. Manufacturers have realized that the market is shifting, and if they don’t start delivering what consumers demand, they will be left behind.

panasonic_ag_af100_mockupThe next revolution (that is happening right now) is affordable interchangeable lenses. Not a handful of expensive HD lens options that you can swap on your XLH1, I’m talking a veritable shit-ton of lens options that are affordable and you can buy almost anywhere. A mount that can be adapted to handle myriad existing and new lens options. Users want choice, and they want those options to be high-quality…and manufacturers are responding. And hot on the tail of the DSLR video explosion (HDSLR or VDSLR as they are sometimes called) manufacturers are slowly responding with options. This year at NAB, Panasonic announced an interchangeable micro 4/3 mount camcorder. The AG-AF100 is a proper camcorder, with proper camcorder functions. There is a growing market for micro 4/3 mount glass, but with cheap adapter rings this camera will accept existing Nikon, Canon, PL glass, you name it. Finally, choice! They nailed it on the lens end of things, but they fell way short with their codec; AVCHD. It’s usable yes. It will do amazing things, yes. But it’s just a step short of what users want. Still, we are making progress. So bravo, Panasonic!

sony_aps_hd_camcorder1Just today Sony announced that they too are working on an interchangeable lens camcorder line. It starts with the NEX-3 and NEX-5 models, in a small DSLR form factor with interchangeable lenses. Those cameras are coming soon. They are basing it on something called an “E-mount” that can be adapted to their Alpha lens line. It is my understanding that Sony Alpha DSLRs can also be adapted to popular existing options like Nikon and others, so it follows that there is some way to use other lenses on this camcorder line. This of course continues the trend of user options. Sony also showed a preview of small, handheld, consumer-level camcorders that accept interchangeable lenses. These supposedly have autofocus capability via the new E-mount. And based on how Sony tends to operate, that likely means the AVCHD codec (to be clear, this is my speculation, but I think it’s a good guess that will likely hold to be true). They appear to be delivering a solid sensor, and the lens mount looks good (particularly when adapted to Alpha and others). But damn that AVCHD codec. So once again, very close. Bravo, Sony! Progress, but we aren’t there yet, folks.

sensor_size_cheat_sheetThe next revolution will be the sensor size; we’re going to see better light sensitivity on a larger sensor, and better dynamic range. And it’s going to happen in concert with a shift to more high-quality, less-compressed codecs. The larger sensor revolution has already happened in DSLRs, and we’re probably not going to see a Vistavision-sized sensor like the 5D MKII in any camcorders any time soon. But APS-C sized sensors will begin to make inroads in the “proper-camcorder” market, and as they do we are going to see more and more codec options that offer less and less compression. If RED can ever ship that Scarlet camera they’ve been tantalizing us with for nearly 3 years, I think that will hasten the codec revolution. If it was going to be as affordable as they initially announced, it would put even more pressure on the market…but it appears that RED has decided DSLRs are killing the low-end market for them, and they’ve priced their line somewhere in between DSLRs and RED Epic. To be fair, I think that the RED One has already put some pressure on the market to shift to better codec options, if only by increasing users awareness of codecs and the RAW workflow.

So back to my original point about dairy products. There’s an old saying that goes something like this:

The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.

To me, Canon got the worm. They somehow stumbled into this DSLR video thing, gurgling and flailing their arms like a newborn, and then belatedly realized that this was an untapped way to move cameras and lenses. It really was like evolution…somehow, the right combination of RNA combined in the primordial ooze that is their R&D dept, and the 5D MKII emerged. But then they took over and did something very intelligent. They bucked the ivory-tower trend and listened to users, quickly adding manual controls in the firmware update a year ago, and now 24p. Nikon would have had a larger chunk of the proverbial worm if they had made a better codec choice than MJPEG. Still arm-flailing, apparently. There’s still time to change it, but big ships turn slowly and I’m afraid Nikon won’t shift in time. Panasonic’s GH1 is a compelling option, but is ultimately hobbled by a low-bitrate implementation of AVCHD. Whether by design or sheer luck, Canon’s H.264 codec was Good Enough and the revolution took off.

The question is, who will be the second mouse that gets the cheese? Who will be the company that swoops in and captures this market after the clunky, flawed DSLRs have paved the way, proven the tech, and stoked consumer’s fires? Will it be Panasonic, with their AF100? Will it be Sony, with this new E-mount line? It’s all speculation now, but we’ll see this fall when they ship. My feeling is that these two announcements are just the beginning of the real shift in camcorders.

It’s not rocket surgery, folks. We want these four simple things; Sensor, Lens, Codec, and Form Factor. Why is this so much to ask? I realize that these are not trivial requests, but understand that quality options for each already exist seperately in the market. If we could somehow cross-breed cameras, we’d have these tools already.

So who is going to get the cheese? It’s only a feeling right now, call it a gut impulse, but my money is on Sony.


29 Responses to “Who will Get The Cheese?”  

  1. 1 Matt Gottshalk

    It will be Panasonic, not Sony.

    Panasonic actually LISTENS to it’s end users and then delivers. The AF-100 may record in AVCHD, but I’m betting that it will have uncompressed HD-SDI out and HDMI out allowing the user to select a better codec like the Nanoflash.

    Sony could care less what it’s user’d think, and designs proprietary hardware that forces you to use their technology. They never ask users what they want, but instead come out with design and “features” that leave many scratching their heads.

  2. 2 Emrys Roberts

    I have a feeling even the XF305/300′s MXF codec is really going to shack things up. Basically creating format that can be edited even on the slightly older NLE’s that can’t edit H.264 natively. I’m hoping they will translate this same codec to DSLR’s but not sure if that would happen in a firmware update. Even though I would love it.

    On a side note, I’m still holding my breath for a 7D FW update to fix the AGC like the 5D owners received. :-/

  3. 3 Joel Peregrine

    Great stuff Matt!

    As a recent DSLR convert I’ll put $5 on Canon. I can just see those photo and video division geniuses shaking hands, rolling up their sleeves and getting to work…

  4. 4 Quentin Brown

    I’m not sure who to put my money on for the cheese but I know my money’s likely going down on a RED Scarlet. The people at RED totally get what we want and have done for a long time, it’s just taking them time to get it to market. They also not only listen but converse with their customers.
    The Scarlet s35 and eventual FF35 will have most of what we want: Codec(in spades), Sensor size, sensitivity and dynamic range, lenses – PL, CAF, NAF anyone?, and a flexible formfactor unlike any in the business.

    The prices may be above those of the DSLR’s but they are well within range of traditional prosumer and professional Video camera prices.

    In the end it will come down to a few factors for them, brand perception and release timing/ availability. Those who use them currently say their customer service and support is second to none but bigger brands like Sony still inspire more consumer confidence though don’t necessarily have better service. Timing I think is the key issue, they already saw the market a long time before Canon put their foot awkwardly in it, but they have yet to come to Market themselves. They have a certain loyalty to their earlier customers which is admirable and they aim to serve them at higher end Digital Cinema market with Epic before releasing new products to new markets ( as in the Scarlet range). Given how the market has changed during their development cycle I think they have missed a trick here, if they could have got the slightly simpler to develop Scarlet products out earlier they could have been first to market with only the DSLR’s and their limitations to compete with. As it is everyone else has announced new products and brand loyalties may encourage those who would have leapt before to wait in the wings.

    Still, even when they do arrive, I doubt that Panasonic or Sony will be shooting 12bit RAW 5K. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have the extra resolution, it’s great to be able to crop in to it when the boom comes in or to have enough resolution to throw away some when stabilising shots. With Adobe now offering realtime multistream R3D RED raw playback off the timeline using their mercury playback engine and others sure to follow (R3D support is pretty comprehensive across the board now but 64 bit multicore & GPU accelerated not so much yet) it doesn’t hurt in post now unless you forgot to budget for some big hard drives.

  5. 5 Quentin Brown

    Having said that about hard drives 4K Redcode 36 is only just over 2x the file size of ProRes 422 1080 60i but gives 4x the resolution and in 12bit!
    (I would have more helpfully compared 24fps ProRes if my codec calc had it)

  6. 6 David Harry Stewart

    Hi Mathew,
    Nice piece. I have no idea who is going to figure it out, I just wish they would do it soon. The insanity of what one has to do to the still cameras to make them motion cameras, is just that, insanity. Ebay in 2 years is going to be swamped with RedRockMicro gear. I was hoping, and hoping and hoping for Scarlet, but now I am just bored with them. They had their moment, and could have owned the world, but now it is past. Which is a shame, I really like the spirit of that company. Come on Sony, Come on Panasonic, Come on Canon! Lets get it done, its not that hard.
    Best wishes,
    David Harry Stewart

  7. 7 DVculture

    Great Article Matt!

  8. 8 Bellantonio

    I made many deep reserche this fou months and by blog and interview compared with existing model , price point , and segment of camera model , to me the scenario is this: red point to high end and to keep their baseline of client, the upgrade of misterium x is economically a bless for costumers and them, why to introduce a cheaper model for a large basis, progrAm for the future is high end market, rent and modular package and in the long period in their price point they win. Scarlet is not prioritary.
    Sony showed their new cinealta, new eng hd camcorder and a prototype at nab and a sort of hdslr competitor but not to disturb the basis of their product it is in between exe an handycam.
    Canon will push hd video feature for the masses so they will sell by all the cameras line, they never give us better codec in the short period or heating could destroy confidence on their camera.
    Infact the problem of raw codec is heat and you have to create a certain form factor.
    The only chance is from panny they have their p2 line to push, their brand new p2 sdi recorder , and infact they presented as first. Plus their avc intra road map

  9. 9 Aaron Szabo

    I’m sticking with Canon for sure. They could put RED out of business with one major cinema camera release. I’m wondering when they’ll start making cinema lenses though. Who would buy Zeiss if Canon made an affordable ($2000-$3000) 16-120 T2.8 master zoom? Even an 18-50 T2.8 zoom lens that didn’t breath and had no moving elements where you could actually zoom it with out refocusing.

    All zoom lenses besides the new Zeiss zooms suck for DSLR’s. Of course for primes Canon is doing ok, but they could make a 24mm F/1.0 or 85mm f/1.0 for video because sharpness is not really an issue for video (SLR lenses out resolve 1080P by a long shot).

    RED must be completely stupid to think that DSLR’s are just great still cameras… They’re saying that because they’re terrified because the 5D II is more practical for anything but features and who can tell them apart when they’re on a big screen…

    I’m sure DOF adapters sales are completely gone when you can get a camera for the same price.

    I think Canon has already become the mouse and cheese with 3 cameras ranging from $899-$2499 and about 60 compatible lenses (not including Nikon, Minolta, C/Y, Olympus OM, any Medium Format lens, some PL lenses, and more via adapter plus Tamron and Sigma).

    We’re so lucky we’re not shooting HD(F-ing)V crap anymore.

  10. 10 Emre Tufekci

    Why is this so much to ask?

    Its simple marketing. DVD comes out, then extended release, then special edition. Car is revealed, next year the convertible comes out.

    If they simple gave a camera that everyone was asking for, how could they sell you the “next greatest thing?”. Those who play the game too long risk loosing the edge.

  11. 11 Dave Taylor

    Matt, great article. I want a handle for my DSLR!

    But what about those issues you raised in the previous article about Codec licensing?

    http://www.freshdv.com/2010/05/mpegla-licensing-nightmare.html

  12. 12 Matthew Jeppsen

    @Dave I updated that article with a link to an Engadget post where they asked the MPEG-LA specifically about some of the confusing language. I quote:

    weve directly asked MPEG-LA whether or not using an H.264 camera simply to shoot video for a commercial purpose requires a license, and the answer is no. Weve also asked whether an end user watching H.264 videos would ever have to pay or be licensed, and the answer to that question is also no.

    The general concensus to my concerns is that the license it written broadly to protect the patent holders, and that the MPEG-LA will not be charging on the acquisition side of things (i.e cameras) but those who distribute on the web in H.264 may incur some (reasonable) licensing fees. That’s an off-the cuff summary, check out the links I point to in my article updates.

    http://www.freshdv.com/2010/05/mpegla-licensing-nightmare.html

    -MJ

  13. 13 Matthew Jeppsen

    Good comments, @Aaron. Quick note though, it’s my understanding that the market for pro-quality DOF adapters is actually still pretty strong, which indicates there are many users out there either unable or unwilling to use DSLRs for video. There are a lot of applications where DSLR or even just CMOS imagers isn’t a good fit.

    I’d love to see a T2.8 16-120 master zoom for $3k, but I believe we’d both be smoking something strong if we ever saw that. :-) There’s a “Ruby” 14-28mm f/2.8 that’s been modified heavily for cinema use from a Nikon short zoom. Supposedly extremely low distortion, MTF compares favorably to master primes, and near perfect edge-to-edge sharpness even wide-open. It’s $15K. http://www.focusoptics.com/newruby.htm

    -MJ

  14. 14 Adriel Brunson

    Great article… but as for DSLR “cheese” it’s kind of like pizza.

    You’ll never get agreement on what’s “perfect” because everyone likes something different. I mean, I’m not into pineapple on pizza but if that’s all there is I’ll take a slice now and then.

    The cool thing is to see all the activity in this market. The more choices the better!

    -a-

  15. 15 mark Miltch

    Oh please spare me. Panasonic likes to get in first and then leaves you flat with an AVCHD codec that doesn’t get us anywhere. To hell with Panasonic and their substandard fare. remember 960×540 chips in the HVX. Always close but never there. Sony and Canon have brought out amazing cams recently and I expect the future to come from these two companies not Panasonic. The Af-100 over already, its already too old because of its Avchd codec. We need to move on from this and I think Canon has the upper hand and rumors of a Canon designed raw video mode is what to wait for. If its the current Avchd implementation forget these cams the future is only in a robust codec period.

  16. 16 DM Wexler

    Matt,
    An awesome well-articulated and solid article. A great read.

    My opinion, Red will be marginalized in the coming years. I think Canon’s pockets are to deep and their manufacturing base to extensive. I don’t think Tim Smith at Canon is giving lip service when stating that “we are listening to our clients”, its a change as you state in the ivory tower, a great thing and i’ll take it.

    I think Arri and Alexa are really going to be paving the way in the coming year, certainly not for all as cost is prohibitive but against RED certainly. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, resolution is overrated. I’ll take dynamic range and color space (all things being equal) 2K vs 4K. In addition, I know that the Arri engineers are more worried about what Canon is doing than RED. RED may go the way of black and white (sadly for black and white not for RED), in that it will be eventually used by the die hard few.

    Finally, some people eluded to this, form factor what it is, if Canon at the very least gave us another spigot (HD-SDI) to pump out another flavor, like Panasonic will be doing that would be a step in the right direction.
    I would add HDSDI port to the variables you mentioned.

    I give the Star to Canon and I think Panasonic will take the 2nd worm.

  17. 17 Matthew Jeppsen

    Thanks for the comments, @DM Wexler. I hate to agree, as I like RED’s vision…but it’s almost as if they started the revolution, and then couldn’t (or wouldn’t) scale up to deliver what they needed to, to make the next foothold. Scarlet shipping 12-14 months ago would have destroyed Canon’s DSLR Market. By re-engineering Scarlet twice to add more features (and ultimately price), I wonder if they missed the boat? The very boat that they launched! Perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe Scarlet will drop, and we’ll all burn our DSLRs. But that’s not what it looks like.

    @Matt Gottshalk I’m a Panasonic fan as well, but I think they move too slowly and too incrementally to be the one that will ultimately set the standard in this new market. HD-SDI and HDMI spigots are wonderful, and pros demand them for monitoring and uncompressed output, but ultimately 99% of users are going to use the built in, “easy” codec and media choice. Which is why I’ve got an issue with Panny’s choice of AVCHD. AVC Intra (especially AVC Intra 100 at 4:2:2) would be sweet, however. We’ll see if they pull that one out of their hat. I sincerely hope they do!

    -MJ

  18. 18 Stephen S.

    While some people view P2 (and SxS) as too expensive and want cheaper SD card options, some people (like me) see the other side of it – you’re paying for reliability.

    Every time a bit is a written to a P2 card, it is then verified. If it fails, it can be re-written to another sector, and because the card is so much faster than the data stream being written to it, it has 6 or 7 attempts to re-try writing before it fails.

    Then, there’s also the long-term reliability of the number of read/write cycles the SLC memory can handle (on the original black P2 cards, not so much on the new E-series MLC P2 cards) and the physical reliability of the card itself.

    I’ve heard a few too many stories of people shooting irreplaceable footage on SD cards that have failed, and they’ve lost all their footage.

    Sure, P2 cards are more expensive, but this is not a hobby for me – it’s my livelihood. I can’t afford to have media fail.

    There are some reliable SD cards out there, but there are plenty that are not, and it’s hard to tell, as no one manufacturer is 100% consistent, many brands use varying manufacturers over time or over different capacities, and there are plenty of counterfeits floating around.

    I’ll take P2 (or SxS if I shot Sony) and gladly pay for it. Give me SD as my only option, and I’ll choose another camera, thanks.

  19. 19 Stephen S.

    I don’t think Scarlet will have much impact on the DSLR market, and I don’t see why anyone would want it to.

    Why do people use DSLRs? Because they give you shallow depth-of-field and interchangeable lenses for a very low price. Small size and low weight are an added bonus.

    Scarlet won’t be cheap by comparison, but the image quality will be better, audio quality will be better, and they’ll be a lot more usable, at least as much as a current HD video camera.

    Those that want those qualities will be willing to pay for it. Those that don’t will stick to their DSLRs.

  20. 20 RobShaver

    What do you think about the fact that the H.264 license limitations require that any cameras that use it should not be used for commercial purposes? http://dylanreeve.com/videotv/2010/the-mpeg-and-h-264-problem.html

    Jobs is shoving HTML5 down our throats. If H.264 becomes the official codec then we could be in for trouble. MEG-LA says we can use it on the Internet for free, until 2015, but only for personal use. http://my.opera.com/haavard/blog/2010/02/04/h264-trickery

    I just bought a Canon T2i with the intention of using it commercially. Since Im small potatoes Im sure it wont affect me, but still … it rankles me. Patents and copyrights are stifling innovation, not promoting it.

    Since youre a professional, I thought you might want to blog on how you think it might affect other pros.

    Man Im getting a Scarlet as soon as they come out. Im guessing that Red owns all the IP in it. But who knows.

    Peace,

    Rob:-]

  21. 21 Matthew Jeppsen

    @RobShaver Check this recent article: http://www.freshdv.com/2010/05/mpegla-licensing-nightmare.html (look at the updates and links added at the bottom for the latest)

    -MJ

  22. 22 RobShaver

    Hi Matt,

    I just found it. Quite good and has info I’ve seen nowhere else. Are you a journalist or do you play one on TV?

    Peace,

    Rob:-]

  23. 23 Matthew Jeppsen

    :-)

    I always say “accidental journalist” as FreshDV was not started with the intention of an audience as large as we’ve grown to. I’m just a guy who works in, and is passionate about this industry. People seem to like that.

    -MJ

  24. 24 Matt Gottshalk

    Good Stuff Matt.

  25. 25 foto?raf makinas?

    gzel

  26. 26 shera yapi

    Great post.Thanks.

  27. 27 Alex

    My money is also on the Sony, Matt. A quick look at Sony’s history, and we can easily see there will be consumer AND semi-pro versions of the camera (likely under the NXCAM brand), so there will be more options, starting at a very affordable price, it’s going to share lens mounts with point-and-shoot style still cameras, the APS-C sensor is larger than the Panasonic’s 4/3. Its 3:2 aspect is also more suitable for a 16×9 crop, as it will use more of the sensor in 16×9 video mode. So we’re probably looking at a $1500 starting price on the Sony. A $6,000 price tag on the Panasonic? Both using the same AVCHD codec… I just see a lot of enthusiasts investing in to this new Sony system. I am happy to use the AVC codec. I go through enough hard drive space as it is. I’m sure nearly all people saying they want RAW video, will not need it.

  28. 28 Daniel Weber

    I was talking to a guy who used to work in the photo division of Canon and he told me that there is a lot of politics going on at Canon right now. I guess that the Video guys are really pissed with the success of the 5D/7D. It kind of come out of left field and surprised everyone.

    He was under the impression that the HDSLR fad would fade away soon as new video cameras would be coming out.

    I told him that I love the form factor of the 5D/7D since I started out as a still photographer more than 20 years ago. I also love the fact that I can shoot video when people think that I am shooting stills. This comes in very handy with all of my international assignments.

    A “traditional” video camera still has it’s place, but as you stated in your article, the images that you can get with an HDSLR are amazing. It takes a little bit more work, but it is worth the effort.

    Good article….

  29. 29 RobShaver

    Daniel,

    Anybody remember the Canon A1, L1 and L2 Pro Hi8 video cameras? I’m looking at my L2 as I write this. it had a body shape like an SLR with the bulge on the right for a secure hand grip. The record button right where the SLR had it’s shutter release. I didn’t think much about it at the time. The removable lens was so huge it was no small camera, but now that I do think about it, it did have that SLR feel with the addition of the traditional power zoom rocker in the had grip next to the lens (forward of that bulge-grip).

    Here’s a picture of the right side of the camera (the only one of that side that I could find):
    http://i47.photobucket.com/albums/f160/EZA757/IMG_0584.jpg

    So the video camera division at Canon is no stranger to this form factor.