Canon : Welcome to Hollywood!

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After much anticipation, Canon finally revealed it’s new Digital Cinema plans to the world at a rather lavish and visually impressive display at Paramount Studios. I’ve been to quite a few launches and premieres at Paramount, but I do have to say that what Canon set-up was quite impressive. Rumors have been swirling of them having spent 10 million dollars, some say 7 million dollars, my view is that however many millions were spent, the point was made, and everyone took notice.

They displayed all of there lenses (apparently there are 70 million EF lenses out in the world), they displayed all of their camera bodies, and their partners were on hand displaying camera support (RedRock, Zacuto,…) and post production tools (FCP, Premiere, AVID) etc…. It was quite the showing. But obviously, that’s not what we were there for (although some were clearly just there for the food). Everyone wanted to see and talk about the new C300 available in both EF and PL mounts.

I won’t bother rattling off the specs as they are readily available on-line, instead I will discuss the implications of the specs as I see them. The bottom line : Super -35 Sensor with 3860 x 2160 imaging pixels (8 Megapixels) that render a recorded image of 1920 x 1080 (No 4K recording as some media outlets seem to want to infer). On board, you are dealing with a 50Mbits/sec 4:2:2 MPEG-2 codec recorded via CF cards (can record 2 simultaneous streams to 2 separate CF cards) or an 8 bit SDI output for offboard recording. List price $20,000.00

No real stills recording per se (although I was quickly reminded that it can record 1920 x 1080 stills…. because those are in high demand by print media around the world). So we are essentially looking at Canon’s first true Digital Cinema Camera that is purposely built for recording video rather than recording stills and video. How does it stack up? 

I will say that what I find most impressive is the work done at the sensor level. Canon seems to have leveraged it’s extensive expertise with sensors and created an oversampled 4K sensor that manages to extract full RGB information out of each of its color channels. This is not an easy task to accomplish and is something that all CMOS camera manufacturers have been trying to achieve effectively with varying degrees of results. SONY’s latest F65 went as far as turning the sensor diagonally to further maximize the color sampling ability of the sensor. So the fact that they managed this task, which allows them to bypass the debayering algos needed by other bayer pattern CMOS sensors, seems to have opened up a host of imaging possibilities for the camera. From the footage that was presented at the theater at Paramount, there was no visible aliasing, moire patterns, or even rolling shutter artifacts (thanks to their higher output Digic processors). This was also achievable because this camera does not line skip like the 5D Mark II. In short, the video that this cameras produces bares little to no resemblance to the video you can record on a 5D or 7D.

This is all very impressive for a first time out of the gate. Less impressive to me (at a $20,000 price point) is the lack of anything higher than an 8 bit signal. Wether onboard or off board, you will be limited to 256 shades of grey. A Canon rep was quick to say “But wait, our 8 Bit Canon Log looks as good as 10 bit”. If only mathematics worked that way. I should try to bring that same Canon rep to Bank of America and have them tell the teller that their $10 bill is worth more than a $100 dollar bill. I think a quick showing of the exit door would ensue. While I have no doubts looking at the footage, that Canon has made great use of the limited 8 bit space, and while I am sure that Canon Log helps to maximize the amount of image info you can store in an 8 bit file, nobody at Canon will be able to change the reality of the science behind that image. That image will never be able to reproduce more that 256 shades of grey per pixel.  Bottom line. So, where does that leave us. 

At $20,000 it is very hard to justify purchasing this camera. As great as I think the sensor is. The other digital cinema sized sensor camera that records only 8 bit is the Panasonic AF-100, at a price of around $5K. With the RED Scarlet sitting around $14K (with needed accessories) and providing the ability to record 5K stills and 4K motion video, it is really difficult to imagine being able to justify this purchase.  That being said, I think Canon already knows this. They will undoubtedly be lowering the price of this camera but even then, I would not bite. After seeing what Canon can do, I feel like the real camera is yet to come. Canon spent millions coming to Hollywood, and it’s not to walk away quietly. They will be a fierce competitor in this marketplace. Much like ARRI, when it released the D-20/D-21 to little commercial success, I think the C300 is going to be a feeler, for the real camera that Canon will make and sell like hotcakes.

Interestingly enough, right after the RED unveiling of SCARLET, Canon announced plans for a new DSLR that will record 4K motion jpeg video at 24p on a full sized sensor:

 

As a Canon rep who shall remain nameless told me : “do you really think we would spend millions of dollars on this event to just introduce the C300?” 

My answer would clearly be “nope”. Canon is here to stay, and has invested in Hollywood. So I am very eager to see not the C300, but the real reason Canon has spent all of this money….. stay tuned…

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