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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

What’s The Future Of Still Capture?

In 2012, new camera concepts are poised to fundamentally change photography forever

The Canon EOS Cinema C300 shown here with a Redrock Micro cage is dedicated to full motion. Thanks to an EF lens mount, it can accept Canon EF lenses.

Since the Canon EOS 5D Mark II came out and made such a huge impact on photographers' ability to capture both still and HD video motion in a single camera,
the buzz word of "convergence" has been a raging topic. Cameras that can both shoot high-res still frames and record full HD video have been coming from all manufacturers. But now the very concept of convergence itself is changing. Suddenly it doesn't mean a camera that can capture two types of images; it means a camera that can capture one type of image that can be used in different ways.

The still-and-motion-capture paradigm has been pioneered by RED in their EPIC and Scarlet-X cameras. The RED cameras have been gaining traction with still photographers, and with the new Scarlet-X's starting price below $10,000, their popularity will undoubtedly increase.
RED camera users aren't strangers to this concept. The company's Digital Still & Motion Camera (DSMC) concept has been around since they unveiled the RED EPIC camera in 2010. But the EPIC's $30K+ cost didn't exactly place it in the mainstream for most photographers. The few photographers who were using the EPIC worked in the rarified air where big-budget, fully catered, make-sure-there's-a-room-for-the-talent's-entourage photo shoots are the norm and cases of Evian are on hand in case someone needs to wash their hair. Pros whose day rates don't run into five figures simply couldn't play in the same visual sandbox.

That was then, this is now.

In November of 2011, Canon announced a new line of cameras at a multiday event at Paramount Studios in Hollywood. The Cinema EOS C300 was introduced as a dedicated motion camera purpose-built for filmmakers, rather than still photographers/filmmakers. With the likes of Ron Howard and Martin Scorsese on hand and a number of trailers from projects that used the Cinema EOS C300, the unveiling was big news in movie production. But for still photographers hoping for a Canon EOS 5D Mark III, this wasn't it.

Near the end of the impressive and polished multimedia presentation, however, another camera was briefly displayed on the screen. It had the traditional DSLR shape with a large, cine-style lens on it. The badging on the camera indi-cated it will be part of the Cinema EOS line. The immediate speculation was that this concept DSLR would be the long-awaited successor to the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, the DSLR that changed everything. Whether or not it's a 5D Mark III, the interesting thing in the press release is that it's being billed as a 4K camera. This is the first DSLR that we know of whose resolution has been described primarily in cinema terms. The 4K designation refers to a sensor resolution that's 4096x3112 pixels or approximately 12.7 megapixels. But the 4K terminology is unique to motion; it's not used in still photography.

The new Canon EOS Cinema concept camera that was announced at the same time as the new EOS Cinema C300 is expected to be a 4K DSLR that will be able to do still and motion capture. We expect to see this concept DSLR in production in 2012.

So why would Canon unveil a concept DSLR with resolution described in terms of motion? The simple answer is that it looks like motion and still capture are about to move beyond just RED. The new Canon concept DSLR, which we expect to see coming off assembly lines in 2012, will be able to shoot 4K motion where each frame is a 12.7-megapixel still photograph.

The same day as the Cinema EOS C300 was introduced at Paramount, RED held their own event at the RED Studios a few blocks away. Typical of RED's countercultural, independent identity, their event was on a bare soundstage with a projector, a screen, plain metal rental chairs and some snacks and sodas for the attendees. RED founder, Jim Jannard, announced to the assembled RED faithful that the long-anticipated RED Scarlet would be available in November 2011 and officially known as Scarlet-X. The camera's latest specs indicate that it'll be capable of shooting 5K still images and 4K motion and still images, and its price is closer to $10,000 versus the EPIC's $38,500 (brain, or body, only) price. Prices come down, capabilities increase. This is a familiar technology story.

Its 4K, 12.7-megapixel resolution is lower than current professional-caliber DSLRs, but resolution isn't the sole arbiter of image quality. 5K, which the Scarlet-X can achieve for still-image capture, is 13.8 megapixels, and as technology improves, naturally, resolutions will go up. Furthermore, several professional photographers are already using RED EPIC cameras to shoot 5K still and motion images, and the images have been on magazine covers and double-page spreads, so clearly, resolution is sufficient for many professional applications.


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