Some recent events within the cinema and video production worlds have caused us to take a fresh look at our shooting media needs. You know, those cards and/or drives that we use to record our best efforts, dreams and wishes manifested as zeros and ones? Two different relatively earth-shaking events have occurred over the past couple of months that should raise your antenna about media and how you use it. If neither of these events directly affects your consumption of recording media, there are larger ramifications of each that definitely will affect you in the future.
A Major Player Leaves The Game
On June 26, 2017, you might have noticed this little bombshell in your industry media feeds: “Micron Technology today announced that it is discontinuing its Lexar® retail removable media storage business. The decision was made as part of the company’s ongoing efforts to focus on its increasing opportunities in higher value markets and channels. The Lexar portfolio includes memory cards, USB flash drives, readers, and storage drives for retail and OEM customers. Micron is exploring opportunities to sell all or part of the Lexar business.”
Wow, no more Lexar? How many Lexar cards do you have in your removable media stash? I have quite a few. The press release statement above confirms that trying to make a profit in manufacturing media is extremely difficult and the market is highly competitive. The fact that a major player in the business is closing shop amidst a boom in demand for removable media for both video and cinema as well as for sound and still photography kind of boggles the mind.
Generally, when a major player leaves a business they used to dominate, it means that prices will increase and innovation will stabilize or even stagnate. I’m sure over at the U.S. offices of competitor SanDisk, large sighs of relief were heard throughout the business campus when Micron announced it was shuttering the Lexar brand. As we all know, competition stimulates innovation and, generally, eventually lowers costs.
Part Two Of The Upcoming Storm
While the market for higher-end media is driven by far more than just digital cinema cameras, it reflects demand for audio products, still cameras and numerous other consumer devices, generally digital video users require the highest performance cards available. At Cine Gear Expo in Los Angeles, Panasonic made good on their promise to release details about their upcoming handheld cinema camera, which they announced at NAB 2017, the AU-EVA1. This camera is an affordable, higher-end, small digital cinema camera that can record 4K video at 10-bit 4:2:2 to internal SD cards. While full details and specs haven’t been finalized yet, Panasonic has told us that the EVA1 will record up to 400 Mbps internally. New, higher-spec SDXC cards are on the way, V60 cards at up to 480 Mbps and V90 cards capable of recording up to 720 Mbps. So, inexpensive SD cards are going to be getting a speed boost to support newer technology cameras like the “under $8,000” EVA1.
Over at the Canon booth at Cine Gear, Canon was showing its new EOS C200 Cinema Camera. The big announcement was that this new $7,500 step up from Canon’s EOS C100 Mark II not only records 4K, it can record 4K DCI Cinema RAW Light internally at a data rate of 1 Gbps to CFast 2.0 cards that meet the newly agreed upon certification for “VPG-130”. VPG stands for Video Performance Guarantee. This is a new standard from CF specification 5.0 that guarantees a minimum data rate of at least 130MB/s. This is needed to keep up with the voracious data consumption of the C200’s Cinema RAW Light codec. The Canon EOS C200 will be released in August 2017, with the Panasonic EVA1 slated to deliver in the Fall 2017.
Putting The Pieces Together
Let’s take a look at what we have covered so far. One of the largest producers of high-speed memory for digital cinema has pulled out of the market. Two of the top-three-selling camera manufacturers have, at the same time, announced two brand-new cameras that cost less than $8,000, capable of recording extremely high-quality video to very memory-intensive formats, 10-bit 4:2:2 and Cinema RAW Light. Both of these formats consume large amounts of media at very high-sustained data rates. For example, a 128 GB CFast 2.0 VPG-130-compliant card will record a mere 15 minutes of Cinema RAW Light in the C200.
Because both of these cameras are made by popular Japanese manufacturers with great reputations, both record in extremely high-end codecs and both have a fairly voracious appetite for a lot of media, and both retail for under $8,000—we can start to connect the lines. Both cameras will undoubtedly be popular and will be selling in relatively high numbers. Lexar seemed to be the only other manufacturer besides SanDisk that made VPG-130-compliant CFast 2.0 cards for the C200. As of this blog, I have made inquiries to several lower-cost CFast 2.0 manufacturers, asking if their cards adhere to the VPG-130 standard, but because their ads and spec sheets make no mention of this, I’m not optimistic that their cards will meet the VPG-130 standard. The new SDXC V60 and V90 are on sale from various sources, but Panasonic has not yet released their specs required to reliably write 400 Mbps to the cards, so at this point we’re not positive which V60 and/or V90 SDXC cards will be able to support the EVA 1. In the Panasonic ads and website for the EVA 1, Panasonic shows a Panasonic-branded SDXC card they will have available for the EVA 1, but with no price or memory capacity specs released yet.
Discounting these two lower-end cameras, there are already a plethora of other cameras on the market that demand high-speed media storage. The RED line uses RED’s own proprietary media; same with Sony, although there are some third-party Sony cards available. Panasonic’s VariCam lineup uses Panasonic’s own P2 Express cards. But Blackmagic Design, some ARRI cameras and Canon’s other cameras like the popular EOS C300 Mark II and C700 also use CFast 2.0 cards. The question we’re left with is with the absence of Lexar from the market, will we soon face a media shortage? Even if there are plenty of cards available, the loss of Lexar gives other manufacturers like SanDisk scarce reason to reduce costs or aggressively innovate with larger media-capacity cards. As of today, if you’re interested in purchasing the Canon EOS C200 and shooting Cinema RAW Light, three hours of CFast 2.0 VPG-130-compliant memory cards from SanDisk would cost you approximately $4,080, perhaps a bit steep for a $7,500 camera?
At this point, your recording media strategy will depend on which camera you’re using and how much footage you need to shoot on a given production day. The factors we’ve covered here may affect your plans on which camera you buy, which format you want to and can shoot in, and the ripple effect factors across the rest of your camera package and recording strategy that stem from those conditions. Plan your recording media strategy and camera choice accordingly. It’s great to have a shiny new camera that can record in superb quality, but frustrating if you can’t afford media for it, or if the media for it simply isn’t available.
Writer, producer and cinematographer Dan Brockett’s two decades of work in documentary film and behind the scenes for television and feature films have informed his writing about production technology for HDVideoPro Magazine, Digital Photo Pro Magazine and KenStone.net. Visit danbrockett.com.