Red, Sony, Canon & Pansonic 4K.
So it was a big week for all us gear heads. Sony announced new cameras and a recorder, Red slashed prices and Canon started to trickle ship C500 EF cameras. One thing that all three companies offer is 4K but only two offer 4K video outputs. I mention this because I think its very important. Codecs get better and workflows become more efficient. Things change down the line as technology progresses. 4K resolution is great but most cannot even view it. It has other benefits obviously but for most of use 1080p is more than sufficient and its where the core work is. I think that all camera companies should have the ability to output full resolution RAW via video outputs so the user can choose what to record to based on their needs. 4K recorders are coming. There are a few now (Codex, Convergent Design) but even more are in the pipeline from AJA and other companies (I cannot get into specifics due to confidentiality, etc). The point is that we will see 4K Cineform, 4K ProRes, 4K DPX, 4K RMF, etc coming to several recorders in the very near future. Many of them offering Uncompressed RAW as well.
The biggest news of all three companies for me is Sony stepping up to the plate. The F65 was an honest attempt by them to get back into the Hollywood / Television market by releasing a 8K camera that resolved a clean 4K after debayer. The idea was good but what was delivered was not. The camera was heavy, large and required a very complex workflow with a debayer process that didn’t jive with expedient deadlines. For the most part these cameras have not sold well and sit on the shelves of the few rental houses that bought into them. The reality is that the days of big large cameras is gone. They require more support, more crew, etc. You cannot use the lightweight rigs, sliders, dolly’s, stabilizers, etc that we have become accustomed to over the past few years. Enter the Sony F55 which I feel will be a hit for Sony. Its light, modular, efficient and has a much better workflow. You can record in camera compressed 4K but also have the ability to do external 4K recording. You can also record 1080p in camera while recording outboard 4K which is very important. Eventually down the line Sony will open up the external recording to other companies so that other codecs, etc may be used. This was smart on Sony’s part to capitalize on the recorder market but they will definitely have to open it up down the line to succeed. Next is the F5 which physically looks the same as the F55 but is limited to HD in camera and 4K outboard. I say limited but it really is not at all. This is a very good way for shooters doing real world work (1080p) to have an option of shooting 4K (for background plates for VFX, for punch in shots, stabilization, etc) down the line or when needed. The fact that both the F55 and F5 have 4K 3G-SDI ports is fantastic news. The F65 did not and required their proprietary recorder which had to be permanently docked to make the camera even work. Again, no 4K outputs on the F65 so you are locked into their codec. The F55 and F5 remarkably are a better choice for most who are looking for a Sony 4K solution. The F55 and F5 start shipping in February 2013.
The second big announcement is that RED magically paid off their R&D costs just in time for the Sony announcement and Canon C500 ship-dates. How wonderful it is of Jim and crew to extend the new cost savings onto the consumer on Epic, Scarlet and Red One MX BT. Its amazing timing. The good news is that the cameras are now cheaper almost by half of the cost. You can buy a Epix X body for $19,000. I feel pretty bad for my friends who bought two months ago or within the past thirty days Cutting the price by almost half is quite a bit. The other news is that the Dragon sensor currently is not supported by Scarlet and Epic. I am hoping they can sort this out without having to re-design mother boards, etc. The Dragon sensor needs to be a success as the current sensor has a fairly low native ISO (compared with today’s standard of ISO 800) and the dynamic range and highlight handling is not where it should be. Mind you to be fair these cameras have been out for a few years now and a lot has changed in this industry. The Arri Alexa (a 1080p camera) is the dynamic range and highlight king right now. In-fact it is the rental house champ worldwide. The new Epic pricing is great if Dragon can be delivered as promised as the new sensor has a significant bump in performance on all fronts. I look forward to seeing it in the field.
The next thing Red needs to do is to have 4K video outputs on the camera. You cannot tout resolution yet be highly compressed without any other codec options. I don’t see how these go hand in hand. If image quality via resolution is everything, then surely resolution aficionados would want the ability to tap off an uncompressed RAW feed. I have a feeling that RED will put out another camera much sooner that people expected. The current form factor is quite small and I am not sure if the provisions in camera were designed with the hindsight and plans that RED has for it. If I seem harsh on RED in my posts is because I think they have lost sight of what the original goal was. The rants, explosive reactions and the lack of realworld practices make it difficult for me to take them seriously some times. I also think its ironic that a company who says that 6K/5K/4K is everything doesn’t even offer you a method of monitoring in 4K if you wanted to. There is only a 1080p output. ??? With that said, I have used the Epic on several projects and many of my friends own one or more. For them the camera is a great solution that has offered them opportunity to expand on their offerings and be leaders in the field. For many this is not the case. Many bought the Epic or Scarlet as an investment to late in the game and found an overly saturated market. Not a saturated market can be fine if the business is there, but in the case of Scarlet for example, it was not (at least in major cities, etc).
Canon C500 EF starts shipping. Knowing what the Sony announcements were in advance (for the most part) and having access to Alexa, Red Epic’s, etc I bought a C500. This would seem like a risky choice to many. It would seem downright crazy to a Red owner and others. Martin Scorsese’s new film “The Wolf of Wall Street” is currently using the C500. Maybe he knows something we don’t? Martin has always been an Arri man. My reasons where quite simple. I work at a sales / rental house and I see what people are asking for an using. I also shoot for a large car company and know what they need for deliverable’s, looks, post needs etc. Fact is the Alexa and the C300 camera are the most popular cameras renting in the US and most of the world. The reason is simple. Both are 1080p but have simple workflows, great highlight handling, nice dynamic range, simplicity of use, etc. So why the C500? The C500 for the most part is a C300 with the addition of 2K and 4K outputs. The C300 and C500 offer more green values to begin with so the debayered end product rivals many cameras after posted. Yes the camera does not record 4K in camera but that is not a concern of mine. I want 1080p-4K outputs. I want uncompressed RAW capability. I want the ability to shoot and record in 1080p or 2K with 4:4:4 in C-Log. 1080p is and will be the standard for several years still. 4K adoption isn’t as simple as having a camera that can record it. There is so much more that needs to happen. The C500 offers the ability to externally record which to me is a major plus. Why would I want to be locked into a codec that is two years old and only one flavor? It is more appealing for me to record in whatever latest, greatest 4K codec becomes available in the future. Beyond that the fact that the camera has two 3G-SDI 4K outputs allows onset monitoring in 4K as well as recording in 4K. The C500 like the Sony F55 allows for recording 1080p in camera while simultaneously recording 4K via external. This is a workflow dream to be able to post in 1080p and then online a 4K color correction session.
Currently The only app I have used with C500 RMF Uncompressed RAW files has been Davici Resolve 9. This is a pretty simple way to grade clips and export the format you need (Lite will only export 1080p of course). Soon however Canon will release its RAW Development App which will allow you to take the RMF files and export various formats.
So what do all these announcements mean to working shooters? Not much. Its great having a 4K camera if you work in special effects, if you do a lot of greenscreen work, do a lot of re-framing, post stabilization work, work in industrial or recon imaging. Lets be honest, 4K has been around for a long time and has never quite gotten off the ground. Dalsa brought the Origin II camera to Hollywood back in 2007. Its been over five years and its still never been a major force in our industry due to monitoring, post considerations, efficient and cost effective archive solution, storage amounts/costs, venues, and most importantly bandwidth. Shooting, editing 4K is fantastic but how do you get that to Jim and Suzy sitting on the couch at home watching TV? You don’t yet. Hence we shoot 4K for 1080/720 delivery (with major compression mind you). So if your going to buy a 4K camera what you really need to do is think about what and how you can leverage that resolution for the best quality 1080p product you can deliver.
So what about Arri 4K? What about it? Arri Alexa is the rental house boss. Arri knows they do not need to rush to make a 4K camera. They know the market and know it well. They took their time making the Alexa and it panned out exceeding all expectations. Yes its “only” 1080p/2K but again they know the market well a market which is mostly made up of HD and small amounts of SD and 4K. They will take there time and will knock it out of the park again. What has Arri made that was not a success outside of the D20 (which was still innovative for its time)? I think more companies should look at what Alexa offers over resolution that makes it so popular. Some of that the brand name sure, but if a camera isn’t good the brand name means nothing. I have never heard a complaint about the Alexa outside of its weight and it being power hungry. The camera is a dream to shoot with.
Do not buy a 4 camera yet. Yes you can call me a hypocrite as I did, but remember I work at a rental house and have a venue for making money with it and I do have one client who thinks they require 4K (although they thought the 1080p footage I showed them was 4K). If I did not have these opportunities set up I would say wait. Wait till NAB. I know you could just wait forever but 4K is really in its infancy. A few will stand out from the crowd in a very short amount of time. Wait to see what RED does with Dragon before you plunk down 20K, wait till the new Sony F5 and F55 come out. Wait to see what C500 workflows become available over the next few months. Just wait and choose wisely. If resolution beyond the standards of 1080p is important to you, look at all the ways you can capture it and capitalize on it. Personally I will always want a camera that has 2K and 4K video outputs. That may or may not be a concern for you, your needs or your clients needs. I think that all 4K cameras coming out in the future will have appropriate outputs in addition to being able to record a proxy or compressed codec in camera. Yes it brings us to the whole offline, online world again but if 1080p is offline then we are all in good shape. Once 4k monitors are affordable and bandwidth and transport issues are sorted then we can talk true 4K production, post and venue. For now we are talking 4K acquisition and pretty much just that.
UPDATE: RED RAY distribution plans: This weekend RED mentioned that they plan on making 4K delivery a reality. That is all well and fine but the fact that most of us do not have a 4K viewing infrastructure in place. I do not have a 4K TV, computer monitor, tablet, laptop, etc. You get the point. Many theaters outside of the major cities (NYC, LA, Chicago, Miami, Philadelphia, etc do not have 4K projection and many of them do not plan on it. Theaters for the most part unless owned by a major theater chain or a studio like Sony for example, do not have the money to buy into projectors when the only revenue they make is from concessions and the arcades a few of them have. There is also the content issue which is a chicken before the egg situation. Having a RED RAY player at your theater will allow you to do what exactly? Play REDCODE files? Who has standardized on REDCODE in the distribution world? No one yet. Can a small company like RED make R3D REDCODE files a standard in the presentation market (TV, Theaters, Online content, etc)? I think Sony or another large company that already has distribution and a track record in play would have a better shot no? I guess time will tell. RED seems to think we will all have a 4K TV and computer monitor in our home within the next year. People said the same about HD TV’s. It took time, a major reduction in pricing, etc to make that happen. Yes 4K monitors are coming down in price but $28,000-$100,000+ isn’t exactly where the price point needs to be. If you can get 4K monitors (at 42″ or larger) made, shipped, distributed, serviced, etc for between $500-$2,000 then we can talk 4K distribution. Actually we can’t. What about the transport devices, bandwidth, storage media, etc that goes with all that? What about archive? How do you convince the billions of people in the world to adopt something that visually they cannot differentiate between 720p?
UPDATE: Jim Jannard announces his retirement plans: So Jim Jannard of RED mentioned that after the RED Dragon Sensor and some “new technology” is released that he will be retiring. Most of us thought this was a late night rant, but he has confirmed it a few times since. This business is competitive and RED helped other companies step up their game with the challenge of resolution. The others have finally stepped up and went beyond resolution by upping the game with better native ISO’s, dynamic range, ease of use, simplified workflows, etc. The Dragon sensor will or is supposed to address these issues by leveling the playing field again. Jim’s job will be done as he has stated, however I feel that there will be a new camera from RED in the near future. I know this sounds crazy to many but with the price cuts, retirement plans, issues with Dragon working etc, I have a feeling that without pointing at Jim, RED can make another camera with the provisions of tomorrow build in. The fact that the EPIC does not have any external 4K outputs I think is a good example of why I think RED will make a new camera. If you notice every 4K camera that is out or coming to the market (in the pro level) has video outputs beyond 1080p monitoring. The other reason is that they are having difficulty getting Dragon to work with the Epic as it stands now. I am not sure if they can get it to work with restrictions in place or if a new motherboard, etc will we required to make it meet the tech specs they announced earlier this year. If they do put out a new camera it will be after Jim leaves I think so that no one can point fingers. I am sure there will be a trade up etc type offer if they indeed to do this. Mind you this is purely speculation on my part.
UPDATE: Canon 1Dc: Canon has a 4K 1Dx variant as I like to call it called the 1Dc. The cameras are physically and electronically the same sans the EOS 1Dc Cinema badge and 2K & 4K enabled in the menu. You can record 1080p-4K in the camera onto CF cards for approx $15,000 street. This camera will do well in a few different markets even at that price. Hollywood, B-Cam, MOS camera, rental houses, POV, Crash cam and underwater cinematography will all find great use for the 1Dc. Underwater cinematography I think will be a big one for this camera. Lightweight, compact, small footprint, full frame, easy to rig and the great ISO range will make it a big hit for Canon. There really isn’t anything else on the market that can do what it does. The 1Dc is not currently shipping yet but has been in the hands of some great cinematographers who are using it on a few top secret projects.
UPDATE: Panasonic 4K Varicam aka Big Blue: Back in 2009 I talked with the regional rep for Panasonic on his opinions and Panasonic’s viewpoints on the Red. He said in response we are working on Big Blue right now. Well that was three years ago. At NAB Panasonic finally showed a prototype 4K camera branded the 4K Varicam that would record AVC-Intra444 400Mbs (branded as Ultra AVC)to a small recorder that mounts as a module to the camera. Much like the RED Epic, the modules came in three parts. The brain with PL mount, the IO box and the recorder box. The proto also featured a LCD removable remote control that allowed access to menus, remote record, etc. Panasonic has not been doing well in regards to innovation as of late but if they can get this camera to market soon its possible they could take a small share of the 4K market. Interestingly Panasonic also decided (at least in the prototype) to have video outputs on the 4K Varicam to allow external 4K recording with third parties. One thing however that is unclear is their wording “Cinema size sensor”. Does this mean MFT or Super 35? Only time will tell.
UPDATE: Here is a Canon 4K Uncompressed RAW clip you can download: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/g80pxwvjh1k0tfy/U7FUVHB6ud
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