The Future Of Digital Cinema.


By: Mike Sutton

I am glad to be a part of Wide Open Camera as I have been asked to be involved with a lot of various blogs and to be honest, needed to be a part of something that was cutting edge and with a large reach.  I had contemplated doing one myself at a time but life has been very hectic with shooting, consulting, a regular day job, side projects and starting a product line of camera accessories.  The WOC offer came along at the right time as there are more changes in the business in the last two years than in in the past decade.  My first entry is about what I see in this business now and where it is going from a unique perspective. I work at a rental house / sales company so I see a lot of trends in the business, both from renters and purchasers.  Because I also shoot in the corporate and commercial market I have the viewpoint as an end user for both rental and purchasing as well.  I have a lot of friends in this business ranging from an individual with a 60D basic kit all the way up to guys who own Epics, Alexas, 535’s, XTRProds, etc so I see that side of it as well.  Viewpoints from strangers, from my clients, others clients, myself as a customer and from trusted amateurs and professionals in our business.  The business of making visual and aural content.

The last two years seemed to be dominated by DSLR’s in almost every market sector with the novelty, ease of use, high quality picture, depth of field, and cost being factors.  Major commercials and television shows accepted and embraced the DSLR and it helped open the gates for change.  The first change of course was much needed in the form of S35 based sensors in a video camera style body. This addressed the needs for professional audio connectors, ergonomics, familiarity with form factor, more lensing options, power solutions and clip length limitations.  A camera like the FS100, AF100, F3 and C300 handled these needs and most professional shooters gladly put down their money to rent or buy.  Without question Digital Cinema cameras where exactly what was needed to step up the game and we have been embracing them for about a year now.

While working at Rule Boston Camera I am exposed to pretty much every type of camera one could want to shoot and I pay attention to what is hot in rentals and in sales.  When I visited several friends, shooters, rental houses and sales companies in NYC last week I saw many of the same trends there.

Probably the first thing I have noticed that outside of commonplace event shooting, news, ENG/EFP, etc is that anything with a sensor smaller than 1″ seems to be going away.

The second thing I notice is that many of the conveniences of the ENG/EFP cameras (especially electronic zoom, focus and iris) as desired in a camera with a larger sensor.

Third is that 4K Cinema is a great idea and that most want the resolution but the workflow, hardware and storage requirements is a show stopper for most. There is an over abundance of Red Epic and Scarlet cameras owned both by rental houses and end users which has cannibalized the market.  This is fine if you are using the camera for your own work but if you are attempting work with camera for hire, you are going to have a rough time making bank.  When talking with renters the main concern is storage requirements for Epic/Scarlet footage, needing a Red Rocket card and a high grade workstation to process and edit files.  For many a 4K workflow needs to be made more efficient and it will get there its just a matter of time and Moore’s Law.

This year JVC put out a 4K 1/2″ sensor video camera that records to four SDHC cards.  Its always good when companies like Red and others help progress technology.  In the case of the JVC camera, the workflow doesn’t fit a professional market.  Recording quad HD streams onto four separate media cards is putting you at risk of corruption, loss of the card (you need all four to complete your 4K stream) and the reliance on JVC muxing software to put a complete file together.  The JVC camera isn’t a great solution but it does help put pressure on other companies to excel past status quo and actually innovate.  With all that said the most popular camera in the rental market for commercials and television is the Arri Alexa.  A 1080p Camera reigns king in a 4K world…at least for now.

Reality is that regardless of image resolution what the majority people (I am generalizing) really want is a camera that takes great images, has decent dynamic range, is easy to use and most importantly has a stable and simple workflow.  This is why the Arri Alexa, F3 and C300 are so popular.  Obviously the latter of the two are also affordable by most professionals but they also require a bit of rigging to suit most needs.  There seems to be a lack of focus by camera manufacturers to provision ergonomics, form factor and feature set.  There is no perfect camera although some come close.  I find this bothersome in that the camera manufactures seem to listen but in reality they are just trying to one up each other and jump on the popularity bandwagon.  You would think they would listen to end users when we constantly clamor for a certain type of camera body style and core features.  It will probably take Sony, Canon, Panasonic, JVC, RED, Arri or another to be the first one to make a camera body that actually is comfortable to shoulder mount or handhold in order for the others to follow suit.  I say all these things and at the same time most of us want something light weight and compact only proving my mantra that one brand and model of camera is simply not enough to do everything you need when shooting in various markets (or for yourself).  Some may find a Alexa paired with a C300 is a good combination where others would say a 5DMKIII and a FS100 is all they need.  Yet I have seen (and continue to see) people who base their entire career on the 5DMKII and have no intention of changing that.

When talking with clients and friends its safe to say that technology is a concern for most of them. We all want the best image on the acquisition end and a high quality deliverable on the back end.  We all defend our art and often claim its not about the camera which at its core is true.  However this is really not an honest statement or we would all be shooting Super 8 film and be satisfied.  This business is about keeping up and delivering better and more dynamic content.  We want resolution, crisp audio, amazing color in camera, the most grading options, portability, easy workflows, efficient encoding and storage, etc and these things all come at a price.  Every artist is different and has different requirements (budget, style, etc).  Worst thing you could do is wait around for the next best thing as there will always be something better in 6-12 months. At NAB 2012 we will see the new wave of trends like high-speed, anamorphic lensing options, more lens mount options, affordable motion control, and more thunderbolt post options.

Most of my friends and clients in the business are all looking to shoot everything in 4K with frame rates from 1-2564fps and have a workflow as simple as ProRes.  We are not in that world yet but its coming.  I see it.

Jared Abrams is a cinematographer based in Hollywood, California. After many years as a professional camera assistant he switched over to still photography. About two years ago a new Canon camera changed the way the world sees both motion and still photography. He just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
  • Misa Garcia

    great first post, and welcome aboard.