Will Nikon Enter the Large Sensor Video Camera Market to Compete with Canon and Sony?
Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that Nikon has been pushing video extremely hard with their latest DSLRs, the Nikon D4 and the Nikon D800, and at least in the case of the D800, they've got a worthy competitor on their hands. Somehow the D4 didn't get the sharpness of the D800, but it still got full, clean HDMI that can be recorded using a number of external devices to get a better codec like ProRes. If you're curious, that's not a real photo to the left. It's what would happen if the D800 and the C300 had a full frame 35mm video camera child. Far-fetched? Maybe not.
We're not a broadcast company - yet. We're still listening and as our relationship between third parties grows, hopefully more features will be incorporated in the future. That's part of what's next, there's plenty of partner companies talking to us now that we wouldn't have heard of a couple of years ago.
So why does this matter, don't we have enough tools at our disposal to make a good image already? Absolutely, and to say otherwise would be ridiculous. The reason this matters is that Canon had an opportunity to create a lower budget camera system, but has thus far decided not to enter that realm. While the 5D Mark III is a great camera (to say otherwise based on price alone is a little far-fetched), it doesn't have the sharpness or usability of its more expensive sibling, the C300. Canon has created a gap in their camera line, and currently there is nothing under $10,000 that gives us proper video camera features like ND filters and uncompressed HD-SDI and HDMI ports. They don't seem willing to cannibalize their high-end camera sales in any way, and unfortunately, it's the consumer that suffers. This isn't to say that their higher-end cameras are bad, quite the contrary. They've just priced themselves out of thousands of potential owners who will likely snatch up an FS100 for $5,000 when they decide they need something more than a DSLR.
That brings us to Sony, who has no problem introducing superior features in a lower-end camera. At the moment, they've created a very sensible camera line that takes into account price and features, with the under $10,000 cameras doing 8-bit, and the over $10,000 cameras doing 10-bit. I won't go too much into detail about this again because I've talked about it pretty thoroughly, but all of this brings us back to our original topic. Why could this be a good thing for independent filmmakers?
For one thing, if Nikon were to make a competent large sensor camera, with plenty of large sensor camera features, for under $10,000, they would certainly force Canon to rethink their pricing strategy. Canon would not be able to continue charging current prices if they had multiple competitors selling multiple camera models with similar features for well under $10,000. That's good for us, the independent filmmaker, because the more competing products there are, the more aggressive companies will be in their pricing. The other big positive that could come from this, is that Nikon does not have higher end video cameras to worry about. There's nothing to stop them from making a full frame 35mm video camera for around $5,000 that could record 10-bit through HD-SDI or HDMI, since it won't hurt sales of other products in their lineup. Well, almost nothing, as the feasibility of making a profit would certainly have to factor into the equation. But if this product were to be developed, they would have thousands upon thousands of pre-orders.
Let's go one step further, imagine a full frame (or Super) 35mm video camera with interchangeable mounts and RAW, ProRes, and DNxHD recording options. Crop modes would be extremely handy, as you'd want to support as many lens options as possible. But the main idea of this camera is that we'd get a nice, clean 1080p image down-sampled properly from 4K or 5K -- or however big the sensor would actually be. I'm sure R&D factors into many of these decisions, but I don't think there is one person out there who wouldn't want this camera if it were priced under $10,000 -- ideally somewhere around $6000-$8000. Just look at the Blackmagic Cinema Camera and the extreme interest it is getting simply because it's an un-crippled camera at a fantastic price point. I understand there's a lot of technology to develop and get working in a product like this, but they are already selling a $6,000 DSLR with three separate crop modes and tons of complicated autofocus and exposure technology. With a video camera, you take out the mirror, the autofocus, and all that other stills technology (except for maybe the ability to take simple stills photos manually focused), and there's got to be some cost-savings, especially since extreme miniaturization isn't as important with a video camera.
Now, what partner companies could Nikon be referring to? I think it'd be very hard to pinpoint exactly who, but there are many possibilities, including Apple, Avid, Kodak, Fuji, Panasonic, RED, etc. Any company who could license a codec to Nikon could certainly be talking with them. They could also be in discussions with any companies who would like to produce a video camera but don't have the experience designing full frame sensors at a lower price point -- or don't have the hardware manufacturing capacity that Nikon does. A third party with a better filmmaking reputation could certainly help Nikon by putting their name on the camera. Nikon's advantage is that they have experience designing full frame and Super 35mm sized sensors and lenses, and it wouldn't be a stretch to think they could develop a full camera system just for video. Their current partnership with Sony, where Sony actually designs some of their sensors, is an interesting one from a competition point of view. Could this potentially prevent them from making a more feature-rich camera than the FS100? Possibly, but Sony is a large and complicated company, so it's hard to imagine that Nikon's move into the video camera market would kill their partnership.
Either way, this is all still speculation, and it's quite possible they'll never make a video camera. But there's nothing wrong with independent filmmakers asking for cameras that are built to last for a number of years (rather than new models every 6 months), and aren't crippled in features. Blackmagic is doing this, and they are not nearly the size of Nikon, and they also don't design their own sensors. If they can build the Cinema Camera for $3,000, why couldn't Nikon build a camera with a larger sensor (Full frame or Super 35mm) for under $10,000 that gives full 10-bit log video as well as uncompressed/compressed RAW?
Maybe I'm being greedy, but more competition in the form of a Nikon video camera would certainly push the industry to improve their lower-end products, and it would definitely bring prices down on their higher-end products. One thing is for certain, the options for filmmakers are not decreasing, and there will be some very interesting products released over the next couple of years.