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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.

Nikon Rumors is reporting some interesting information which was taken from a TechRadar article. Jeremy Gilbert, Nikon UK’s marketing manager, said this in an interview:

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.

[via Nikon Rumors & TechRadar]

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  3. Philip Bloom's Camera Shootout Features the Latest Large Sensor DSLRs and Camcorders

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  • There was a book about a decade ago, can’t remember the title, maybe it was “Being Digital”, where the author went on about how the big Japanese companies have 10 years’ worth of technology ready to go, that they were doling it out in a slow, measured way to maximize their profits.

    RED killed that. Then Blackmagic came along and double killed it. The Japanese companies need to move quickly now, and I could easily see Nikon coming in and owning a price point in this market.

    • mike_tee_vee on 05.21.12 @ 10:23AM

      Have Nikon done ANYTHING quickly? All of their flagship lenses and bodies are best in breed, but are released in very limited supply. They sell everything they produce, but don’t produce enough to meet demand. This is, as you say, a measured way to maximize their profits.

      • Well, they did have massive flooding cripple their factories in Thailand responsible for their DSLRs late last year, as well as a massive earthquake and tsunami in their own country at the start. So all considered they’re getting stuff out pretty impressively.

    • Keith Finnerty on 05.25.12 @ 6:15PM

      I can attest to that. Years ago when I worked for Panasonic Broadcast they had a VHS (yes, remember those days!) portable (AG7000 from memory) and we kept requesting a SVHS PAL version from the factory. If you pulled apart the VHS version you could see that all the internal wiring was set up for SVHS but they were holding off until sales of the old model dipped. We saw this over and over from panasonic and it is little surprise to me now that you barely consider their products at the moment.

  • Dear Nikon
    I have nearly finished developing a high-performance cinemaDNG encoder that runs very, very fast on an ARM processor. If I hit my performance target (I will soon know if that’s the case), it will be able to take the signal from the D800′s sensor, bin it down to a 2.5K Bayer pattern, and encode a stream of RAW data to cinemaDNG, all real-time.
    Please let me try to run this in your camera.

  • All questions and ideas I’ve been wondering about for the last couple of years… If Black Magic can create their camera, why can’t a company with the where-with-all of Nikon, with no products to cannibalize, give us the camera we want? Canon could do it, for sure, but, they’re just trying to milk every dollar they can out of us for as long as they can until somebody produces something that forces them to do otherwise.
    Maybe the the independent film community is to camera manufacturers what the MacPro community is to Apple… too small for concern in a world where the majority of sales is to the masses in the form of inexpensive point&shoots.

    • Maybe Nikon will do that with the D600. They do things slowly and carefully.

      Hopefully Nikon will fill the niche that the RED Scarlet was supposed to from it’s initial hype…

  • wishful thinking :)

  • Hehe, do you think Nikon will let you do that? No one can even hack Nikon DSLRs.

  • This certainly would be great. Seems like a lot of wishful thinking to extrapolate from a very vague comment, but then again, if I were at Nikon, I would be looking at the market you’re talking about and seeing it as a big chance to smack Canon around a little bit. I’m hoping they also introduce something like the 1DC (DSLR form-factor) but made primarily for video, maybe with some extra features like NDs (even digital ones) or sth like that. A full-frame DSLR designed from the ground up for video, with no recording time limits and maybe a XLR plug or an accessory pack that enables one? That would be AMAZING for documentary work.

    Also, bitchy editor nitpick: collective nouns are singular in US english, so it should always be “Nikon is…” and “It is…” not “Nikon are….” or “They are…”, etc. Unless you’re British, in which case….carry on?

    • I like mixing and matching – it just feels more natural to me to say “Nikon is” and also “they are.” I like to think of them as a collective they unless I’m using the singular name. What you’re saying is correct, I understand that, but it just comes down to personal preference.

      For example, “They don’t seem willing to cannibalize their high-end camera sales in any way, and unfortunately, it’s the consumer that suffers” would be correctly written as “It doesn’t seem willing to cannibalize its high-end camera sales…” It just feels less natural to me in a lot of sentences.

      • Yeah, I actually used to write that way too before “No corporate plural!” was drilled into my head by the folks at my current gig. Now I can’t read it without wincing. But I’ll concede it is how a lot of people talk, so it can read very naturally for some.

        • Well hopefully you’ll allow me that one grammatical pass as I’m not likely to change the style anytime soon. If there’s anything else you spot that’s particularly egregious, feel free to write about it in the comments.

        • I’m sure a lot of people agree with you. Or should that be “agrees”…?

        • Geoff Longford on 05.24.12 @ 8:41PM

          Damn pedants.No wonder we are going to the dogs.

    • shaun wilson on 05.22.12 @ 3:59AM

      All… leave Joe alone on the grammar issue because this blog isn’t US specific, its global hence singular country grammar specific protocols do not apply. Even if he does fluff grammar once in a while at least he is having a go at reporting interesting stories that are driven from integrity, and within the field which is more than I can say for a lot of other contributors.

      • Appreciate the support! I take writing seriously and attempt to use my best judgment when it comes to grammatical issues. Also fixed the “even if” for you, which I can do as long as it’s a comment under one of my articles.

    • I’m Australian so I don’t give a rat’s a**** about the grammatical finery…just the article’s quality.

      Nikon are in a very good position to take over the VidDSLR leadership from Panasonic & Canon because:

      1) They don’t have a high end Pro video range to protect.

      2) If they are smart and break away from the longstanding Japanese corporate tradition of keeping the customers on a “technological drip-feed” and really provide what we need (e.g. high bit rates, clean HDMI out, etc) they would dominate. They don’t even need to look controversial (or rely on the Russian hacker) since the “new” AVCHD/H264 standards will go a long way in fixing the current bullshit low bit rate factory settings.

  • Joe said ” . . .and unfortunately, it’s the consumer that suffers.” I disagree with the unfortunate part. It’s fortunate consumers suffer as that is how a more than less free market works. It signals to competitors that an opportunity exists. Just a picayune, not anything you don’t know. I guess from a certain consumers point of view it can marginally suck. With caveats of we live in an amazing time for consumers and all that.

  • Nikon’s a pretty conservative company that doesn’t blithely branch into new areas. It’s one of the last of a breed of camera makers, as opposed to electronics companies like Canon, Panasonic, Sony, etc. That said, they did just announce they’re moving into cosmetics :)

  • If we don’t see a Nikon video product in the next two years I’d be very surprised. The fact that ultra-miniaturization is less of a concern, that most of the technology to do it already exists in their DSLRs, and that it would eat Canon’s DSLR and videocamera lunch in large part, should be motivating factors enough to say let’s give it a go. That said, as so many people have pointed out, Nikon is a very conservative company, but if they can inject a little little hustle into their game maybe it’ll happen.

    Like I said, I’d be really surprised. Hell Nikon/Canon have a history of leapfrogging each other, and this is a logical progression.

  • john jeffreys on 05.21.12 @ 5:06PM

    Would not be surprised if all these years of inactivity and lack of competitiveness was actually Nikon secretly working hard on a cinema line thats actually priced in reach to the DSLR filmmaker. se

  • Lucian Horrobin on 05.23.12 @ 1:34PM

    My dream team would be Cineform raw with any of the big japanese camera companies manufacturing a kick ass body featuring an Aps-c /super 35 sized sensor or m4/3, recording to 1.8″ or 2.5″ flash drives. Cineform was recently bought by GoPro and i’m sure their success, as the go to budget crash cam/very popular consumer camera, turns them into a partner company that Nikon would have never heard of before.
    Fuji’s doing some interesting work with it’s hybrid viewfinders and moire free sensors and Olympus’s 5 axis stabilisation and af in the new omd is pretty amazing from the videos I have seen online. Plus we know all know that all the company’s make great glass.

  • Daniel Mimura on 05.30.12 @ 6:47AM

    The time is right for Nikon to finally overtake Canon (once again)…they’ve been behind them since the late ’80′s and early ’90′s…and the reason is actually the same. Nikon lost to canon in that era because more pros used Nikon, so they were unwilling to radically redesign their mounts (still the same mount from the 50′s)…not because they were slow or didn’t “get it”…they just couldn’t infuriate the pros that had spent thousands an thousands on glass…for a professional stills photographer, the body is the most replaceable and cheapest tool…

    Canon didn’t have the high end pro market, so making a switch was easy…amateur or prosumer cameras were often bought (and sold second-hand) with the kit lens and most users didn’t have a bunch of expensive glass, so it wasn’t really a big deal to redesign the mounts for auto-focus, killing off the older system… And so Canon had no high end maker to canabalize, so they moved quicker and easier into the new technology.

    Sound familiar? (but in reverse with Canon and Nikon’s positions switched)

  • NIKON + Nvidia – because with 4K its all about processing and throughput and Nvidia has already produced multi-processor ARM cores with excellent video throughput. Imagine if you will a Nikon 4K camera with an Android interface and 4:4:4 RGB displayport output.

  • ah … chip size envy … duh lens feature envy … well, maybe less concern with the size/reach of what’s in our hand and more focus on getting real work done for the burgeoning “small screen” world called the Internet …

  • Norm Rasner on 10.24.13 @ 8:53PM

    GH2 has superior dynamic range, resolution and now RAW so why bother with a Nikon?

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