Will We Have RAW Video DSLRs in the Next 12-18 Months? How It's Possible with Current Technology
We’ve featured some great reviews from Dave Dugdale in the past, but this time we’ve got a completely different video to share: a prediction about the future of the camera industry. Whether realizing it or not, I’ve written a tremendous amount about the camera industry and where I think it’s going, but most of my predictions are short term and usually based on some sort of concrete information. Either way, let’s speculate for a bit, is it possible that we could see RAW video DSLRs in the next year or two? Click through to check out Dave’s video.
Before going further, Dave makes it pretty clear on his website this is a complete guess, and that this is just a bit of speculation:
This is quite a bold prediction! I respect Dave immensely for putting this sort of speculation out there — and in a video no less. So what do I think? Well, I’ll play devil’s advocate for a bit. What would it take for the major companies to put RAW video in a DSLR, and what might it look like?
First off, why the DSLR form factor? There are still plenty of people who want stills and video in one package, like Dave mentions in the video, and many of them like the size and weight that DSLRs bring to the table. They don’t necessarily want to have to use two cameras, and they may want to get into RAW video without a great financial investment (by the way, this is the best way to get people into a higher-priced camera system — just look at what Canon has done). It actually makes a lot of sense to introduce RAW into a DSLR first to work out the kinks with a budget RAW workflow. People are far less forgiving when they’re spending a lot of money on a bigger video camera type form factor, and they’re going to expect everything to work the way they want it to in the $10K or above price range.
If they actually wanted to do this on DSLRs, they’re probably going to start with 1920 x 1080 RAW — 2K is certainly possible, but since it’s more of a cinema format, I would expect 1080 first. They’re not going to do 4K RAW on a camera like this firstly because of heat (look at RED and their fans), and secondly because of the data rate. I believe they would all need to create their own compressed RAW format, similar to their own still image compressed RAW formats (Sony’s current compressed RAW format is more based around cinema/TV applications). Uncompressed RAW video takes up insane amounts of space, even at 1080 (as we know from the Blackmagic Cinema Camera’s 2.5K), so this is a must if you’re going to try to get RAW into the hands of more people. This would ideally be a variable bit rate codec, and if it was user selectable, that would be even better — though that wouldn’t necessarily have to be the case.
So what’s the easiest/best way to get to RAW 1080p from a higher pixel size? If you want to keep the same field of view, pixel binning is really the best option. This is how Kinefinity is getting their 2K RAW image from 4K on the KineRAW camera, and it’s much better than line skipping — which is responsible for a lot of the issues we see with video on DSLRs. As an added bonus, pixel binning also helps with noise, and you’d able to get a cleaner image overall than you’d be getting using the full 4K or higher resolution. This image isn’t going to be as sharp as getting a 4K RAW file and downsampling in post, but again, this is a DSLR, so there have to be some compromises to keep the price down and to keep the size of the camera down.
Where would you put all of this data? Well, if you compress it enough, you could theoretically get the video onto high-speed CF cards (Canon has already been working on patents for this sort of thing). This would certainly be the best option to keep the file sizes down, and if they put SSDs inside some sort of housing, it’s probably going to raise the price considerably. The thing is, most CF cards, even if they claim high-speed, are rated more for their burst speeds, rather than sustained data rates. They could recommend only certain cards for their cameras, and they could also create their own custom CF cards that would also be usable for future cameras. RED contracted out high-speed CF cards for the RED ONE originally because almost none of the cards they tested could handle the 28 or 36 Megabytes per second that the ONE was spitting out (let’s not even get into RED spinning hard disk drives, as they had their own set of issues). They could also develop a way for two CF cards to be inserted simultaneously and work in a RAID to improve speed. This is what Aaton is doing with SSDs and the Penelope Delta. Keeping the media non-proprietary definitely makes things less confusing and far cheaper for lots of people (which is what a potential DSLR buyer would be looking for).
So, while I don’t think this is going to happen in the next year or two based on how slow many of these Japanese companies are moving, it’s theoretically possible with current technology. Heat would still be an issue in such a small camera package, but 1080 or 2K would be a lot less taxing than using the full 4K or higher. I personally think Sony, Nikon, Canon, and Panasonic could all develop a camera capable of RAW video like this in a DSLR size, but you can’t expect this to look like RED footage, it would look a lot more like KineRAW footage, but more compressed. As for cost, I think they could actually keep prices down around $2,000-$4,000 if they incorporate the technology into future, more expensive cameras. Sony is basically doing this with their slightly compressed RAW format on the F5/F55 cameras, which came from the F65.
I would most be excited about a RAW full-frame DSLR. For me personally that kind of look is something you can’t get with smaller sensors — even if the shallowness can become unmanageable at times. It’s a bit more difficult keeping focus with bigger sensors when you’re using medium to long lenses, so this would be another way that they could differentiate their product categories. For more professional shoots, you might want to stick with the Super 35mm format and a larger, more fully featured camera for sanity purposes, so that’s also a way costs could be kept down and more expensive cameras would still have their place. Unless the sensor was perfectly 4K, they may have to actually crop that full-frame sensor for binning purposes, but we’ll save that technical conversation for another day.
With all that said, would you buy a DSLR in that price range if it could do RAW video that looked somewhere close to the KineRAW? How about sensor size, would you want Super 35mm (APS-C) sized or would you want to shoot with a full-frame 35mm sensor? How about form factor, how big is too big for a camera like this? Would you be fine with the Canon 1D X or Nikon D4 form factor, or prefer something more like a Canon 5D Mark III or Nikon D800 in size?
Again, this is really just fun speculation, so let’s try to keep the conversation somewhere in the positive realm.