July 30, 2015

New Canon Full-Frame 35mm Camera Sees in the Dark with 4 Million Max ISO

Canon ME20F-SH 20150730_hiRes_me20fsh_3qlens copy cropped
Canon just announced the ME20F-SH, a full-frame 35mm camera with the ability to reach an astonishing 4,000,000 ISO. 

The new 1080p camera is aimed at a number of different markets, including nighttime surveillance/security, cinema, reality TV, and nature/wildlife documentaries, just to name a few, and it comes with a positive-locking EF mount and features Canon Log and Wide DR for maximum recorded dynamic range. If you're wondering how this thing came out of the blue — the answer is that they have been developing a sensor like this for some time, and even showed off a version of it back in 2013. Here's a video they posted at that time explaining the sensor:

And here's another showing some pretty impressive footage captured without any light at all:

The true strength will be for the ME20F-SH camera to be able to capture full color 1080p images essentially in the dark:

While capturing video in extreme low-light conditions often requires the use of infrared illumination (a technique that only yields video in black and white), the ME20F-SH camera achieves impressive high-sensitivity performance enabling the capture of color Full HD video with reduced noise in low-light conditions without the need for infrared illumination.

This multi-purpose camera allows users to discern subjects under even some of the dimmest lighting conditions, such as environments lit by artificial illumination or under a moonless night sky. Furthermore, similar to Canon's Cinema EOS System of professional digital cinematography cameras, the ME20F-SH camera includes Canon Log and Wide DR, which make possible a wide dynamic range, delivering high-image-quality video results across a range of illumination environments, from low- to brightly lit conditions.

Canon ME20F-SH Back Angle

Here are the specs:

  • ME20F-SH Multi-purpose Camera
  • 35mm full-frame CMOS sensor (single), effective pixel count: approx. 2.26 million pixels
  • Minimum subject illumination: Less than 0.0005 lux (at maximum 75 dB gain setting, equivalent to an ISO sensitivity of over four million)
  • Pixel Pitch: 19 Microns
  • Lens mount: Canon EF mount (Cinema Lock type)
  • Optical filters: ND filter with two density levels (motorized manual / auto) IR cut filter (motorized manual)
  • Frame rates: 59.94P / 59.94i / 50.00P / 50.00i / 29.97P / 25.00P / 23.98P
  • Gamma: Canon Log, Wide DR, etc.
  • Two 3G / HD-SDI BNC jacks (1080P / 1080i / 720P) 
  • One HDMI connector
  • Genlock terminal: BNC jack (input only)
  • Remote terminal: φ2.5mm stereo mini-mini-jack (Canon-proprietary protocol), Round 8-pin jack (for RS-422, Canon-proprietary protocol)
  • Microphone terminal: φ3.5mm stereo mini-jack
  • AF: One-shot AF
  • Auto-exposure: Combined interlocking (iris / gain / ND / shutter)
  • White balance: AWB, color-temperature setting (setting range: 2000 to 15000 degrees Kelvin), natural light, light bulb, Setting A, Setting B
  • Digital teleconverter: 2x, 4x
  • Power input: 4-pin XLR DC11-17V, Terminal block 2-pin jack DC11-17V
  • Operating temperature: 32 degrees F (0 degrees C) to 104 degrees F (40 degrees C)
  • Body dimensions: Approx. 4 inches (102mm) (w) x 4.5 inches (116mm) (h) x 4.4 inches (113mm) (d) (excluding protrusions)
  • Weight: Approx. 2.4 lbs (1.1 kg) (body only)
  • Availability: December 2015
  • Price: $30,000

No it's not going to be cheap at $30K, but for special cases this is a perfect rental and exactly the sort of thing many people have been looking for — a smallish, large sensor EF mount camera with lots of sensitivity. The pixels on this camera are absolutely gigantic. There is a limit to what hardware noise reduction and improvements can do, and generally getting better much sensitivity requires larger pixels, which is why it's limited to 1080p. This camera has optimized hardware to get the ISO as high and as clean as possible.

For a comparison of just how big these pixels are, the 19 micron size is compared to a little over 8.4 microns for the also-super-sensitive Sony a7S (making that moonlight short look like child's play) and 5 microns for a camera like the 6K RED EPIC DRAGON. As another point of comparison, the new Super 35mm Canon C300 Mark II, which is set to be released this fall, has a max ISO of 102,400, and a pixel pitch of 6.4 microns.

Canon ME20F Front Angle No Lens

Clearly in terms of low-light sensitivity the ME20F-SH blows everything else out of the water, and it will be interesting to see what kinds of projects we will see with it. The design is rather minimal and feels very similar to the ARRI ALEXA Mini, and because of it's compact size and weight, it could be a solid camera for gimbal or drone work. Being able to put a camera in the sky like this means capturing aerials at night that would be essentially impossible otherwise (especially if you're away from a big city with lots of lights).

The only slight catch with the ME20F-SH is that it doesn't record internally, and doesn't have any sort of onboard monitor for changing settings. It's kind of surprising they couldn't figure out a way to put any kind of recording device internally, so you'll have to wire this with an external recorder through HDMI or HD-SDI if you want to actually capture images. The plus side at least as far as the design is concerned is that you can put the ME20F-SH in plenty of places that taller and more awkward cameras can't go. Here's more on recording with the camera, which can be controlled remotely:

Employing output-only 3G/HD-SDI and HDMI terminals, Canon's ME20F-SH camera enables users working on location to output video via a single cable to a variety of peripheral equipment, including external recorders and monitors. Equipped with a φ2.5mm stereo mini-jack and a round 8-pin jack for RS-422, the multipurpose camera is capable of connecting with Canon's RC-V100 Remote Controller (released in June 2014; sold separately). By allowing users to operate the camera or change settings from a remote location, the camera facilitates video capture from inaccessible locations as well as fixed-point surveillance. Furthermore, a φ3.5mm stereo mini-jack allows the camera to connect with an external microphone, enabling users working on location to output audio and video signals to connected peripheral equipment.

It's possible we could find this sensor or some of the noise optimization technology in other Canon cameras down the road (potentially more affordable ones), so this may not be the only product that takes advantage of the significant R&D. Hopefully we get to see some higher-quality video of what this thing can do pretty soon. For more info, check out the Canon press release.

Canon ME20F-SH Front No Lens

Your Comment

57 Comments

30K USD? Nice, but this is another overpriced Canon product I won't be buying. If I need anything for very low light conditions, I will wait for the Sony A7S mark II, which is expected to feature 4K internal recording at ISO 64000 and up, at a price of probably less than 3K USD. (factor 10)

July 30, 2015 at 1:14AM

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Erwin Hartsuiker
CineVideo-NL videographer
664

Exactly my thoughts! Canon is getting less interesting for me, not because they don't make good products, but because their products are way overpriced (seriously, they should look at the prices the competition use like Panasonic (GH4) and Sony (A7S). Maybe not as good as this camera in Low Light, but what the A7S is giving is already more than most will ever need (and even that camera is pretty expensive). I didn't know there would be a Sony A7S MKII, but I will definitely check that one out (IF that camera is less than 3K...it would be awesome). I was hoping for a Canon 5D that could record 4K internally, but I guess they force you to get the way more expensive C300 MKII instead.

July 30, 2015 at 1:58AM

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Lutte Kikker
Photographer
192

This doesn't compete with the a7s or the gh4. Hell, the gh4 is pretty bad in low light so I don't know why you're even mentioning it.

This is filling a niche in the market that currently has no competitors. The best low light cinema camera out there has a native iso of 5000. This is over ten times that.

Of you're filming animals in the jungle at night time, not even the a7s will pull that off. It still needs light, and that camera wipes the floor with all cinema cameras in regards to low light. This camera opens up possibilities that previously weren't possible. But developing a sensor for several years costs money, so obviously it will be expensive!

July 30, 2015 at 10:03AM

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Oscar Stegland
DP/Steadicam
704

This camera isn't built for the 4k market or the "I need internal recording market." This is for those that need the elusive "Night for Day" shot...

July 30, 2015 at 2:34AM

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Matthew Devapiriam Emmanuel
Camera Operator
436

I predicted Erwin's comment yesterday, the day before this canon camera was announced.

July 30, 2015 at 12:17PM, Edited July 30, 12:18PM

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Derek Olson
Directomatographeditor
687

Combine it with the Cine-Servo 50-1000mm and its 4x digital teleconverter for the ultimate spy cam...

July 30, 2015 at 1:21AM

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Matthew Devapiriam Emmanuel
Camera Operator
436

Use brand new supermodern camera to take footage
Edit in Window Movie Maker

July 30, 2015 at 1:24AM

7
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Lole'd

July 30, 2015 at 1:45AM

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Tommy Plesky
Director / D.P / Editor
1675

Not ragging on them or anything, but I like how the video looks like it was put together in the 80s. Gives you an idea of the disparity between filmmakers and the engineers/etc. who design our equipment.

July 30, 2015 at 1:27AM

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Benjamin Lebeau
Cinematographer, Colorist, Editor
190

The greatest swordsmith wasn't the greatest swordsman... Or was he??

July 30, 2015 at 1:48AM

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Max Ciesynski
Gaffer
488

Is that a sword in your pocket?

July 30, 2015 at 11:58AM

0
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This looks like it goes along with their test footage they released in 2013.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHnUtmenGQ0

July 30, 2015 at 2:38PM

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Great another overprice camera that tries to get cinematographers not to light...

July 30, 2015 at 1:41AM

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CABLE (X-FORCE)
DP/EDITOR/DIR
255

"negative fill! We need more negative fill! The light of the moon is reflecting off the director's glasses and getting all over the talent"

July 30, 2015 at 8:24AM

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I can't see any company using 30k cameras (plus lenses) for nighttime surveillance/security purposes. If any company starts putting up security cameras worth this, the crooks will simply start stealing the security cameras ... it wouldn't take long for someone to realise that stealing 3 or 4 of these, and your looking at a haul worth $120k plus whatever the lenses cost, which as they are EF cinema lock the lenses are going to be anywhere from 300 to a couple of grand. Plus has no wifi, internet control, pan or zoom ... Hardly a security product is it.

July 30, 2015 at 1:46AM

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Simon
74

lol :P....smart thinking! I can imagine banks could use this though (or places that can't be lit well). But then again, 30k is still too high priced for what it is: a damn security camera. I am using a Canon 6D and Eos 550D but I feel they start to be some elitist Camera manufacturer when it comes to 4K video. I already moved to the Panasonic FZ1000 for UHD format video because of this. And with the fast pace they produce UHD camera's for under 800 dollars, it won't take long they come up with a similar type of low light camera like the A7S. Come on Panasonic, show us you can make a low light, full frame Cinema 4K camera with internal recorder for around 1500,00 dollars :P

July 30, 2015 at 2:05AM

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Lutte Kikker
Photographer
192

Well even crazier ... Sharp last year released an infrared security camera that captures color 720p video, in absolute darkness, it doesn't even need the 0.0005 lux the canon does. So just buy a Sharp LZ0P420A, which only costs around $1400, and you'd save what $30k+, plus is a real security camera so just replaces existing ones with no hassle, and is fully weather sealed.

July 30, 2015 at 2:43AM

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Simon
74

Not going to happen. Panasonic have invested too much in the MFT mount. Would be very peculiar if they went full frame all of a sudden. Plus, the gh4 is pretty bad in low light.

July 30, 2015 at 9:53AM

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Oscar Stegland
DP/Steadicam
704

I can't see any company using full frame security cameras... This is a specialty cinema camera which blows everything out of the water at its intended use. It could very well prove to be a revolutionary product.

Also, it says you can remote control it in the article...

July 30, 2015 at 9:58AM

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Oscar Stegland
DP/Steadicam
704

Just when I was about to be interested in a Canon camera again for the first time in years, I see it can't record internally and yet still costs a whopping $30,000 on top of it. Sounds like they made it for the wrong market; maybe they should sell it to the military.

July 30, 2015 at 2:03AM

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I think it's safe to say that Canon has finally hit the loony bin!! A $30K camera that doesn't have 4k and cannot record a single image internally!!! For around the same price I can buy a Red Epic Dragon.

July 30, 2015 at 2:16AM

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Kaster Troy
Director, DP, Editor
938

This vs epic dragon, what a valid, apples-to-apples comparison.

July 30, 2015 at 12:14PM, Edited July 30, 12:16PM

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Derek Olson
Directomatographeditor
687

That will need a lens way bigger than the camera!

Interesting that it has mounting points on top.

I suspect this is a transitional product, and they're aiming for something else. Still, it makes everyone sit up.

July 30, 2015 at 3:15AM

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Karel Bata
Director / DP / Stereographer
450

You know what's cheaper than $30k?

A light

July 30, 2015 at 4:30AM

13
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Matt Robinson
Film Educator & Cinematographer
219

Got that right!

July 30, 2015 at 6:07AM

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Jerry Roe
Indie filmmaker
737

Lots of light....

July 30, 2015 at 7:08PM

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Kayode
758

In 2015, a machine that only outputs 1080p and requires an external recorder is not for storytelling, indie or not. DSLRs do better than that now. The EF lens mount is cool but again, that's DSLR territory. Us indie people train ourselves to fit the script to what we can achieve, so we'll just write a story that takes place in the day or at least near a darn light source, right? It's too expensive for surveillance, as has been said, so what's it for, Canon? It's a lovely sensor and I would personally want to use it with anamorphic lenses on a real cinema camera, but there's an Alexa for that already if we're hiring. You need to wake up, Canon, and look at what's already available. Sometimes, I swear their R&D people don't even go to NAB.

July 30, 2015 at 4:38AM

16
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It may be overpriced, but wouldn't this be awesome for wildlife documentaries?

Pretty sure this isn't aimed at the indie/prosumer market either...

July 30, 2015 at 5:26AM, Edited July 30, 5:27AM

0
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$30,000..........to take shots in the dark?

July 30, 2015 at 6:04AM

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Jerry Roe
Indie filmmaker
737

Oh my god I can't believe a camera company has designed a camera that isn't dirt cheap and doesn't do exactly what I want it to. Waaaa waaaa. This is specialist camera designed for unique situations qed it's not mass market and to be economically worthwhile it costs a fair bit of cash. Get a grip and think before posting.

July 30, 2015 at 7:25AM

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keith
240

Oh look! A $30,000 security camera!

July 30, 2015 at 7:28AM

6
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William Streeter
Filmmaker
189

Completely out of my thinking range, let alone budget, but this will be cheap and excellent for some. Literally yesterday, I wandered out of the gym and saw the car park was being used by a filming unit which was shooting elsewhere in the city. There was huge truck after truck after truck, with security dudes minding the parked vehicles (the website was http://mmuk.tv/ ). All of a sudden I felt like an intruder, even though I was the one entitled to be there. Those types of people wouldn't even blink before buying one or several of these.

July 30, 2015 at 7:41AM

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Saied M.
825

Finally, I though they would never release it. This camera shows proof that canon is not competing with anybody just like the president said on the interview. This put them on the same level of Nintendo and their wii u. It is a shame for all of us who expected good things from canon. Now we have to wait until they stop playing with their money.

July 30, 2015 at 8:14AM

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Edgar More
All
766

Wow looks like a really nice camera. :)

July 30, 2015 at 8:15AM, Edited July 30, 8:15AM

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Cathy Danneberg
Filmmaker, Editor, Designer, VFX
562

This camera is not designed with filmmakers in mind. It's for different industrial and scientific uses. Not for filmmaking. Period.

Now speculation as to how the tech here in might bleed into other products Canon offers is open for discussion, but anything other than that . . . or complaining that it's not right for filmmaking is absurd. It's not made with filmmakers in mind.

July 30, 2015 at 8:45AM

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Michael Markham
Actor/Filmmaker
889

Hey everyone who's complaining about the price. Technically it a speciality camera like the Phantom. Only rental houses will actually buy this camera. That's the point.

July 30, 2015 at 9:15AM, Edited July 30, 9:15AM

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Zachary Will
Cinematographer
461

How is this not overpriced when my Panasonic point-and-shoot does 4k for less than $1,000? Just kidding, lol. These products are completely different.

July 30, 2015 at 12:27PM

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Derek Olson
Directomatographeditor
687

Out of curiosity, since this is a "specialty camera" what does it do that is so different than others besides it having a super high ISO? The damm thing can't even record internally lol.

July 31, 2015 at 3:56AM, Edited July 31, 3:56AM

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Kaster Troy
Director, DP, Editor
938

Other than hold up my pants, what the heck does my belt do that I can't do with a hat?

August 5, 2015 at 6:20PM

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Derek Olson
Directomatographeditor
687

Native ISO: 60,000. Stack those ND's! : )

July 30, 2015 at 9:24AM

11
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WHAT?

July 30, 2015 at 10:04AM, Edited July 30, 10:04AM

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Ian Hopkinson
Videographer/ Editor
168

I'm so disappointed that all anyone can do is complain about the price of this camera. How can you not be incredibly excited about this advancement in technology!? Oh, it's not going to be useful for your indie film? Who gives a shit? THEY FILMED A METEOR SHOWER. This thing could see a human face in color lit by burning incense! Get over yourselves, maybe Canon has big plans for the future, and all you guys can do is bitch that you won't be able to make use out of their new piece of overpriced equipment.

July 30, 2015 at 10:09AM

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Joe O
Marketing Videographer/Video Editor
50

overpriced, but looks promising

July 30, 2015 at 11:54AM

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Kyle Lamar
Director Producer DP
992

Are there discounts if I buy in bulk? Thanks in advance.

July 30, 2015 at 12:02PM

13
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It's a great specialty camera for a niche market. If you're not the market, don't worry about it.

The technology will trickle down to the consumer models in a handful of years, so appreciate that if nothing else.

July 30, 2015 at 1:10PM, Edited July 30, 1:10PM

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I agree, it looks experimental and no doubt some form of this tech will appear in a future version of the C300.

I wonder what the image is like @ 4,000,000 ISO. I'd bet it's grainy as hell. If so, Isn't that only 3 stops better than the A7s?

July 30, 2015 at 1:53PM, Edited July 30, 1:54PM

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David O'Shea
Photographer
101

I just love all of these armchair marketing experts with your "Canon is out their mind with 30K!" crap. It's a niche product, like Phantom or an IDT Diablo.
Why is this so hard to fathom? How many people complained about the price of the C300, while they were flying off the shelves. When you're the only dog in town, you can name you're rate.

July 30, 2015 at 4:40PM, Edited July 30, 4:40PM

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Tony Montana
Director of Photography
81

they are not the only dog in town.

July 30, 2015 at 9:14PM

4
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andrew
81

Where are all these low lights films or commercials that the mass demand? I haven't seen one yet where I thought, " I need that camera, to shoot this idea with absolutely no light". Yea yea, I saw the sony one, ok cool. Now what? The only practicality for low light is probably weddings and shoot to edit productions. Narrative, I see no use for anything that needs high ISO's unless you don't know how to use a light meter or light a scene with.... lights.

July 30, 2015 at 7:50PM, Edited July 30, 7:50PM

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Joe Gonzalez
Filmmaker/Editor/Photographer
88

They aren't taking your lights away. They made a camera because they found a way that the technology would allow them to. Keep your stupid comments in your pocket.

July 30, 2015 at 8:08PM

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Brooks Reynolds
Director/DOP
350

everyone is just pissed because they all used to love canon and they thought canon cared about them buying a 5dmkii... turns out canon does what they want.... but we are all still bummed it's not a 4k 120fps dslr.

July 30, 2015 at 9:19PM

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andrew
81

Thats what's cool about forums and opinions I definitely can comment on whatever the hell I want. Learn to light a scene don't depend on the newest technology to do your work for you.

July 30, 2015 at 10:32PM, Edited July 30, 10:33PM

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Joe Gonzalez
Filmmaker/Editor/Photographer
88

If Canon was smart they would have implemented this technology in the 5D Mark4. Most people bought the a7s because it could see in the dark, so now Canon invents the same technology but possibly better and puts it in a body that nobody cares about and can't afford. The only people this makes sense to is Canon and that's it.

July 31, 2015 at 4:05AM

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Kaster Troy
Director, DP, Editor
938

All of you here are rather spoiled by today's gear and their LOW LOW prices!

I'm old enough to have had to pay $55,000+ for a Sony DigiBeta camera,
$35,000 for a Fujinon Servo Zoom lens, $11,000 just for the Tripod,
another $25,000 for the RGB color corrector, $110,000 for a 3D FX system.
$250,000 for Five digiBeta Tape Playback/Recorder decks and finally
almost $200,000 for a decent Non-Linear editing computer system
and the disk arrays to run it all!

SO YUP you're ALL SPOILED by today's gear!
I keep thinking that when Arri FINALLY let's us BUY an Alexa 6k
that the $200,000+ for the kit is actually quite CHEAP compared
to what we used to pay!

We got rid of all our old gear...years ago for literally pennies on the dollar!
and use four Canon 1Dc's, two 5D Mark 2's, one C100 Mark One
and a couple of laptops all for less than $75,000 WITH DECENT
CinePrime lenses!

You can buy a used Canon 5D Mark 2 for $1100 and buy
a $1000 Sigma Art Prime lens which will WAY OUTPERFORM
that old 2/3rds $35,000 Fujinon lens.

So if you add another $300 for a HDMI Sony Experia tablet
with some $50 Cinema Display and Monitoring apps...and
$250 for a used 1990's era fluid head tripod you would have
spent only $2700 on a kit for indy production that would quite
a bit outperform what we used to have!

You can also buy a decent windows 10 laptop
for $600 with a TERABYTE hard drive and spend
only another $100 for Corel VideoStudio Pro X8.5 editor,
and $300 for various BorisFX colour correction and
film-look filters and you would have an ABSOLUTELY
DYNAMITE 1080p video editing system.

Just remember to MAKE A GOOD SCRIPT and
DIRECT IT WELL and you too can be the next Tarantino!

August 20, 2015 at 7:59PM, Edited August 20, 8:01PM

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Henry A. Eckstein
Director, Research and Development
192

Definitely a "niche" product. I'm curious to the images from it.

July 30, 2015 at 11:36PM, Edited July 30, 11:36PM

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Dantly Wyatt
Musical Comedy & Content Creator.
597

This will definitely replace my Red Epic Dragon home security camera system.

July 31, 2015 at 12:41AM

18
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Vincent Gortho
none
883

Didn't really see anyone complaining when vision research released the Miro for $50k+ and that only does 1080p. Come on guys it's a specialist camera, It's not supposed to replace the c300. Why not look at it and think of all the amazing things you could do with it? Imagine filming in caves underground solely with the light of glow worms...

July 31, 2015 at 1:03AM

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Tom Hornblow
Camera operator, Steadicam
236

Dear internet, relax. Just another stick for a very special kind of itch.

July 31, 2015 at 11:54AM

23
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Caleb Pike
Shooter, Educator
166

The technology is amazing, but the price is ridiculous for a full HD camera, which has only 2 megapixels.

August 14, 2015 at 3:10PM

3
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Tommy Rodriguez
Filmmaker, educator
163