Invitations have been sent out for a special Canon screening happening Sunday, April 15 in Las Vegas. Canon Rumors is reporting that this invitation could be a screening for Canon's Cinema EOS 4K DSLR. Another thought is that it's related to a Ron Howard project. Since it's a weekend, I thought it would be a good time for some speculation about what could be announced, and what it means for the rest of the independent world if Canon does indeed announce a 4K camera at NAB (and why 4K even matters).
First, here's a picture of the invitation:
Of course, this is just speculation, but I think this is a great time to try to understand the mindset behind Canon's Cinema EOS line. Back in November Canon announced the oversampled 1080p C300, which is still in heavy backorder. At that time they also hinted at a prototype DSLR that would be part of their Cinema EOS line, and the biggest news of all: it would be capable of shooting 24p Motion-JPEG 4K video with an APS-H crop factor (the crop factor of the Canon 1D Mark IV).
Why would Canon obsolete their just announced camera with a new one less than 12 months down the road? Maybe because this new camera is going to be compromised and actually offer less features (except for 4K) - and thus is not really obsoleting the C300. Part of the reason Canon probably announced a prototype 4K camera is to try to take some steam out of RED's 4K Scarlet announcement. Did it work? I think it depends on your opinion of RED as a company, but RED's camera is actually shipping to people as opposed to the 4K DSLR which hasn't been properly announced yet.
Regardless, it's important to understand what 4K really means and how this camera could be priced below the 1080p C300. Even though the C300 has what some might say a "less than professional" output from HD-SDI or HDMI (8bit 4:2:2), it's still aimed at professionals. Will the whole EOS be aimed at professionals? In the past decade there has been a lot of talk about prosumer cameras, and whether that means price or specs, it's clear that those cameras gave up certain options in exchange for others, and were a step up from consumer cameras and a step down from professional shoulder-mounted cameras. I think it's becoming more clear that Canon might be aiming this 4K DSLR at that prosumer crowd - people stepping up from DSLRs but not quite ready to take the plunge on a more expensive camera. If the 4K DSLR does not have HD-SDI, it certainly would seem so, as that has historically been the professional video connection. At the very least this camera should have the larger HDMI connector, not the mini connector. The same could be said for a PL mount - will it have interchangeable mounts or be stuck with only PL or EF, and if so which one? It seems more likely it will be EF mount only, as it is shown in the photos having the Canon Cinema EOS Primes, which are EF mount (except for the zoom lenses, which are both).
So on to what 4K will really mean. This DSLR will not be "true" 4K, just as it is not "true" 4K on the Scarlet. The Bayer Pattern Single CMOS RGB sensor in all of these cameras does not use a single pixel for each color, rather it must interpolate pixels, and thus final resolution is below 4K. We won't get into a debate about how far below 4K, but without a doubt neither this camera nor the Scarlet will resolve full 4K resolution. Does this mean much in practice? Probably not, but it's worth stating because it speaks to what audience this camera is aimed at. The C300 has a 4K sensor, but actually outputs only 1080p. This is because Canon is oversampling to give a true 1080p resolution - just as Sony is doing with its 8K F65 which has a true final output of 4K. Oversampling also gives another benefit: decreased noise. This is because a downsampled image is combining many pixels into one, and in the process, many of the noisy pixels will be sampled away.
Where does that leave us? The Canon 4K DSLR may or may not be announced at NAB, but if it is, and it's going to be released for $10,000 or less sometime this year, it's clear that it will be compromised in a few ways over the more expensive C300. The internal Motion-JPEG codec (if that's what they use) is an intraframe codec, which as we know has the capability of being higher quality at the expense of larger file sizes. If bitrates are high enough, you could theoretically get a higher quality image than H.264. Since 4K is 4 times the amount of information as 1080, you'll need 4 times the bitrate for Motion-JPEG as compared to the equivalent 1080 frame. I see the codec as being the weakest link in this chain - but I think the reason they're using it is because it's a lot less processor intensive, so not only will people be able to edit those files much easier, but the processors in the camera should be able to handle it much easier.
The positives I really see from this camera shooting 4K is the fact that we should get real 1080p (because of downsampling in post-production) in a small form factor at a price lower than the C300. It's a much more crippled 4K than what RED is doing, so it's not likely that 4K Motion JPEG will come anywhere close to the quality you can get from a 16bit 4K RED-RAW file. If you don't believe that, then tell me, how many professionals would choose to shoot JPEG over RAW when in stills mode?
Of course, we can only go by what Canon has told us so far, and it's quite possible that this could change. One thing I can certainly say is that we won't be seeing 4K RAW in this camera, as that would certainly obsolete the C300. If the 4K DSLR is really going to be released in a matter of months, there's no better stage than NAB, so we'll be watching closely to see what happens.
This is also a good time to ask you guys what you want to see in a 4K Canon Camera. If these specs remain the same (24p 4K MJPEG - APS-H crop), what price would Canon have to hit for you to be interested and actually be able to afford it?
[via Canon Rumors]