It's that time of year again, when companies reveal what they've been working on for the past year, and quite a few prototypes that aren't quite ready to see the light of day. A few have already thrown down the gauntlet for camera superiority, namely Canon and Sony (though Sony still might have one more surprise for us at the show). We're still waiting on RED's (and Panasonic's) response to these new 4K RAW ready cameras, and Jim Jannard has been making some noise on the REDuser forums, showing his excitement for what they've got coming next. Hopefully we'll get a glimpse of "Dragon" at NAB, but we've been told in the past on those same forums that we won't see any new products until they are shipping.
All of these new specs and features can be a bit overwhelming to the consumer - so here's what's out there for large sensor video cameras and their respective price points, as well as their max specs (PL camera price if available - also, these are not perfect, so let's not get into price arguments, it's just a generalization):
- $4,300 - Panasonic AF100: 8-bit 4:2:2 1080p
- $5,000 - Sony FS100: 8-bit 4:2:2 1080p
- $10,000 - Sony FS700: 12-bit 4K RAW
- $13,000 - Sony F3: 10-bit 4:4:4 1080p
- $13,200 - RED Scarlet: 16-bit 4K RAW
- $15,000 - Canon 1DC: 8-bit 4:2:2 4K MJPEG
- $16,000 - Canon C300: 8-bit 4:2:2 1080p
- $25,000 - RED One MX: 12-bit 4.5K RAW
- $30,000 - Canon C500: 10-bit 4K RAW
- $38,000 - RED Epic-X: 16-bit 5K RAW
- $60,000 - Arri Alexa - 12-bit 3K RAW
- $65,000 - Sony F65 - 16-bit 4K RAW
For all of the RAW cameras (except RED), you're going to have to add $5,000-$10,000 (or more) for RAW recording ability. I'm just looking at base specs for now though. I left RED's prices as stated on their website since those prices do include the recorder on-board (media, batteries, and monitors are more expensive for all of these cameras). Specs are not everything, and to compare only specs is doing all of these cameras an injustice, but you start to come to some pretty interesting conclusions looking at price at maximum color bit depth and resolution alone.
What's Canon doing? I'm not really sure, but they are certainly pricing themselves out of the market in features alone. Both of their new cameras are going to produce amazing images, but their top-of-the-line camera should really be much more comparable to the F65 or the Epic. If you're going to make a camera that expensive, it makes sense to me that you would go all out and put the biggest sensor and the highest bit depth and frame rates that you can into it. The C500 fits much, much better as a $15,000 camera, and the 1DC should be half that price at around $7,500 (closer to the FS700). If they released those new cameras at those prices it would make a lot more sense. Sony's offerings are cheaper and more fully featured. This is not a statement for Sony and against Canon, it's merely an observation that on price alone, the specs just don't add up.
The word RED makes people a little crazy, so please bear with me for a moment as I try to look objectively at what they've done. Assuming you've got working gear, the Epic is about half the price of the nearest competitor ($85K for RAW recording on the F65). What's even more interesting, is that the RED One MX (with the upgraded MX sensor) compares favorably to cameras that haven't even been released yet, and the MX is about 2 years old now. The fact that there were some problems with RED cameras is not something to be ignored, but it's really a matter of philosophy. RED released beyond the cutting edge (beta at times), and Sony and Canon are being conservative with features. They've been letting the market try to figure out 4K before they go full-force with 4K only cameras (though Sony will be at the forefront of that since they also make televisions). Two very different philosophies, but they are both legitimate ways to run a camera company. At times RED might shoot themselves in the foot, but the cameras that they have been releasing are technological marvels - and they are now completely out of backorder with all of their camera bodies.
We shouldn't take sides with any company because at the end of the day they all have their place depending on the project. It surprises me that Canon seems so unclear on their product line. Sony has outlined a very rational plan, and RED is releasing cameras with the highest specifications possible - whether they work 100% or not (though to be fair they've never asked users to pay for an update and their customer service from what I can see is much more personal than either Canon or Sony).
So what else is going to happen at this year's NAB? Panasonic is going to come guns blazing with a 4K camera, and Sony will have one more 4K camera priced somewhere around $20,000 (the F5). The only worry I have about Panasonic is that they will stick with the Micro 4/3s format for a higher resolution sensor. Not that it's a bad format, but there's a reason everyone is sticking Super 35mm sized digital sensors into all of these cameras, and that's because it's a great size for a lot of PL glass. I tend to agree with RED's philosophy on sensor size - bigger is better because you can always crop down to a smaller sized lens diameter - you can never go the other way. Will RED's Dragon be a Full 35mm sized sensor as originally planned? No one can be sure - as their plan has been completely erased from what it was before - and all camera sensors above the MX have mostly likely been reworked. If they do decide to show us Dragon at NAB, I don't expect it to be slim on the specs - as that's never been something Jim Jannard has ever liked doing.
The camera I am actually most excited to see is the Aaton Penelope Delta (making its 3rd appearance at NAB). While it's one of the higher priced cameras (probably somewhere around the Alexa or the F65), it is the only camera capable of shooting 800 ISO and 100 ISO without affecting dynamic range. Its CCD sensor and mechanical rotating shutter should provide for the most film-like movement we've ever seen on a digital camera. Aaton has taken their sweet time - and it's just one more philosophy to consider. They haven't released any beta cameras and haven't released any incremental updates - but waiting so long to release the Penelope Delta may hurt them in the long run.
There aren't any affordable 4K monitors or televisions yet, but that's going to change sooner rather than later. Manufacturers are moving faster than ever and it's not going to be long before we're all upgrading our monitors and TVs to the next big thing. Apple will probably be the first to do it on the smaller scale, but Sony, Canon, and others will all follow suit. Canon is rumored to be showing a rather expensive 4K display at NAB, so I'll be sure to update when I get a chance to look at it.
We have so many options for cameras, but we'll always do our best at No Film School to try to make sense of all of it.
It's going to be quite the NAB show.