There has been plenty of talk over the last couple years about Canon and their product strategy as it relates to their Cinema and DSLR cameras. While their cinema cameras -- specifically the C300 -- have been incredibly popular, there are many who wonder why the company can't offer better quality internally when very budget-priced cameras from Blackmagic are doing ProRes, DNxHD, and RAW without needing external recorders. At the Inter BEE 2013 conference (Japan's version of NAB), Dan Chung from Newsshooter sat down with Yoshinari Onda, the global product manager for Canon's Cinema EOS cameras, to ask some of these questions and also explore the recent AF firmware upgrade for the C100. Check out the fantastic interview below:
It's not a secret that the success of the video mode on the Canon 5D Mark II surprised the company, and they were really thrust into making digital cinema cameras by accident. Video was included in that camera late in the game as a way for photographers and journalists to add video to the stills they might already have been capturing for a particular story and they really had no idea filmmakers could benefit from the technology. It would be another few years, however, before they would introduce models that combined the best of their photo and video technologies, with the C300 in November 2011. As Onda said in the interview, there were about 150 people total working on the development team, which now includes two more models, the C100 and C300 (though it's interesting to note that the cinema lens development actually began before the cinema cameras).
Onda also mentions that the Dual Pixel AF which was recently announced, is already a part of the sensor, and just needs to be enabled and the sensor tweaked for performance. It shows that Canon actually has tremendous engineers that are able to do all sorts of things, but whether these things get enabled right from the start is a whole other decision that probably comes down to economics. Things are moving so fast in the video world, however, that if Canon doesn't start including these features that are in the hardware from the start but not enabled, someone else will likely do it. We're now seeing that with the way Blackmagic has implemented RAW capabilities at such an affordable price.
That really leads us to the most enlightening part of the interview (watch starting at about 22:30), the fact that Canon doesn't want to give RAW to lower-end cameras because they see it as a workflow issue. While there is some truth to that, it likely had more to do with that fact that they would have to compress the RAW for CF or SD cards on the lower end cameras. Card speeds have greatly improved (the new CFast format used on the ARRI AMIRA should work well with 1080p/2K RAW), and we've also got much cheaper SSDs than we had when Canon started working on the cinema cameras back in 2008/2009. The company has created very specific product segments within their cinema series by removing certain features, but it's likely that RAW was not something they thought could be implemented very easily, especially because of the compression (though they do have patents for it). This is still one of RED's major advantages, since you get the benefits of RAW but can save on space when you need to.
I'm certainly willing to buy their reasoning for not having RAW or higher than 50Mbps internally on any of their cinema cameras for compatibility and workflow issues, but being stuck in 8-bit internally on a camera as expensive as the C500 (even if it's a good-looking 8-bit), is still a little baffling. The C500 might be their high-end offering, but it relies very heavily on third parties to bring the quality up, since internally it records exactly the same as the C300. It wouldn't be surprising if the C300 was always meant as a flagship, and the C500 and C100 were simply models that came out of them figuring out what they could add or subtract in a cost-effective way.
What's clear to me is that their DSLRs are probably going to lag behind the cinema cameras in terms of video performance for the foreseeable future, except in higher-end models like the 1D C (which itself was probably a mistake of engineering fantastic internals into the 1D X). Canon has many loyal followers, and there is no question that has helped them in this current generation (heck, I own multiple Canon cameras). The familiarity with brand names makes people feel safe, especially those moving from stills to video -- and most of them have been able to stick with the same lenses.
As things evolve though, and other manufacturers include features that Canon is missing, people may start looking elsewhere, especially if they can use Canon lenses. It doesn't have to be this way, as we've seen with the Magic Lantern RAW hack on the DSLR cameras. The hardware is great, and Canon's RAW color science is fantastic, but they are a very slow-moving company. They have great people working for them, but it's likely the higher-ups that are deciding which features to include strictly in terms of economics.
People will always complain no matter what you do, but I think if Canon is really listening to customers, they should hear that people want features that the hardware is capable of. A 5D Mark III for another $500 or $1000 with a fully supported RAW mode and a solid 1080p mode would fly off the shelves. Maybe they won't make as much money as they can with a camera like the 1D C, but how many of those have they sold anyway? They only have to look at the crazy pre-orders for Blackmagic products to know what people really want at the prices they are willing to pay.
With DSLR sales declining, you have to wonder if maybe RAW support and more video-focused features would give them a boost in sales. Certainly these are things people want, even if they aren't going to be using them all the time. Canon isn't going to be able to get away with releasing 8 versions of the same DSLR in the future, so they're going to have to have something up their sleeves as we reach the second and third generation of digital cinema cameras and video on DSLRs.
Thanks again to Dan for the great interview.
What do you think? What should Canon do with their product line to fit in better with other products out there? What would you like to see in the next generation of cinema cameras and DSLRs?