With the release of the new Canon EOS R5 looming, we wanted to take a look back at the camera's that lead Canon here.
We are looking at probably the biggest Canon camera release in a decade with the company's live stream event taking place tomorrow morning. Of course, this could've been years ago with the release of the EOS R, but that ended up not quite rocking the motion picture industry the way some hoped it might. As everyone waits for the launch, many of the EOS R5 features have been confirmed on paper and hit all the specs users want in today's camera. Let's take a moment to look at the history of Canon cameras that have mattered most to filmmakers.
Canon 814 and Scoopic 16MS
Canon is first and foremost a stills camera company, but it's important to remember that their history of making motion picture products pre-dates the modern video era. Going back to the 1960s with the Auto Zoom 814 Super 8 in 1967 which had the first 8x F1.4 zoom lens, followed by the 1014 and 1014XL-S, a 8mm camera that used a one chip CPU.
Canon has made flexible, reliable, dependable motion picture cameras targeted at the higher end of the mass market. These cameras weren't aimed at narrative film set professionals, but instead were focused on being a dead simple field camera for journalists, especially the 16mm Scoopic series that included the Scoopic 16, Scoopic 16MS, and Scoopic 200SE.
Properly maintained you could still get surprisingly nice imagery from those camera today, and you still seem some in use by film schools and a few production companies to keep film in the mix for a low cost. There were even a host of accessories available for shooting longer loads and working in cold weather.
In 1977 they added internal TV frame lines, making it even more useful for journalists. The aftermarket kept up as well with surprising Super 16 modifications for the Scoopic. Most usually don't recenter the lens, so there are some imaging sacrifices that many don't find worth the extra resolution.
In 1998, Canon released the XL1 for the popular DV format. It was a 3-CCD system with separate 1/3″ CCD image sensors to process red, green, and blue. Remember Pixel Shift? The XL1 had it which improved the dynamic range and low color noise of the camera. It worked by shifted the green CCD by one-half pixel and then electronically shifting the green signal by one pixel to maximize the pixels for higher resolutions.
The primary driver of its success was that it had an interchangeable lens that utilized the XL mount. Canon also offered a lens adapter to adapt to the XL1 for its popular EF mount lenses. However, the vast majority users stuck with the XL mount lenses available for the camera, for the primary reason that the sensor was very small and that lead to a large 7.2 crop factor, and meant you needed very wide EF lenses if working in tight spaces.
It shipped with a 5.5-88mm lens, while a 12mm is commonly considered to be a wide EF mount lens. Many users with sports or wildlife interest did use the adapter at the long end, but for indie features shot in tiny apartments, the stock lenses were the default.
In a few years it would loose some steam to the Panasonic AG-DVX-100 and it's ground-breaking 24fps feature, but at it's release, the XL1 was truly the top of the line and a huge hit.
In 2005, Canon updated their camcorders for the HD revolution with the XL H1, which kept the interchangeable lens design, the 1/3" chip size, but upgraded the recording to HDV tape. A lot of folks have forgotten this camera, and for good reason. It was a flop. It largely stuck with out-of-date technology, going with Sony's HDV tape format for compressing HD files down to a tiny tape format, and the industry quickly moved on.
The XL H1 is one of the cameras that lead to the Canon EOS R largely because of what it failed to do. It stuck with an old sensor size, 1/3", and an old recording format when the future was moving towards tapeless recording, and would soon move on to larger chip sizes.
In 2006, Panasonic came out with the AG-HVX200 which shot on P2 cards, but Panasonic did leave the DV recorder as a comfort blanket for the transition. The HVX200 was soon shooting indie features, TV shows, and more. An HVX200 even shot parts of Scorsese's The Departed.
Later, Sony would roll out the popular 1/2" chip camcorders by 2008. The XL H1 was a major missed opportunity for Canon, but maybe they were one year too early with development. Either way, it would leave an opening for another camera with a large sensor that would come out in 2008.
5D Mark II
This is the camera that truly put Canon on the map in the narrative, music video, commercial, and vLog space. This camera, and it's descendants, is why Canon is considered the "look of YouTube." The camera that in many ways lead to the filmmaking landscape we live in today, and in fact. helped launch No Film School and the free DSLR Cinematography Guide.
Released in 2008, the Canon EOS 5D Mark II was by all accounts an accident as a motion picture camera. It's built around a traditional 36 x 24mm full-frame sensor, which is larger than a traditional Super 35 used on the majority of motion picture films until recently. The larger sensor meant better low light performance, but also meant a shallower depth of field.
But let's remember, this was all an accident. Canon only included the feature capture feature in the 5D for "video-memo's" for journalists. You are out shooting beautiful high resolution stills with the camera, and you want to shoot a quick shot of the subject giving permission to be in the magazine that week, or a quick note to yourself about where you were when you shot. Maybe some fancy home users would get a kick out of shooting video with their family. Canon didn't think this feature was going to take off so quickly with filmmakers.
But it did. The large sensor size and plethora of EF mount lenses meant that filmmakers finally had a digital sensor that could give them something "cinematic" with great low light reproduction at an affordable price.
To make it work on a busy film set, you needed an external monitor to see focus, and you needed a different follow focus than traditional PL mounted cine lenses, but all that effort was worth it since, when setup properly, the images were so great from the camera.
Many DPs and directors bought it and just starting shooting with it. Because of its popularity among filmmakers, Canon went on to launch an entire Cinema EOS line starting with the C100, C300, and C500 that was built on the success of the 5D Mark II.
With the 5D Mark IV released in 2016, the platform started to show it's legs and left many users feeling frustrated at the slow release cycle. By 2016, 4K was the standard capture format, but the 5D Mark IV only shot 4K with a cropped sensor instead of the full width of the sensor. It had image quality drawbacks, and also meant you needed wider lenses to get the same field of view. It also didn't record 4K over HDMI, a huge drawback as capturing to external recorders had become more popular for its recording formats.
On top of that, filmmakers wanted to use a wider array of lenses, which the Sony E-mount allowed you to adapt to. With the 5D Mark IV, you couldn't use. If Canon wanted to stay in the game, they needed a major shakeup.
Released in 2018, the EOS R was Canon's first camera in its ful-frame mirrorless line of cameras that was meant to contend with the rest of the industry. While the 5D cameras had full-frame sensors, they were built around DSLR technology that required a mirror in between the lens mount and the sensor. This mirror meant the lens mount had to be further from the sensor, which of course changed the lens design and especially the adapter options available.
By removing the mirror, Sony's Alpha line of cameras had completely rocked the industry in 2014, allowing for beautiful full-frame imagery you could easily adapt to a wide variety of lenses.
The EOS R was supposed to catch Canon up to that innovation with their own, brand-new RF lens mount that was designed specifically for full-frame mirrorless. Now, you could easily pop on an EF or PL mount adapter for a wide variety of lens selection, or you could work with the newly designed RF lenses that would offer increased imaging benefits in comparison to EF, including a shallower distance from lens mount to sensor giving lens designers more freedom.
Unfortunately, for what ever reason, Canon didn't roll out a new sensor to match. The EOS R shot 4K but only in crop mode, just like the 5D Mark IV had in 2016. Having a crop mode 4K camera in 2018 basically ruled the platform out for the vast majority of filmmakers. Sony had full-frame 4K for so long, and had done so well with it, the EOS R was a major disappointment.
This leads us up to the Canon EOS R5. What's been confirmed on paper so far is impressive. 8K full-frame image capture using the full width of the sensor, a brand new sensor design, a Dual Pixel Autofocus, 5-axis in-body image stabilization, and internal 4K 10-bit 4:2:2 C-Log to name a few. The EOS R5 aims to put Canon back where it wants to be. Now we just need to wait to see if it all comes true.
What are you hoping for with the EOS R5 or EOS R6 announcement? Let us know in the comments below.