Sunday 28 September 2008

Canon EOS 5D MkII

Some musings on this trend of still cameras doing high quality high res video.



Canon announced and will ship very soon, a new DSLR. The EOS 5D MkII. This is a DSLR like many before it. It has many more megapixels that the cameras before it. It does higher ISO that cameras before it. Which is normal too.

But what sets it apart is that it can shoot movies at high resolution as well. In fact it can shoot 25fps (maybe even 24fps and 30fps) movies at 1920x1080 pixels. Which is the definition of HD. And which is sufficient for making a film. Even if finally for 35mm movie film.

But Canon was not the first camera maker to make such a camera. Nikon recently released the D90 which too can do HD movies. But 1280x720. And the Nikon uses (old) M-JPEG compression. Compared to H.264 that Canon uses. There's also another model that can do HD movies. The Canon SX1 IS too does HD movies and also at H.264.


Many web sites have described these machines. Some have downloadable results from these cameras. Some have compared the EOS 5D MkII to the Red One and even to the unreleased Red Scarlet. And some have even called this a 'game changer'.

I think this is a bit over the top. The EOS 5D MkII is basically a still camera. And as good as a camera Canon makes. That it can do HD movies is an additional functionality. But it can't challenge a camera made for doing movies.

Some of the limitations of shooting a proper movie with the EOX 5D Mk II as with any other such still camera is lack of some crucial features.

Like.
1. You can't adjust focus while 'rolling'.
2. You can't adjust aperture while 'rolling'.
3. It has a still camera grip which isn't exactly comfortable for filming.
4. You can only shoot a few minutes at a time.
5. The movies are highly compressed H.264.
6. Sound may not be as good and there are no professional inputs.
7. The movies are 1080p30 even at Canon's UK site.

But to be fair, this is a rather economical HD camera. At $ 2700 the price can't be beat. Lenses are super sharp, still camera, 21 megapixel capable lenses, that can rival film camera lenses. Film camera lenses cost more not necessarily because they are better than still camera lenses. There is volume economics to it as well.

Which brings us to the interesting question - why did Nikon and Canon do it? That is, make a still camera that can do high quality movies. And why didn't they just come out with a digital movie camera like the Red, which shoots to hard disk or memory card? Sort of like a successor to the XL-H1?

I'm sure both companies have some good reasons, but one of them could be economics. I don't have exact figures, but at between $2000 to $3000, DSLRs probably sell more numbers than movie making cameras. So the cost of developing, and improving on the quality of, and marketing HD-size movie capable imaging chips - CCD or CMOS - gets spread over much larger numbers.

And, a large body of discerning eyes - still photographers - take stills and contribute with valuable feedback. So the product gets market tested well. Had this feature of shooting HD movies with a full frame chip been provided in a 'handycam type' camcorder, it would have been wasted in shaky vacation movies.

So while I'm not sure about Nikon, but I'm reasonably certain Canon will release a HD or even maybe 4k resolution camera that shoots movies using a imaging chip that's the exact size of the normal 35 mm movie frame. The EOS 5D MKII is just the beginning.

And when that happens, that will be a 'game changer'.

Added 27 Oct 08
Amongst the first movies shot with the EOS 5D MkII which was put up on the net, was taken down as it lead to some really heavy downloading that swamped the host site. The movie is now up at Vincent's blog here.

3 comments:

  1. Hi Neil,

    Great review and blurb on an exciting new camera! I'll be touring around india in November. Any ideas when it will reach the stores in India and where I can buy one?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Mandar,

    I'm not sure if the camera will be available here in November. In fact I think its not even shipping anywhere yet.

    A very detailed review is here...
    http://www.dpreview.com/previews/canoneos5dmarkii/

    But whenever it ships, one of the first dealers in India to have it would be JJ Mehta
    www.jjmehta.com

    You can write to them or call and find out.

    Neil B Sadwelkar

    ReplyDelete
  3. Anonymous5:45 PM

    "But what sets it apart is that it can shoot movies at high resolution as well. In fact it can shoot 25fps (maybe even 24fps and 30fps) movies at 1920x1080 pixels. Which is the definition of HD. And which is sufficient for making a film. Even if finally for 35mm movie film."

    It only shoots 30p - No PAL (25p) version.

    ReplyDelete

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