APS-C videocameras

Caitlin talks about a particular dream of hers: high-definition APS-C sensor videocameras in two articles: here and here, including the much-awaited mention of Sony’s new CMOS sensor.

I’ll go even a step further. I think that such a manufacturer should standardized on a modified Nikon F, Canon EF-S, or Olympus 4/3 (if 4/3″ instead of APS-C) mount. This way, out of the box, a whole set of lenses will work with such a camera and they can still make gobs of money on their own custom “kit” lenses that allow zoom control (and other features cinematographers need but film camera lenses don’t have).

I mention this with a touch of humility here. Many people don’t know their history: 35mm photography actually comes from the cinema world, not the reverse. Photographers used “view cameras” and “medium format” before adopting the “small format” 35mm cameras so ubiquitous in the film photography world. Dulce et decorum est for the cinema world to inherit APS-C from the digital photography world—digital photography has learned much from the cinema and video world.

A little about the new Sony sensor

Caitlin forgets to mention that the new Sony sensor not only captures at 60 fps, they also developed a DSP that processes at 60 fps.

I think these are clever innovations that are not fully appreciated for the business tactics involved. Remember that currently Sony develops and manufacturers the sensors that are in most consumer pocket digicams (1/3″ size) as well as many APS-C sensors (Pentax and Nikon).

The interesting part is that tactically, Sony can offer this chip to Pentax and Nikon, but practically they will not take advantage of it leaving Sony a way to distinguish their new Alpha (Konica-Minolta) cameras from the market. Why? Because a 60fps system would not operate using an optical viewfinder and reflex mirror, it’d operate the way a video camera does (the sensor is the viewfinder). I do not think traditionalists like Pentax and Nikon would be willing to create such a radical departure from traditional SLR camera design that using the new sensor would entail.

But think of this theoretical photo camera. dSLR but the optical viewfinder is just a high-res black and white LCD with a live-preview in a rotating color LCD. Wow!

It could also do tricks:

Movie mode in a dSLR? You betcha! (And I can finally change the dang focal length as I record. :-P)

Noiseless cameras? Is it me or is anyone else annoyed by the clack-clack-clack that you hear at press conferences and the like?

Take 60 frames a second and keep your best 5 shots. It determines best automatically by figuring out which ones compress to the largest file size (these will have the most detail).

Or how about it would change focusing distance as it takes 60 frames and then create a composite shot where everything part of the frame is in focus?

Or how about a panoramic mode where you just hold the button and slide your camera over a swathe and it auto-aligns and stitches the 60 frames together into one large frame?

And that stuff is just off the top of my head. 🙂

2 thoughts on “APS-C videocameras

  1. PhotographyBlog’s Saturday Shout covers Sony (and Panasonic) forays into the dSLR market share.

    My post:
    I agree that Sony is better positioned because of their sensor manufacturing, advances in the video and professional digital cinematography, and K-M user base (in that order).

    As for Nikon being affected, I do not think it is Sony’s strategy to withhold any chip designs in order to break into this market. There are a couple of points to note here.

    1) Pentax also uses Sony dSLR chips. Nikon has their own chip design capability (Nikon-designed MOSFETs in the D2H and D2Hs)
    2) Almost every manufacturer, including Canon, uses Sony sensors in their consumer cameras. Does Sony withhold sensor chips for themselves there?
    3) Sony’s 3CCD video chip in their HDR-FX1 is the same video chip (with a different video processor) in Canon’s XL-H1. Sony could have easily “sat” on it and watch Canon delay their high-definition entry another year.
    4) Sony already announced a 3CCD CMOS dSLR sensor that does 60fps + chipset (but no camera). Why would they do that if they plan on withholding it?

    In fact, I feel the last point is the most indicative of the strategy. If this sensor is provided to everyone, including their competitors, the company most likely to take advantage of this is… Sony. Pentax and Nikon would not want to risk themselves on a radical departure of the dSLR design that a 60fps system would entail (live preview, non-optical viewfinder, mirrorless design, movies in a dSLR).

    The weakspot for Sony is going to be the optics. As the Zeiss ZF lenses show, Sony does not have exclusivity with Zeiss so they will have trouble on the lens front. This is a pity because Sony could bring a lot of innovations buried from the cinemetography world that could go into the future lens designs, esp. in regards to the 60fps sensor.

    As for Panasonic, I don’t think Panasonic by itself has much force. But Panasonic co-developed the live preview you see in the L1 and in the Olympus E-330. Also, Panasonic brings Leica along with it which brings along with it a lot of legitimacy (though unfortunately in the same price points that Olympus’s Zuiko line is). I think the real question there is the 4/3 format legitimacy, not Panasonic or Olympus per se.

    Panasonic’s entry thus spells a good thing for the #3 dSLR format. (That’s Olympus 4/3, dincha know?)

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