Canon joins the world of 4K

This morning, Canon announced two cameras that it will be showing at NAB, along with their specs, the EOS-1D C and C500 – both 4K capable cameras.

I have seen footage from the 1D camera and it looks great.   An interesting point here is that I have only seen that footage at 1080p – not 4K, and that’s going to be a consideration for most people going forward.    The cameras are ahead of the monitor/projector/TV resolutions that almost all of us have today.   While RED was far ahead of the curve and pushed 5K a few years ago, and now Sony, Canon and others are joining the 4K world – few if any of us can truly experience the beauty of 4K on any of the monitoring devices we currently use – and I think that’s significant.  

While there’s no argument against the fact that shooting at 4K has numerous advantages for post (repositioning/pan & scan, stabilizing etc.)  it’s a little bit like Apple with the Thunderbolt port – there is still a dearth of small portable drives and accessories in the Thunderbolt family…  Although you can expect that to change at NAB.

Is 4K the future?  Very likely so.  But it’s going to be an uphill battle to get production houses to upgrade their computers, graphic cards, and monitors to fully support 4K on a first level (most systems can support it now – but RAW is another issue.)   Then we’re going to need bigger pipes to deliver the content via the web.   Then comes the viewing public – they too are going to need higher resolution displays and televisions, and theaters are going to need a new generation of projectors to fully appreciate these magnificent higher resolutions.    The point is:  it’s going to take a little while for this to happen – years, not months for most.   And of course these monitors and projectors AREN’T cheap – and that’s another significant factor.   I know of one friend who has shot an entire film in 5K – but it’s quite an undertaking to project it at 4K – so he’ll be projecting it at 2K in the end which I’d imagine is a tough pill to swallow.   That of course will change with time…  as will the prices.

The first announcement was for Canon’s 4K capable DSLR, now called the EOS-1D C.  We had heard tidbits dropped about this camera back at the launch of the C300 in November, but now it’s out in the open.  According to the press release, the 1D C is essentially the same 18.1 MP 1D X (but with a full frame sensor capable of shooting in Super 35mm size for video) with advanced video features.  These include the capability of recording 4K to CF cards, and 60p (50p in PAL regions) recording at Full HD (4K at 24p).   It also comes with the Canon Log Gamma option.  These inclusions make sure that the 1D C can be used as a B-Cam to the C300 or new C500 (below).  The camera records 8-bit 4:2:2 4K as a Motion JPEG, as well as Full HD.  However, when recording to the CF card, Full HD is only 8-bit 4:2:0.  However, the 1D C still includes only an HDMI out – so you can only pull a 4:2:2, 1080p image to an external recorder, but this also means that you can’t get a 4K out, and can only shoot to the internal CF card.  You can read the official press release here.  The price is to be set around $15,000.00

The second announcement was for Canon’s continuation of the C300 line – a 4K raw camera called the C500.  The camera will be capable of acquiring a few different formats including, Full HD, 2K, 4K (both standard and Quad HD).  Both 2K and 4K RAW (12-bit RGB 4:4:4) output can be captured to an external recorder via dual 3G-SDI ports, and an additional two HD-SDI port can be used for live monitoring.  It seems RAW out of the dual 3G-SDI is the only way of recording 4K, but HD and 2K can be recorded to dual CF cards.  However, while outputting 4K, the camera can record 50Mbps HD proxy to the internal CF card that can be used in post.  The camera also supports frame rates of 60 fps for 4K formats and 2K formats.  2K can be shot up to 120 fps (10-bit 4:2:2).  You can read the full press release here.  There is no price on the C500 yeah, but both of these cameras are slated to be released later this year.  The one difference from the C300 is that the side grip cannot be removed.  The price will MSRP at $30,000.00

What is impressive with these two cameras is that Canon has retained their low light performance with these high resolutions – something that is very difficult to do given how much smaller each individual cell is on the sensor (the smaller the cell – the less light it can capture and therefore the less sensitive to light it tends to be.)  

In addition to these two cameras, Canon also announced new cinema zoom lenses to support them.  These lenses are made to shoot 4K, and are lighter and more compact than their predecessors which were released with the C300.  The first is a 15.5-47mm T/2.8, and the second is 30-105mm T/2.8mm.   Both lenses will be available in EF and PL mount variations.  I have read that they will be in the $10K-$15K price range.

Also to support this move into 4K cinema, they have announced they will be exhibiting a 30-inch, 4K monitor – which is the next big piece of the puzzle. 

Lastly – I think this is a very tough time to be a camera buyer.   Which camera should one buy?  With the C300 having just become available to most – now Canon has leapfrogged that camera with 4K and more importantly a camera that supports a RAW file format…   Between the Canon 5D MKIII, Canon 1DX, Canon 1D C, and C500 – not to mention the RED Epic, Scarlet and Sony FS700 – there are a LOT of choices out there.   And now we don’t only need to buy new cameras – but also new glass for some… and definitely new monitors, hard drives/servers to store this massive amount of data, and perhaps computers.    This is not a small incremental update – but potentially a very sizable investment for individual operators and big production houses alike.  Given the state of the market and the economy, it’s not the easiest pill to swallow for many.   That being said, these cameras are likely aimed at the higher end productions – Hollywood and TV shows.    So, as I said with the Canon C300 – the world of HDSLRs is here to stay for most of us because the quality is still impressive – and for the single biggest reason:  it’s affordable to most.

I look forward to seeing the footage in full 4K at the Canon event this Sunday – and I’ll be commenting some more.    What we SHOULD be celebrating as Canon shooters – is Canon’s entry into a RAW workflow for film/video – now that’s something I’ve been waiting for for a LONG time – and it’s very exciting.  We should all be excited with this new technology and how it will trickle down to most of us in time.