My Camera Hierarchy of Needs

April 23rd, 2014

I didn’t know blogs could collect dust, but there was a relatively thick layer waiting for me today.

On Monday I was describing to a friend what’s most important in a camera for me and I managed to piece together a hierarchy of needs.  This is where I ended up, top being the most important.

Price <$3.5K- RED, ARRI, the big Sonys, BM URSA, AJA CION out
Interchangeable lenses - GoPro, iPhone out
Sensor size >Micro4/3 - Panasonic out, BMCC, BMSC, BMPCC out
EF mount compatible - Sony, Nikon etc out
Expandable (has ports for monitor, audio etc)
Overheating a non-issue
Rolling Shutter - Canon out, including the T2i and T3i I currently own
Dynamic Range (clean noisefloor) <ISO 800
RAW
Dynamic Range (clipping) >11 stops
Barebones monitoring (audio, histogram, zebras)
Resolution >1080p
Frame Rate >30- BMPC out
Standard industry media (SSDs, SD, CF)
Large >3″ standard monitor
Low aliasing and moiré / no line-skipping
External power
Weight
Weatherproof
Waterproof
Modular System

 

You’ll see actual image clarity as normally defined is down in the lower half as I’m satisfied with what I’m currently getting with the Canon 7D sensor (found in my T2i and T3i) at effective 1.5K/11 stops—for $600 total I have two cameras that can produce entry-level content for the silver screen.  You can see that RAW is more important to me than dynamic range or resolution because going from H.264 to RAW adds effective dynamic range and resolution to begin with—more actual dynamic range and resolution is just a bonus below that (Using Magic Lantern to shoot RAW on my T2i/T3i, although enormously limited in clip length, looks incredible when compared to H.264 on the same camera). Above all of that is Rolling Shutter, which as a VFX guy is a massive, uncorrectable flaw that even turns me off to the RED cameras (unless you have the cool new electonic shutter thing, which is a higher price which is where it falls in the first place).  Also I consider the lack of a low noise-floor to be a greater threat to image quality than low resolution or lack of RAW, especially as an indie filmmaker where I don’t have the time or resources to be setting up lights on most occasions.  At the very top you see the things that contribute most to the ever sought-after “film look”, interchangeable lenses and larger sensor size.

Under this, the RED cameras get cut off immediately, of course my first choice of camera if money were no object… would be the James Webb Space Telescope.  The lack of interchangeable lenses makes a GoPro into a toy, the sensor size shaves off the otherwise stellar camera to be found in the Panasonic GH4, and then Rolling Shutter is the biggest bottleneck making for a very short list of eligible cameras, which the Blackmagic Production Camera survives and makes it down farther than anything else I’ve seen.  Shame it doesn’t have high frame rates or it’d practically make it to the bottom.  If I were to invest at this level as a two-camera company I would probably cut out one of the other things above that in order to have one other camera that can go to higher frame rates as long as it could more or less match the BMPC visually (allowing for Rolling Shutter, for example).  I’d like to know if anything makes it further down or comparably far down.  I’ve seen Sony making some desirable things lately but they’re stuck with their own line of lenses which would nullify my investment in the Canon EF infrastructure (all $800 of it, oh yeah.  No L-series red ring bling over here, no sir).

 

Here is the Blackmagic Production Camera in action and frankly it’s stunning.  The daylight footage is sublime, the low light image is technically impressive. (The same sensor is found in the $6K USRA)

 


 

So that’s me, but as far as I can tell, this is what the market is focusing on, which is kind of upside down from what I’m looking for in a camera…

The Consumer Hierarchy (aka the selling points listed on the box):

 

Price <$1K! - pretty much everything worth looking at is out of the running right here
You can take pictures AND video (the one camera you’ll ever need)!  (kind of an assumption these days, but if it wasn’t there it’d kill it)
UltraHD Resolution! (because megapixels, K and p values aren’t sexy marketing terms!)- Canon Rebels, many other DSLRs out on video mode. iPhone, Sony QX100 out
Slo Mo!
Light & Portable!
Big Screen! – GoPro out
Long Battery Life!*
Removable media! (SD cards!)
Waterproof!
Interchangeable lenses (but why would you want that when you can have 100x Digital Zoom?)!
H.264 is good!  We’ll call it AVCHD instead and make it a selling point! Remember Super Long Play on VHS tapes, it allowed you to record MORE SHOWS on one tape!  That’s a good thing!**
WiFi and Bluetooth!  Why?  We’re not sure but it sure sounds cool!
Smaller sensor size?  Of course!  It fits in your pocket!
3D!!!!!!!!!***
Dynamic what?  You lost me.  Eww that looks drab, I want VIBRANT COLORS (and a wrinkle filter!)

* Relative to what?  The last one we made of course!
** Can we really define ‘good’ though if “reality” is the sum of our perceptions generated by a chemical soup? Who are you to judge, maaaan?
*** May rearrange neurons in the brains of developing children

 

I can forgive much of what is going on up above because it led to the creation of the Sony QX100, which as far as I can see is a great idea.  I think the iPhone 5s on its own has a STELLAR camera on its own (1080p60?  yes thank you) and for $500, the Sony QX100 is a great add-on in a mirror-less world for getting some semi-serious photography in.  As the axiom goes, the best camera in the world is the one you have with you—and with that, the iPhone kills it (even if I’m still rocking a dumbphone).  GoPro continues its matchbox-sized miracles and I greedily await the day that they will enter the Interchangeable lens market whether it’s DSLR or mirrorless and put everyone to shame.  If the new GoPro 4 can really crunch 1080p120 or 4K@24/30fps—imagine the power they could fit in a DSLR-sized box 4-6 times the mass/volume of a GoPro.  4K@120fps for $2000 anyone?  Heck, tack on the acceptable increases in price for a big display, market scarcity, sensor R&D to kill rolling shutter and to add dynamic range… I think any professional would buy that for the slim $3500 that the Blackmagic Production Camera is going for, as long as they could mentally rearrange what the word “GoPro” has meant for the last several years.

Oh hey, right on time.


If I missed any stellar cameras that get relatively far down my hierarchy or the consumer hierarchy of needs, head over to the About Me page and send me an email.  The amazing Panasonic GH4 at half the price of the BMPC could become that ‘second camera’ I was referring to with its 4K@24fps and 1080p@60-96fps, but only after after getting it to accept EF lenses by boring out a new mount or using an adapter, and having a SSD/HDMI recorder tacked on the bottom for RAW capability, which might start getting really expensive to keep 4K.

Here’s an example though, while it is a bit soft, you can see in the trees and the ferris wheel that line skipping seems to not be a terrible issue, until you see the brick pattern at 02:17:

 

When I first started writing this, I didn’t expect it to become satire on the consumer world, but it did.  It also started as an email to a friend.  Now it’s a post for my anemic, neglected blog.  Hope to be back, maybe before next NAB.  I have two films sitting on my Hard Drive waiting to be edited, and a lot of projects waiting patiently for my attention.

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