I’m writing this post because I’m unhappy with the current state of digital cameras/camcorders and I’m even more unhappy with where they are going. Instead of doing things to improve image quality, more and more useless “features” are being added so that they can just sell basically the same thing for the same or more money. As a content producer with a small budget, it is very frustrating to have to deal with consumer and prosumer grade equipment and all the cruft that those cameras are burdened with, while at the same time, not wanting to spend any money on the pro gear because they don’t really give you want you want either.
With that being said, I like what Black Magic Design is trying to do with a lot of their products, especially their new Cinema Cameras, however, in many ways they are still missing the mark. So, with that being said, here is what I would love to see in a camera.
First some general stuff:
- Still pictures and video support
- Interchangeable lenses using either Micro four thirds or EF/PL mounts (or even better, interchangeable mount types like what RED does)
- Standardized power and I/O connectors
- Easy to use user interface that gives you what you need and otherwise gets out of the way
- Three Grades: Consumer, Prosumer, and Pro
Below are some really specific things I would like to see.
This is a major point of contention with me. Can we do something like standardize to two different sensor sizes please? The current state of sensor sizes is just ridiculous.
The video world is 16:9 and will be for the foreseeable future and I don’t see any reason not to have the same aspect ratio for stills, so for sensor sizes, it would be great if we could get a sensor that was 16mm x 9mm and a sensor that is 32mm x 18mm.
The 16mm x 9mm size would be used for the consumer, and prosumer lines and the 32mm x 18mm size would go to the pro size. Keep it simple so that it can be standardized and mass produced to get the costs down.
This is another major point of contention with me. Again, can we standardize on two sensor resolutions please? The current state of sensor resolutions is just as ridiculous as there are as many sensor sizes.
I would love to see 2560px x 1440px for the 16mm x 9mm sensor, and 5120px x 2880px for the 32mm x 18mm sensor. Again, the pixel density would remain the same and the manufacturing process could remain the same, the only difference is the sensor size. Doing that would likely make for a nice and fairly inexpensive sensor.
Exposure Latitude/Dynamic Range
Here is another thing that I wish everyone would just standardize on. Make it really simple: consumer cameras get 8-10 bits (about 8 stops of dynamic range, just like today), prosumer cameras get 16 bits (about 14-16 stops of dynamic range), and pro cameras get 24 bits (at least 16-20+ stops of dynamic range). Per pixel color. No I’m not insane.
It can be done and I believe fairly cheaply IF we all stop blowing loads of cash messing around with our own proprietary sensor sizes and resolutions and just concentrate on a couple of sizes and resolutions. Once that is accomplished, I think we can start getting really good picture quality for lower costs.
Color Space/Output Format
This is another major sticking point with me. Consumer cameras should support AVCHD/HEVC in 4:2:0 (and whatever bitrates those codecs support), AND MPEG-2 in 4:2:2 at 50Mbps for video and jpeg for stills. Prosumer cameras would add Prores 422, DNxHD, Cinema DNG, and RAW RGB sensor data on top of the consumer cameras for video and Adobe DNG for stills. The pro cameras would have the same as the prosumer level.
What? Yes, even though the sensor resolutions have been standardized, that does not mean that is what the camera outputs.
We can make this really simple: Consumer level gets standard HDTV resolutions (720p/1080i). Prosumer gets consumer levels plus 1080p (known as Full HD), 2K (2048×1152), and the native 2.5K (2560×1440) of the sensor. The pro cameras get all the consumer/prosumer levels plus UHDTV (3820×2160, known as Ultra High Definition TV), 4K (4096×2304), and the full native 5K (5120×2880) of the sensor.
Another major sticking point. Can we all please just standardize on 24 bit audio already? Thanks. Quality 24 bit ADCs aren’t that expensive, and quite frankly aquisition at 16 bits just isn’t enough dynamic range. Get 24 bits in there and simplify the audio subsystem already. 96-192KHz sample rates would be nice too.
How Is Everyone Supposed To Compete?
I think they’ll compete just fine. If you’ll notice, I left a lot of stuff out that can be used as points of competition. For example, I didn’t say anything about whether the camera should be a single bayer type sensor or a 3 sensor camera. I didn’t say anything about rolling shutter or global shutter. I didn’t say anything about frame rate, shutter speeds, ISO speeds, or recording media. I didn’t say anything about what types of I/O should be provided, etc.
I can think of a few common combinations that would fall out of this though. For example, I can see the consumer level being a single chip camera that looks a lot like today’s camcorders/still cameras. I can see the prosumer level maybe having a single chip, but better I/O options, or being a 3 chip camera. I can see the pro level being a full 3 chip camera with pro level I/O options much like you see in cinema cameras today.
Why Did I Specify The Specs That I Did?
This is easy. There are really 3 markets: consumers, prosumers, and pros.
Consumers just want a cheap and easy way to shoot some stuff that they can watch on their HDTV and share with family and friends online (probably in SD resolution). Most of their needs are being met with camera phones that can shoot video. In many ways Full HD (1080i/p) is over-kill because most consumers don’t have a computer that can process it and a really high quality SD picture looks pretty good on an HDTV, AND lots of consumers don’t shoot at the full AVCHD bit rate because they want a smaller file size. They want a mostly automatic camera that gives them a good picture. If the prosumer level sensor is re-used but as a single chip sensor, we’re just re-using as much as we can which will cut down on costs.
Prosumers care a lot about picture quality, but don’t want/need all the pro bells and whistles. No matter the camp, there are really only a couple of end distribution formats that prosumers will be distributing to: Online video (360p/480p/720p/1080p), over the air/cable broadcast (1080i/p), and independent film (2K/2.5K).
For the online guys (like podcasters, etc.), 720p is really where it is at. 1080 video is nice, but to get it to the viewer where it will look appreciably better than a well encoded 720 video, you have to at least double the bit rate and that costs money, and most viewers don’t have enough bandwidth to suck down a 5Mbps+ stream. A 2.5K sensor will give a stellar looking SD and 720p HD picture, and if you really want to you can do 1080.
For the Electronic News Gathering/Broadcast guys, its all about 1080 at 4:2:2. The 2.5K sensor will give a pretty nice 1080 picture.
For the independent film maker, having a 2K or 2.5K picture will be like heaven. Being able to do Prores, DNxHD, or RAW RGB at that res will be like heaven. Having 16 bits of exposure latitude will be like heaven. It will be at a resolution that you could digitally distribute to movie houses at 2K no problem.
These are largely movie studios, and high end video production houses. The pro guys care a lot about resolution and dynamic range. With 5K of native resolution, 72 bits of color per pixel, and 24 bits of exposure latitude (this should translate to 15-20+ f-stops), they should finally stop moaning about how digital sucks compared to film and get on with actually making good content.
If I where to start a camera company, this is what I would make. Some companies like RED and Black Magic Design make some of what I would want, but not all of it. I think there are a lot of people who work at camera companies who get caught up in trying conform to traditional stuff, or get caught up in trying to differentiate on stuff that doesn’t matter, or just get caught up in tacking on cool gee-whiz stuff instead of actually making a camera that actually does a good job at the basic stuff.