Thursday, November 03, 2011

Canon, Red and Sony: It's War, I tell you! War!

First, Sony released the F3, a Super 35mm digital cinema camera for about $17,000 U.S. list price--$14,000 street price. The F3 has a 2K sensor, uses Sony's 35Mbps XDCAM EX codec, and comes with a dual-link HD-SDI interface. For an additional $4,000, it can be upgraded to 4:4:4 output and 3G-SDI.

Next, in a theater on the Paramount Pictures lot this afternoon, Canon announced its new EOS C300 digital cinema camera, based on the EOS DSLR platform, but with a new form factor and sensor. The sensor has 4K resolution, but it uses all the pixels in the sensor instead of line-skipping, and outputs a native 1920 x 1080 image. It uses Canon's 50Mbps XF codec at 4:2:2 and delivers 12 stops of dynamic range. Unlike the F3, it doesn't have options for dual-link HD-SDI, 3G-SDI or 4:4:4, but it does have Canon's Log format built-in. Two lens mounts are available: Canon's EF and Arri's industry-standard PL mount.

Unlike the Sony and most other cinema cameras and camcorders, the C300 doesn't have any automatic settings at all: No autofocus, automatic aperture, or automatic white balance. Everything is manual. That works for digital cinematography, but it's useless for "run & gun" situations, such as sports and documentaries, where the shot changes faster than most cinematographers can keep up.

The Canon, like the F3, comes with most of the essential accessories bundled, including the viewfinder, XLR audio interface, side grip, top handle, battery and charger. The list price of the C300 will be $20,000 (U.S.), and will ship in January 2012.

No sooner would the ink about the C300 have dried on the page if we were still printing ink on pages, than Jim Jannard of Red was standing in front of another group in another theater in Los Angeles, introducing the Scarlet. Yep, THAT Scarlet, the one that's been announced more times than Harold Camping has predicted the Rapture. However, it's not really THAT Scarlet, the model that was supposed to cost $3,000 with a 3K 2/3" sensor and a fixed lens. The Scarlet-X that Jannard introduced has the same Mysterium-X imager as the Red EPIC, uses all the same accessories at the EPIC, and can be purchased with either a EF or PL mount.

The Scarlet-X's sensor has 5K resolution for still images, 4K at 1-25 fps, 2K at 60 fps, and 1K at 120 fps. The sensor's dynamic range is 13.5 stops, and up to 18 stops with HDRx enabled. It records REDCODE RAW at 440Mbps--almost nine times more data per second than Canon's C300. The basic Scarlet-X sells for $9,750, including the imager, an EF mount, Brain (central processor) and side mount for a Solid State Drive. Add $1,500 for a Titanium PL mount; a full configuration with viewfinder and HD-SDI output is $14,000. The Scarlet-X with the PL mount will start shipping this month, and with the EF mount will begin shipping on December 1st. Red estimates that it will take until February to fill all the existing back orders.

The Canon C300 has been seeded to a handful of cinematographers; it's not clear if anyone outside Red has used the Scarlet-X. In any case, reviews of both cameras should start showing up in a few weeks. There are now three digital cinema cameras in the $14,000 to $20,000 range, all of which can do things that required cameras of two or three times their price a year ago.
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