Last week Canon announced it’s long awaited upgrade to the 5D line of DSLR cameras. Like many, I had been waiting patiently for this camera to arrive. As Canon delayed it’s launched by over a year past their normal release schedule, many hoped that the extra time would be used to massively improve the camera system. Sadly, this has not proved to be the case.
A Little History
For years, I shot video on a variety of cameras. In the fall of 2010, I decided to sell off my Panasonic HVX 200. The camera was growing old, was bulky, and recorded to very expensive P2 media. I looked to the new video-capable DSLR offerings by Canon and Nikon for a replacement.
Although video has always been my forte, I truly honed my visual skills by learning how to take still photos with DSLR cameras. These cameras offered features that no prosumer level video cameras had at the time, allowing for a greater control over my images. In early October of 2010, I made my decision and purchased a Canon 60D.
A Revolutionary Video Tool
The 60D was, and still is, the best investment I have ever made. Not only did it shoot beautiful 1080p video, but also took incredible still images. I soon was able to expand my business to include still image photography for a wide variety of clients. For what was a small entry fee, I was able to begin building up my client base as I continued to purchase gear that would improve my shoots.
A kit that started with just a Canon 60D, a 18-135 mm kit lens, and a simple tripod and head, now includes many lenses, several lighting kits, jib, dolly, Steadicam, microphones, follow focus, several tripods, full grip kit, shoulder mounts, monitor, etc. I was able to quickly take on a wide variety of clients, from music videos, to short films, to sports and event photography. The Canon 60D became the center point of a completely reinvigorated business.
The Next Step
As my kit grew, I knew that I would eventually want to purchase a better camera. I longed for the full-frame sensor of the 5D mk II. But as the mk II was due to be replaced in the near future I decided to hold out. There were too many things missing from the current line of video-enabled DSLR cameras. I felt for sure the next generation would address the following gripes:
- No professional (XLR) audio inputs
- No way to monitor audio live
- No on-screen audio level monitoring
- Rolling shutter issues (not terrible on the 60D but still a concern)
- Codec with limited (4:0:0) color space
- No clean output for external recorders/monitors
- HDMI output is not at full resolution
- Moiring with certain patterns.
On Deaf Ears
Of these complaints, my three biggest concerns were to see balanced XLR inputs on the next generation of cameras (either built on or threw and expansion grip), to replace the codec with something that was at the very least 4:2:2 color space, and to have a clean signal out for external recording/monitoring . Sadly, Canon has decided to ignore of these major flaws with the release of The 5D mk III.
Utilizing 1/8th inch stereo connection for audio brings a whole host of issues into the fold, including massive problems with signal noise, and is one of the biggest limitations of recording audio with Canon DSLRs. Dual-system audio is nice on a larger production, but is something that a lone shooter/director/producer should not have to be worrying about.
Even though Canon has made some slight changes to how the codec on the 5D mk III works, the color space of the codec is still 4:0:0, which seriously limits what the camera can be used for. Forget shooting anything on a green screen.
The lack of a professional output in the form of SDI or clean HDMI causes problems not just for external recording, but for monitoring as well. When you have the opportunity to light a room with a large monitor, you want to know that you’re getting accurate color representation on the screen. With the 5D mk III this is not the case.
The truth is, all of the fixes that Canon did decide to implement in the 5D mk III, have all been adressed by Magic Lantern. Most videographers looking to shoot full frame would be better served buying a 5D mk II and utilizing the firmware hacks available.
Looking Towards The Future
For all my complaints about the lack of improvement in the 5D mk III, I am still sticking with Canon (for now). I’m invested in Canon glass, and I am still very happy with my 60D. The recently released C300 is too expensive for what it offers. Canon needs to do better than 1080p at a price point of $16,000.
The 5D mk III, at an MSRP of $3,500 (body only) is reasonably priced. The problem is that for a shooter like me, I would be willing to pay somewhere in the range of $6000 for a camera that does what I need it to do. But Canon has nothing to fill in the void between its $3,500 5D mk III and $16,000 C300.
At the C300′s price point, I would rather spent my money on a Red Scarlet-X. The product simply has way more to offer than the C300. 4k resolution, the Mysterium-X sensor (equivalent to Super 35mm film), both EF and PL mounts available, Redcode RAW codec, and all at a similar price point. Say what you want about some of Red’s business issues, but at the end of the day their modular approach to camera design is extremely forward thinking. Although the Scarlet does present some work flow challenges when working with files of this size, if you’re in this price range, you should be up to the challenge.
Right now, I’m going to hold out to see what Canon’s new Cinema EOS DSLR camera has to offer. It is rumored to offer 4K recording. We should know more in a few weeks, as the camera may be unvelied at NAB 2012. But, if it proves to be as underwhelming as the 5D mk III and C300, I will be putting my money on a Red Scarlet-X with EF mount. The success of the EOS Cinema DSLR will also depend on its price point. at $6,000 it might be a viable option. At $10,000, I’d rather hold out for a Red.
Canon has really missed the boat with the 5D mk III. They’re utilizing an obsolete business model to try and hold onto their way of doing things. Camera manufacturers need to be thinking modularly when developing their products, not limiting features so that their product lines don’t step on each other’s toes.