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Disposable heroes of filmography

by Chris Newbould on Aug 28, 2012




Not so long ago, the maxim in the world of digital film and video cameras was very much ‘the more you pay, the more you get’. RED had set tongues wagging with its entry into the digital cine camera market, and users could expect to pay upwards of US$30K for a functioning model with all the necessary accessories and additions.

Others set their sights on emulating RED’s success, and high end price tags remained the order of the day. Arri’s Alexa, for example, a firm favourite with local and international film makers, carried a $60k price tag, and others entering the beyond-HD sector followed suit.

Recently, however, the game seems to have changed. It may be austerity, it may be the natural consequence of more manufacturers entering the market with 2K, 4K or even 8K models. It may be neither or both of the above, but over recent months, there has been a march towards ever higher end cameras, coupled with ever lower price tags.

With excitement building about the latest entry to the fold – Blackmagic’s 2.5K, sub-$3,000 Blackmagic Cinecam is due to hit stores at the end of the month – it seemed a good time to ask what this means for customers and the industry.

Some of the pressure to make high quality, low cost cameras available could have resulted from the popularity of DSLRs for filming. Panasonic’s Hitesh Ojha, MENA deputy GM for digital imaging, notes: “The use of full frame DSLR’s for recoding and videography is driving expectation towards purchasing Pro-Grade Consumables at affordable prices.”

Nonetheless - a 2K or 4K camera cost tens of thousands of dollars as little as two years ago. Can technology really have become so much cheaper since that the new models are viable? Or are we on the verge of a dangerous price war as manufacturers seek to undercut each other at all costs? Hopefully the former, asserts Sony Professional’s regional MD Robert Sherman, citing the 4K, $8,000, 960 fps, FS700:

 

“Both the FS700 with its 4K sensor and the F65 with its 8K sensor can provide superb picture for current production work. It’s very much part of our strategy where we have core technology that we can spread across a number of product areas.

 

“For Sony a big one is image sensor capability. We’re the world’s leader in that area, so it makes sense for us to achieve volume and quality and spread the same internal workings as widely as possible. That is a strength we have, and one that our competition don’t necessarily, so we see it as one of the unique ways we can develop the market.”

Blackmagic claims to have achieved both quality and affordability with its first attempt at a professional camera: “ It is always difficult trying to achieve a product that is affordable, but also has great quality and flexibility,” says EMEA director Stuart Ashton.

“You can usually achieve two out of three, but one has to suffer. We have a 2.5k camera with 13-stops of dynamic range, SDI and Thunderbolt connections and built in SSD recorder, which means the flexibility and quality are excellent. The last thing we want is for it then to become unobtainable, so our focus was always about ensuring it was accessible to everyone and our pricing reflects that.”

Ojha agrees that this is a natural progression: “Usage for high quality yet affordable camcorders has expanded in the price bracket lower than $10,000,” he explains. “The main usage is from production houses, especially news coverage, that are looking for affordable, portable camcorders.

Production houses prefer to spend less, as they would likely upgrade in as little as four years. Basically, 4k resolution would be the next logical transition for devices that capture moving images.”

This is not without problems though, Ojha notes: “Use of products that shoot in native 4k is limited due to limited penetration of total solution for 4k resolution.”

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