“DSLR Top Features” Survey Reveals Canon’s (and Others’) Challenges

by Hugh Brownstone3 Comments

We like asking Kickstarter entrepreneurs what kind of market research they do when planning new products, and that got us thinking about the process used by the big boys – and our own recent survey on DSLR top features.

Back in September we published the results of a survey in which we asked you – our planet5D readership – what features you want in your next DSLR video camera. While they were too late to change any of the camera manufacturers’ plans for cameras that have been released since then, it’s interesting to compare the results to what’s coming next, like, say, oh… a Canon C300 Mk II or Sony A7s Mk II – and why the Samsung NX1 has generated such buzz (like giving us what we actually wanted).

Top 5: Image Quality

# 1 on the list was higher dynamic range (13-14 stops or more), followed closely by internal 4K recording. Rounding out the top five were RAW video, global shutter, and better low light/ISO sensitivity.

Simply put, the top five most requested features revolve around image quality.

And right there, really, you have the choice we faced among three cameras: the Sony A7s; the Panasonic GH4; and the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K.

The A7s held the edge when it came to dynamic range and low light sensitivity, but gave up the internal 4K recording that has become the GH4’s calling card (yes, the Atomos Shogun finally shipped, and now the A7s can deliver on the promised external 4K recording).

Along with that internal 4K recording, adding RAW video and global shutter all but screamed “Blackmagic Production Camera 4K.”

By comparison, the Canon 5D Mk III had none of these top 5 features, except RAW – but only with the Magic Lantern hack.

To sum it up, by September 2014 new models from smaller players had already redefined our expectations, and Canon was in the hot seat.

It was not surprising, then, that when the 7D Mk II and C100 Mk II came out – the latter at a price of over $5,000 – many planet5D readers were less than thrilled.

Similarly, the just-announced 5Ds and 5Ds R are pointedly still photography tools, and thus have generated little more than raised eyebrows from many in the video-centric planet5D community. Where was the video-centric 5D Mark IV many planet5D readers hoped would put Canon back in the game?

As we’ve written here and here, we think the answer is pretty straightforward, but we’ll find out soon enough!

DSLR Video Camera features

Click Image to View Full Size


The 10 Next Most-Requested Features: After IQ, Convenience and Workflow

What showed up next?

10-bit color came in at # 6, followed by high frame rates (#7 and #9, actually, at 120fps and 240fps respectively in 1080p); video autofocus came in at #8; and peaking, built-in ND filter, XLR or improved audio inputs, clean HDMI out/full HD out, and no moiré rounded out the next 10.

Taken together, one could argue that this is a collection of features more typically found in a dedicated video camera like the Cinema EOS series, and after 10-bit color and high frame rates are about convenience and workflow in higher-end productions (though Panasonic made a valiant and very partial try with their YAGH interface unit to the GH4).

Put differently: the survey indicated that planet5D readers are concerned about image quality above all else and are willing to put up with complications and other tradeoffs to get it at a more affordable price point than the big, purpose built video cams.

To which we can only write: “I’m shocked, shocked, to find that gambling is going on here.” – Captain Renault, CASABLANCA

Taken altogether, the survey reinforces once again Canon’s challenge and opportunity: while Canon has resisted the higher frame rates that Sony long ago and Panasonic more recently embraced, nor as of this moment does it have the 4K that Sony and Panasonic do until you reach the newly and drastically price-reduced 1D C (matched to the FS7 at $7,999) and C500 ($15,999) — Canon definitely is pouring money and effort into auto-focus with its STM lens line.

And Canon's Cinema EOS line does have the built-in ND, XLR inputs, clean HDMI out they should (though not 10-bit until you get to the C500).

Which would be just fine if either the C100 Mk II, C300 (11,499) or the rumored C300 Mk II addressed the FIRST 5 requested features.

Canon needs to get the C300 Mk II right.


DSLR video camera features


Everything Else

Everything else requested didn’t rise above single digits as a percentage of the total, and it’s fascinating – and, in hindsight obvious – that when only 5% of respondents requested a larger megapixel sensor that the 5Ds and 5Ds R elicited little enthusiasm among the broader readership.

But It Ain’t Just Canon’s Challenge

Sony will get a lot of attention if the A7s II (whenever it comes out) has internal 4K, and get a lot of kudos if 4K external recording is true 10-bit. They can't solve rolling shutter as long as they don’t use a global shutter, but wow, would they get a huge response. Then again, that would cut into  FS7 sales, wouldn’t it?

Credit where credit’s due to Panasonic, which was the first manufacturer to really shake us up out of our complacency about what was possible. Still, they'd sell a pile more GH4s – call ‘em GH5’s? — if the sensor had the high ISO performance of the A7s (we recognize they are constrained  by a smaller sensor). They could even charge more!

Samsung's NX1 has a bunch of us craning our necks so hard in your direction it hurts, but I suspect it’s an NX2 that can match Sony’s sensor performance that will turn neck craning to voting with our feet and wallets.

And while we’re just not going to ask for XLR inputs in small cameras, could somebody do something about micro-HDMI ports (as in: make them reliable)?

But Who Are the Camera Manufacturers Listening to?

So that’s our take on what you’re looking for and what implications this has on our favorite manufacturers. But as these companies’ strategies play out in the marketplace, sometimes you just have to wonder: who are they listening to?

We’ve seen more than one camera manufacturer appear to listen very closely to their customers and potential customers, and we’ve seen more than one camera manufacturer appear to listen more closely to their finance and accounting staff.

We know that both are important, but we also know that companies who give the market what the accountants suggest – rather than customers – usually end up as footnotes to history.

We’re looking forward to seeing how the rest of the year unfolds.

(cover photo credit: snap from B&H)


  1. The idea of an electronic camera handling both stills and video makes perfect technical and economic sense — it doesn’t cost much to add video recording to a still camera.
    But why has video recording become the sine qua non of a “good” DSLR? The answer (to me) is obvious — there are many serious videographers who want dual-function DSLRs to provide the features and image quality of video cameras costing much more.
    The economic motivation can’t be argued. But it strikes me very much as the tail wagging the dog.

  2. The A7S would be close to perfect if:
    – the image stabilization of the A7 II was migrated
    – the camera recorded 10bit 4K internally
    – Sony keeps the price of the A7S II in line with the current A7S

    I own both the A7R and A7S (and have converted both to full spectrum for astro / nightscape photography).  Love them both for stills but I would like to capture 4K video w/o the extra expense of an external recorder.  The low light performance of the A7S is amazing and the resolution is adequate for most shooting (and, of course, ideal for 4K video).

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