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