From the Rise of the 5D Mark II to Cinema Cameras, Where Do We Go From Here?

by fletch murrayLeave a Comment

I love my Canon EOS 5D Mark III. However, I have the sinking feeling that Canon will never make a 5D Mark IV that threatens their other product lines. After all, they spent a ton of dough developing the c300, c500 and c100. What Canon doesn't appreciate is cinema verite filmmakers like me.

I like shooting stealth mode, AND I love having a high pixel count still camera, AND I love keeping my Canon glass that focuses in an instant. AND I love shallow depth of field. AND I love shooting at ISO 2500. So what's Canon come out with for me to buy? Nothing.

So that's where I'm sitting today on the anniversary of the Canon EOS 5D Mark II's release. Amazing what that camera did for Canon and the indie (and broadcast) filmmaker. At the time, it was insanely great. 35mm quality motion pictures for $2,500. I didn't have to buy film any more to shoot a 35mm-looking film. Wow. And the shallow depth of field. Double wow. Where's my credit card.

October 2008, Vincent LaForet releases REVERIE on YouTube, showing what great shots Canon's 5D Mark II can do at high ISO without grain.

September of 2009, the titles of Saturday Night Live demonstrate the great street scenes that could be shot without a permit with the 5D Mark II and 7D. Excitement quickly spreads. Shane Hurlbut shoots Po Chan's THE LAST THREE MINUTES and releases it on April 8th, 2010.

In May of 2010, Gayle Tattersall lenses HOUSE, M.D. episode “Help Me” with 5D Mark IIs and 7Ds. Hollywood is hypnotized by the shallowest depth of field not seen since VistaVision.

Producers are blown away at how the 5D can speed up production. Hollywood production workflow is changed forever. Minimal lighting setup is needed.

November of 2010, CineBootCamps (formerly called Canon Boot Camps) is launched and we train the first 400 filmmakers in first three years.

Multiple camera platforms have come out to compete for the indie/ pro filmmaker over the last five years. None are insanely great or if they are, they have glitches and flaws or weigh 20 lbs or over. We want Canon to respond but there is nothing except the amazing focusing technology on the 70D and soon on the c300. Other platforms require new work flows to be learned. I don't want to embrace a new platform and dump all my Canon gear because:

  1. Few of the new cameras are Full Frame.
  2. Few can film above ISO 1000 without noise.
  3. None have Canon's “special color sauce”.
  4. None have Canon's prolific lens selection.
  5. The lens “adapters” apparently don't work so great.
  6. Only Canon has Magic Lantern that allows it to shoot RAW Video.

5D M3 vs Sony Alpha 7S 5D M3 vs Panasonic GH4 5D M3 vs Nikon D800E

BOTTOM LINE: Sony's closing fast on Canon's King of the Hill status. In fact, I would have bought the Sony a7rII if #3, #4, #5 and #6 were off the table. The Sony a7rii is insanely great except for “lean to the green” color sauce, small lens offering, adaptors that don't work, and no Magic Lantern enabled RAW 14 bit 4:2:2 video possible.

MY WORRY: Sony has nearly eroded Canon's Kingship of the $2,500 price point and Canon remains silent.

MY DREAM: Canon realizes that it won't threaten their c100, c300 and c500 product lines to come out with a $2800. 5D Mark IV which has higher processing speed for internal 4k and higher slo-mo. Canon realizes that to come up with their own version of Magic Lantern (to allow RAW video recording at 14-bit, 4:2:2 in the 2k world, what we call “ULTRA 2K” or “2K ULTRA”) will allow those not dying to go to 4k to have a higher res offering in 2k for their clients.

Daylight Test


Why is this important? Because, in the real, non-motion picture world of screens smaller than 90 feet, i.e. YouTube, Vimeo and 42-inch client monitors, the clients just want videos that play smoothly. They don't want 4k if it's going to choke. But RAW 2k video (enabled in 2K ULTRA) is stunning. No Pro still photographer would DREAM of not shooting RAW. You can shoot RAW video today with Magic Lantern. For free. (see videos below)

h.264 vs. Magic Lantern

Daylight test – h.264 vs Magic Lantern

Low Light test – h.264 vs Magic Lantern

Low Light test – Magic Lantern vs RED 1 MX

There are two city-states at Canon: the Still empire and the Video empire. The Canon 5D Mark II was a hybrid. Nobody wanted to be the father or the mother. But the Cinema empire was born. The Cinema empire wants the Still empire to just stay in stills and forget making a 5D Mark IV that's more cinematography capable. That's the only way I can explain why the Canon XC-10 came out with a fixed lens and a 1″ sensor. Everyone was holding their breath. Canon had the stage to release their answer to the GH4 and the slew of other 4k cameras. The XC10 looked like a cool Hasselblad. But it had a FIXED lens? A 1″ sensor? Was it designed by engineers with a death wish? A very LOGICAL camera, but no passion to it. Was it designed to convince you to stop waiting for the 5D Mark IV? Was it designed to bore you into buying a c100 mk II?

Canon is dear to my heart because it blew open doors that kept people from making a Hollywood-looking film. Doors that were slammed in my face when I got to Hollywood because I couldn't get in the union. That's fine. I formed my own production company, shot over 200 short films and won two Emmies, tons of awards, won the Chicago Film Festival and got on OPRAH etc. I have lots of clients and have made much more than I would have in the union. So Canon opened the door for thousands of others and we were happy to train them in making movies.

Canon's 5D Mark II gave us a shallow depth of field not seen since VistaVision films. But today, it seems the bean counters are running the show. I think Canon is trying to wean filmmakers off the 5D Mark II and Mark III. You're supposed to buy a c100 body for $2,999. or the c100 mkii for $5499. Canon may not realize that the 5D Mark III filmmaker likes to film without a permit, likes taking beautiful stills too, and likes the shallow depth of field that the VistaVision size Full Frame sensor allows. It's about passion. It won't make sense to a bean counter.

It's about products that Steve Jobs tasked his team to come up with. “Build me something that's INSANELY GREAT!” Canon tends to produce excellent products that are VERY well thought through. But NOT insanely great….except for that 5D Mark II that started the entire revolution and the 5D Mark III that followed it. They were insanely great and my $2,500. leapt out of my pocket. And I bought all the stuff that went with it. It was a boom.

What Canon did next was very logical, i.e. make a line of cinema cameras with Super 35mm sensors so cinema lenses could be used on them. The XC10 is not a MUST HAVE camera. It could have been insanely great but it has a spec sheet that fails to inspire or excite or make credit cards leap out of our pockets. Doesn't Canon realize that filmmakers are insane? Easily pushed into making buying decisions they'll have a hard time explaining to their significant other later?

Maybe Canon is just trying to make us realize we don't need a big sensor for 4k; that a 1″ sensor is fine. But why don't they leave that market segment for the iPhone to conquer? Apple's already conquered that one. Canon should be king of a very different mountain – a 5D Mark IV that's insanely great. The GH4 was insanely great when it came out. The only flaw was it could film cleanly above ISO 800. Can Canon avoid losing the crown? The three empires at Canon had better have a pow-wow.

If they don't respond to the a7rII with an insanely great DSLR-like camera they will lose the crown…and, as much as I HATE to say it, deserve to.

(cover photo credit: snap from the video)

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