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Erich Roland
New cameras, and where are we headed?
on Jul 1, 2009 at 10:14:20 am

I posted this over in the Panasonic HPX area a few days ago because it was mostly about Panasonic's P2 format. I thought it belongs over here also because it ask's the question of where both these companies should be looking going forward. I'm not interested in bashing per-se, but to stimulate idea's and conversation about where we are in the "digital time line", how we landed here and where we are (or should be) headed.

When this P2 flash technology came out it was solving a data rate problem for mini cameras. Sony had HDV format converting an existing tape size (mini-dv), and compressing the 1080i HD signal into its limiting 25mp data stream rate. Most were amazed by the image from this pint-sized camera but were unhappy with the compression onto the dv tapes even though the 1/3” 1080 line camera section looked very good. Sony was the “first to market” with the Z1U mini Hd camcorder and enjoyed that market position.

Panasonic was a bit behind the 1/3” HD camera release and took the higher road with a bit rate needed to record to there own DVC-pro codec to flash media. Flash had been out for a while in consumer cameras but not yet in pro (or semi-pro) equipment. At that time the largest (and limiting factor) was that the largest capacity flash cards were 1(one) gb. This wasn’t enough space to record very long segment, (about 1 minute), so you might surmise that this was one of the big motivations behind the idea to package four 1gb SD memory cards into one 4gb “P2” assembly. This way they could also control the quality of the media P2 was born and the HVX-200 arrived.
Oddly (what might have been an omen) the very same point in time the new Macbook Pro’s arrived on scene and had taken the same card slot out of the new laptops that would have made P2 transfer’s much easier. On day one P2 was outdated (interesting). You mean Panasonic and Apple who seemed to be in communication with final cut etc, somehow were way out of sync with this memory format?

Very quickly the HVX was the mini HD camera to own because it was a better recording (dvc-pro) and also matched our Varicam’s format and “look” much better. We all were learning this new “flash media” dance of transferring to hard drives etc, in the fast growing mini-cam market segment.

Many thousands of these HVX cameras were sold, and it wasn’t long after that we started hearing the rumors of a P2 varicam. I’m guessing Panasonic was feeling pretty good about the sales of these 200’s and wanted to parley this fervor into more models, as I’m sure the Varicam sales had slowed (or stopped) because of the HDX-900 release was what many owner/operators where looking for... a buying entry point.

Soon there after the hvx came out with only 4gb cards, the 8gb P2 cards arrived, and then 16’s. The advances in the technology and subsequent drop in price for consumer memory was coming very fast, this is only about 2 years ago, and already 32 gb cards are common, and 64’s are here. From one gb to 64gb in about 2 years, that’s double in capacity 6 times over. Consumer memory needs has been the driver and card capacity and data speeds have improved considerably. The memory prices have fallen to where it’s become a non-issue in the consumer world, yet it’s still a very big issue for Panasonics P2 memory (price gouging anybody?).

Both the P2 and SxS cards are small in capacity and speed relative to where, we need to go in the future. This is where huge advances have taken place in the last 2 years, and Id guess we are in for more big advances going forward, maybe even quantum leaps with Holographic, etc.

The demand for bigger sensors, higher frame rates, bit rates, and transfer speeds is out there but limited by these (already old) consumer “memory stick” platforms. Somehow Red has worked its way around some of these limitations with much bigger sensors, and higher frame rates, and... they were also smart to NOT build the memory receptor into the actual camera body. At Red they understand that this technology could change overnight and they are ready for anything new to come along. (this part is important to save the camera from premature obsolescence, Red's credo)

Panasonic and Sony are currently missing this important concept and have produced systems stuck with the memory technology of today (or actually yesterday) built into the camera/recorders at a time of fast change. Sony and Panasonic both now sell outboard recorders, but are missing the obvious next step which is to design this idea into the system rather then an after thought.

When Red’s Scarlet comes out, and Canon or Nikon begins to solve some of the issues that these new High def DSLR’s have, the Pro world which used to be limited to Panasonic and Sony brands will loose more market to these new innovative digital solutions, market share they can ill afford in this bad economic environment. The big boys must innovate soon, or they may be in much more trouble gong forward. The Convergence Design and AJA both with very interesting offerings that bypass limitations in cam-recorder designs and give us options like the ability to record directly to Final Cut’s “Pro Res” format, bypassing what looks like were un-necessary (proprietary) format conversions in-between.

P2 memory (and SxS) cards “built in” to the camera is an advancement limiter, and Panasonic needs to break out of this already old technology (designed when 1gb was the top end) and jump to a storage platform that has UPSIDE develop-ability with much higher data rates and storage capacity. Sony (with the XD disk) is in a similar bad position where XD is maxed out on speed at 35-50mbs. But Sony is maybe in the better position NOT having lept into 2/3” stick memory camera’s, Sony has been more restrained, and therefore, possibly getting ready for a more innovative move going forward. Sony must break out of the constraints of burning disc's in the field. This "transition technology" can not last, solid state will win in the end, its only a matter of when?

I’m guessing that the flash memory companies are working on the next generation of platforms that have more upside "develop ability". That breaks out of the natural restrictions for speed and capacity of CF, or SD stick limitations. These were designed and built when 8mb was the card that camera with your new digital camera a decade ago. Do you think this medium would look different if designed today? If so what’s stopping the next design?

The next generation might have capacities starting at 50gb, and up to 500 gb or higher, and data speeds measured in GB per sec not MB! What if they cost about what we are used to for spending on tape (or less) per minute of run time, and so we could easily justify leaving the material on these solid state memory sticks as our archival medium (like we are used to with tape)? At this point we will transcended the transfer/achieve issue of expensive flash memory (which is very real problem) and may arrive soon at the place where even the “old school” tape producers will be ready to bail at the next chance to upgrade their camera system and workflow.

I’ve been surprised to see Panasonic put so much stock into this P2 and as fast as they did, dropping tape support (to a degree) at the same time... "but just last year you sold us a bunch of tape products that will last for many years to come!" (what’s with that?). The market coercion that has grown at the same time as P2 is plain to see. If anybody has needed a head replacement in a Dvc-pro deck will notice that the price has doubled in the same time all the new P2 products arrived (Hmmmm) that’s one way to try and manipulate the industry out of tape usage! The marketers seem to be in control at Panasonic and they will pay the price for not being smarter (technically), then the next company rather then attempt to manipulate more sales.

The digital world marches on. Even your basic hard drive that has been with us since the beginning of the digital revolution will soon be on the digital trash heap (along with floppies) as solid state takes center stage and advancements accelerate. In a few years the hard drive will look very “old school“ (and rightfully so). As an associate said to me yesterday "whats the failure rate of hard drives?.... 100 percent! Yes, they will all fail eventually.

These professional 2/3” cameras are built to last for many years. I had my first betacam for about 10 years. I still have my first varicam bought in 2004. My Varicam still works great, looks great and I expect if anybody still wants to use it will still work fine 5 years from now. Even the internal hours counter goes almost forever, but maybe Panasonic has other plans for the demise and shorter life span (trade-in 3700, etc). Does anybody think the P2 Varicam will be viable 10 years from now? Will this odd P2 memory assembly born when one GB was the largest memory size available still live 10 years from now in this fast moving digital world? Or are we in transition phase?

The digital world is advancing very fast. Particularly in data speed, storage capacity and to be stuck with the same memory profile (P2) will likely hold back the advancements sure to be coming soon.

The camera section of these camcorders work very well, and you can see the advances in this “capture” part of the system are slowing relative to the recording. It’s the record/storage side of the equation that’s changing very fast and feels “transitionary”. Who wants to spend 30-40k on a camcorder only to have to trade in for pennies on the dollar to get the next new thing when it’s just the back half that has advanced, and the camera section is more or less the same? These P2 Varicams are an example, where our cameras work fine, and we are being asked to move up to p2, when the capture side is very similar in specs. It’s basically a workflow change, but we have to toss the front end along with the tape recorder because of the one-piece design (hmmm, whats wrong with this equation?).

Red is on the cutting edge with its modular concept. Trade in the camera head for the newer version, and keep the accessories and data storage solutions. It makes us smarter consumers and more willing to spend on the next advancement when we aren’t wasting a bunch of technology that works fine (the camera section), and make an improvement in another part of the system. Its different with a mini cam when the whole set-up just costs 5-8k and getting your investment out is faster and smaller/lighter is the main driver (we understand that mini's are likely only good for a few years). But when were being asked to spend 30-40-60 for a 2/3” camcorder to possibly be out dated in 2 years when they are built to last 10 –15 years... who wants to do that? Add a bad economic environment, and it should be no surprise the P2 Varicam’s are not selling. It’s a HUGE risk to take when we are in transition. We’ve all seen how fast the move from tape has come for this company and we inherently feel uncomfortable spending massive cash because we understand that it can change fast again and we will be left with an out dated camcorder that nobody wants anymore (anybody seen Varicam resale prices?)! We see how this company is cutting out its tape products like a CANCER, and it could happen again with P2 when the next thing comes along.

The professional industry doesn’t trust Panasonic anymore from the last few years of P2 card pricing....marketing ploys, too many models, OVERPRICED products, etc. It feels like they have made bad choices and they are trying to make us pay for these questionable moves.

If Panasonic produced a modular system it would change everything towards moving forward rather then the sales department ruling the roost in questionable products. The customer will feel more in control and comfortable with they’re HUGE investment possibly being worth something 3-5-7 years out because they could replace the section that has made the latest advancement (if they want) and not HAVE to replace the entire cam-recorder because a part of the system that has advanced.

It’s so obvious a problem and solution it seems too simple. I realize Panasonic would love to sell us a new 50k camcorder every 2 years, but nobody can afford it, and it won’t happen. I believe they thought they could force us all to get rid of perfectly good, working tape cameras and buy these P2 products, but they have miscalculated the customer and the industry. Whoever is in control at Pany is missing this important point. They just successfully sold us HDX-900’s and decks by the thousands (from the year previous) what do they expect us to do, dump this new expensive gear already when its built to last for another 10 years minimum?

The Panasonic’s current product line (in 2/3”) reminds me of the poker shows on TV where the guy in the hoody and mirror glasses pushes all his chips towards the middle and proclaims “all in” (on a weak hand). That’s what Panasonic has done with they’re bet on P2. I think they made a huge bet, its not working out (in 2/3") and they need to cut they’re losses (i.e., the 3700 deal). I expect more deals to come with other models, few are buying the 2700 either!

This “Digital Revolution” is truly revolutionary but many people feel constrained by what they have to do t make the P2 work flow smooth for them (because its not ready). P2 is not an idea “who’s time has come”. Lets look towards what is next and I’ll bet then we will see a bigger movement out of tape in a NATURAL transition (not manipulated) because then the tape systems will be a bit older, and the digital storage solutions will be out there.... and it will all work together flawlessly as is required for an “idea who’s time has come”. The move from 35mm film to digital in the stills world happened so fast it was natural and obvious coarse change. So far we are not there with flash media in full size 2/3” digital video for some of these reasons.

Modular is the way forward in professional camera/recorders (I believe) until we can safely conclude that advances have slowed or stopped and the options are few. These big companies need to understand we are in transition and design for this obvious fact. Design a slick system with interchangeable front (camera), and back (recorder/storage). Some would want the multi format variable frame camera head, others just 30 frame and can save money. On the back half, some would want all record formats, others just dvcpro, etc. As Red has done they could even offer the 35mm sensor option into a system of this front vs. rear-end concept approach.

The storage could be chosen also. P2 for those that have a big investment in this media, or the next advancement that’s about to come out in solid state. They could even hang a small 66m tape size tape deck for those that have an investment in decks in they’re edit suit and want to hang on to this way to record (don’t try and force feed your customers). All brought together with a nice, solid, contemporary locking system to mate the front to the rear.

I’m guessing many here remember the large, heavy, ugly 2 piece Betacam Sony still sells today but a 21st century solution to a mating camera-recorder-storage system would be very slick and make the old 2 piece Sony (designed probably 25 years ago) look very sad.

Panasonic and Sony are both unfortunately a bit slow to change (or learn). Look to Red for what’s possible. Red seems to change specs, and designs every other week (for upcoming models) and this speaks to how quickly the advancements are coming in the arena of these motion/digital capture tools we use. Seems we are just at the beginning of what’s to come going forward in this new digital world, and we should understand our position on the digital "time line". These 2 big companies need to recognize, understand this perspective.

Most important right now... the customer needs "investment security" in these big cash outlays the manufacturer's expect us to make. Whether its "trade up" deals like Red is doing, and/or investment PROTECTIVE modular designs. Panasonic and Sony have to solve this basic problem in this fast changing 21st century or suffer the consequences.

Erich Roland
http://www.dc-camera.com
HD camera rentals, Washington DC
(and Cameraman)


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Mark Raudonis
Re: New cameras, and where are we headed?
on Jul 4, 2009 at 5:22:10 pm

Erich,

Great post. Probably the best, most thoughtful analysis of the the state of camera development I've ever read. Clearly, you've been pondering these issues for awhile.

I agree with most of what you observe, but I'm coming from the post production side rather than the production side. Therefore, I look at all of these chip based formats as a major step sideways (maybe even backwards) in workflow and archiving. If you're doing work for the major networks, their deliverable specifications require that you turn over the "camera original" master tapes for archiving at the end of the project. What? No tape? Uh, how about a firewire drive? No dice.

Setting aside image or codec arguments, this is where Sony's XDCAM family wins out over Panasonic. Their disc based cameras give you the best of both worlds: file based media with tape based archiving. On the EX-1 & 3, we use the XDCAM discs as an archive format.

In the end, your suggestion to separate the "imager" from the "recorder" is the only hope of creating a
camera that's ready to adapt to the rapid changes taking place in storage. Unfortunately, I think the days of buying a camera and using/amortizing it over more than a couple of years are over! The trend is towards "throwaways" even on the professional level.

Mark



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Erich Roland
Re: New cameras, and where are we headed?
on Jul 6, 2009 at 3:57:03 pm

Mark, Very true.

There are many different production needs out there, and no "one" solution fits all. Many still want tape because of its reliability, simplicity of archive (often the decks are bought and paid for), so why change what works fine? I like your words, "One giant step... sideways"! I'm going to quote you on that one. What has really advanced? Real time ingesting with tape changes is about it, but depending on data transfer rates (and codec used) its often very close to 1:1 transfer time anyway! That's why Panasonic's big bet on P2 (and abandonment of tape) is so puzzling.

Besides digitizing tapes keeps interns and PA's employed (small cost for the upside reliability and archive). Or the editor can watch the material going in which he/she should be doing anyway.

In 2/3" Pro camera segment there is no driver for change, specially in a tough economy for anybody established in tape. Maybe for a new company faced with buying tape decks vs storage solutions, Flash media might be a consideration. But then "long form" (where I live) is another story. A documentary often is shooting an hour or 90 minute film with ratio's of 100:1 or more. That's a lot of transfers, and back-ups etc to cope with in the field. The cost of the guy who needs to go on the road just to deal with media, would easily buy a used tape deck and a lot of tape stock!

Not to mention the always scary risk of data loss. Loosing a tape can happen also, but Ive heard many stories of data loss for a variety of reasons, (but none were from having lost the hard drive or memory stick)!

It looks like a toss up to me, with pluses and minuses on both sides of the tape VS flash arguments, with the winner going to whatever your particular needs are, or (maybe more important) whatever your using already! Given that EVERYBODY in this business was 100% in tape until very recently... and the solutions for data record, transfer and archive are not quite solved yet... I will put my bet on tape lasting a few years longer. All the more reason for a modular system from Sony and Panasonic.

Thanks for your comments.

ER



Erich Roland
http://www.dc-camera.com
HD camera rentals, Washington DC
(and Cameraman)


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Robert Vulic
Re: New cameras, and where are we headed?
on Aug 19, 2009 at 10:05:04 pm

I think if Sony and Panasonic want to survive,recession aside.They need to upgrade leaps and bounds to where technology really is at.I
refer to small camera manufacturers like the Red who never made a broadcast camera before and bought one out that shock the foundations
with a 4K camera with 12 megapixel&35mm chip and a recording medium a small fraction of the cost of P2 cards.

Example Sony bring out a system with a 1/2 inch sensor with 2.2 meg
but give us a long GOP at only 35mp/s.Panasonic gives us 100mb/s but with pixel count of a standard def camera with more grain than Canada.

I mean companies that have been around since post WW2 getting hammered by Johnny Come Lateles you tell me if theres something not suspicious.

Too long have big manufacturers improved models by small increments.
I'd say Panasonic should make P2 cameras with the very least of full raster res and Sony to give at least the 100 MP/s recording.

Then where are the Sony and Panasonic equivalent of 4K full size sensors.Shooting in only 1080p today for TV is like shooting Black in White in 1965.You have to future proof yourself with cameras like the Red,Epic and Scarlet.

I'm gussing Panasonic is realising a 4K P4 card system soon.

volvo


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Ned Miller
Re: New cameras, and where are we headed?
on Aug 26, 2009 at 3:55:33 am

Hi Erich,

Great job on tonight's PBS Nova Show on Black Holes in space! I'm looking to buy a new camera, very torn between which way to go and came across your anti P2 posts. Since HD came out I've been renting, after a mighty profitable run with my D600 Beta SP that put two kids through college. I've done a LOT of research and I always end up back at Square One: the clients are requesting too many formats! Hard to steer them towards what's most profitable for me. Dockables are the only solution.

Here are a couple of points that you may want to research from a rental company marketing point of view:

• Seems to me Sony is much more popular on the east coast, just like Ikegami was in the beta hay day. Since I am a freelancer fielding requests from both coasts I can assure you that is true from my experience. Ike was popular out east (ask Roger Macie) after NBC let everyone go with a big cash buy out in the 90s so they all bought Ikegami to work as freelancers. But I notice my DC & NY peers service foreign networks and producers wanting PAL, so my theory is that the east coast is much more Sony friendly because the Europeans were asking for the very popular, although 1/2", Sony 350 to shoot PAL. I have had two calls from Australia and NZ in the last few months, both requesting EX. Seems to me the whole PAL world is Sony centric and as a Chicagoan I may shoot just five or six days a year in PAL. So perhaps you should start researching from your customers what percentage of jobs are for PAL customers?

• As to tape versus tapeless: about 50% of my work as a freelance DP (been doing it 30 years) is for out-of-towners and it is very scary for them to deal with a strange crew for their media dumps. The higher quality a TV show is the less they want to take ANY chances and a data dump by total strangers is another variable. How do they know if we're competent? Besides, they're often running to the airport after the last shot. I have noticed that choice of format is usually driven by their post department or freelance editors. This is why my client base didn't want the SDX900, their post vendors didn't have the decks for ingestion. Same with DVCAM that I owned. So perhaps figure out how much of your customer base is servicing domestic out-of-towners. Everyone says "tape is dead" but not for shooting for out-of-towners!

So my idea for you is for your rental techs who handle the paper work to query the customer (DP) if they are shooting for foreigners or domestic out-of-towners. I bet you will find it coincides with my experience: foreigners (on PAL) love Sony because that is what they are familiar with and have their post work flow. Domestic out-of-towners always want to leave town with tapes in their hand, in the format of THEIR choosing, unless they do their own P2/SxS wrangling.

Here in Chicago P2 is more popular. Much of it is generational: all the kids coming out of film school the last five years cut their teeth on the ubiquitous and cheap HVX200s so they feel most comfortable in P2. Many of these kids have older Mac laptops where they can just slide in a P2 card. I know this from having all these twenty-somethings on my crew: they are of the P2 world.

But I think the format wars are in your best interest as a rental company owner because guys like me who would prefer to own and make more profit and want nothing to do with a rental house are now forced to be rental customers. Even if I had bought a Varicam at the beginning I would never have had the monthly requests to have made a profit, I am not a sports/Dateline shooter.

I wish there was a way for us to know if there is a 2/3" dockable camera coming out soon.

Best regards,

Ned
http://www.nedmiller.com



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Evangelos Achillopoulos
Re: New cameras, and where are we headed?
on Sep 26, 2009 at 9:56:11 pm

For all the above reasons plus a great price I bought a second hand perfect condition Viper... at least I know that it will remain in the top floors of the food chain a bit more than the 3700...

Evangelos Achillopoulos
Elec. Engineer
DIT, DI/VFX supervisor


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Jeff Regan
Re: New cameras, and where are we headed?
on Sep 29, 2009 at 3:13:20 am

I agree with much of what Erich stated, however, I just bought an HPX2700 in the face of a myriad of Panasonic cameras, RED One, impending Scarlett and Epic deliveries, Canon 5D and 7D. It's a risk, but I think I bought it right and most importantly, I think it fits my client's needs. The 2/3" ENG form factor is still the best for most pro applications, the workflow is proven, the reliability is unquestioned, the world wide support is in place and this camera has a pretty amazing latitude and low noise floor, to say nothing about what kind of images can be delivered in camera for short turnaround projects. The variable frame rates from 1-60 fps makes for a very flexible camera.

Panasonic likes their proprietary formats--that's what they and Sony have always done--but the fact that the same memory card was scaled to work for DVCPRO HD and now AVC Intra 50 and 100 is impressive.

The transfer rates of the PCD35 and Nexto DI are fast with P2 E cards. I have 5)32Gb P2 cards in my 2700 and get record times of 400 minutes in 720/24PN in DVCPRO HD or AVC Intra 100. How many cameras of any format have that kind of capacity(or twice that with 64Gb cards) with similar quality?

We all hear about 4K resolution with RED ONE, but the reality is that 3K is the uppermost limit, and when doing high frame rates it drops to 2K. I like the ability to do four channels of high quality sound--don't have to depend on double system. I can use my Letus Ultimate and B4 relay lens for shallow DOF with any 35mm lens, and have lots of 2/3" lens options because the shallow DOF is not the right choice for every project.

No, 2/3" cameras aren't sexy, hip or cutting edge, but for a whole lot of projects, they still make lots of sense and with 3700's and 2700's being available for under $30K currently, not such a bad value.

Jeff Regan
Shooting Star Video
http://www.ssv.com


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