New, Improved HDSLRs

We’re in the middle of the hot summer of 2010 (at the height of this week’s heatwave in Boston, we hit 100 degrees…) and all signs are pointing to the beginning of Phase Two of the HDSLR revolution.

Phase One comprised of Canon’s 5DmkII and 7D, culminating in the House season finale that premiered this past May and was shot entirely on 5Ds with Canon lenses.

Phase Two began with the news that Panasonic’s GH1 had been hacked to allow for higher bit-rate video recording.  It meant that whatever plans Panasonic had for keeping their photographic and video offerings separate and compartmentalized were over, upended by hackers and enthusiasts.  The GH1’s firmware hack was a significant development because it proved that the only impediments to better video on these cameras were the manufacturers themselves (as if we didn’t know that already), and it’s having the effect of putting pressure on these very same companies to stay one step ahead of each other.  By the way, remember the leaked AG-AF100 brochure in late June?  I don’t know about you, but I intend to stick with the form factor of existing HDSLRs.

Red’s Jim Jannard got into the act by dismissing HDSLRs in general as second rate and unprofessional.  This created quite a stir on the internet but seemed to me like much ado about nothing.  Of course existing HDSLRs are inferior to the RED ONE; no one I know has ever argued otherwise (they’re also a whole lot less expensive).

Mr. Jannard’s mistake was in assuming that this status quo would remain in place for years to come, which, as we all know, is a technological impossibility.

On June 28th, Canon Rumors published a rumor about a new Canon DSLR in the pipeline with improved video functionality.  The comments to that post predicted — correctly, I suspect — that this model will be priced at $10,000, but before we all start opening home equity lines of credit, keep in mind that $10,000 isn’t really a sustainable price point for Canon.  Their huge selling 5DmkII retails for around $2,500, and you can find a 7D for a $1,000 less than that.  No matter what happens with a projected dedicated video model, future 5D and 7D successors are themselves bound to address some of the current models’ shortcomings.  This is guaranteed.  Something is surely in the pipeline, perhaps ready to be announced at Photokina this fall.

The next domino to fall came from Nikon.  On July 7th, EOS HD posted a statement from Nikon’s president about a mirrorless model in the works with — what else? — improved video capabilities.

Canon and Nikon owners already know what these cameras will need to do to compete with one another: allow for use of existing lenses (without a crop factor beyond the 7D’s 1.6x); allow for simultaneous LCD and HDMI-out signals; better codec; true 1080P; no line skipping.

Will these improvements happen?  Of course they will.  Will the Scarlet make an appearance prior to the introduction of improved HDSLR models from Canon and Nikon?  I wouldn’t bet on it.  If you’re wondering what the future of HDSLR usage on television productions, low-budget, and mid-ranged features will look like in a year or two, the truth is we already have our answer.  A better Canon, a better Nikon, and even a better Panasonic.  I can’t wait.

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