Interesting Camera News

(Updated on September 21st)

Well, well, this is interesting.  Seemingly out of left field, Nikon has announced another DSLR this morning, the D7000.

DPReview has posted a preview, though not an actual review, and while there is limited information available at this time about the D7000’s video specs, the preview does make clear that the camera shoots video with manual controls enabled.  Big news.

The recently announced D3100 had a 24 fps 1080P video mode, with auto focus enabled while recording.  Most were disappointed in these specs because, though we appreciate the added auto focus capabilities, none of us can live without manual exposure controls in video mode.  The D7000 remedies that concern.  Andrew Reid has a nice write up on it today in which he reports that this camera has the potential to be a 7D killer.  It’s got an APS-C sensor, like the 7D, but the Nikon sensor is a DX version, apparently larger than the one used in the 7D.  This Chase Jarvis short film is the only D7000 footage available at this time:

Many, many more tests will need to be conducted before anyone can declare this camera an HDSLR leader.  Low light tests will need to be conducted between the 7D and D7000.  We’ll need to know if the D7000 allows for simultaneous LCD and HDMI-out external monitor viewing.  Andrew Reid suspects an in-camera software solution to rolling shutter in the D7000, but this will need to be confirmed.  The auto focus will need to be tested to see if it’s of any use whatsoever to video pros (if it does work well, this will open up a whole new can of worms, as it will require the finest Nikon auto-focus lenses to get the most out of the new 39-point AF system; Canon L-series lenses need not apply).

But, at $1,200 for the body, we’re looking at a very promising camera here.  Let’s hope that Nikon, uniquely positioned as the only major camera manufacturer without a camcorder division to protect, can continue to compete directly with Canon’s and Panasonic’s video capable DSLRs.

On a related note, it looks like Panasonic’s AF100 Micro Four Thirds dedicated camcorder may list for just south of $10,000* for the body only!

This is a frightening development for small business owners like me, but probably not terribly concerning to larger production companies.  It’s an incredible camera, and will be a huge success in the rental market as well, especially when outfitted with PL mount lenses.  If it works as advertised, it will be immediately embraced in both independent film production circles as well as in series television production.  You can watch an official Panasonic video on the ProVideo Coalition site.

Andrew Reid (again!) had a interesting post this past week about the always evolving GH1 hack: a programmer may have solved the bottleneck issue between the camera and the SD cards, allowing for reliable bitrates up to 86Mbit!  Great news for existing GH1 owners, not so great for anyone who bought a GH1 after June hoping to take advantage of the firmware hack: as most everyone knows by now, any GH1 purchased since June shipped with a new firmware version pre-installed that makes it impossible to install the hack.

EOS HD provides a wiki listing the serial numbers of models that can and cannot accept the hack, but, for the most part I suspect the higher bitrate, native 24P GH1s will be a niche item going forward.  If they break down, sending them into Panasonic for service may not be an option.  The hacked GH1 is gearing up to become a kind of perfect aberration, adored by users who were lucky enough to own one before Panasonic lowered the hammer.  It will almost certainly be a better overall HDSLR than its soon to be announced successor, the GH2, and may even exceed the quality of footage achievable on the AF105 (though the AF100 is supposedly much less susceptible to rolling shutter).

What we can interpret from these recent moves by Panasonic — a $10,000 camcorder*, a block on the GH1 hack, a GH2 that won’t shoot video that matches the hacked GH1 — is that Panasonic views micro four thirds video as a major force in film and television production going forward, and will protect it just as diligently as Canon protects its HD camcorder division from being cannibalized by video-capable DSLRs.

Will Nikon step in and introduce a video-optimized HDSLR at around $4,000 in order to compete with Panasonic’s $10,000* option?  Only time will tell.

September 21st update:

The biggest HDSLR news from Photokina so far seems to be the better-than-anticipated video specs of the Panasonic GH2.

According to 43rumors.com, here are some of the GH2’s specs (please note that some of these specs have not been officially confirmed yet, and most have yet to be tested):

— $900 for body only!
— Native 24p option available at 24Mbit AVCHD
— NTSC and PAL shooting modes
— Faster auto focus
— Larger EVF
— Improved placement of “movie shooting” button

This is all good news and should make people quite curious to get their hands on a GH2 as soon as possible.  I especially like the body-only option and the native 24P mode.  Obviously, at this point we still don’t know about other issues, such as whether the HDMI-out signal will remain active in record mode.  But it’s not likely that Panasonic would have gone through the trouble of adding native 24P shooting without addressing some other production concerns as well.  If I had to guess, I would say that HDMI output will work in record mode, though whether the EVF will remain on at the same time is anyone’s guess. [Update on September 29th: Confirmed!  The GH2 will support a simultaneous HDMI-out feed while recording!]

I hate to admit it, but it looks like I was wrong about this upgrade.  I thought the GH2 would pull punches with regard to video, now that the AF100 was given a price point near $10,000*.  So, hats off to Panasonic if these specs, especially native 24P, turn out to be true.  Also, I guess now I can feel a little better about failing to purchase a hackable GH1 before Panasonic made the most recently manufactured versions of that camera hack-proof.  Whether the Panasonic firmware hack community can crack the GH2’s firmware is still an open question.  But, at this point, the goal of a hack would be mostly to increase the bitrate of recorded footage.  Having worked with 24Mbit AVCHD, however, I would say there may not be a huge outcry among users for bitrates higher than 24, especially if the hack has any impact on camera reliability or clip length.  To put it another way, higher bitrate footage would always be welcome, but the quality bump people will experience going from 17Mbit to 24Mbit will satisfy a lot of people.

* Update on October 1st: there are signs that the AF100 will be priced at only $5,000.  That is huge news indeed.

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