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Future: My video camera design wish-list

May 25, 2013

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Traditional all-in-one video camcorders and DSLRs are very useful, but their design tends to make them inherently inflexible. As always, there’s no 1 video camera perfect for every shoot.

In addition to these traditional cameras, I wish there was a relatively affordable, “barebones”, high-quality video camera that must be configured with add-ons.

Why? Because flexibility is itself an extremely valuable feature.

Video camcorders and DSLRs typically have their monitor/electronic viewfinder in the “wrong” place, or their built-in video recording capability is limited by the “wrong” compression codec (and typically can’t be upgraded to use new codecs), or their ergonomics are “wrong” for the task at hand. Worse, camera users often pay for these hardware features twice: Once for the hardware (LCD/EVF/recorder) that’s built-in, and then again for similar but task-specific hardware they add to their cameras to make them more useable. That’s nuts!

Instead, it would be great to have a camera that’s relatively small and yet capable of capturing high-quality video, but that doesn’t include built-in features such as a monitor, electronic viewfinder, or recording system.

To use my “dream” video camera, you must add an external video recorder device, and a monitor/EVF. This is actually a really good thing! These devices are available with a huge range of features & capabilities, and at a wide ranges of prices, from manufacturers such as Blackmagic DesignAtomosAJAConvergent, Sound DevicesSmallHDTVLogicIKANMarshallAlphatron, and many others.

The user will reconfigure their camera system for use on a tripod, handheld, shoulder rig, slider/dolly, jib/crane, and so forth. Strip the cam down to make it lightweight or to fit it into a tight space, or build it up for maximum capability. Parts for configuring rigs & shoulder mounts are standardized and widely available (see my related post here).

“A sensor in a box.”

My dream camera wish-list appears below. It’s essentially a sensor in a box. All specifications are approximate — the camera could be somewhat smaller/larger, cost somewhat more/less, have somewhat more/less resolution, and so forth.

I think current technology can accommodate such a design at this price point. In fact, the new Blackmagic URSA Mini 4.6K and Blackmagic Production Camera 4K shows it should be possible to do most (but not all) of what’s on my list for less than $5,000 US if you were to remove the camera’s recorder and LCD. I believe the issue really is configuration, not technology. Maybe we’ll see something like this at NAB Expo 2014 2015?

  • No built-in monitor or EVF!
  • No built-in media recorder!
  • Price: ~$5,000 US
  • Dimensions: ~5″ box
  • Sensor size: ~S35, the cinema standard. Nice and wide, and much easier to “pull focus” than with stills-camera 135-format (5DM3). See: Sensor size chart, Sensor size comparator
  • Sensor resolution: ~5K
  • Sensor type: CMOS with global shutter (not a rolling shutter!) The URSA Mini shutter will be switchable between the two.
  • Dynamic range: ~12-stops. The URSA Mini 4.6K reportedly will have 15 stops DR.
  • Native ISO: >640
  • Built-in optical ND filter wheel (or IR-cut ND if the sensor requires it). Unfortunately the URSA Mini doesn’t include this.
  • Optical low-pass filter (anti-alias/anti-moire): Built-in or user-installable. Unknown if URSA Mini has this.
  • Maximum frame rate: Up to ~60p, depending on capability of external recorder.
  • Lens mount: 2 models, active EF and passive PL. Or, alternatively, an interchangeable active lens mount for E/EF/PL, etc. including lens communication, aperture, focus, power for lens IS, etc. (except PL). Full size URSA has an upgradeable lens mount, but the URSA Mini does not.
  • Video outputs 1 & 2: HD-SDI & HDMI “monitor” outputs with GUI/menu display text overlay toggle on/off. GUI should include exposure zebras & histogram, focus peaking & magnify, audio VU meters, battery/power level, adjustable aspect ratio/framing markers, timecode (from external recorder/source), etc. Switchable 1080p or ~4K output, log or Rec. 709. Embedded camera audio. On a related note, Blackmagic announced an OLED 1080p SDI URSA Viewfinder at NAB 2015 which looks very promising.
  • Video outputs 3 & 4: 6G-SDI & HDMI “record” outputs always “clean” (no menu text or icon overlay) for use with an external HD video recorder. Switchable 1080p or ~4K output, log or Rec. 709. Embedded camera audio.
  • Genlock input (BNC) for synchronizing 2 or more cams (for multi-cam switching, 3D, etc.)
  • External timecode input (BNC) for synchronizing to external audio & video gear
  • Audio inputs: 2 XLR balanced inputs with switchable phantom power, switchable mic/line level. Compared to typical prosumer camcorders the mic inputs should be capable of at least average sound quality, and line-level audio inputs should be capable of above-average sound quality. Camera’s audio signals are embedded in the camera’s outputs (6G-SDI, HD-SDI, & HDMI).
  • Stereo headphone output
  • External power connector: 4-pin XLR, 12-30VDC
  • Built-in uninterruptible backup battery that can power the camera for ~90-min.
  • >8 user-programmable function/menu buttons on operator’s side of camera, plus a locking power on/off switch, trigger button for external recorder start/stop, menu display overlay on/off (for monitor output), and audio input levels up/down.
  • Thunderbolt connector: High-speed, bi-directional, for full-resolution video, audio, sensor data, and remote control. Interestingly the URSA cams do not include TB, but previous cams such as the BMPC-4K do.
  • Remote control: WiFi (browser or app interface) and LANC input

As always, there’s no 1 video camera that’s perfect for every production, budget, shooting style, or schedule.

The video cameras that currently come closest to my dream cam in terms of features and price are the new Blackmagic URSA Mini 4.6K and previous Blackmagic Production Camera 4K. Here are my thoughts on the BMPC-4K.

My list of related links, short films, and resources for Blackmagic Design cameras.

For my words only: ©2013 Peter J. DeCrescenzo. All rights reserved. http://www.peterdv.com

Note: I don’t receive income or remuneration for this blog, or for products seen or mentioned here. Advertisements on the page have nothing to do with me. The ads support WordPress, the publisher.

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