Where were we? Oh, yeah. Nikon had just announced their D3s with lofty ISO into the bazillions when everybody woke up to the idea that their choice of 720p24 movie mode was a Big Mistake.

Then writers like me got all up into their case asking the poignant question, wtf?

Now here it is a week later and Canon trots out the specs on their newest HDSLR, the EOS 1D Mk IV, which has the same oh-my-god features that made the Nikon D3s a standout, but packages it in a machine with pro-level HD recording at all the world-class 1080p frame rates.

30, 25, 24 fps are all instantly switchable. 720p60 and 720p50 are available, bringing a modest slo-mo capability with some edit trickery.

Cost of the 1DM4 will be five grand, US.

Both the Nikon D3s and Canon 1DM4 will appear within moments of each other in December, feeding into a world eager to shoot in impossible darkness while making movies with their hand-held HDSLRs.

Our little essay on the Killer App was composed in the shadow of the Nikon D3s announcement, and it noted that the main thing Canon had left to do was to catch up with Nikon's super high ISO, while Nikon had the more difficult task of waking up to the pro video aspect of cine mode.

Now Canon has done its part, but it doesn't seem like Nikon will be able to deliver the goodies any time in the next six months.

Did Nikon push the announcement of their high ISO camera into public view because they knew the Canon announcement was imminent? Did Canon time their press release a week later to pull the wind out of Nikon's sails? These two have been going back and forth over and over and for those of us on the sidelines, it's been a great spectator sport.

The competition between these two rivals has propelled the top level of technological development in digital photography and from both we have seen a steady trickle-down effect as features appear at the top of the line eventually slide downhill into the more affordable models.

Canon named their top-of-the-line models the EOS 1D series. Here it is in a fourth iteration, now with ISO that reaches to 102,400. That's so high you can see a full exposure in sub-nothing light. Technically, shooting movies in 1 foot-candle of light would have you using 1/60 sec at f/1.4 with an ISO of 3200. With a camera that uses a rolling shutter, 30 fps can be using a one-stop longer shutter speed, 1/30 sec, so ISO 1600 can be employed. And manual settings allow 1/30 sec exposures at 30 fps in the Canons.

With a decent-looking ISO 12,800, it's not unreasonable to shoot in 1/8 foot-candle of illumintation at 1/30 sec, f/1.4 while achieving the appearance of a fully-lit image. Less, of course, if you decide that shooting in available no light means you purposely wish to obtain a dark, moody image. Horror movie production planners, take note.

Canon handed Vincent Laforet the 1DM4 to shoot an urban test movie, Nocturne, under all-streetlight illumination in Los Angeles. It's an odd little tale of a midnight skateboarder caught in some sort of Twilight Zone loop of events, but the shots are magnificent.

As a demo of the camera's capabilities, it speaks to the wider audience of producers, cameramen and directors. If Laforet can do this quickly, what can we do with more time and budget?

Here's the movie. Click on the image to go to its page. Viewing is available in 720p and 1080p for those with big monitors.

Note: 10.20.09: Canon has caused the Nocturne video to be pulled. Dunno why. Try later.
As of 12.23.09 it is back. Click on the image.

By adopting a "normal" exposure about 1.5 stop dark, Laforet was able to maintain ISO 6,400 with open lenses under existing street lights, preserving the natural light character of the streets in downtown LA.

Movie Image quality is great enough from the 1DM4 to allow grading from the fierce gold sodium vapor lamps to the look carried through the piece.

Canon also realized that lower ISO sensitivities were useful, especially for movie makers who don't want to give up slow shutter speeds or large apertures when working in bright light. In movies, you want motion blur; it helps sell motion on screen. You want shallow depth of field, meaning eye-capturing focus planes, and that often means shooting around f/2 ish.

The 1DM4 permits at least one nod to this need, Enhanced Low ISO of 50. Perhaps future cameras will include ISO settings of 25, 13 and 6--all of which will be useful for HDSLR shooting in bright daylight.

ISO's normal range progresses from 100 to 12,800 in 1/2 or 1/3-stop increments, then jumps in full stops to 25,600 then 51,200 then 102,400. Assuming the grain structure is similar to that of the current 7D, that means you can shoot stills for small-scale reproduction at high sensitivity, hiding the graininess in the down-sampled image size.

Here's what ISO 12,800 looks like from the current Canon 7D, and we expect the 1DM4's ISO 102,400 to be just as good:

Besides the movie mode, the 1DM4 is something of a novel camera in other ways. It uses an APS-H-sized image chip, making its shots on a surface 27.9 x 18.6 mm. Canon did this same chip size with their first EOS-1D and EOS 1D Mark II, but not lately. Since this is about 77% of the size of a 35mm film frame, there is a behavioral magnification factor of 1.3 for EF lenses mounted to the body.

A 50 mm lens feels like a 65 mm lens. A 28 mm lens feels like about 36 mm. 20 mm feels like around 26 mm, and so on.

Still JPEG images are made at 16 megapixels for Large images 4896 x 3264 pixels big. Two intermediate sizes are available, M1 @ 4320 x 2880 (88%) and M2 @ 3552 x 2368 (73%). Small frames are half the dimensions of Large at 2448 x1632.

RAW files can be shot at L/M/S sizes too, with the Medium one being a completely different dimension, 3672 x 2448 pixels, which is exactly 75% of the scale of the Large frame. Think of it as M1.5?

The JPEG M1 file caught my attention immediately. 88.24% of the coverage of a Large frame, it is formed by down-sampling the original capture frame. We've been saying for years that Medium files tend to capture the lion's share of image detail, usually at a commendable fraction of the Large frame's storage requirements, often under 55% of the file space needed for a "perfect" image capture, and the numbers we noted in Photoshop match Canon's M1 scale.

In other words, if we scale a full size image to 88%, in Photoshop, then blow it back up again to its original dimensions, lay it over the original image and flip it on and off, the manipulated image and the original show the same amount of detail. The shrink process has destroyed nearly zero detail. Fine lines, subtle textures, color trapping--all remain virtually unchanged. We began to notice subtle detail loss when scaling smaller than about 85%, so Canon's 88% Medium frame seems that it would be well within that subjective observation.

When shooting with the 1DM4, we think that M1 scale JPEG images will save file space without compromising retained image quality. It will be interesting to test it. The M1 image is equivalent to a 12 MP image, and darned if that isn't the full-size image from Nikon's D3s. It won't be surprising to see Canon's down-converted 12 MP images showing a tad more picture power over the Nikon's 12 MP originals, but occupying smaller chunks of your storage space.

Other new features include a major new AF sensor array. 45 AF points cover the middle 50% of the viewfinder and are tuned for fast auto focus over a wide range of light intensities, including available darkness.

Compression factors for JPEG images can be set over a range of ± 10 units.

Stills may be acquired at 10 shots / second for a minimum of 121 Large, low compression JPEG images. This rises to infinity when shooting Medium frames.

The matrix of exposure meters are an array of 7 x 9 sensors, mapped in a way that centers them on the AF points to coordinate continuous predictive autofocus.

Just from comparing the current EOS 7D to the EOS 1D Mark IV, it would appear that the improvement that the $5000 1D brings is almost completely in the AF-system and the 3-stop greater ISO factors, plus nicities like the interchangeable focus screens, .

Perceived negatoids include sensor size's diminishment of wide angle lenses, lack of on-board flash, cost and weight.

Still, this is going to be the ne-plus-ultra Canon body for a while, and its features are going to be seen in (we predict) a whole slew of dark environment, ultra-realisically lit scenes for movies, television, commercials and documentaries from now on.

Were I going into the documentary film business right now, I'd set aside ten grand and get a full bore 1D Mark IV system with a 7D back-up and some tasty Canon optics. Okay, make that 15 grand...


In a Related Story:

10.20.09: Canon has decided to tweak the firmware of its EOS 5D Mark II cameras, letting them shoot in 24 and 25 fps modes. Will they have the 720p60/50 mode, too? I would not bet against it. This fleshes out the line of Canon Pro HDSLRs. You now have a full frame, tween-frame and movie frame size set of sensors to choose among. All have the required Pro HD image size, permitting them access to all Network HDTV, and with a little tweaking in post production, all will deliver completely sellable HD stock photography.

We DO like companies who listen. It's refreshing, literally and figuratively.

Unfinished business: Nomenclature department.

We introduced the term HDSLR back in 2008 to describe the DSLRs that shoot HD. Do NOT try to control this term with Copyright or Trademarking. I thought it up, and I released it into the world as a term of convenience for the whole field of cinephotography. It has already entered informal speech on the subject, and that's the way it was intended.

Now we are faced with a nomeclature dilemma. As will be seen in the upcoming HDSLR eBook that is flowing out of my fingertips, we need a good, solid, agreeable term for photographers who shoot with these cameras. Making them work optimally requires a different discipline set than both standard still photographers and cinematographers posess. Sure, there is a ton of overlap, but it's worth thinking about a specialty term for the job title.

How about

  • (new) d-tographer
  • cinephotographer
  • cinetographer
  • digitographer
  • movographer
  • pictographer
  • shotographer
  • stillvidographer
  • photocinematographer

Or perhaps a term not represented here.

Ideally, the term would avoid video in the title in favor of movie or cine reference, while emparting some sort of nod to the still camera roots of its technology and form factor. Please feel free to feed back any comments on the subject here.

A Coming eBook

HDSLR cameras are the hot topic in DSLRs these days, so we are creating a new form of eBook about them. The coming "HDSLR: 1 Billion Essential Movie Secrets" is trying to be born before Christmas '09. It already includes hundreds of items that will help you shoot better, edit more gracefully and end up with on-screen results you can be proud of.

Our two in-house HDSLRs have been pressed into extra innings bringing you a wide range of camera-born examples and computer based tricks, techniques and work-arounds. In the eBook, images spring right off the e-page as you read through it.

Unlike previous titles, this one is not camera-specific, so the focus is on the HDSLR genre, specifically the movie mode, not the cameras themselves, but oh, boy, is it packed.



© 2009 Peter iNova. All rights reserved. Do not reprint. Simply add a link to this page.