Two words: Killer. App.

Once Upon A Time...
10/10/09 Updated 12/26/09

The world was completely finished and there was no need to improve anything.

The patent office closed its doors, saving the country a bundle of money every year, because, frankly, everything of significance had already been invented.

We lived healthy, fit lives and accepted the fact that our kids died routinely from Scarlet Fever, Polio and Small Pox, but hey, that was life.

And for those of us who survived childhood, life was pretty good, bringing us all the benefits of indoor plumbing, fresh ice for our kitchens all summer and music that flowed effortlessly from roll pianos all over town. What more could we ask?

Then some meddlesome bonehead former artist went and had a new idea. Photography. It would replace all that hand work.

He applied for a patent and there went all that status quo perfection.

Now we live in a computerized world where a new terminology threatens our very status quo: The Killer Application.

Photography was
Graphic's Killer App.

It is said that the Internet is the Killer App for computers in general, and that for every computable task we have, there are individual Killer Apps all around.

Photoshop, Final Cut, Word, Keynote. Each takes a type of modern human activity and lifts it into being a whole universe of orchestrated solutions.

Now digital photography has mutated into meeting its Killer App, and it's not one that was on many people's plates a decade ago.

When digital photography woke up, starting in about 1999, the whole notion of digitizing pixels seemed to be still photography's Killer App, and while that is true, almost nobody realized that a huge mountain of App lay in the not too distant future.

Digital is Photography's Killer App.

Early on, they added squinky little video features to their pocket cameras. Nothing to crow about, but something. Almost nobody cared.

One person who saw the giant letters on the wall was Jim Jannard, who understood that ripping ultra high definition 14 megapixel images off an imaging chip real fast would change the way motion pictures could be conceived, so he stopped designing sunglasses and formed Red Digital Cinema in 2005.

In 2006, he showed what his dream meant. In 2007, the line to see it went clear around the block.

Existing still camera manufacturers took note.

In one camp were the designers and engineers who saw the idea of using the guts of a DSLR as the core elements of a movie camera, as an opportunity to change the way their products would behave forever more.

Another camp saw that the option to add a Movie Feature to their cameras would be a nice, clever little added enhancement. A tasty little side dish to the Main Meal of their status quo.

Neither quite understood how fundamentally basic the idea would become in the hearts and minds of their core consumers almost overnight.

What IF, by analogy, Dell came out with a super computer that contained a thousand parallel processors and a CD burner? Not a DVD burner; just CD. Not BlueRay; just CD. Not something super zippy; just CD. How would you feel about their design prowess? Would you line up around their block to view it?

Now it can be told:

Make no mistake about this, Mister Canon and Mister Nikon—shooting great-looking stills and movie files from the same physical tool is what photography is all about.

It didn't used to be that way, but now it is. Get over yourselves.

Everything you do that will make future DSLR-style cameras better movie shooters is a Good Thing, and everything you miss that should have been done to further those goals will be your Costly Thing.

Witness the current Nikon D3s:

  • 12.2 megapixels...

Mmm. Okay.

  • ISO into the stratosphere...


  • 720p24 cine mode...

Bzzzt! Wrong answer.

That's the sort of feature you pack into Your First HDSLR, not your flagship supertanker model.

You will sell about 25% of what you could have sold of these puppies if you had the will and/or brains to have brought it out with movie modes that included 1080p30, 1080p24 and 1080p25.

Already, 1280p24 is a CONSUMER HD format. The D3s is a thoroughly pro DSLR. Nikon is still thinking of movie mode as a nice little add-on feature, not a professsional contemporary deal breaker. Very few D3s photographers are interested in birthday party-level movies.

You could have duo-octupled sales of these if you had introduced it with hyper HD modes delivering movies at 120 fps on frames 3000 pixels wide in 1:1.85 format, too. (1620p120, call it.)

And you could have sold those at eight thousand dollars a copy, but you Just. Didn't. Get. It.

The New Truth: Movies are Digital Photography's Killer App.

And Professional Movies are Professional Digital Photography's Killer App. By definition, then, 720p and 24 fps are precluded from completing the term, "professional."

Canon did a whale of a lot better with their EOS 7D.

All the 1080p modes plus 720p60 and 720p50 files that eat the D3s's breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Their crew had the will, the brains and the understanding that converting their DSLRs into cinema machines was a Big Deal.

They took the high road with their first HDSLR camera, the EOS 5D Mk II. It was designed to shoot HD files that looked good enough to make excuse-free productions.

They listened to their early adopters and installed full manual controls to the 5DM2 through firmware.

They tried something funky with the EOS 500 (Digital Rebel T1i) with sub-standard frame rates (20 fps) and got their face punched in. But it was never a Pro camera, so the experiment remained moot.

Then they followed it with the Pro 7D which amplified on those features and added new ones. And cost less.

Canon's future challenge will be to achieve Nikon ISO levels.

Nikon's future challenge will be to wake the heck up and realize that movie mode isn't some squinky little birthday party feature. Movie mode is The Reason you are either going to make money, make headway, make converts, make Nikon system owners happy, make friends or not.

Both of you need to evolve the hybrid viewfinder. Nothing beats full reflex for stills. But this ergonomic nightmare of holding the cine camera at arm's length to see the live viewfinder has got to come to a grinding halt.

If I can imagine putting my eye up to an optical viewfinder that ignites an electronic screen within, when the reflex mirror flips up, OLED, then you can imagine it, too. And if you can do that, OLED, you can make a viewfinder that clips to my glasses, wirelessly, OLED, as well.

Both of you need to understand that elevated frame rates are a Big Deal.

Both of you need to understand that LOW ISOs are very desirable for daylight and bright shade movie scenes which need wide open apertures for subject bokeh and slow shutter speeds for image-enriching motion blur at the same time.

Both of you need to address smooth zooms and silent follow focus.

Both of you need to rethink image stabilization in motion camera terms.

Both of you need to understand that shoving all the pictures into an on-board CompactFlash card is not the end of the story. How about a nice, clunky wired solution?

Both of you need to understand that the world of cine mode doesn't end at 1920 x 1080-pixel frames.

Both of you need to make lenses that are cine-friendly as well as being still friendly.

And both of you need to put up a giant poster in your design department that says--

Movies: THE Killer App.

Oh, and you other camera manufacturers can do all this, too.

Addendum 10/19/2009:

Well, that didn't take long. Canon announced the EOS 1D Mark IV ("1DM4" to its friends), which is a 16 megapixel, ISO 102,400 supercamera with 1080p30 video capability.

Canon immediately handed a prototype to Vincent Laforet, who shot an all-available darkness video with it under ambient street lights in downtown Los Angeles. And you can see that here or by clicking on the image, above.

(10.20.09: 7 PM PDT. At Canon's request, the Laforet video is not available. Why? Dunno. Look for it to return.

12.23.09: Well it took Canon long enough to go "Oh, sure, let people see this. What. Ever." Now it's back. The links here still work.)

Where the 1DM4 excels is in its designed-in understanding about its killer app attributes. It has 1080p30 HD motion files and all the others seen in the 7D.

Its only oddity is that the 16 MP sensor is not a full-frame image, rather one that falls between APS-C size (as in the EOS 7D) and full frame.

It's not a full shark-jump, but it does require you to be aware of the wake. (If you are metaphorically challenged, just ignore this and continue reading.)

The sensor crops into the lens coverage, forming its images on a surface 27.9 x 18.6 mm, also called APS-H. A crop factor of 1.3 applies to its images, trimming some of the coverage out of wide angle lenses, and negating the use of Canon EF-S lenses made for APS-C chipped cameras. Numerically, it retains almost exactly 77% of the width of what would have extracted from the EF lens' full-frame image, turning your 15 mm wide-angle lens into a 19.5 mm wide angle result. The good news is that your 400 mm lens just grew into being a 520 mm lens. Don't thank me; that smile on your face is reward enough.

As is usual for a flagship camera--and this is the new Canon Supertanker--a number of greatly appreciated new techno upgrades, updates and novel features are present in its design.

As for the Killer App essay, here we see Canon gracefully moving into professional high definition motion production with a full complement of features and capabilities where Nikon's D3s is now looking like a half-job. Is a competitive pendulum swinging, here? Or is Mr. Nikon just sitting on the Xerox copier glass, punching the Copy button?

I guess Canon had the poster up before we wrote about it...


A Coming Available 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: The Billion Things You Need To Know To Make Your Camera Shoot Movies" is now available. 160 pages, over 120 embedded HD movie examples spring interactively from the page. Windows and Mac compatible. $34.95. Order HERE.

Our two in-house HDSLRs were 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.

For instance, there is a special small eDendum that describes how to work with the included Photoshop Actions for movie effects and novel presentation ideas.

This eBook gets into a whole bunch of things we've never seen anybody, repeat: ANYBODY, esle get into on the Internet or in print. For instance: How do you make title crawls that are #1 pro quality using tools you may already have? We show you how. How do you take time-lapse images with your DSLR and HDSLR? Now, how do you reformat them to HD with a $30 program?

It's all here, whispering quietly over your shoulder as you shoot; the essentials, the work-arounds, the pro techniques and the tools you need.

Plus a peek at HDSLR photography's future.



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