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The Future for Canon Full-Frame Video


I’m pretty sure the f/1.2 lens is mounted in this picture just to rub it in Nikon’s face. 

Canon announced last month it had developed a full-frame sensor exclusively for video applications, and the blog world didn’t seem surprised.  Here at MKE, we felt like the internet passed over something that could be a much bigger deal.  Here’s why:

1. This could be the end of moire in DSLR video.  The larger pixels have no need to subsample the image into a 1080p raster.  We were really hoping this would be a 4k sensor to replace the Canon 1Dc, but running the numbers in the press release, it’s pretty clear this is a 1920-pixel horizontal imager.

2. This is a leap forward in low-light sensitivity.  How much of a leap?  Think “shooting video with available starlight.”  Or “I had to cover the camera LCD so bounce off my face didn’t ruin my shot.”  Canon specifies 0.03 lux, which is five stops darker than the light of the full moon!  There are literally more dollars in the US federal debt than photons used in a frame of video.  The coolest application we can see for it?  High framerate videos indoors with available lighting.

3. The megapixel war in photography is ending.  We could see the end in sight, with Canon dropping its full-frame cameras down from 21MP to 18, and cameras like the Lytro forcing us to re-define resolution all together.  This regular old 1080p sensor is just 2MP.  Of course, Canon will still make full-frame photo cameras in the 18MP range, but Canon’s engineers are definitely not chasing after more marketing megapixels at the expense of image quality.  And 8K for video is probably as far as consumer resolution will ever go, at least in the TV/cinema experience.

4. Processing 2MP is a lot less intensive than processing 18MP.  The upshot?  Theoretically 9x more data, or capabilities in the range of 1080p240 with the same DIGIC processors (assuming that Canon provides a memory interface that can handle that much bandwidth).  This could also help cover the limits of the rolling shutter CMOS sensor, until Canon catches up with cameras like the new Blackmagic and their global shutter feature.

The press release from Canon seems to focus on the astrovideography and security applications, but we hope to see this prototype in the hands of some of our favorite cinematographers soon!

Posted by Jon Kline