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9/14/2012 9:09:18 PM

HD is so last year, with a gang of super-high-res cameras about to hit the streets.

If you thought you’d just come to terms with switch­ing all your equipment over to HD, then unfortu­nately this is no time to sit back and rest, because 4K is coming. The big message from this year’s NAB Show in Las Vegas was that HD is old hat and higher resolutions are on the way.

Description: Will Head is co-founder and director of Fixation Video, a production company that specialises in making video content for the web.

Will Head is co-founder and director of Fixation Video, a production company that specialises in making video content for the web.

Canon announced two 4K cameras, and Sony threw in a camera that isn’t capable of recording 4K now, but will be able to with a future firmware update. 4K basically gives you four times the resolution of 1080p. The name, somewhat confus­ingly, is derived from the horizontal resolution of the image, which has around 4,000 pixels. 1080p comes from the vertical resolution of the image (1920 x 1080). Just to further confuse things, there are a few different resolutions that are called 4K, and some even have fewer than 4,000 horizontal pixels. But the main thing to take home is that it’s huge compared with current standards.

Canon helped kick-start the indie DSLR video revolu­tion by including 1080p video capture on the 5D MklI, and while its new announcements up the video capture capabili­ties significantly, they also push up the price tag. First up is the 1D C, which takes a lot of the features of the high-end 1D X, but throws in the ability to shoot 4K video - in this case, 4096 * 2160 pixels, which is 4K by any count. However, it will only shoot 4K video at 24fps - the frame rate used in film. Canon has enabled other frame rates on cameras through firm­ware updates in the past, but for now it’s a single frame rate at the highest resolution.

Description: The Canon ID C can capture 4K video natively, but it’s still a DSLR rather than dedicated video camera

The Canon ID C can capture 4K video natively, but it’s still a DSLR rather than dedicated video camera

It will also shoot 1080p footage at frame rates ranging from 24fps to 60fps. Another interesting video feature is its ability to output an uncompressed video stream via H DMI, so you can capture it using an external recorder, much like the Nikon D4 offers. It will only output up to 1080p via HDMI, though, not 4K. It can also take 18.1-megapixel photos because it is, ultimately, a stills camera with the abil­ity to shoot video as well. All this power comes at a price, however, and with a suggested retail price of $15,000 (around £9300), it’s by no means cheap.

If you’d prefer to shoot with a proper camcorder rather than a DSLR, Canon has added a new model to join the EOS C300, which was announced at the end of last year. The C500 is basically a souped-up C300 with price tag to match. While the C500 can’t record 4K material itself, it can output an uncompressed 4K feed, which you can then capture with a suitable external recorder. With a suggested retail price of $30,000 (around £18,600), though, it’s more likely to be des­tined for Hollywood rather than Holyhead.

Description: The Canon C500 builds on the C300 and adds in the ability to output 4K video to an external recorder, but at a hefty price

The Canon C500 builds on the C300 and adds in the ability to output 4K video to an external recorder, but at a hefty price

Sony’s latest announcement is the NEX-FS700, which builds on its DSLR/camcorder hybrid, the FS100. The FS700 features a 4K image sensor, but will only be able to record 1080p material at launch. However, Sony has announced that it’s planning on releasing a future firmware update that will enable the FS700 to output a 4K stream, which can then be captured with an optional Sony 4K recorder.

The FS700 has a couple of other tricks up its sleeve - most notably the ability to shoot at very high frame rates, which allows for extreme slow-motion shots. Many HD cam­eras can do 50fps, which is twice the 25fps rate of PAL, but often drop from 1080p to 720p to achieve this. The FS700 can do a staggering 240fps at 1080p, but only for eight-sec­ond bursts. If you need a bit longer, then it can also do 120fps for 16-second bursts or, if you’re willing to drop below 1080p resolution, it can go right up to 960fps. Unlike the FS100, the FS700 also includes built-in ND (neutral density) filters, so you can decrease the amount of light entering the camera, which is useful if you want to increase the aperture to achieve a shal­low depth of field, but don’t want to over expose the image.

Description: Description: Sony is promising a 4K update to the FS700 (left) later this year, hut its high-speed video capture for super slow motion is its standout feature

Sony is promising a 4K update to the FS700 (left) later this year, hut its high-speed video capture for super slow motion is its standout feature

Sony hasn’t officially announced a price for the FS700, but it’s rumoured to cost less than $10,000 (around £6,200) which is still pricey, but less than Canon’s new arrivals.

Perhaps the biggest surprise came from add-on video card maker Blackmagic Design, which also announced it was getting into the video camera game. The Blackmagic Cinema Camera isn’t a 4K model, but what it lacks in pixels it more than makes up for in price. With Canon and Sony targeting the high end, there’s a huge gap in the market for a cheaper camera that offers the image control of a DSLR, but with the video capture functions of a camcorder. With an asking price of just $2,995 (around £1,850), the Blackmagic camera is just that.

Compared with most of the other cameras on the market, the Blackmagic camera is a bit of an oddity, but mostly in the right way. It has a 2.5K sensor, so it can capture more detail than 1080p alone. It doesn’t shoot to memory card, record­ing straight to SSD (solid-state disk) instead, which means it can record in the high-quality CinemaDNG RAW format. This format creates huge files, but preserves much of the origi­nal image data, providing greater flexibility when it comes to editing. When you record in a compressed format, you’re ultimately throwing away data, and once it’s gone, it’s gone - there’s no way to get it back. It also supports ProRes and DNxHD formats, which are less data hungry.

Description: Description: Blackmagic is new to the camcorder market, but that makes its design (left and below) genuinely refreshing - and it’s very competitive on price to boot

Blackmagic is new to the camcorder market, but that makes its design (left and below) genuinely refreshing - and it’s very competitive on price to boot

Camera sensors heat up as you use them, and when this happens, it introduces more noise into the image. To combat this, the Blackmagic camera has a refrigerated sensor, which should ultimately result in a better results if you’re shooting for a long time. It supports both Canon EF and Zeiss ZF mount lenses, so you’ve plenty of choice.

The large display on the back is touch sensitive, which means you can use the on-screen keyboard to name your shots with memorable names and add data about the shoot easily. It features all the standard connectors, such as audio inputs and a headphone jack for monitoring sound. In addi­tion, there’s a port you wouldn’t normally see on a camcorder: Thunderbolt. Not only can you use this to quickly copy footage from camera to computer, but you can use it for monitoring, thanks to the included Blackmagic UltraScope software.

If anything, because Blackmagic has no legacy in cam­corders, its design is completely fresh and leaves a lot of the competition looking lacking. We won’t know what the actually quality of the camera is like until it’s released in the summer, but it’s certainly one to look out for. Given the choice between all the unusual, but incredibly sensible, features the Blackmagic offers, you could argue that they’re more impor­tant than the extra pixels on offer from the competition.

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