Pro video blog…Produced by Philip Johnston DoP/Editor


There is a level of confusion when it comes to cinematic camcorders and it’s maybe this “confusion” that is causing our boys and girls in Japan to keep releasing the wrong spec camcorders.

My good friend Frank Glencairn made a very valid point…“But I think there is an obsession going on to have a “one-does-it-all-self-contained” camera. Something that swapped over from the DSLR guys. Have you ever heard of a film camera that comes with a battery or build in ND filters? If you coming from film, those things don’t bother you. If you come from shooting video with photo cameras or ENG work, it’s a different game. Now all that mixes up and everyone has different wishes. That’s why I think, a super modular camera – think of a box with user-swappable sensors, and other boxes with other functions that attach to it (yes a bit like RED, but more sophisticated)plus an open software/firmware – that’s the future. At least I wish it would be the future. Build a camera to your need, money, budget, and job. That would be cool.”

Frank is a very technical, practical chap and what he cant afford he builds himself but Frank is the exception to that rule most of us “put up” with what we are given and have a work around to compensate.

We are stuck in the past when it comes to cinematic camera design with some orphans of the present for good measure, let me explain. We look to what was done in the past like the cine camera as Frank quite rightly pointed out it had no ND filters, thats because a lot of cine cameras needed a lot of light in the first place plus screw on ND filter sets were all the rage.

Most cine cameras had a choice of 18 or 24 frames per second and it was only in the early seventies that Super 8mm film came with a magnetic sound stripe, professional recordings were very complicated with a 16mm Bolex sending a signal via a cable to a sound recorder called a Nagra, a 1/4″ tape was used and the pulse from the camera was recorded on a separate track in order to sync the pictures and sound at the edit stage.

“Just because it did not happen in the past does not mean it cant happen in the future”…Take servo zoom lenses the new Sony EA50 is the first large sensor camcorder to appear with a powered zoom as standard and thats a big bonus for camera operators who have been used to a zoom lens. Professional Cinematic cameras in the past did not have powered zooms simply because the glass was not good enough and the servo would take too much power.

16mm cameras were usually a strange shape to accommodate the 16mm film magazine, something that’s not an issue with todays cameras.

Getting back to today, we have come through a phase using DSLRs in order to get a shallow depth of field once again the size of the DSLR should not have any bearing as to the size of a cinematic video camera. Sony made this mistake with the FS100, trying to emulate the compactness of the DSLR while trying to make the camera perform like a video camera.

Forget the past…forget the DSLR, concentrate on traditional camcorder designs, ARRI are taking the cinematic world by storm producing a camera fit for purpose, cameramen/women like the design, all the correct buttons, switches and connectors, frame rates to die for as well as 4:4:4 12bit processing.

The Alexa is only an example for me it’s too dear and far to heavy but Sony, Panasonic and Canon should take stock of the Alexa and stop trying to produce cameras that are far too small with cramped small buttons, viewfinders in the wrong place, 8 bit processing and give us cinematic cameras we can be proud of.

Sony…They have the F65 granted but for smaller budget TV drama the F3 with 50Mbps would be far more useful.

Panasonic…The AF101 is tired in comparison with the competition, lower resolution and needs a decent Hi Rez viewfinder, 10bit processing would also be an improvement.

Canon…The C300/C500 suffer the same fate by having the XLRs on that stupid control panel, please make sure V2 of the 300/500 is bigger to allow XLRs and controls onto the body itself and please include a 3 position Gain and WB switches please, 10 bit processing on the 300 would also be an improvement as would 1080 50p.


So lets stop trying to copy the past, more cinematic cameras with at least the ability to have a servo zoom like the new NEX-EA50, I must point out that the PMW-F3 has had an on board zoom control since day one and Sony did bring out a zoom lens for the camera.

Lets get away from small cameras for the sake of it, all you do by constricting a cameras size is buttons get smaller and the camera becomes a fiddle to work with, most professional cameramen /women by-passed the DSLR phase, size does matter, make the cameras slightly bigger to give us full manual controls on the body and in Canons sake the XLRs on the body of the C300 !

Get away from this ridiculous compulsion for “various” models of the same camera, bring out a camera fit for purpose, the F3 would benefit greatly by having 50Mbps and a decent viewfinder, stop this rot of making cameras that fall short of what the end user needs.

As a breed camera people don’t like add ons like external recorders it’s one more link in the chain to go wrong !


Having been working in the video business since 1988 I have amassed a great amount of knowledge of both the kit and production values over the last 30 years.

4 thoughts on “Camcorder Design PART TWO “The crux of the matter”

  1. I like the idea of a modular camera approach. Then it can grow as your budget/needs/experience grow. Start with an prosumer codec recorder module, swap out to pro when/if you need; add the media slots you need or go for flash modules.

    I can see it working well for folks that can have lower spec modules on their b cameras, but then you can swap modules around for failure tolerance.

    If done well it could benefit the vendor too as it would provide a lock in to one system line and continuing upgrades. Surely it’s cheaper to R&D a new recorder module rather than a whole camera?

    Probably never happen, but I agree with you that for me the shoulder style mount is my preferred form. I quite like that aspect of the new Sony as it gives flexibility rather than enforcing one form factor.

  2. Sorry Phil, i’m a regular reader and enjoy your blog a lot, but i think you’re way off on this one.

    The FS100 is perfect for me as someone who shoots mostly drama and sometimes music promos. I never really wanted pro sound onboard…i only use it as a guide track and always capture properly to an external recorder. Any sound engineer will tell you that the pre-amps on cameras are not up to professional work standards… they are noisy in comparison to a dedicated recorder or a pro-tools system. I don’t want to spend hours de-noising audio in quiet sections of dialogue.

    Also, the form factor of the FS100/700 and also the RED are perfect. I don’t want a shoulder mount permanently attached…that’s an ENG thing. I need to be able to rig it for lots of different kinds of shooting. Handheld, car mounted, helicopter mounted, on a crane, in a very tight space…. i don’t want some ENG style cam forcing me to have extra bulk when i don’t need it. Sometimes i don’t need any sound at all or even any form of rail system…i just hold it cradle-style and shoot.

    I also always capture to an external device. 50Mbps i know is your favourite number, but it’s nowhere near enough for me…so onboard capture is a no no. I have to capture at Pro Res HQ with as high a bit rate as possible as minimum… so the whole SDHC/Memory stick etc is redundant apart from the odd b-roll shot.

    As for ND filters… like Frank says… i’ve been used to shooting without them and much prefer to add them using a mattebox. I’m not saying some in-built ones wouldn’t come in handy…but i don’t see it as a must at all. Phil Bloom likes them…but he comes from an ENG background, so that’s what he is used to.

    The same goes for power zooms. Not at all interested. I can’t stand those slow creeping zooms that you see in soap operas.. you rarely see them in film… and for good reason. I want to use primes most of the time and the odd manual zoom.

    I like the diversity in camera design at the moment. I’m loving my FS100 and will soon move up to the FS700 and also probably the BMD camera too.

    Your list of perfect camera specs is just that…. your list, Mine is very different… so I don’t think Canon, Sony etc are doing bad at all… let’s not bash them for not giving YOU what YOU want.

    Keep up the good blogging.


  3. I think there are a lot of would be Pros without the money to buy Pro equipment !!!
    Video for me is a retirement hobby. I shoot theatre and dance with three or 4 cameras. In this environment I do not need ND filters on any of them. Don’t need shallow depth of field as I would like the whole stage to be in focus all the time !!! I do however need very good low light performance which is my only interest in this topic. I use a NX5U as the mid camera, XR500 and CX700 unattended full stage cameras and my wife uses the oldest ( because she is used to it) SR11 for close ups. This is the camera I want to change and also give me an alternate camera to the NX5U. She is used to using touch spot focus and manual exposure monitoring zebras and a LANC zoom controller. Doesn’t really matter that some shots are out of focus or incorrect exposure as there are always 3 other cameras to choose from. To me the NEX EA50 is a likely choice since it appears to have touch focus, continuous iris control( no steps like the other consumer Sony’s) and a LANC controlled zoom. If it runs free run timecode that can be reset with the remote control( NX30 and NX70 do so I assume this does too) then it makes my sync for multicam editing easier too. I will wait and see if there is a NX5U update with 60P etc but the EA50 looks interesting to me, lower price would be nice but that is always the case.


  4. Coming from an IT journalist angle it’s much easier to see why these companies are doing what they’re doing. They like having multiple products that don’t directly compete with each other as it’s a good way for these companies to sell you multiple products. Right or wrong, it’s how they operate as their business is to make money, not to make a perfect product.

    As Sean pointed out above, we all have different needs and wants, personally I’m all for small cameras, but I actually want a compact still camera that can shoot good enough video and audio without costing me a small fortune. It’s no fun carrying around tons of equipment when you’re on a week long trade show and have to travel halfway around the planet to get there sometimes. Consumer grade camcorders don’t cut the mustard and most DSLR’s or similar still cameras either don’t have microphone inputs, or they suck for shooting video with.

    As such I’m in need for a very different product, but still something that falls into the professional category. A large sensor camcorder with interchangeable lenses that would allow me to take full resolution stills would work equally well, but there are none that are travel friendly. I’m pinning my hopes on Sony’s upcoming NEX-6 as it seems to hold some promise of meeting my needs. Admittedly, shooting video with a really small camera isn’t really going to work great handheld, but it’s a compromise I’m willing to make over carrying multiple devices.

    It’s actually quite amusing how many products are being artificially limited by the manufacturers, Panasonic’s GH2 is a great example, as the “hackers” have managed to product firmwares for the camera that allows it to do things it was never supposed to do. It’s pretty clear that most of the manufacturers don’t listen to user feedback as well, they make whatever they think is right. Living in Asia I also have something of an insight as to how many of these companies operate and market research isn’t on the top of their agenda. In general it’s a matter of one upping your competitors with some new shiny feature and that’s it. Having the most versatile product that appeals to the largest possible customer base is not so important due to the reasons mentioned above.

    DSLR’s is actually a good means of looking at how poor the product development is within some companies, as often they add only one or two new features compared to the previous model and maybe they upgrade the sensor a little bit. It’s all about having a multi-tiered product range with $100-200 price difference and with enough of a difference to trick people into buying a slightly more advanced model than they really need, just so the consumers feel like they bought the “safe” option. It’s actually quite amusing seeing amateur photographers here with several thousands of $/£ worth of equipment, yet they appear to have no real use for it. I’m not saying that these people aren’t allowed to enjoy their hobby, but I question the logic of buying such expensive cameras and lenses when what in at least some cases the only use of the camera appears to be to take pictures of girls at various trade shows/exhibitions etc.

    The professional video market appears to suffer from the same problem in many ways, it’s always about having the latest, shiniest toy. Understandably there are sometimes some very good reasons for this, but as you’ve pointed out, the equipment manufacturers don’t really appear to understand their customers. Considering that the R&D costs for some of these products must be fairly high, partially due to lack of common standards which I also find insane as someone coming from a computer background where everything has more or less standardised to common interfaces these days. Why is it that every camera makers has to make its own lens mount, it’s own special memory card format, it’s on special batteries and so forth. Even on the processing side, why are they developing their own processors instead of using standard components?

    The only thing that’s even remotely resembling a standard, yet failed so miserably because Panasonic and Olympus decided to go different ways with regards to image stabilization is the 4/3 and m4/3 format. What’s even crazier is companies like Nikon and Canon launching new cameras with yet another new lens mount. Judging from what I’ve read here, the professional camera industry is not much better and considering that lenses at this level are far more costly than most DSLR lenses, one has to wonder what goes through the mind of these companies when they dream up yet another new interconnect. Understandably there comes a point in time when you have to change, but there doesn’t appear to be much thought about building in some extra future proofing into these products, such as an extra pin or two in the lens interface just in case some new features would be added in the future.

    Then again, when everything revolves around saving pennies to make the most cost competitive product as possible on the consumer end of the scale, it would appear that the same mentality is applied to professional equipment these days. What really gets to me is that some companies are charging for software upgrades of their products, something that should almost be illegal. There’s very little cost involved with this, yet I’ve seen software upgrades listed here for thousands of $/£ which is hardly a great way of making your customers become repeat customers.

    It’s pretty clear that the industry as a whole needs to sit down and have a think about what it’s doing. Yes, we crave new products, but it seems like more often than not these days we’re getting poorly tested products that either lack important features or require firmware upgrades to fix issues that shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Many companies also seem to drop support for their products as soon as a new model is out, something which shows that all they’re interested in is getting you to buy the next new, slightly better product instead of offering anything in terms of updates for what’s already out there.

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