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Old November 15th, 2008, 07:37 AM   #1
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Open letter to Nikon begging for a pro video mode

Here's my open letter to Nikon pleading with them to develop a product to fill one of the gaps left by Thursday's RED announcements. Many people were expecting RED to announce a camera to compete directly with the Nikon D90 and Canon 5DmkII movie modes but that didn't happen (all the RED cameras with Nikon/Canon lens mounts are priced WAY WAY above a Nikon D90 or 5DmkII).

I haven't sent this letter yet. Please reply with comments and improvements! I'm under no illusion - I expect this letter will be thrown in the bin but it's worth a shot; eh?!?

To: Nikon-Europe
Subject: Proposals for Movie Mode in dSLRs



Dear Nikon,

I have been a long-time user of Nikon camera bodies and lenses. Needless to say, I'm huge fan. I'm a filmmaker and - if I may be so bold - I'd like to propose a few ideas about the movie mode for dSLR cameras. Like many other filmmakers and photographers, I'm very excited by the prospect of having a single camera which can shoot both stills and movies. Such a camera would be revolutionary, especially given that so many employers and clients want photographers to capture both movies and stills on every job. The upcoming recession will put more pressure on photographers to be able to deliver both video and stills as clients attempt to cut costs even further whilst trying to satisfy an audience hungry for rich media. The recession will also put pressure on filmmakers to produce high-quality work on ever tightening budgets.

The D90's movie mode was an excellent start but, as I'm sure you're aware, it has some serious limitations which makes it unsuitable for the majority of filmmaking applications. Of course, I realise that the D90 wasn't trying to be a "pro" movie camera but if Nikon were to release a camera with a "professional" movie mode then it would almost certainly sell incredibly well. The filmmaking community is primed and ready for an affordable movie camera with a large sensor and a Nikon lens mount; there is a huge amount of pent up demand built up by a combination of the 35mm-lens-adapters and also by RED. Filmmakers are falling in love with being able to use quality glass in their filmmaking but many are not entirely satisfied by using 35mm-lens adapters and cannot afford a camera like the RED ONE.

To cut to the chase, I'll go ahead and list the features which would - in my humble opinion - go a long way towards creating the ideal "pro" movie mode on an digital SLR.. First, the essential features:

* A DX or FX-sized sensor (ideally FX) with the excellent performance for which Nikon is renowned (low noise, high sensitivity, wide dynamic range, beautiful handling of highlights, generally gorgeous images)

* Full manual control during movie recording (shutter speed, ISO, aperture and white balance all need to be controlled independently using dedicated hardware controls. Hunting through menu options to set an essential parameter is too clunky)

* A sensor which can continue recording indefinitely without overheating

* A suitably fast frame read-out time to reduce rolling shutter effects to a minimum; the D90's rolling shutter is probably one of its biggest "deal breakers" as a viable movie mode.

* A high quality recording scheme which uses a low enough bitrate to be recorded to off-the-shelf storage cards but which is high enough quality to be graded aggressively in postproduction. Compressed RAW recording would be excellent (CineformRAW would be a good choice because it is field-proven and it already has a mature post-production workflow but I'm not sure whether or not CineformRAW is currently implemented on a chip). Adobe have grand plans for RAW movie workflows in Premiere Pro and After Effects. Or, if compressed RAW is impossible at this time then please record a lightly & efficiently compressed (h.264 or AVC-intra?) 10- or 12-bit per channel per pixel RGB or YUV (at least 4:2:2) file which captures as much of the sensor's dynamic range as possible (i.e. doesn't clip or crush anything). 10-bit logarithmic RGB may be the best option if compressed RAW is not possible as 10-bit log is an efficient way to capture a wide dynamic range and because 10-bit log is well understood by the film postproduction community (10-bit log is frequently used for high quality film scans and for digital cinema cameras like the Panavision Genesis). To create low enough datarates to allow off-the-shelf storage cards to be used, it would be nice if the camera downsampled from the sensor's full image (using some form of pixel averaging so the beneficial effects of oversampling can be realised; i.e. please do NOT using pixel binning!). I'm not sure if downsampling of the RAW image to produce a smaller RAW file is technically possible; if it is not then perhaps recording a 1920x1080 or 1024x720 frame size using AVC-Intra, H.264 or JPEG2000 using 10-bit log per channel would be better. If downsampling by a non-integer factor is computationally too expensive then it may better to record a non-standard frame size using pixel averaging rather than deriving a standard frame size using pixel binning (e.g. if the native sensor resolution is - say - 4000x3000 then it may be better to average every block of 4 pixels to record something like 1000x750 rather than to use pixel binning to achieve a standard frame size like 1024x720)

* Record to a medium which allows long record-times using off-the-shelf media. Several options might be:

** Record to dual-slot SD or CF cards(ideally set up in such a way as to allow users to record continually by hot-swapping. i.e. camera fills card 1 and then starts recording to card 2; user swaps out card 1 with an empty card; when camera has filled card 2 it starts writing to the empty card in slot 1 etc ad infinitum without stopping the recording).

** a USB-master function to allow the camera to record to off-the-shelf USB disks

** a built-in controller and enclosure to allow the use of 2.5" or 1.8" IDE hard drives (or perhaps this enclosure could be made available as an add-on grip)

** a way to attach the camera to a laptop to record directly to the laptop's hard disk (e.g. over USB or FireWire)


Features which are not essential but which would be very nice are:

* 24, 25 and 30fps frame rate options (even higher frame rates would be lovely). If only 1 frame rate is possible then - as you know - 24p is the way to go because it can be converted to both 25fps (PAL) and 30fps (NTSC) without too much trouble. If only 2 frame rates are possible then perhaps 24p and 25p would be the best options because 24p can be quite elegantly converted to 30p whilst the conversion from 24 to 25p requires either artefact-prone interpolation or tedious time stretching of the audio.

* Enable AutoFocus (and face recognition?) during movie mode (this is by no means essential; many filmmakers are used to manual focussing as long as the monitoring setup is good enough to judge focus.) AF during movie mode would be an awesome option. Shooting one-man-band documentary-style on an 85mm at f1.8 with an FX-sized sensor would make incredible images but focussing would be a major issue. In many cases, the camera can probably make better focusing decisions than the operator; especially if the operator can tell the camera where in the frame to focus (possibly using a touch-screen?) and if the camera could then use object recognition and AF-servo technology to follow the object as it moves through the frame.

* An S/PDIF digital audio input so the camera can be used to record high-quality audio (from a separate audio recorder like the Edirol R-44) without having to go to the expense of designing and building decent audio pre-amps and analogue-to-digital converters.

* Line-level audio inputs to allow the camera to be used with audio mixers

* An HD-SDI output to allow the camera to be connected to HD video monitors, tape decks and other I/O boxes.

* The HDMI (and HD-SDI?) outputs need to be derived from the full-sensor resolution using pixel averaging, not pixel-binning. It would also be excellent if the outputs can also be set to "clean" (i.e. without any menu options super-imposed)

* A way to load look-up-tables into the camera to allow "looks" to be defined and applied (non-destructively) to the image so the HD-SDI output can be given a "look" even when viewing the monitor on set.

* A "pre-record" mode where the camera is continuously recording a rolling 5 second's worth of footage and when the operator hits the "record" button, the camera saves the previous 5 seconds and starts recording continuously. This would be very useful for nature documentary work, for example.



As you may be aware, Thursday 13th November saw the announcement of a new line up of movie/stills cameras from RED. This announcement contains some amazing cameras but I (and others) feel that they have missed a big segment of the market; a segment which could possibly be filled by Nikon and which could earn Nikon many, many more sales. In my humble opinion, Nikon is uniquely placed to dominate the market for professional movie cameras with DX or FX sized sensors priced at under 4000. Nikon has an excellent reputation; Nikon doesn't have an existing video-camera portfolio to protect; many filmmakers (currently using 35mm-adapters) are already building large arsenals of Nikon glass and, of course, Nikon makes excellent cameras!

Please, please, PLEASE consider making a camera with a "pro" movie mode. An affordable (less than 4000???) movie camera which records to a high quality codec with full manual control using an FX-sized sensor, Nikon glass and off-the-shelf recording media would send phenomenal shockwaves throughout the industry and I'm sure would garner huge sales.

Warmest regards,
Jack Kelly
Filmmaker, London
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Old November 15th, 2008, 09:10 AM   #2
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Kelly I like your energy and hope Nikon will listen.

My advice is editing your thoughts to of the length be clearer with less words and they might just listen.

Buy the way I am on your side and am very disappointed in Red Scarlet being a year or more away.
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Old November 15th, 2008, 10:53 AM   #3
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Jack,

Thanks for the CineForm RAW plug. I agree with Paul, keep you message concise, and hopefully your input will be received.
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Old November 15th, 2008, 11:22 AM   #4
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Before any of this, Nikon is going to have to have better image quality with video. That is not a sure thing, especially since Nikon isn't in the video business to the extent of the big japanese companies and Red.

I do think the newer management at Nikon is very capable and they are a more flexible company that in the past.
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Old November 15th, 2008, 11:29 AM   #5
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Many thanks for the replies. I agree, it needs a lot of trimming down. I'll spend some time cutting it down to size.

Are there any essential feature requests that I've missed?

Does anyone have any suggestions for where I should send this letter? I don't suppose anyone knows the email address for Nikon's head of R&D?!?
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Old November 15th, 2008, 11:31 AM   #6
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Jack I agree with Don that Nikon is not really in the video business.

My hope is Canon will update the EOS 5D Mark II to a level where it can be used for motion video.
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Old November 16th, 2008, 05:51 AM   #7
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Jack,

Erm... yes I have the email you need, but they are probably reading this anyway. I am being serious too. They do listen but don't expect much in terms of a reply from Japanese companies, they play things close to their chest until they launch products.

Dan
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Old November 17th, 2008, 03:48 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul Cronin View Post
Jack I agree with Don that Nikon is not really in the video business.
I think this is actually a *good* thing! Firstly, it means that Nikon don't have an existing video camera product line to protect. Secondly (and possibly more importantly) what's needed is a camera which behaves far more like dSLR than a video camera. Nikon are almost there; they don't need ANY design experience of things like tape mechanisms or HD-SDI outputs.
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Old November 17th, 2008, 09:07 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jack Kelly View Post
I think this is actually a *good* thing! Firstly, it means that Nikon don't have an existing video camera product line to protect. Secondly (and possibly more importantly) what's needed is a camera which behaves far more like dSLR than a video camera. Nikon are almost there; they don't need ANY design experience of things like tape mechanisms or HD-SDI outputs.
My point was not so much that they aren't in the video business. They are in the imagining business, of course, and are far from naive when it comes to video. But Nikon hasn't demonstrated the ability to produce high quality video of a large single cmos sensor. The D90 produces some fairly nice looking video. But they aren't even in the game yet with Red and Canon.
Next month the arguments begin : "My canon produces better video than your expensive Red" and "Canon isn't even in the same league as Red". Nikon doesn't get to play until they show better video.
I think Nikon could produce some very cool video/still cameras if they can be competitive with the basic tech. They're showed some real entrepreneurial "spark" in the last few years that is lacking with Canon.
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Old November 17th, 2008, 02:38 PM   #10
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Jack,

Thanks for the CineForm RAW plug. I agree with Paul, keep you message concise, and hopefully your input will be received.
Ditto. Short and sweet is the key. Pick 3 things and ask for those. Somethings - like the over-heating - may simply be beyond the available technology at any price point.

But for sure love your energy!

john
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Old November 24th, 2008, 05:13 AM   #11
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Just a very quick update to say that I've substantially edited my list and sent it to Nikon Europe. To my great surprise, they replied within minutes:

Quote:
Thank you for contacting Nikon Support,

I would like to thank you for taking the time to compile this list and I will forward it to our development team for consideration of any future models.

If you have any further queries, please do not hesitate to contact me by clicking on the link above to update this email.
Now... I'm not quite so naive as to expect anything further to come of this but I think it's very impressive that Nikon Support replied so quickly!
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Old November 24th, 2008, 08:37 AM   #12
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Good job Jack. It is always very nice to see a company be professional and respond.
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Old November 24th, 2008, 03:48 PM   #13
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Totally. Good work...

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