Canon Reveals Their Next Pro Video Cam

Non-working display model shown in November at InterBEE 2009 in Japan and HD Expo
in California; appears to be a solid-state version of the Canon XH series camcorders.

cincib2009aCanon Inc. recently displayed a mock-up of their next-generation professional video camcorder a couple of months ago on the show floor at the International Broadcast Equipment Exhibition in Chiba, Japan, just outside Tokyo. The show dates were November 17-19, 2009. Canon Inc., which is the parent company of Canon USA and other Canon holdings worldwide, is a regular InterBEE exhibitor. In the past, various pro-level Canon camcorders have been displayed as non-working prototypes several months prior to being publicly announced (one previous example being the XL H1, which was shown under glass at the IBC Expo in Amsterdam back in September 2005). The new camcorder appears to be a solid-state version of the Canon XH G1S and will most likely become available sometime later this year (2010).

In this article:
InterBEE 2009 Press Coverage of the Canon Pro Video Prototype
Some Speculation About Technical Specifications
Predicted Image Sensor Size: Three One-Third Inch CCD’s
Announced Recording Format: 50Mbps MPEG-2 Full HD (4:2:2) Updated
A Natural Evolution of the XH Series (and possibly XL H Series)
APS-C or Full Frame CMOS Sensors? Not Happening in 2010

Canon Inc. did not provide details regarding technical specifications or any other product information about the new camcorder at the InterBEE show, except to say that it would utilize a file-based recording system and would be available for purchase sometime in 2010. Even the model number was a secret; it hasn’t been disclosed either. If it were up to me, I’d consider its similarity to the XH line and call it XF (F for Flash). The mock-up was referred to as simply the “Fairubesubideokamera,” or File-based video camera, for its file-based (that is, tapeless) video acquisition system recording to dual flash memory cards.

This same prototype display model was recently shown in the U.S. as well, in a more private setting in a back room at HD Expo in Burbank, California during the first week of November 2009, prior to InterBEE. I didn’t attend this show, but I’ve heard that several folks were invited by Canon USA to see the mock-up at HD Expo. I’m sure we’ll learn much more about this new camcorder as its press release date approaches, but meanwhile, what follows here in the interim is a summation of InterBEE press coverage mentioning the mock-up, and some very rudimentary speculation based on what might be gleaned just from looking at the handful of photos which have surfaced so far.

InterBEE 2009 Press Coverage of the Canon Pro Video Prototype

One full month after the expo, the only video clip I’ve discovered so far that shows the new Canon mock-up comes from Pro News Special: InterBEE 2009 Canon Inc. Booth Report, in the second of a five-part series of YouTube video clips embedded there (also provided on this page). The mock-up appears near the end of the segment, about one minute into the clip.

Unfortunately it’s on-screen for only ten seconds, but at least you get to see it briefly at the end of the clip, after the part where the reporter talks about the XH G1 being used on orbit aboard the International Space Station. On the same web page, Pro News also includes one still photo of the model inside a display case, under glass. Here’s a link to Google’s Japanese to English translation of the Pro News site‘s coverage of Canon Inc. at InterBEE 2009, and here’s a link to the original version of the same page at the Pro News site as written in Japanese.

cincib2009nz1An InterBEE report filed on Nov. 19th from Next-Zero.com shows two photos of the mock-up. Obviously the model is un-marked, except for a white Canon badge and the distinctive red ring around the front edge of the lens barrel, indicating an L-series lens. The overall body design appears to be based on the Canon XH series, with an integrated lens and a relocated flip-out LCD. Some familiar design elements are retained, such as the round bezel on the left side of the body where the command mode dial used to be found on earlier models. Here’s a link to Google’s Japanese to English translation of the Next-Zero site’s coverage of Canon Inc. at InterBEE 2009, and a link to the original version of the same page at the Next-Zero site as written in Japanese.

Next, here are a pair of photos from Ghoguma Film in Korea:

cinc1b2009hdc2

A look at the right side from behind the camera shows that the connectivity ports module at the back is practically identical to the one used on the XH G1S. Just ahead of it, you can see the four jack covers arranged vertically for SDI output, GenLock, and Time Code input and output. My guess is that there will also be a less expensive version of this camera which doesn’t include those jacks, similar to what the XH A1S is to the G1S currently . I can’t help but wonder if there’s an HDMI jack under one of those module covers, and I hope that’s a headphone jack in the smaller covered port just above the pro jacks. This is a very interesting photo, because in addition to the dual card slots, you can also see the rear EVF aperture — which is looking rather small — and just in front of the XLR jacks there’s the Instant AF sensor port housing at the right side of the lens hood, seemingly lifted straight from the XH series.

cincib2009hdc1

The various buttons and dials on this particular non-functioning display model are all unlabeled, but it isn’t difficult to tell what some of them are intended to do. That’s probably a power switch at the rear base of the handle, above the two audio level control pots. There’s a scroller wheel at the bottom right corner; I wouldn’t be surprised if it does double duty cycling through custom presets in camera mode and accessing menu options. There’s a narrow window on the left side of the lens barrel just behind the focus ring; it probably houses a focal plane distance gauge and possibly a focal length readout as well. Several other switches and buttons are recognizable — the Neutral Density filter selector, Exposure Lock button, AWB and AGC switches, Custom Preset keys, probably a few Custom Function keys. It looks fairly well appointed with external controls.

Here’s a link to Google’s Korean to English translation of the Ghoguma Film site’s coverage of Canon Inc. at InterBEE 2009, and a link to the original version of the same page at the Ghoguma Film site as written in Korean.

And two more photos from the Mac Treasure blog in Japan:

cincib2009mt1

I am curious about the swing-out LCD though. Canon USA just recently announced their VIXIA HF S series of consumer camcorders which have touch-screen LCD panels offering focus and exposure control as well as lens and menu functions just by touching the LCD with a finger or stylus. I’m wondering if Canon considers this to be a consumer-only feature, or will they incorporate this technology into their forthcoming solid-state pro video line? To me it makes sense to do so.

Speaking of the VIXIA HF S series, the HF S21 and HF S20 have built-in flash memory (up to 64GB) in addition to their dual SDHC card slots, are compatible with Eye-Fi cards that have wireless file transmitters built into them, and they can downconvert HD to SD in-camera, from one memory card slot to another. To me, all of these features seem like natural additions to this new pro-level camcorder.

cincib2009mt2

Dual card slots… probably SDHC and most likely also compatible with SDXC (update, 01 Feb: having second thoughts on this — the card slot covers look like they’re large enough to accommodate Compact Flash). The internal camera battery well is just below, a continuation of the same feature from the previous XH series. It’s hard to tell if it’s the same size well as before. Will there be a completely new type of battery footprint, or will the venerable BP-9xx series live on? The BP-970G was the most recent one… they’re running out of model numbers!

Here’s a link to Google’s Japanese to English translation of the Mac Treasure blog’s coverage of Canon Inc. at InterBEE 2009, and a link to the original version of the same page at the Mac Treasure blog as written in Japanese.

Some Speculation About Technical Specifications

As far as tech specs are concerned, Canon Inc. and Canon USA have announced nothing formally… there will be no official word until they issue a press release, which will most likely happen within the next couple of months at the latest (probably at or just before NAB this April, by my prediction). I have not been briefed by Canon USA or Canon Inc. about any of this. I found these online images of the prototype displayed at InterBEE on my own, having searched for them myself after a friend of mine mentioned to me that he had discovered them through his own research.

Although I know some folks at Canon USA who are involved with product development, none of them have told me anything about the new camera at all. However, after many years of closely following their pro video product development cycles, I feel capable of predicting with a fair degree of accuracy some of the technical specifications and feature sets that this new camera will have. Since I’m confident that my predictions will be confirmed when the official announcement arrives, I’m perfectly happy to share them with you here. All of the technical predictions on this page are simply my own speculation and nothing more.

Predicted Image Sensor Size: Three One-Third Inch CCD’s

Judging by the size of the camera and the fact that it has an integrated, built-in lens (with a lens barrel that bears remarkable similarity to that of the XH G1S and A1S), it appears that this camera will have a traditional three-chip block built around one-third inch image sensors. If the chips were any larger than that, then the lens barrel in a physical sense would have to be correspondingly larger as well, particularly in diameter as well as length, unless a trade-off is made in the form of either a shorter zoom ratio or a reduced maximum aperture value or both, and these are trade-offs which Canon isn’t likely to make.

If there were readily obvious physical differences between the lens barrels of this new camera vs. the current XH series, then I could accept the idea that it might have larger image sensors, but to me the striking similarity dictates that the lens on the new camera most likely has a 20x zoom ratio, a maximum aperture value of f/1.6, and a filter thread diameter between 70mm and 80mm, all of which calls for image sensors no larger than one-third of an inch.

In a camcorder of this size having an integrated, non-interchangeable lens, I suppose it would be possible to mount a three-CCD block built around one-half inch sensors (as are the CMOS sensors found in the Sony PMW-EX1R of roughly the same dimensions), but that would limit a lens of these proportions to a 14x to 16x zoom ratio, a maximum aperture value of f/1.8 to f/2, and it would give the camera a higher retail price as well. I don’t think Canon is willing to do that, which is why I’m certain it will have one-third inch chips.

CCD over CMOS for a couple of reasons. First, I’m not sure if Canon makes a CMOS sensor with a global shutter. I think theirs are all rolling shutter, which can have a propensity to introduce image skew artifacts with some types of visual motion (although Canon CMOS tends to suffer less from this effect than other CMOS chips). Second, Canon doesn’t currently make a 1/3″ CMOS chip anyway (although they do make 1/4″ and smaller CMOS sensors for their VIXIA / LEGRIA / iVIS camcorders). It probably makes more sense economically to continue outsourcing one-third inch CCD sensor blocks as they’ve done before than to incur the expense of designing and developing a new one-third inch CMOS sensor block; a cost that undoubtedly would have been passed on to the buyer in the form of a higher price tag… the Law of Diminishing Returns is still very much in effect these days.

Announced Recording Format: 50Mbps MPEG-2 Full HD (4:2:2)

Originally I had predicted that the recording format of the new camcorder would be AVCHD, since Canon has built significant AVCHD experience with their consumer VIXIA / LEGRIA camcorder lines… so for me it was a natural assumption that they would follow the same path as Panasonic AVCCAM and Sony NXCAM with a pro-level camcorder using the AVCHD format. However, on 02 Feb. 2010, Canon Inc. issued a press release announcing they have adopted an MPEG-2 Full HD (4:2:2) file-based recording codec “for a new professional video camcorder currently under development,” which most likely refers to this particular mock-up. According to the press release, the Canon MPEG-2 Codec will enable high-quality imaging and audio performance with up to 50 Mbps data recording in an industry-standard MXF file format.

Since publishing this article, I’ve been having serious doubts that the card slots are SDHC. Looking closely at the photos — none of which show an open card slot — I’m no longer convinced that they’re SDHC after all. They certainly look like they could be large enough to accommodate Compact Flash or (not as likely) Express Media.

A Natural Evolution of the XH Series (and possibly XL H Series)

This camcorder has its obvious roots in the Canon XH series camcorder line, but what comes next? The best way to predict the future is to study history. Examining the previous line of Canon pro-level Hi-8, DV and HDV camcorders reveals that usually there are at least two pro-level product families per generation… one group with integrated lenses, such as the A1 from the age of Hi-8, the GL series from the DV era, and the XH series from the HDV generation. Then there’s another group with interchangeable lenses, such as the L1, L2, LX100 and LX200 from the Hi-8 days, the XL series from the DV generation, and the more recent XL H series for the HDV line. I don’t think Canon is ready to abandon this dual approach yet, so I’m predicting there will be another model to complement this one, and it will have an interchangeable lens and a quasi-shoulder-mount form factor similar to the previous XL and XL H series camcorders.

Since I’m pretty sure these cameras will have one-third inch chips, I’m predicting that the yet-to-be-seen interchangeable lens version will retain the XL lens mount first introduced back in 1997 and that it will be backward compatible with existing High Definition XL lenses (namely the 6x wide-angle lens), plus the current EF lens adapter or possibly a modified version of it. It’s not a stretch to assume that the existing Canon-branded Ikegami monochrome CRT viewfinder will carry over as well. The version with the interchangeable lens will also keep the “XL” name; probably in the form of XL F or some similar model designator. Like the current XH and XL H families, the model we’re seeing here with the integrated lens will share pretty much the same specifications and feature sets as the yet-to-be-seen shoulder-mount XL F version with an interchangeable lens. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a total of four models, two each in two families (integrated lens vs. interchangeable lens) with the option to purchase one variant equipped with SDI, GenLock and Time Code, or one without those connectors for two or three thousand dollars less, just like the current XH G1S, XH A1S, XL H1S and XL H1A models that Canon offers today.

APS-C or Full Frame CMOS Sensors? Not Happening in 2010

It’s true that Canon did not anticipate how well received the HD video recording capability would be on their EOS 5D Mk. II Digital SLR; that camera’s popularity especially among filmmakers really took the manufacturer by surprise. HD recording, in the form of a QuickTime H.264 variant, has now been added to almost all of the Digital SLR cameras in the Canon EOS line (the next one will most likely be the Full-Frame EOS 1Ds Mk. IV). Equipped with APS-C, APS-H and Full-Frame CMOS chips, these cameras are designed first and foremost for still photography, leaving many videographers wondering aloud if Canon will build a dedicated video camera around such large sensors, with a properly motorized lens, XLR audio jacks and an ergonomic form factor conducive to recording the moving image. The short answer is no.

The longer answer is NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. At least not yet, not this year anyway, with several important reasons why it’s not going to happen anytime soon. And here they are.

First, there’s the practical consideration of the size and expense of a motorized zoom lens built for an APS-C size sensor. A maximum aperture value of f/2 and a zoom ratio of 10x calls for a relatively large, heavy and significantly expensive integrated HD video lens if the sensor behind it is as large as APS-C. Short zoom ratios of 2x or 3x may be common in digital cinematography, but that’s a much smaller niche compared to the event videography market in which Canon needs to compete. Longer zoom ratios are required, and even with an interchangeable series of lenses with shorter zoom ratios (say, one with a 5x wide-angle range and another that’s 3x telephoto), there’s still the extra expense of having to buy more than one HD video lens. Of course, D-SLR owners are currently using still photo lenses with their EOS 7D and 5D Mk. II cameras to shoot video, but the lack of zoom motors on these lenses prohibits them from changing focal length during a shot… not a limitation for filmmaking, but definitely a problem for any videographer wanting to pull a slow creeping zoom (Canon’s current XH and XL H series camcorders are capable of pulling very slow pre-programmed five-minute creeping zooms from one end of their 20x zoom range to the other). The most basic event video requirement — remote operation of the zoom lens from a controller mounted on a tripod pan handle — is impossible with a Digital SLR. Most APS-C and 35mm EF series still photo zoom lenses have zoom ratios of only 2x to 4x, and all of them lack zoom motors. So a major technical hurdle in front of an APS-C video camera is how to provide a motorized HD lens for that size of a sensor which is lightweight, compact, and above all, affordable… it is yet to be done.

Next, there’s the operational problem of image control, presented by the razor-thin depth of field that large sensors and open apertures create. While filmmakers especially love their shallow fields of focus, they’re really only a small portion of the overall market that buys these camcorders, and they’re outnumbered by all of the other folks who are shooting corporate and industrial, weddings and events, government and education, and similar video applications that depend on a deeper focal plane and fast and accurate auto-focus capability. Traditionally, a Canon pro-series video camcorder is designed to be operated by one person. A camera used for professional digital cinema applications calling for shallow depth-of-field almost always requires two people to operate it, with one person having the sole duty of manually pulling focus, which by itself is not at all an easy job. For most other types of videography, the role of the camera assistant needs to be built into the camcorder in the form of a full-time auto-focus system that can handle extremely thin focal planes. Canon has already made remarkable strides in this area with their Instant AF feature currently employed in their XH series and VIXIA / LEGRIA / iVIS series camcorders, but this I.AF technology was designed for deeper fields of focus that are common to the smaller image sensors used in those camcorders. Canon also excels in the AF capabilities of their high-end broadcast video lenses, designed for HD cameras using 2/3″ sensors, specifically their DIGISUPER series of long zoom lenses utilizing Canon’s proprietary Through-the-Lens Secondary Image Registration Phase Detection Method technology. Phase detection is a completely different AF process compared to contrast detection (as used in Canon D-SLR still-photo cameras such as the EOS 5D Mk. II, which doesn’t allow for continuous AF in movie mode), and it could be the answer to the challenge of creating an automatic focus control system in APS-C lenses for continuous, full-time tracking of moving images within a very shallow focal plane. But we’re not there just yet.

Also, Canon won’t sacrifice their lucrative high-end electronic cinema / broadcast video lens business and alienate their best customers — that is, other digital cinema and broadcast camera manufacturers — by going into competition against them in the large-sensor video camera department. Not that any other major Japanese camera or electronics firm is in that business yet (to date there’s the Sony SRW-9000, which eventually will be upgradeable to an S35 chip, slightly larger than APS-C), but the point here is that Canon has always been very conservative and rarely ever pioneers this sort of thing. Name a video format… Hi-8, DV, HDV, AVCHD… even the little consumer Mini-DVD and Hard Drive camcorders, Canon has always been the last manufacturer to make a product in that format. Even with HD video recording on a Digital SLR; that was done first by Nikon. My bet is that it will take some other company — Japanese or not — to forge ahead successfully with a relatively inexpensive APS-C dedicated video camera before Canon will do it themselves. More about that in a moment.

Meanwhile, it’s been incorrectly surmised elsewhere on the Web that Canon’s “video and photo divisions compete against each other,” or something to that effect. That’s a false statement unaware of how Canon USA is actually organized. While their high-end Broadcast and Communications Division is indeed an entirely separate company within Canon USA, their pro video and pro photo product groups are not. Instead, Canon’s EOS Digital SLR product line and pro-level video camcorder lines live together within Canon’s CIG Professional Products Marketing Division (along with their imagePROGRAF and PIXMA Pro printer lines). The sale of either a pro-level video camera such as the XH G1S or a Digital SLR like the EOS 7D benefits the same parent group, in this case Canon CIG. It’s the same folks behind both product lines. The misconception that they’re different persists due to inaccuracies posted on other sites.

Finally, these days it seems no article about a forthcoming HD camcorder is complete without mentioning that other company — not Japanese — which is indeed forging ahead with a relatively inexpensive APS-C dedicated video camera (actually S35, slightly larger than APS-C). While no definite release date has yet been set for the S35 version of RED Digital Cinema’s highly anticipated Scarlet, the 2/3″ version with an integrated 8x lens, auto-focus and touch-screen AF tracking should become available later this year, and it will carry an attractive retail price below $5000. I’ve made several predictions already, but here’s my last one: Scarlet, in both 2/3″ and S35 versions, will be uncontested for at least a year. RED will have that particular market all to itself, and all of that free time will be due primarily to the cultural differences that exist between large Japanese corporations and small American companies. They move at different speeds. They act and react in different ways. Long story short, RED will get there first. Then, eventually, and cautiously, Canon might move in that direction. We’ll see.

For now, images, information, the official press release and anything else noteworthy about the new camcorder will of course make its way right here to DV Info Net. Stay tuned.

Sources Used in this Article

Pro News (www.pronews.jp/special/0911200954.html)
Next-Zero (www.next-zero.com/ToppageCNT/sousou-zasshi/nicky.cgi?))
Ghoguma Film (http://ghogumafilm.co.kr/bbs/board.php?bo_table=news02&wr_id=22)
Mac Treasure blog (www.macotakara.jp/blog/index.php?ID=5726&tag=InterBEE%202009)

The opinions presented in this article are those of the author alone.

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About The Author

Chris Hurd

After completing my degree in Radio-Television-Film at the University of Texas, I managed a video production studio "back in the tape days" while waiting for the digital video revolution to arrive and for the internet to become mainstream. Things started to get interesting in November of 1997 when I launched The XL1 Watchdog, my first web site dedicated to digital video technology. In January of 2001, that site morphed into DV Info Net — the Digital Video Information Network. More than fifteen years later, the longevity of DV Info Net is exceeded now only by its popularity and reputation as one of the leading technology information resources in the broadcast and professional video markets.

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