September 25, 2008

VIDEO / MOVIE Feature in Future DSLRs - Updated

Video / Movie mode is going to be a necessary feature in most upcoming DSLRs, as it is Live View today.

The future of DSLRs is going to change dramatically, getting into a world that lot of “Professional” Photographers are still afraid of, or don’t even care about (yet).

The market segments of Professional Movie Cameras and DSLRs are going to change.

The potential of the DSLR to be used as a PROFESSIONAL VIDEO Recording Tool is HUGE.

But of course, Designers and Manufacturers have to IMPROVE it, and IMPLEMENT it in a PROFESSIONAL manner, as they do with Still image capturing.

Making DSLRs in the right way means new potential uses for it, and that means new and more customers, thus more sales...

To be PROFESSIONAL, Movie/Video mode Requires:

- FULL MANUAL CONTROLS: VIDEO/MOVIE mode MUST allow the Photographer, Videographer and Movie Maker to ADJUST EVERY ASPECT OF the VIDEO CAPTURING MANUALLY (as in still image), with the option of assistance (or Auto mode) IF desired. That applies to ISO, Aperture (iris), Shutter speed, Color settings, Exposure compensation, White Balance (wich in case of "Auto" mode it should shift smoothly), etc...

It also Must allow to Change these settings WHILE RECORDING.

VIDEO QUALITY: Video quality itself must be Good enough, avoiding as much as possible “Rolling shutter” issues (pan and objects bend, etc.), "choppy" appearance, etc. This requires a FAST READOUT system of the sensor data.

- VIDEO RESOLUTION: should go from VGA (still useful for many situations) to Full 1080p HD resolution.An Optional 720p at faster frame rate would be a smar feature to include.

. Must be Optimized for HD VIDEO that keeps good Image Quality and performance. Motion JPG is obsolete and inefficient.
. Should give the option to choose from Different Video Compression Levels/Qualities to choose from when recording
. Uncompressed or Low compression option is a Pro feature that will atract Professional Videographers and Movie makers, indeed.

- BIT RATE: should be Fast enough to provide Smooth Video.
A smart feature would be to include more than one Speed/Quality to let choose for Best Quality or "Long Play" mode.

FRAME RATES: should allow to set from 24 to 30 fps (or even 60fps), for smooth video, in the Standard rates for further easy editing with other video clips or footage. Only one option (24p or 30p) is not enough versatility.

- SOUND: Besides the built-in Microphone, the camera MUST also have a MIC-IN STEREO (or even 5.1 input) Jack, with Sampling Rate of 44 and/or 48KHz. It must also allow to set the recording audio gain -Mic level- (Auto or Manual options).

- AUTO FOCUS: Another IMPORTANT and USEFUL feature that many customers will appreciate is autofocus. That includes a wide range of AF methods and assistances (Flexi-Zone, Manual Zone, Face Detection, Manual Focus with Focus indicators, etc..).
Sometimes is hard (or even impossible) for only one person to frame the scene, track focus of a moving subjec, and zoom at the same time. This task is usually done by more than one person, so this feature can be very useful. And it will be improved without any doubt in upcoming cameras.

To focus track an object all over the screen is very possible (since it relies on Live View feature).
It may require, though, a special CPU to achieve this in proper manner, but it's well worth.

- FOCUS ASSISTANCE: AT LEAST the camera MUST include FOCUS ASSISTANCE System while RECORDING, because a small LCD display is not large enough to see if perfect or good focus is achieved. Specially when using narrow Depth-of-Fields, wich means critical focusing range. The focusing mistakes may become visible in full HD displays...

ALL THESE aspects will turn the DSLR into a PROFESSIONAL HD VIDEO Recording Tool that could even overcome highly expensive Pro Video Cameras.

Several traditionalist photographers may think they don’t need or want these features, many already said the same in the past about Live View, and now many of them use it...

Maybe some of them will not use it, while many others will.

Photographers in general, Photojournalists, Videographers, Amateurs and even Pro Movie Makers, will realize (lot already have realized) the potential of recording HD Video with the FLEXIBILITY of a DSLR, its Big Low Noise Sensor, and its Full range of lenses...

Pablo Vazquez
Artist & Technical Engineer

September 24, 2008

FEATURES List for Nikon D400 / D800 and Future DSLRs

I have always appreciated and admired the High level of perfection in Japanese designs and manufacturing quality. I also use SLR / DSLR cameras since 1994.

Based on my own experience and comments from other professionals, I would like to give some quick and public ideas for the upcoming DSLRs that would be Very Useful and Appreciated for thousands of photographers around the world.

I will write this based on the Nikon D700 actual design, thinking on future D800, but may (and should) also apply to Dxx/D400/D4 and of course other Manufacturer's DSLRs.

Some of them are already existing in specific models, and some others are VERY EASY to implement. Many may require more work.
Others are not included here.
(I always think that we have to observe and learn from others' experience...)

QUICK IDEAS / FEATURES to implement :

- Keep Customizable buttons (at least 2), they are Very important

- Keep that level of ergonomics, is one of the best. Also well placed buttons makes a difference. Keep that dual Dial positions and design, are perfect.

1 - Add two (at least) Full CUSTOM Modes (C1, C2, etc.) in the MODE Button/Dial:
- Fully programmable: All (or the most possible) settings of the camera can be set and Recorded for INSTANT adjustment/restore by just pressing a button or moving Dial
This will override all the corresponding buttons/settings.
- Settings that can be included in the Cx Mode (or not, if not desired): File format, Display Information, WB, Exposure Mode, Bracketing mode, ISO, Compression level/quality, Exposure Compensation, AF, Metering system, Flash settings, Self-timer, etc, etc.
- This already exists in some Canon cameras (easy example is PowerShot G9 and EOS 5D Mark II), and helps a Lot for a photographer to Quickly restore ALL parameters to an already recorded Custom set using just the MODE Dial
For practicity in the real world it needs a Specific MODE easily accesible via Dial.

2 - Add a "LiveView Button" in future D400 / D800 (already implemented in D90)
The use of LiveView has became very common and useful, and it is important to have quick access to that feature.

3 - Keep the "Info" Button please. It is very useful and handy, to switch between Info Display Modes.

4 - Allow the Brightness of the rear LCD to auto adjust (if desired) according to ambient light. Allow this function to be turned On/Off

5 - The Self-timer function MUST be INDEPENDENT from others, allowing for instance Mirror Lock-up feature with Self-timer.

6 - Allow Delayed Shutter to be selectable from 1 second to xx seconds (Only 1 second is too short time)

7 - MOVIE / VIDEO Recording : this has to be improved from the D90.

VERY important for more people than you can think. This can make the difference for a Really Useful MOVIE Mode (*)
- Frame rate: up to 30 fps (at least, even better if 60fps) for smooth recording (Options should be the standard rates from 24 to 30fps for further Movie editing with other footage and video clips)
- Improved Quality, to avoid or minimize “Shutter roll” (pan and objects bend, etc.)
- Resolution: up to full HD 1080 (keep also VGA, it is Very useful for many tasks)
- File format: use a better video compression for smaller files while keeping Good Quality
- Extend the maximum clip lenght: (at the time of D90, the max. lenght for HD is too short) The ideal max. lenght would be 4GB file limit

- Manual Exposure: for REAL Usability of the Movie Mode let the photographer set manually the ISO, Aperutre (iris) and Shutter speed if desired (Manual / Auto)
- AUDIO Quality: 11Khz is too poor, you have to improve this.
- INCLUDE MIC-IN jack for STEREO microphone (AND recording Rate of 44Khz)
- Built-in Speaker
- AF assistance while recording (if not possible to autofocus, then at least could be AF assistance indicators)
- Weather and Dust covers for the Mic and Speaker
IF ALL these features are really implemented, then you will be steps ahead the competition in this area...

(*) Important NOTE:
many Photographers say they don't care about Movie. Many of them did also say the same about Live View and now they love it. But in today's digital technology the tendency of Still image and Video integration is a Growing Reality. AND several photographers will find that the potential of DSLR to be used as a Professional Video recording tool is HUGE.

It is very plausible to find in very near future (if not already) Photojournalists, Artistic Photographers, Commercial movie makers, Amateurs movie makers, etc., recording movie in HD Quality with their DSLRs.

8 - Keep the Bright on dark, and Dark on bright LCD display Options. Both are Very useful, because offer easy to view Display in different situations (Congratulations to who implemented it)

9 - PLACE the Most Common used Features in First place in the MENUS. (VERY IMPORTANT, and easy to make)

10 - In the ViewFinder Put 2 Arrows, at the sides of the circle, indicating in wich direction the focus should be rotated to achieve perfect focus when using Manual Focus.
This feature was present in lot of SLRs. Why was not included in so many DSLRs?

11 - Use Larger Fonts in the ViewFinder display. Sometimes some of the information is not big enough. There is still space in the X axis to make it bigger.
In some SLRs the ViewFinder information IS bigger and wider than some DSLRs

12 - In the View Finder also:
- Keep VERTICAL Exposure Scale at the righ side BIG, it IS Very important and Useful (would be great to have the option of showing this Scale at Left too)
- Keep Grid Option in the ViewFinder (a "must have" option)
- Keep Virtual Horizon (just like in D700, with all those options and implementations in View Finder, in top LCD, in Live View mode, quickly accesible pressing INFO button) But ADD the possibility of Virtual Horizon to be ON in the ViewFinder while shooting using the exposure scale all the time if the user choose it.
- ADD Brightness Level adjustment for the information displayed at bottom (VERY useful in some situations)
THESE are Great and Useful features.

13 - Allow the function "Clear View" in the View Finder, turning OFF Every line, curve or square to have a 100% free view, and letting the user choose what to display inside the frame, while keeping the information line at bottom, outside of the Frame, and the vertical exposure scale at side.

14 - In Play Back mode Allow Zoom Magnification Level more than 1:1 pixels. For focus or other image analysis is Great to have more powerful than just 1:1 pixel level Zoom.

15 - Allow to set Display Information On or OFF when using HDMI output.
Having the information set to OFF in HDMI Output will allow Photographers to record Video in real-time using that output, easily and without disturbing information (avoiding the need to edit and crop the video image). This can be VERY Useful for people working in VIDEO !

16 - Add In-Camera Editing Tools (some already included in the D90) like Image Straightening, Mirror image, Flip image, RAW editing, Vignetting Correction (VERY Useful !!), etc.

17 - Add Vignetting Correction (set Level/Off) when shooting (automatically applies the correction when shooting). An smart feature would be to allow setting the correction level according to the focal lenght/aperture of the Zoom in use (previously defined by the user).
And of course keep D-Lightning feature the same way (when shooting option, and while Editing option).

18 - Add Optional In Print Data on pictures (in good place and manner). Can be very useful in Forensic work.

19 - Additional RAW format of lower resolution images (good example is Canon 5D Mark II). PLEASE also Keep a Standard RAW file and compatibility with other software companies. If you change it and don't give compatibility you will loose customers. People want and demand flexibility of choices.

20 - Some other Features that SEVERAL Users may want and Appreciate:
- Keep the pop-up Flash. It is very useful for lot of people. And of course i-TTL.
- Place Wider spreaded 51-AF areas (they are too concentrated at center)
- 3.5" LCD
- Flip LCD (once you have it, you appreciate it... especially when you don't shoot at eye leve) - Of course this need to be well built to keep the camera solid.
- Faster AF in Live View mode. THIS can make a difference in the future of Digital Photography...
- Built-in GPS
- Electronic Compass (similar to Virtual Horizon, but a compass)
- Don't go to Touch-Screen until you get a 4" LCD... If ever do this, Keep the real buttons too, please. Small touch-screens LCDs are not good for professional use, especially when working outdoor.
- Compatibility with SDHC cards (since they are faster, cheaper and more secure with time)
- I did not mention SENSOR RESOLUTION, since it is obvious we will all appreciate Higher resolution with Low noise levels.

21 - LENSES: This is a big topic...
- LOT of Professionals ask for Updates to "prime" lenses and Pro-Quality Zoom lenses (Full Frame lenses)
- Many others are concerned about DX format lenses and the future of DX-based cameras
- There is also an empty space for Full Frame lenses between 24/28 to 105/120 mm where there is no professional (or even Good) quality Zoom lens.
The actual Nikkor 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED VR, besides it is expensive for the Image Quality it offers, is not good enough and can not be seriously considered for a kit option by a Pro or serious amateur.
There should be at least a Good 28-105mm f2.8 or even f4 (or a better version of the 24-120mm)

This range would cover Lot of common uses in Pro and Amateur jobs
(photojournalism, weddings, portraits, daily use, all purpose zoom, etc). So it would be a Best Seller without a doubt.

22 - Finally, bot not less important: PRICE
This is another topic but very important for several current (and possible future) Nikon owners. Keep in mind the "digital world" is changing faster and faster, then the periods of time between a new model is released and when it becomes replaced by new one and further obsolete are getting shorter.
So, it would be nice to see a bit lower prices in the different categories of Nikon DSLRs. That would increase the ammount of people who decide to buy new models or updating their previous ones.

Well, it was not a short list, but made it quickly at night. I may forget something but I guess is enough so far.

I really hope these ideas and considerations are taken in future designs, because they include the needs of Lot of Professionals and Amateurs.

In any case, we would be glad to serve you whenever you want.

Best regards,

Pablo Vazquez
Artist & Technical Engineer