Camera Trends In 2019

Camera Trends In 2019

It seems green-screen shooting has only grown in popularity in 2019.

I spend probably an unhealthy amount of time reading production forums, discussion boards and social media group forums that focus on production and camera work. For me, it’s a useful way to get a sense of some of the current as well as coming trends.

Below, I describe some of the bigger trends and movements I’ve seen come about in 2019. Most have been evolving over the past year or two but have expanded into a movement in 2019. Some of these items will continue well into 2020 and beyond, and, of course, some may just peter out and die a slow death.

Here’s my take on what I’m seeing in production and camera work:

The Ever-Shrinking Pro-Level Digital-Cinema Camera

There’s always a heated debate when it comes to what qualifies a camera to be a digital-cinema camera. In many ways, the lines separating product types have blurred so much that most cameras on the market, even the one in your phone, can arguably be used to shoot digital-cinema or pro-level video. So where does this leave us in our discussion of the ever-shrinking digital-cinema camera?

This trend has continued to evolve and refine itself over the past couple of years as technology shrinks in size. I met Rich Reid, a National Geographic photographer, a few months ago. He casually took out his iPhone at a party we were both attending when the conversation turned to a documentary I’ve been shooting and a documentary that Rich finished eight years ago.

Camera Trends In 2019
ARRI finally introduced an FF version of the ALEXA Mini to meet delivery mandates from Netflix and other OTTs.

We were talking about how the gear that we as filmmakers use has been continually not only shrinking but also increasing in features, resolution and image quality.

To that point, as our conversation continued, Rich showed me some beautiful clips on his phone that he has been working on shooting for National Geographic and other clients. One of these clips resulted in Rich being nominated as a finalist for the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

When I asked him if he was using Canon, Nikon or Sony these days, he told me that most of his still and video shooting is shot with his iPhone XR! (You can check out a little about Rich here: nationalgeographic.com/expeditions/experts/rich-reid.)

Needless to say, as a filmmaker and photographer, he produces work that can be considered digital-cinema quality with his cell phone, even if most of his content is consumed online.

There are other tools that have recently been introduced—like the GoPro Hero 7 Black with its ability to shoot 4K footage using its Hyper Smooth technology or the Osmo Pocket that has a true mechanical gimbal in a tiny package that can also shoot 4K 60p—that are continually redefining what a digital-cinema camera is.

Camera Trends In 2019
Panasonic introduced an FF 6K mirrorless camera called the S1H at Cine Gear 2019 that will sell for a mere $4,000 in the fall.

Going up just a bit in size, newer models like the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema 4K camera, the Fujifilm XT-3 and the Canon EOS R are all capable of highly cinematic images at budget prices compared to cameras with the same or even fewer capabilities, from just a year or two ago.

Other than for Hollywood-style full-crewed productions, which will still require a certain size and weight camera for the foreseeable future, the trend is smaller, lighter, less expensive and more versatile digital-cinema cameras. Along these same lines, the hottest part of the market has gone from mid-level pro cameras, like the Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2 (BMD UMP G2), Sony FS7 MKII and Panasonic AU-EVA1, to smaller and less-expensive mirrorless cameras that can produce amazing results when combined with pro-level execution. 

Full-Frame Digital Cinema

It’s official: M43, 1-inch and Super 35 imagers are almost dead. OK, that may be a bit of hyperbole, but I noticed this trend beginning at Cine Gear 2017. By last year, in mid-2018, it was clear that the full-frame digital cinema was becoming an industry juggernaut.

At Cine Gear 2019, it became crystal clear to me and to many others that full-frame cameras are now here to stay and are steadily gaining market share.

Camera Trends In 2019
Cameras like the Osmo Pocket are now capable of shooting 4K 60p gimbal-stabilized footage in a camera that can fit in the palm of your hand. And the footage is decent quality. I almost can’t imagine thinking about this even just three or four years ago. It also continues to blur the lines of what a digital-cinema camera can be.

On the low end of the budget scale, you have the tremendous popularity of the FF Sony a7 variants. You have cameras like the Canon EOS R, which is also an FF camera but only while shooting stills; the 4K is a large crop on the sensor.

You also have holdouts like the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K and Panasonic GH5 and GH5S, which use the relatively tiny M43 imager, and the Fujifilm XT-3, Sony FS7 MKII and Canon C200/300MKII, Panasonic EVA 1 and VariCam lineup, which stubbornly hold out that S35/AP-C is still the way to go.

But most of those same companies are hedging their bets with full-frame cameras elsewhere in their lineups: Panasonic with the lower-end $4,000 2019 Cine Gear “Belle of the Ball” 6K capable S1H that’s hitting the market in the fall of this year, Canon with its C700 FF and Sony with the 6K VENICE.

Once you move out of the low- to mid-range cameras, though, like the VENICE, the most popular cameras on feature and episodic sets seem to be the RED Monstro and the ARRI ALEXA Mini LF, as well as a few projects shooting with the Panavision DXL II full-frame camera. People seem fully convinced that the different field of view that a larger image circle provides is a desirable look for their work, and the popularity of it has taken off.

Camera Trends In 2019
The Canon Sumire series of Cine Primes are a new PL mount version of Canon’s existing EF mount CN-E Primes. The Sumires are similar, except they introduce a new softer, more-flattering-to-skin-tone look when used with wide-open apertures. Oh, and they cost a lot more than the CN-E primes, at close to double the cost.

A Golden (Or Tinted) Age Of Lenses

The other trend that obviously accompanies full-frame cameras is the advent of lots of new full-frame lenses hitting the market this year, almost too many to count.

Companies that used to only make still lenses have ventured into making cinema lenses. Sigma, Tokina, Angénieux, Zeiss, Leica with its new L-Mount FF glass, Canon with its new RF Mount as well as its new Sumire Primes. The list of new optics companies and new lineups of both FF primes and cine zooms just boggles the mind.

We are, without a doubt, now in the golden age of lens choices, and as you have probably heard, lenses with “character”…cough, cough…“optical defects” are very desired from lens rental sources.

The crystal-clear, clean, neutral lens look, when paired with the ultra-clean, characterless digital camera look that many higher-end cameras deliver, has given way to lenses with color tints, flares, chromatic aberration and all of the optical defects that we as users and lens engineers used to try to mitigate, which are now trending.

Everything old is new again.

Camera Trends In 2019
Hitachi Kokusai, in conjunction with Japanese broadcaster NHK, showed a prototype 16K digital-cinema camera at its booth at NAB.

HDR Is Now A Huge Thing

In case you haven’t been following this trend, HDR, or high dynamic range settings on cameras and monitors, are now fully established as a legitimate, “normal” workflow, although there are some caveats.

The engineering standard that used to be the standard for television monitors was and is referred to as REC 709. It has very limited dynamic range and presents the images usually with brighter, more saturated colors and a good amount of contrast. REC 709, with the advent of shooting LOG footage becoming almost standard, is somewhat beginning to fade as the standard color space.

This is due to a variety of factors, but one largely driving the movement toward new color standards is the advent of LED monitors, tablet and computer screens and even phone screens that are capable of reproducing a much wider color gamut than a “normal” TV screen. If your audiences own devices that are capable of displaying a much wider color gamut with more dynamic range, it makes sense that you would ideally like to shoot and go through post using a color space that allows the end user to see more colors and more dynamic range.

A challenge with HDR has been that there are several of these color space standards out there and a good portion of the production community is fuzzy on the advantages and disadvantages of each standard.

Camera Trends In 2019
Atomos introduced a new high-end line of on-set and edit bay HDR-capable monitor/recorders called Neon. This is the 24-inch version.

My “A” camera is the Canon C200 that supports ITU-R BT.2100 standard (PQ). My guess is that many are not familiar with this standard, how it works and what it does, from production all of the way through exhibition. And while knowledge of and how to properly use HDR is growing, for now, I see a lot of people using it without any consistency in their post through exhibition workflow. What’s even more troubling is that I also see a lot of users using HDR technology incorrectly where they’re actually degrading the final image because they don’t grasp how the workflow actually works and what’s needed.

The End Of The Resolution Wars On The Horizon?

This is a tricky trend to call. But if you examine the still photography business and the digital music recording business, both of these sectors went through a resolution war quite a few years ago.

Still photography had its camera megapixel war, and digital music production gear had its bit-and-sample-rate war.

Both businesses seem to have mostly reached stasis where you don’t see many camera advertisements promoting that their camera has more megapixels on their sensor, and you don’t see many audio gear manufacturers touting anything past 24-bit and 192 KHz sample rates for recording. Because numbers above those numbers (it seems to be about 24 to 26 megapixels for the still cameras), in the real world, simply don’t matter for the vast amount of users.

For those who they do matter for, there will always be a small niche part of those businesses where you can buy cameras or digital backs with a lot more resolution if your work demands it or you can buy outboard gear with higher bit and sample rates for recording audio.

Camera Trends In 2019
RED is betting on the continued migration toward higher and higher resolution in digital-cinema cameras with its 8K Monstro sensor camera.

I’m convinced we’re almost at the same place with digital-cinema cameras. Almost all new pro and prosumer cameras now support at least a 4K imager (some even more) shooting to UHD and DCI 4K resolution. A lot of current cameras record 5.7K, 5.9K, 6K and even 8K footage, but I truly believe that the majority of users are beginning to wake up to the fact that resolution wars with camera technology are pointless and in many facets—post, media, storage, long-term storage, computing power necessary to edit it, noise levels of imagers in low light—higher resolution is actually counterproductive to creating better images.

Let’s hope that 8K is the end of the line for the resolution wars in digital cinema so that manufacturers can begin actually focusing on refining ergonomics and operational considerations and building more innovation into cameras instead of increasing raster size/resolution. 

The Wrap Up

There are, no doubt, other trends and movements in cameras in 2019 that I simply don’t have the time and space to take a deep dive into. But these five trends seem to be the most significant to me.

As to looking forward to 2020, what new trends do you think we’ll continue to see in camera technology? I’ll check back in with a follow up to this article next year to see which of these trends have continued and which may be new to the game.

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