Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Still Life vs. Real Life?

Over the past week we have already seen Nikon release a pro-am DSLR with both still and video capability, and here you find RED's CEO apparently letting slip that Canon's going down the same road but with higher quality HD (perhaps in the upcoming 5D evolution?) of 1020P vs 780P. And this, mind, was in the context of RED laying out their intent to get into the photographic business by the end of 2009 with a converged device they've tagged as DSMC - digital still and motion capture - a move that you would think would have alarm bells ringing all over Japan.

If you haven't before then it's worth now taking a look at RED's site. From a standing start they have come into the movie camera world and changed the game, for the first time bringing to the high-end an affordable digital video set-up that drags Hollywood kicking-and-screaming into the 21st century. Take a glance at the "Shot On Red" tab to see how far this upstart start-up has already come, and then question whether or not they can reshape the world of DSLRs.

It's impossible to overestimate how challenging it is to displace incumbents like Canon and Nikon on their chosen turf. Others have tried and died (Minolta ended up as Sony, others just faded quietly or even disappeared altogether) and even new entrants like Sigma haven't been able to make any headway against the giants, not the least cause of which being because they underestimated just how hard it is to produce the most important piece, the sensor, reliably and with low noise characteristics.

Have RED already cracked that nut and hence go into battle better prepared and better armed? I guess we'll see, though not alas for another 12 months at least. Meanwhile, things don't stand still and the deadly rivalry between Nikon and Canon means that there's already a high sense of urgency in each camp to keep innovating. Product cycles are shrinking, and with Sony back in the game so are price-tags (the new Sony Alpha 900 offers 24+ Mpixel performance for $3k vs. Canon's equivalent costing 2.5x that.)

Are the Japanese twins quaking in their boots over RED entering their market? Probably not, but I wonder if RED is as prepared for an assault on theirs? After all, either company has the money to go after high-end professional video, and Sony is, of course, already there.

In a couple of weeks Photokina will deliver the next shoe-drop in Canon's march forwards, so it will be interesting to see what they debut as a movie-mode and how much fanfare is sounded around it. By way of comparison, Nikon seem to have slip-streamed their initial foray into this space rather quietly behind the usual drum-beat banging around mega-pixels, frame-rates and features of interest to the still shooter, which makes you wonder if this was more a test to see if convergence was a space that would draw serious interest from serious DSLR users.

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