Canon’s new EOS Cinema camera is aimed at professional videographers who need something more powerful than the 5D Mark II, and it delivers superior quality using a choice of either PL cinema lenses or the Canon EF mount. The camera uses an 8MP super 35mm sensor that is fractionally larger than APS-C (at 24.4×13.5mm) to produce a full 1080 HD image. Heralded as the first in a new series of cinema products for Canon it already has a range of new lenses and a concept for a DSLR styled video camera next summer.

Amateur Photographer caught up with Peter Yabsley, Canon Europe’s business development manager for professional video, Michael Burnhill, Canon Europe’s professional support specialist and Kojiro Yoshikawa, professional business manager for Consumer Imaging, Canon Europe, at the European launch of the new EOS Cinema C300 camera in Berlin

The C300 is a compact modular unit, ideal for getting into tight places. Will you produce a larger unit and what extra functions could it have?

PY: The C300 comes from an EOS background and when we looked at the filming of the likes of 24 and the Black Swan, small size was one of the most important factors in choosing a camera. So we know that a lot of users want it to be small, with the option to add bits to it and make it bigger. The main guys using bigger cameras are those shooting news, they have to be always ready and use a shoulder-mounted system. With cameras like the 5D and C300 you can build that.

There are lots of things we will look at and this is just a starting point. For the audience we have and think this is suitable for, small size is key, beyond that it?s a process of collaboration. We already have some ideas and I wouldn’t rule anything out but what is key for this camera is that it?s of a small size.

The concept camera due for release next summer is being described by some as a ‘B’ cam to the C300 unit. Could it by used by amateurs?

PY: Obviously at the moment we don?t have a lot of details, and the key specification at the moment is that it will have 4k recording in the camera and, as the design stands at the moment, in a small body. And I think there will be a uniqueness around that in combination with the other features. It could be a ?B? camera to [the C300] or it could be a ?B? camera in many other situations where users are currently using EOS cameras, and already have the lenses, but it is the next step in terms of the quality. I think there is a potential for any of the tools to be used by amateurs if they are passionate enough, serious enough and have the resources. As a professional tool, the C300 is very accessible and very affordable, though at around 12,000 euros it is still a big investment.

The quality achieved by the 4k system is partly down to a lack of up-scaling or interpolation but is it also down to a lack of downsampling aside from the green channel, or would more pixels improve the quality further?

MB: The Holy Grail for video cameras is to have a 3-chip design, which is difficult with a large sensor. This is the best solution to give us a 3-chip output from a single chip. There?s also a design consideration because, while anything is possible, if you make a bigger chip it uses more power, needs more circuitry and cooling and therefore a change of body design. So when we’re considering that we want this to be a small unit, and HD, the question is how we put it all together. We think what we’ve done with this one is the best overall balance.

PY: There were a lot of different design decisions we could have made and technical systems we could have used but considering that this was going to be a full-HD camera. With the 8MP sensor it’s not strictly downsizing of the green channel, there is some processing happening to make it work but we are taking a full-HD native red signal (1,080lines), and full-HD blue signal (1,080lines) and a green signal that is twice 1,080 lines but it is two 1,080 line signals, so doubled in that sense, but we can process it in a way that minimises the messing about with that resolution so that output that we’re reading is the output we are recording anyway. You are always considering a system, and you could have higher resolution to start with but when you’re downscaling to full HD you may see no benefit in the shot. Plus, anytime you’re manipulating the image, its preferable to keep it as close to the final resolution as possible. If there’s no benefit that outweighs the additional power etc, then there’s really no reason to do it.

With professionals there is always a reason to output ? an end client or show ? but with amateurs, what do you see as their end goal for video?

MB: Well, back in the 60s and 70s amateur filmmakers would make films on their cine cameras and then amateur video cameras to show friends, relatives and so on, but the likes of Youtube and Vimeo have made it easier to show what they have created to an even wider audience and get feedback. So the internet is a fantastic place for amateur filmmakers to see what other people are doing, get inspired and ask others ‘how did you do that?’ and then learn techniques, its almost an online video school. Taking it back to the EOS 5D, it allowed amateurs to start to produce videos similar in style to what they saw on the big screen taken with Hollywood movie cameras, and this is where the whole revolution started. The consumer, amateur filmmaker could suddenly produce similar looking results to your James Cameron’s [director of Avatar ], on a fraction of the budget, which was out of their reach before.

PY: Historically, camcorders have very much been an event-driven usage ? children, weddings, holidays and so on, but with the products and the technology that is coming now you see much more amateur enthusiasm for creative videography, such as trying to replicate the look of the movies, and produce something much more artistic. And that’s not just from the cameras, it?s from the editing software, and various things being more available, so it?s a different reason for shooting for amateurs, a new enthusiasm.

Do you think video now has the potential to be as big as still imaging or bigger?

MB: It depends how you define bigger but if you look at the generations now that are growing up, it is totally natural for the two integrated together. Stills can tell a different story and it all depends on the event and the moment. Still images can capture a moment that can have a different message or different perspective, whereas with video you see everything, so the two go hand in hand. It can only grow with the online aspect and it will be a normal part of people?s lives.

This is the next step, there are so many people with smartphones and tablets, you don?t need to wait until you get home to share what you’ve done.

Could this 4k set up be used in the creation of HD video on DSLR cameras?

MB: The thing with this sensor is that it is specific for video, so the only photograph you’ll get from the C300 is a frame grab or a full-HD 2mp image, and that?s fundamentally because the image sensor and processor are dedicated to just creating the best possible video. The photo cameras are coming from the other direction, they are saying ?how can we make an amazing photo tool?? and then ?what’s the best video capabilities we can put within those boundaries?? For stills you need resolution and that is going to dictate how everything else works.

You mentioned in your presentation that most of the range of EF lenses are capable of 4k resolution. Which ones aren’t?

MB: There’s now been 70 million lenses produced in the EF mount and some of them are 25 years old next year. 25 years ago the height of AF technology was a single AF point in the centre, so technology has moved a lot since then. The later lenses are perfect but some of the early lenses, like the kit lenses provided in starter kits such as the EOS 1000 in 1993 that was about £300, may not be the ideal lenses to put onto the C300. You can use all the lenses on the C300 but you won?t see the same quality with these early kit lenses, but certainly any L-series or anything recent is going to be totally suitable.

EF lenses are designed for sensors with much higher resolution than the new HD sensor, does that mean that these new lenses aren’t as good optically or is it a matter of optimisation?

MB: Absolutely, it means they’re different. EF lenses are designed to work with autofocus systems, with electronic irises, with a different end result in mind and there?s a certain style that is appropriate for stills photography. With cinema lenses you have a different mechanical construction, with different glass inside, and all of that is informed by what the users want to see when they are using those lenses. Optically the cinema lenses are absolutely fantastic, they are very much some of the best lenses we’ve got, especially for large sensors but they are a different product. As many people are proving, though, EF lenses are fantastic for video. They do have their limitations, as their core design concept is the best possible still images. As it happens, you also get fantastic video out of them but you have to be aware of certain differences in quality.

Would you consider producing a dedicated 3D camera?

PY: We are very keen to listen to everybody at this stage. The C300 is the first step. Its not a product launch with a yearly cycle, this is a new business area for us, and new tools for our customers, and that?s why we’re launching the EOS cinema system as a concept. You’ve got the lens system and you’ve got this camera as a first step. You’ve already seen four lenses in development, there’s a lot of collaboration happening and a lot of discussion as to what we need to do now. So were not ruling anything out. There are limitations to integrated 3D cameras, they are very difficult to do with a large chip because of the physical nature of how close you can get the lenses, and the way you manage the convergence. So there will be applications where those cameras are useful but for the moment the flexibility that a traditional 3D rig with two cameras gives you is more useful to filmmakers who are shooting 3D.

Do you think there are some features on the C300 that could be of benefit to DSLR users and may filter down?

PY: There are a lot of features on the camera that are of benefit to video shooters and of course where we can we are always going to optimise our products to be as useable and accessible as possible but again it comes back to that core design concept. You can never design a product for everybody you have to have a starting point and for the EOS range that is still imaging, then we work around that and make it as good as we can. There?s a whole bunch of stuff in this camera that you would never expect to be in a camera used by amateurs. You could have them but the question is whether they?d be beneficial to the user or more confusing? There are certain aspects that could be useful ? and we all know what people like and what they don?t like in video DSLRs ? so, of course, were looking at it to see what we can do.

MB: There?s also the legacy of where the customer has experience. If you?re in the video industry you have experience in how video functions work but the still image is very different. The waveform monitor [which shows a form of spectral histogram] for instance on the C300 is great, but trying to explain that to stills photographers that are just getting used to the histogram would be difficult.

Will the EOS and EOS cinema departments be working quite closely together now?

MB: Since the 5D there’s been a process of working together, interconnecting working and sharing technologies and it will be beneficial throughout the range. You may not see it now but broadcast is helping EOS, EOS is helping cinema and so forth. We’re seeing it now it the EOS 1DX, adding timecode to video for instance ? the video guys helped show the stills guys how timecode operates and there’s more than just the one option on there.

PY: You can consider it a drawing together of three groups: Broadcast, EOS and EOS cinema. Broadcast have traditionally been making the video lenses for the TV industry, so obviously have very good contacts. But all of the technology is related in some form or another, and as you can imagine, a lot of the sensor design experience for this product has come from EOS. All of these teams are now working together to draw the core parts that are important to Canon. We are making all of the camera system; the lenses, the sensor, the processor, all of that is integrated and we’re working together to do that.