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The Digital Cameras Are Coming

Unlike video cameras, the Canon EOS 5D Mark II uses a much larger CMOS, measuring 36 x 24mm, with a 21-megapixel resolution. Canon also gave it the ability to shoot 1,920 x 1,080 HD video, compressed using H.264 to a QuickTime MOV file at 30 frames per second. So it can shoot HD with a depth of field similar to film. As a CMOS is more sensitive than most chemical film, the results can be even better.


But the most significant recent innovation is the Red One, created by the Red Digital Cinema Camera Company. This isn't a digital still camera; it's very clearly aimed at motion. Nevertheless, it shares the same technical reason for its prowess as the EOS 5D Mark II: a huge sensor. In keeping with the camcorder's cult status, its sensor is called ‘Mysterium', and it's about the same size as 35mm film, or rather Super 35, which has a larger usable area than the original celluloid.

This huge CMOS sensor has a resolution of 4,520 x 2,540, so it can shoot ‘4K' digital cinema natively, which operates at 4,096 x 2,304. But, just as importantly, the size of this sensor means it has very similar depth-of-field characteristics to film. So whereas in the past video would always require a different style of shooting to film - even HD - the Red One can be used just like a 35mm camera, and it accepts many of the same lenses too.


The Red One is a fascinating piece of technology, not least because it was designed by the former owner of the Oakley spectacle company, rather than one of the Japanese video giants. Its $25,000 price may seem steep next to a £500 HD camcorder, but this is a device which can compete with any 35mm film camera - something which would cost $25,000 to hire for just a few weeks. The recent BBC TV series Wallander was shot on the Red One, giving it a highly cinematic look. An online sample shot on the Red One can be found here. Remember to watch it full screen!

The Canon EOS 5D Mark II is even cheaper, with a list price of £2,299.99 - around the same as a professional-grade HD camcorder. Whilst the benefits of larger sensors are still priced for the pros, the cost is coming down rapidly. So the dream that so many have of being able to make films thanks to the low cost of video could finally be coming true. In fact, these new digital cinema creations will probably look even better.

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