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Just like buses ... the D800 and 5D Mark III arrive

Last year was pretty much a year of waiting in the DSLR field.  Even those cameras which showed their faces didn't start to ship till this year or we are still waiting.  Part of this was understandable given the problems in Japan and Thailand.  Into this vacuum we saw the dedicated video camera make its comeback peaking with the arrival of the C300 and Scarlet at the end of the year.  People were starting to say the video DSLR revolution is over.  This is a view which I half agree with.  It doesn't feel like a revolution anymore, DSLR is now largely mainstream and ubiquitous.  For filmmakers there are now many choices of large chip cameras which are easier to work with and easier to fit into a professional workflow.  

However, there are still a huge amount of footage being shot of DSLR all the way from the guerrilla filmmaker right up to major motion pictures.  That video function is not going away and will continue to improve. 2012 has seen the arrival of two “next generation” DSLRs from Canon and Nikon.  For Canon, it is the 5D Mark III - the replacement for the camera that has defined this whole sector for nearly three years.  For Nikon it is the D800 which brings most of the new technology recently launched on the D4 into direct competition with the 5D.

Canon 5D Mark III

With three years to wait, the blogosphere has had a long time to imagine what the 5D Mark III would be.  This probably meant that the Mark III was doomed to disappoint and I must admit I haven’t had a burning desire to upgrade.  At least part of that is due to the fact that I can’t afford it, but that doesn’t usually stop the “desire” part.  The increased price (£2999 at launch compared to £2299 for the Mark II) brings it into competition with the low-end big chip camcorders but I need a convergence device and those don’t qualify. 

I have only had the chance to play briefly with the camera so this is no review, but we can look at the spec sheet.  At the time of its launch, the video feature was the most original feature of the 5D Mark II along with its 21MP sensor.  Apart from that a lot of the tech got carried over from the 5D.  For the photographer, it was far from leading edge in the areas of AF and metering.  This didn't stop it being hugely popular with photographers as well as carving out the video niche.  The 7D which followed later did not suffer these issues.  It was more weatherproof, faster and had much better AF and metering.  In some ways the 5D Mark III is more like a 7Ds - a full frame 7D. 

Canon have improved the camera comprehensively in most areas both photographically and for the video section.  We have be starved of full res samples at the launch but all the signs are good.  I fully expect that the quality of the imagery will reduce the 5D bugbears of aliasing, moire and rolling shutter and it will be an order of magnitude better in low light.  Sound recording and monitoring have been improved but the big wish list items of clean 1080p out and faster frame rates at 1080p are not there.  There is also a lack of crop modes (like in the consumer 600D) which seems a missed opportunity to me.  Maybe Canon thinks giving you cheap, fast telephotos in camera is counterproductive for its bottom line?  All of these improvements are welcome but nothing which renders my Mark II obsolete which is why Canon will continue to sell it.

Nikon, who have had many false starts on DSLR video since they kicked the whole thing off with the D90, have put an amazing amount of new tech into the D800 to fight back.  They have managed to do this for a noticeably smaller chunk of change than Canon at £2399. 


Nikon D800

The are many remarkable things about the D800 but the most remarkable is that it so un-Nikon-like in philosophy.  Nikon had been the least enthusiastic DSLR manufacturer in the megapixel wars and now they have gone nuclear with a 36MP sensor.  The aging D700 it replaces couldn't wield half that at 15MP and it dwarfs the 5D Mark III’s 22MP.  This sensor dominates this camera for better or for worse.  For video, it sets alarm bells ringing.  That’s 34Mp to throw away to get to HD size, how will it cope in low light?  Again, we still don't have any uncompressed samples to answer those questions.  From what I have seen in the Nikon demonstration this is my own prediction.  I think the D800 will be on a par with the 5D Mark II for low-light and picture artifacts with on-board recording but will be well behind the Mark III.  I think the ability to record off-camera will narrow the gap some but not entirely close it. 

The D800 does have a lot of features which show Nikon have listened and which I think are valuable both in Photo and Video modes.  Nikon shows no fear of crop modes and this effectively gives you two cameras in one.  I can see this camera being a hit with time-lapsers and for making plates with that massive resolution.  For the photographer I think Nikon will be able to match the D700 for low light and be better at most other things apart from speed.  If you want to shoot darker and faster I expect you are going to have to save for a D4.

If you don't have the cash to hand or are not convinced by the feature set then its probably best to wait.  We still have the Canon Cinema EOS DSLR to show its colours and that is likely to have some very different tech in it.

Concept Cinema EOS DLSR

Expect to see much if not all the new video features trickle down into the rest of the rand in the next 12-18 months.  It think the upgrade for the Rebel/00D range is due soon and we will see from that how widely Canon is prepared to share its features.  With the Digic IV generation cameras they were pretty generous, so this will be a very interesting announcement.

Bear in mind that most of what I have said is still based on very incomplete information.  Its going to be a while before the blogosphere gets its hands on production models and can come to independent conclusions on the image quality and usability of these new cameras.  I am eager to see how it all pans out!

Some more in depth looks at the cameras can be found:

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Reader Comments (1)

Its been interesting watching all the camera tests rolling in with many doing direct comparisons. Early indications are that the D800 is performing well. In most aspects it exceeds the 5D mk11 in video and seems to garner more favour than the D4 until you start ramping up the ISO. Its not as moire or aliasing free as the mk111/D4 but its better than the mk11 despite all those extra pixels.

The 5D mk111 seems to be disappointing people with its out of the box resolution. It seems you are only going to see the best of it with post correction. The new codec is causing a few editing issues but I expect those will get sorted out soon.

In the UK, some of the D800 price advantage has been reduced due to a price hike - a systems error apparently, hmmmm.

April 2, 2012 | Registered CommenterAndrew Howe

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