Mar 032012

Canon made a “brilliant mistake” with their 5D mkII camera unleashing a profitable market disruption. Now they’ve released the 5D mkIII and, unfortunately, they’ve “fixed” that mistake instead of building on it. Canon could learn a thing or two from Intel. Note: This my personal opinion and unrelated to my employer’s views. 

I’ve always loved Canon’s consumer DSLRs cameras, starting with the digital Rebel, arguably the first truly ‘consumer’ DSLR because it was priced under $1,000. Three and a half years ago Canon launched the 5D mkII, a new flagship camera in their mid-high end professional line. It sold for about $3,000 or nearly $4,000 with an included lens. Normally I would never have noticed this kind of camera. I was happy with the price and performance of cheaper DSLRs. But a few months after release the 5D mkII started generating a lot of buzz from video shooters and indie filmmakers. The camera included a video mode that was rather primitive but the camera’s still photography strengths, including the large 35mm imaging chip, low-light performance and high-quality interchangeable lenses made the imperfect video mode capable of some truly sensational results. You had to crawl over some pretty big flaws to get those results but there had never been anything like it anywhere near the 5D’s price point.

As great as the results could be with the 5D, the shortcomings in the video mode were serious. It could only shoot in auto mode which caused the camera to change brightness in the middle of a shot, the external audio input was nearly unusable due to high noise and the frame rate was wrong, 30fps instead of the film standard of 24 or even the video standard of 29.97. But what the camera could do was so appealing, clever users started working on the problems and came up with a variety of hacks and workarounds to solve the worst of the issues. With these tricks, indie filmmakers and adventurous hobbyists started shooting truly sensational scenes and posting them online. Canon noticed that sales were skyrocketing and thousands of requests were pouring in from users begging Canon to fix a few things with the camera to make it more suitable for video and films. A few months later Canon released a downloadable patch for the camera that allowed users to disable the auto mode, improved the audio recording and let users select 24fps. The day Canon released that update, I started shopping for my 5D. Continue reading »