| Subcribe via RSS

NAB Perspectives: Canon’s Thorpe on the Limitless Future of Digital Imaging

April 14th, 2015 Posted in Headlines By Ken Kerschbaumer

The Canon booth (C4325) is awash in new developments, including prototype 4K lenses, impressive HDR-monitor prototypes, and advances in full-frame camera systems and HD lenses. For Larry Thorpe, senior fellow, Canon U.S.A., the offerings are a culmination of just how far digital-imaging products have advanced but also the promising beginning of a new round of developments related to 4K imaging, high dynamic range, and much, much more. He sat down with SVG to discuss the exciting new developments.

From a sports-production perspective, what is the big news at the Canon booth?
The big news is the discussion about the ⅔-in. 4K cameras and lenses for sports, something that was triggered a year ago. Since then, there has been amazing work done by camera and optical manufacturers and ourselves and also Fujinon.

At the Canon booth, we are showing a prototype of a field lens. And, while we haven’t finished working on it and we don’t have the final specs, we are talking about a focal range that will be in the 80X range.

We also have had a separate request from studio folks who want to move to 4K and want cameras that have ⅔-in. sensors for programs like game shows. So we also have a couple of developmental models of a 25X 4K studio lens for ⅔-in. cameras: one at the Sony booth on the HDC4300 camera and another at the Mobile TV Group truck [in the outdoor exhibit area].

So we are out there, listening and talking to as many people as we can to gauge how fast 4K is moving and what the requirements are for 4K. For HD, our new 20X1 telephoto lens is also causing quite a stir.

The other big thing is the industry movement to ACES that is making its debut.

Can you explain what ACES stands for?
It stands for Academy Color Encoding System, and it is an end-to-end system that can take any manufacturer’s digital camera and bring it into a [single] ACES color space. To use ACES, every camera has to make a transform [to get content into the ACES space] that has huge color space and dynamic range so that you can color-grade different cameras together and bring sanity [to the process]. It was a huge effort that took nine years, and we have a special showing of our cameras and reference displays that have the transform function built into them.

Allied with that is the other big buzz here at the show: HDR, or high dynamic range. And we have quite a showing here of a very high-dynamic-range display that is 2,000 nits [units of visible-light intensity], which is way up there where Dolby was talking about, and is worth someone’s while to take a look at. We have color scientists that have been coming to the States and are deeply engaged.

The other big thing for us is next-generation cinema EOS, where we now have on-board recording of HD, 2K, 10-bit, 12-bit, 4:4:4, wide color gamuts, 15 stops of dynamic range. … It’s a huge leap. And it also has 4K at up to 30 frames a second, a modest feature, while HD and 2K are up to 60 frames per second. So that is causing quite a stir.

Striving for great image quality has always been your thing. When you look around the industry, how great are things in terms of actually being able to get great images?
Well, 4K isn’t racing into the marketplace; it’s moving slowly. People are testing and learning that it’s hard …

But you’ve seen that before with HD.
Yes, exactly. So, while that 4K movement continues, there are things like HDR and wide color gamuts that are moving in parallel. And those, applied to HD, are going to enhance the HD experience in a way that you can see across the living room unlike just resolution, where, when you get across the room, you wonder, “Where are those pixels?” HDR is going to be super important for HD, and it’s good news for HD, as HD is going to be around for a long, long time, in my view.

So how do you think this show is going to evolve over the next five years, as there are a lot of low-cost cameras that can do some good things? How does that impact the high end?
The way I see it, we are empowering the youth of today who, only a generation ago, couldn’t afford to rent a film camera. Now they can get a 4K camera for a low cost. So you’re seeing a generation that is thinking image creation.

Somebody said that, in 2014, all of the photographs taken that year constituted 60% of all the photographs [taken] in history. The speed at which image making is taking place is astonishing, and then you add video on top of that. So I see all of these low-cost things being grabbed by the youth and independents that are getting a start. At the same time, things like HDR, wider color gamuts, and 4K … the higher end is being pushed to be even higher in performance. And the competition is not having those products soar.

What we’re offering in our next generation for 16 grand is 2K, 12-bit, 4:4:4, wide color gamut, and 15 stops. It’s wonderful.

So why is it that, when HD first started, there were $200,000 decks and cameras, but now, with 4K, we don’t see those kinds of prices?
Well, if you look back, HD really took off in 2003, when ESPN started driving things. That is 12 years, and there has been a remarkable number of generations of HD cameras from the likes of Sony, Panasonic, and Grass Valley. The competition was ferocious. And now the new players. The minute Red stepped in, the $100,000 cameras started to become $50,000 cameras, and competition has been a huge factor in both HD and 4K. And, of course, the power of digital and the prowess of chips and what we can put on it, with Moore’s law, is just extraordinary. Recording at hundreds of megabits per second — it’s astounding.

Can production companies with ⅔-in. HD lenses leverage them in 4K work?
In our work during the past 12 months with Hitachi, Grass Valley, and Sony, separately, we started with our best HD field lens and then did tests for each manufacturer. We were all surprised by how well we did generating 4K images with HD lenses. But we are in our fourth generation of HD lenses, and, every generation, the optics get better and better.

[Looking at the images,] I would doubt any consumer would see anything but gorgeous 4K. But the engineers use test charts and found that there needed to be improvements out towards the edge and we needed to get aberrations down. From that, we end up with a spec for a ⅔-in. 4K lens.

I have no problem looking someone in the eye and telling them they can make a very good 4K image with an HD lens. There will be a bridging period, and then people will buy the 4K lenses.

So you’ve created HD lenses that exceed HD resolution?
That’s right, exactly. And what makes it really work is that lenses go down almost linearly in resolution as [they] go higher and higher in spatial frequencies. But the cameras go down fast because they have to bring in optical low-pass filters; they have to bring in digital filtering for the sampling of images. So they go down faster while the lenses carry on further.