Around 4 years ago I bought my PDW-510 XDCAM camcorder. I love it. I still do. It is an amazing piece of engineering. It has incredibly low noise characteristics, great handling and feel, and really is a joy to use. I love the XDCAM disc format. I like shooting on the XDCAM HD cameras too.
When XDCAM came out it had a rival called P2. It still does. I really didn't like P2. In fact I hated the idea of it. It was way ahead of its time and nobody could give me any serious answers to any of the issues that I had with it.
Then Sony came out with SxS on the XDCAM EX range of cameras. I still had similar reservations with it as I had with P2. Although Sony were making efforts to integrate it with the disc workflow, even going so far as to eventually enable its portable U1 drive to be a full data only format. Things started to look good.
However, I have been giving a lot of thought to this. There are a lot of freelancers around the world who want to upgrade to a high def camera. Indeed, I too would love to purchase a high def camera. But there is a spanner in the works with the name 'progress' plastered all over it. Unfortunately 'progress' these days means that any given manufacturer will come out with a new format that is not compatible with anything else.
I was taking part in a conversation on the great b-roll forums recently and a fellow countryman pointed out that when a stills guy is sent on an assignment nobody asks him if he is shooting with Canon or Nikon gear. Further, in general, aside from some pesky individual RAW formats, almost all decent DSLR's shoot either Adobe RAW or JPG. They are universal. You can go into any camera or electronics store and purchase storage medium for them too.
All in all, people make purchasing decisions about stills cameras based on how good the camera is and what the lens support is like, not what codec or storage format it uses. Professional DSLRs are designed and built with theidea that freelance and other types of professional photogs will use them. The stills manufacturers realise that a stills guy doesn't want to mess around with different storage formats and codec. Granted, there are different types of storage card available for DSLRs. However each of them is easily available, and much cheaper than equivilent sizes of P2 or SxS, and the prices are coming down all the time. Many cameras even take multiple types of card.
When it comes to video the camcorder manufacturers need to grow up and realise that there are people out there who ONLY want to choose the best camera. They don't want to choose the best camera only to find that their clients don't want it, or that it will be phased out two years later and nobody will accept the footage any more. They want a modern equivilent of BetaSP or Digibeta.
What we need is the following:
1. A solid state recording media based on off-the-shelf technology. That means cards that you can purchase easily from anywhere relevant. Not SxS cards for example when really a normal Express Card should do.
2. A good, easy and reliable backup medium.
3. An opensource codec using at least 10-bit colour (people can argue with me until they are blue in the face that we only need 8-bit colour. But to those people I say that you haven't a clue or have never done any grading before.)
Someone working freelance for a news agency does not want to have to purchase both a P2 camcorder and an XDCAM camcoder. In the current financial climate, and with ever decreasing rates for work we bloody well need ONE camera to do it all if possible, handheld b-cameras aside. The first manufacturer, either Sony or Panasonic, to realise this and make a camera that meets a more open specification will be the leader in the war for dominance.
Lots of people in the industry are becoming increasingly fed up with the multitude of formats on offer. Many are not buying into tapeless formats at all because of so much uncertainty as to which way the wind will blow next. There is currently no end in sight unfortunately.
If a target was set at cameras recording 10-bit JPEG2000 at 100Mbps for example, that would last for a good many years, especially if it was resolution and datarate agnostic. Trouble is Sony want to protect their HDCAM line and Panasonic want to protect the Varicam and 3000 lines. But there is going to have to come a point where the upper echelon in the current HDCAM and Varicam ranges are all 4k cameras, while the lower end are the 2/3" cameras.
Grass Valley's troubled Infinity already records 10-bit JPEG2000 footage to Compact Flash cards. Its only trouble is a bad reputation from faulty prototypes and a very delayed release schedule. But if it caught on the Infinity could be trouble for the big two. People who make drama want cinematography cameras such as the F23 and F35. Guys and gals who use 2/3" shoulder mounts want a do-it-all camera that will get them work day in, day out. The HDCAM codec is long in the tooth (note that I said HDCAM and not HDCAM SR) and doesn't offer a huge amount over the codec used in the PDW-700 XDCAM HD camcorder. So there really isn't any excuse not to perform some much needed and long overdue realignment on the camcorder market sectors, and actually help customers instead of hindering them.
Joe Bloggs who wants a handheld camera is fine. Most of those are all HDV. ONE format! So don't talk to me about the multitude of cameras in that range. Your choice is based upon the best camera for the job and not what format will get you by.
Freelancers in TV news and current affairs do not have this luxury. They are faced with impossible decisions at the moment that none of the big players seem to want to sort out other than plugging their own formats. Which as we've learn't is no help to anyone.
Yes, I do still love XDCAM. But there are bigger issues at stake here.