Are new camera features future-proofing or sales-baiting?

Every new camera generation introduces us to a slew of new features, improved specs and promises of better video capture. But how much of these new releases is improving the camera landscape, and how much of it is just features for feature’s sake?

While we’ve all certainly grown accustomed to the new hotness from our favorite camera manufacturers, how many new features will actually help us make better video? It could be argued that everything any good shooter needs has been in the camera for generations. Obviously, improvements to sensors, resolution or image stabilization have helped, but most cameras have dozens of features that many of us will never use. These generally just clutter up otherwise brilliant devices.

It makes sense that things have gone this way, as an ever-tightening camera market has forced manufacturers to go to greater lengths to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Higher resolution and frame rates for less money have ruled the halls of NAB for years. But small features designed to dress up a tear sheet always make their way into new camera bodies. Wi-fi footage transfer, Bluetooth camera controls and companion apps, high framerate burst modes, optical this, digital that. Manufacturers are hoping that one of these bullet points adds value in the eyes of their target demographic and moves units.

While some of these features seem fluffy or not practical in professional settings, other features look to future proof cameras to a degree. They deliver performance that banks on where things are heading. A Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K, for instance, captures Blackmagic RAW Q0 DCI 4K/60 at a rate that, as of this writing, not even the beastliest of expensive CFast 2.0 cards can handle.

The competition hasn’t been all bad, however. It’s led to some incredible feature integration and a field of innovative cameras — of all shapes and sizes — that are accessible to just about anyone. A good example of that is the all-new DJI OSMO Action camera. While action camera juggernaut GoPro was worrying about share prices, the folks over at DJI put down their gimbals and beat them at their own game. The OSMO Action sports front and rear screens, a friendly user interface, image stabilization, 4K/60p capture, HDR, 8x Slow Motion, and a $350 price tag.

But what’s truly important in a camera purchase? Surely how the camera fares doing your specific job is the most important criteria for purchase. I shoot with a variety of cameras, but chose the Sony FS5 Mark II for a daily driver, as it serves my needs best and fits within my budget. I doubt I’ll ever use the 960fps burst mode, but I always enjoy the incredibly small form-factor and the beautiful image the camera produces. But each of us is going to have our own series of checkboxes that need ticking in the feature department.

Surely how the camera fares doing your specific job is the most important criteria for purchase.

That said, the last decade in video has been fun. We’ve seen an unprecedented surge in amazing tech trickle through product lines and across platform boundaries. And consumers have benefited. Our phones shoot 4K60 video, there are dozens of pro-level 4K cameras that can be on set for under ten grand, drones and gimbals are a daily reality for many of us, and arriving at a shoot with a mirrorless camera that fits in a jacket pocket is wholly acceptable. Indeed, the footage will elicit oohs and aahs upon delivery.

So that’s it. With another NAB under our belts, we saw a lot of new features emerge; some good, some bad and some just fluffy. As much as things changed, it feels like the products are still moving in the right direction, and it sure makes for an exciting time to be a video shooter. It begs an interesting question, though. Is all of the feature-loading making the camera playing field TOO similar? What if the key to standing out is to take things in the opposite direction? I would love to see what these amazing manufacturers could dream up if tasked with creating a simple, basic camera without the frills. Big, glorious sensor, a basic set of shooter tools (histogram, white balance, ND filters, etc.), and so few extras that it becomes a starting point for shooters across multiple disciplines.

Is less more? Is more more? Luckily, it’s not up to me.

Russ Fairley
Russ Fairley
Russ Fairley is a producer, editor and motion graphic designer. He also writes for Videomaker and several other publications.

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