The day after the Cinema EOS launch at Paramount Studios, Jon Fauer interviewed Mr. Masaya Maeda, Canon’s Managing Director and Chief Executive of Image Communication Products Operations.
Jon Fauer: Mr. Maeda, I think I heard you say yesterday that you started as an engineer. Can you tell us how you began in your career?
Mr. Maeda: Some old stories?
Q: Yes, because I think that might relate to how it this camera came about. It didn’t happen out of thin air.
A: I first came to Los Angeles in ’84. The Olympics were held in Los Angeles that year. And I brought the first Canon still video camcorder. At the time, we were working with a newspaper called Yomiuri. And we came together, tested the system, and ended up delivering 50 color electronic files back to Japan. I believe that was the first step for Canon into electronic cameras. It was 380,000 pixels at that time. I think it still used floppy disks. It feels like destiny to have, 27 years later, an 8.3 million pixel camera and be doing this in Los Angeles.
Q: Can you tell us a little more about how the first seeds of this idea were planted at Canon for this camera? When you said, “Okay, this is a good idea. Let’s start on this project.” The green light.
A: The 5D Mark II was the initial spark. At that stage, though, we were not adding movie capabilities to the Mark II for motion picture production purposes, but rather for broadcast or journalism applications. And we had figured that, from here on, it would become a very good tool for newsgathering purposes.
Q: When I visited Canon headquarters in Tokyo, it was November, 2008. At that time, was this an idea?
A: We only learned about the use of the 5D Mark II for movie-making in the first half of 2009, it was after that when we decided to develop the Super 35 CMOS Sensor.
Q: Can you take us through the design process? Let’s imagine we’re in the middle of 2009. The 5D Mark II is a huge success. What happens next?
A: We first put together a development project team. The first idea that came out of that team was to have a core mobile design. So you have the core. And that should be as small as possible. And, from there, you add or take off different accessories to match the application and the flexibility or mobility that you require.
Q: I know that you and your team interviewed a lot of cinematographers, asking questions. I was one of them. You must have had hundreds of different opinions. Because, if you ask 100 cinematographers you will probably get 100 different ideas. How did you consolidate it into this unified design?
A: We took that core mobile design model. And, after working that out, we started going out, asking about the operability, the location of certain buttons, switches. And that was around the end of 2009.
Q: What influenced your decision to go with both PL and the EF mounts? I saw that Canon has delivered 70 million EF lenses. When your team first spoke to me in 2009, I thought perhaps you were not happy about my articles in Film and Digital Times about machine shops (mostly in Munich) cutting off perfectly good Canon cameras’ EF mounts and putting PL mounts on instead.
A: We, of course, understood that there was an established market for PL lenses. Many customers already have those lenses. So we wanted to be able to have them use the C300 also. So we decided to come out with a PL mount version.
Q: Canon makes everything that goes into this camera– the sensor, electronics, software, lenses. With those resources, what’s next?
A: We are working at today’s level of technology. Each of these devices or elements have areas that need improvement. So, from here on, we will gradually, step by step, one by one, continue to improve those individual things.
Q: We saw four clips of films shot with C300 cameras yesterday. What made them look so good coming from a camera that’s smaller and lighter than anything we’ve seen before? Most people couldn’t believe it.
A: I believe it’s in the skill of the cinematographers and the film creators.
Q: That’s true. They did a great job. But, modesty aside, the footage could have intercut with footage from any number of high-end film or digital cameras. The thing that everybody was wondering was how can this be? What is the secret sauce that makes it possible?
A: In all of the films, we noticed, and the DPs noticed, the performance in the dark areas. They were aware that the camera could shoot in very minimal lighting. That was represented very well in those films. It shows off the capabilities of the camera.
Q: When you were designing this camera, did you say, “Okay, we need a camera that shoots in really low light”? Was that an early important feature?
A: Yes, from the very beginning. But I do believe that we can still improve on our sensitivity. What we would like to truly target is shooting a crow in the middle of the night. And maybe, some day, the black spots on the sun.
Q: Mr. Maeda, you also said that you had to light a fire under your team in Japan. Tell us more about that.
A: At the time when we were developing the 5D Mark II, I realized that the world for journalism was changing. It was going through a very rapid transition, where news was on the web in both still and in video movies. So I lit a fire in order to rush them to develop these products.
Q: Is this a similar or the same design team that got us the 5D Mark II and the XF305?
A: The main portion of the team comes from video, the XF305 designers. But we also had several members from the EOS camera group join this team. And, of course, from the lens group also.
Q: That’s a good transition to talk about the lenses. Can we expect more cinema lenses?
A: Yes, we plan on developing more tools, more lenses that will be useful for the cinematographers and the users.
Q: Can I ask a few difficult questions?
A: No difficult questions, please. Oh well, let’s try. [laughter]
Q: There’s a lot of talk in Hollywood, now, about 4K cameras. RED has always advocated 4K. Sony is ready to deliver their 4K F-65 camera. Is there a Canon roadmap for 4K?
A: We honestly don’t really know at this stage. But, coming out with this product, we’d like to start the feedback process with the community here in Hollywood and understand more of where to go or where the expectations of the industry are. Outside of the cinema industry, there are many Canon EOS 5D Mark II users. Particularly there are many users in the commercial production area requiring or requesting even higher resolutions. As we have shown yesterday, the development of a new-concept DSLR with 4K is in the works.
Q: A Canon DSLR with 4K video? How did I miss that?
A: It was in the showcase as you entered our exhibit on the Paramount stage. It’s still a prototype. It will record video in motion JPEG 4K.
Q: The other tough question: if this is the first of many more cinema cameras, would Canon consider entering the “rarified” high-end, occupied by Arri, Panavision, Sony and Red? This is the area where cameras are counted in the hundreds (or sometimes a few thousands), not in the millions that you are accustomed to manufacture. Is that something Canon is possibly interested in? Limited numbers, more expensive, very, high-end?
A: At this point, we can’t give a definite no or yes. But we’ll continue to look at developments in the industry and determine what to do, where to go.
Q: I saw some many third-party accessories for the camera (OConnor, Steadicam, Transvideo, Manfrotto, Red Rock, Zacuto, 3Ality Technica 3D, AJA, Cine Deck, Arri…
A: We’ve actually been working fairly closely with other companies, including ARRI, to accommodate their accessories and systems. Of course, ARRI has accessories for the lenses. And we’d like to supply lenses for their cameras. We sort of view them, in some ways, as a partner.
Q: You mentioned lenses. Currently, the Canon zooms come in PL and EF mounts, but the single focal-length cine prime lenses come in EF mount only. Are we going to see your cine primes coming in PL mount?
A: At this point, we’re not. However, the core of Canon’s technology is, of course, our optical technology. We would very much like to support the Hollywood community, and to offer new directions with our technologies.
Q: A lot of my colleagues were saying that the color science that’s going into this camera seems to really reflect Canon’s long heritage in analog still cameras. What we saw yesterday didn’t look like video, it looked like film. Noise looked like film grain. It was very film-like. Can you comment on that?
A: As a newcomer to the cinema industry, we did a lot of interviews with cinematographers. And, through those interviews, we tried to understand what kind of outputs, pictures, results the filmmakers wanted. And, through those discussions, this is where we’ve come. We learned, through all of the communication, that unlike our still photography, what people were looking for in the film and movie industry was not necessarily high contrast imaging, but a more natural look. And that’s what we’ve built into the C300 here. But also, with the belief that there will be areas where high contrast is also required, we have left that as a mode within the camera, the original EOS type of contrast. We will continue to study.
Q: Is this the “beginning of a new relationship” for Canon in Hollywood?
A: It was a very big success yesterday. So, thank you very much. I have done many unveilings of new products. But this has been the most exciting one that I’ve ever experienced.
Footnote: The RC-701 still camera was not yet “digital.” Canon refers to it as a “still video camcorder” on the Canon Inc website:
1984: Practical tests of a still video camcorder were conducted at the Los Angeles Olympic Games.
1986: The RC-701, the world’s first still video camera, and video system was introduced.