In a recent camcorder seminar held in Tokyo, Japan, Canon revealed that the future of its camcorders lies in high definition and flash memory.
Canon holds the three key technologies used in its camcorders: the lenses originally developed for TV broadcast video, the HD CMOS image sensors originally developed for EOS DSLRs, and the DIGIC DV III image rendering engine based on color reproduction algorithms developed for the EOS and IXUS series. The company launched its first flash memory-based camcorders in 2008, and in 2009 it released nine new camcorders based on flash memory, with only two new camcorders using DVD media and one using MiniDV tape.
Canon estimates that in the worldwide digital camcorder market, sales of its HD camcorders in 2009 grew by 135% from 2008 with 3.9 million more units sold (13.4 million units in total). Flash memory-based SD camcorder sales grew the most, up by 282% from 1.3 million to 3.6 million, and MiniDV tape-based camcorders suffered a drop of 35%, from 3.2 million units sold to 1.1 million.
The highest number of HD camcorder users lies in Japan, with 89% of units sold being HD camcorders. In the US, HD camcorders account for 23% of camcorder sales, in Europe 25%, in Australia 27% and in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand 29% total.
Takashi Kuniyoshi, Senior Advisory Director, revealed that those who buy camcorders are most likely in the "25 - 34 years age group, it's the age group that has small children, and I think this phenomena is similar in Japan and the United States. We haven't had any specific surveys in any other areas, but the 25 - 34 age group is the customer for the camcorder. There is a strong demand to capture their children growing up in moving images. Whereas for the DSLR we have customers amongst the older age group in their 50s and 60s, and digital compacts spread to the younger age groups from their teens to their 20s. As for camcorders and how much they're penetrating the market, in general not just for Canon, actually 40% of the households have camcorders, whereas for the digital compacts including DSLRs its 80% (in Japan)."
When asked about the differences between using a DSLR or camcorder to capture video, Kuniyoshi made the point that "they have specific shapes that make it easier to capture either still or moving images. DSLRs are made to capture still images so they are more convenient to use for that purpose, while the camcorder is easier to handle when you're trying to capture moving images. When you look at the image quality, camcorders sensors are made very small, so that you can have this compact size. DSLR sensors, as well as the lenses, are larger so you have a larger product. So it's all up to the user to choose between the DSLR, the compacts, or the camcorders depending on what it is they want to take, and Canon will focus on what the consumer wants to use the equipment for."
Naoya Kaneda, Senior General Manager of the Lens Products Development Centre, added that "there will be some fundamental differences for different uses. Camcorders don't require a lot of skill or complicated techniques to achieve a satisfactory level of image quality. Another point is the quietness or the noise reduction, I don't think much attention has been paid in the case of DSLRs to reducing the noise levels that are caused by the shift of the lenses, as much as has been done for LEGRIA. The camcorders are quieter, whether you're zooming or focusing. Another difference is the small size of the camcorder. Even if it's very small, you can still achieve 10 or 15x zoom."
Since Canon camcorders are developed separately from Canon DSLRs and compacts, both of which also feature video recording, we were curious if there were there any plans for collaboration between the camcorder and camera divisions.
Kuniyoshi elaborated that "there are four specific centres, rather there are five, but the four relevant ones would be the DSLR, VF lens, digital compact lens and camcorders, and the fifth would be the professional lens division. I don't think that bringing all the four divisions together into one big division is going to lead to better products. I think it's better for each division to focus on creating good products in their own areas but there are opportunities for cross sectional linkages. Development centers sometimes hold meetings together and there are liaison meetings that go on between the heads of these different divisions. I believe that this system is right now working very well. It's working in its best possible form right now as it is, and I'm probably not the only one who believes that way."
Because the AVCHD CODEC is known for very aggressive image compression, we asked Canon why they decided to go with AVCHD and how they've managed to improve image quality.
Masahide Hirasawa, Deputy Senior General Manager, replied that "we adopted AVCHD because we assumed that Blu-ray would be the mainstream media for people to store videos taken by HD camcorders. You can transfer the videos from HD camcorders to your PC but you still need to back them up. Such videos should be viewed ten years, twenty years from now and Blu-ray would be a very ideal media for storage HD images, and AVCHD is a very suitable standard for that purpose, so we decided to adopt that standard.
"When the images taken according to AVCHD are compressed, we incorporated certain techniques to prevent the images from being downgraded; so even if the images are compressed, our technology enables you to keep a very high level of picture quality. Canon has its own proprietary recording engine, which works very well with our lens, sensors, imaging engine - that's why we can compress images without degrading imaging quality."