26 May 2018

As consumer features migrate up to pro cameras, is Consumer the new Professional?

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Consumer is the new professional Consumer is the new professional RedShark/Sony


RedShark Replay: Are consumer products more advanced than professional ones?

It used to be very obvious that professional products were more advanced than consumer ones. Look at Formula One racing, for example: there's probably not a nut or bolt or byte of software on those cars that's as mundane as anything on a consumer vehicle. And it seems entirely reasonable that these cutting-edge developments that are tested under the harshest and most competitive of conditions will trickle down to "ordinary" cars. First, perhaps, at the top end (sports and luxury cars) and then - sometimes surprisingly quickly, into everyday cars that are driven by people who are not necessarily wealthy.

It's such a natural progression that it's hard to see how it could ever change. But it has. We're starting to see the reverse happen. Consumer devices are setting the pace and redefining what we mean by "professional"

It happens in two ways: actual and virtual. What do I mean by this?

It's happening in the real world

We've just seen an example of it happening in the real world. Sony's consumer 4K camcorder, the AX100 comes with a very good sensor (Sony's Exmor "1-type" - which seems to be a reference to the fact that it's one inch across) and a very powerful processor which can handle 4K or which can downscale a 5K (20 megapixel) image to HD in real time. (This is what happens with Sony's RX10 camera).

Both of these elements (the sensor and the processor) are perfect for the professional version of the camera that has just been (sort of) announced by Sony. There is nothing about these parts that holds the performance back in any way compared to what you might expect to find on a professional device. What Sony is doing here is taking the technology of the consumer camera and repackaging it with better audio and codecs (and perhaps some other stuff that hasn't been announced yet) and marketing it as a professional device.

In our view, there's nothing shoddy or cheap about this approach. It just happens that consumer technology has become so good that there is no reason why is shouldn't be used as the basis for a professional device. The quality of the picture at this price point is now so good in a consumer device that there is no reason why it shouldn't be used by professionals, who will benefit from a better code and a nicer way to handle audio.

Good news for professionals

This is good for professionals because it keeps the price down and the development cycles shorter.

Ever since the iPhone came out in 2007, there's another way in which professional products are based on consumer technology.

Smartphone and tablet devices are now so powerful and so capable that they're way beyond what a lot of professionals need in a basic computing platform. This opens the door to professional app writers to create programs that do very specific "professional" tasks that run on generic consumer platforms.

One example of this is the Mackie mixer which is fully controllable from a consumer device: an iPad. The functionality of the Mackie iPad app has nothing to do with whether the device it is running on is "consumer" or "professional" any more than when you shoot a documentary the pavement you're walking on is "professional": it simply ceases to have any meaning in that context.


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David Shapton

David is the Editor In Chief of RedShark Publications. He's been a professional columnist and author since 1998, when he started writing for the European Music Technology magazine Sound on Sound. David has worked with professional digital audio and video for the last 25 years.

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