A Look Back at NAB 2012, Part One
What? A review of NAB one month after it started? What can you be thinking?
I’ve never been a fan of instant analysis of new technology. That’s especially the case when it comes to a frenetically paced show like NAB. Most every company thinks–or at least hopes–that it has the potential hit technology of the show. I had been to 20 straight shows before returning last year after a hiatus. If anything, the hype flew thicker than ever.
Before, during and right after the annual convention, I steel myself against a deluge of breathless articles and hurried blog posts. Most of it comes from the press kits or straight from a flack’s overview.
I still read some of it of course. If you keep an eye on the scene, then there’s good analysis to be had from a certain few writers and websites that aren’t so easily snowed.
By waiting a month, the hype has receded. The more relevant products now sit at the top of the blogosphere, while much else has faded. There’s enough space here for me to work out a few products in each posting, gear and software that has the potential to make a significant difference in production and post over the next year or two.
Over the next few postings, I’ll offer some short thoughts, note sites you might check out to find out some quality thinking, and offer up a few short videos that were fun to do and hopefully a bit useful for you in developing a feel for developments at the show.
Let’s take a look at some of the developments in cameras. Cursory to be sure, but you can find much more by following the links or attending the demos that AbelCine will surely roll out as soon as the first cameras are available.
But before jumping in, I want to share a video I did at the annual CML (cinematographer’s mailing list) party. This is a casual affair that takes place in an off-the-strip hotel that doesn’t mind a group of passionate if not wealthy DPs, engineers and other to take over the lounge for a few hours.
There’s an easy camaraderie here as many of the guys (sorry, but only guys seemed to be in attendance when I happened by) are familiar to each other via the constant and very informed posts that fly back and forth on the site on a regular basis. In this video I watched as Carlos Acosta, CEO, designer, and mechanical engineer at Chatsworth, Calif.-based Solid Camera, explained some of the most useful features of his company’s innovative NoLow system for the Sony F65. Top features include integrated EVF support, with an extension arm; a quick release handle; and “too many” 3/8inch accessory mounts.
While not many camcorders are built in the U.S. anymore, the CML group is a mainstay of inventive, innovative thinking, creating, and modding of the necessary tools of creatives. Case in point: the fellow who grabbed the pizza box to help balance the lighting in this video is Jeff Kreines, a highly regarded director, DP and inventor whose innovative Kinetta debuted at NAB 2004 as one of the very first digital camcorders with an upgradeable sensor ala the RED.
One camera evoked an effect similar to the RED ONE release at NAB 2006 had upon attendees. Blackmagic Design’s Cinema Camera, you probably know by now, caused the most stir at the show. Not least in this response is the knowledge that this Australian company, known for its savvy product design combined with low prices, must have sent tremors through the ranks of camera companies much larger and wealthier. Sure, this is the first version of a camera from a company that’s never built one before. But camera technology—from leading edge sensors through to the electronics—has become commoditized to such an extent that smaller, independent companies like Blackmagic Design or even the Kickstarter project that’s launching a Digital Bolex are feasible today.
At about $3K, and delivering 12-bit RAW output the camera offloads a 2.5K image from the CMOS sensor. (Apple ProRes and Avid DNxHD are also available if you don’t want to chew through the built-in SSD storage card.)
You’ll have to supply the glass, among them you might choose something from the huge cache of Canon lenses on the market, or for the deeper pocketed, Zeiss CP.2 and ZE lenses. The sensor, slightly smaller than that in the popular 4/3 series cameras, results in a near 2x crop with these lenses. That means if you start with a Canon 24mm lens you’ll end up shooting closer to angles of a 50mm one.
With a claimed 13-stops of latitude, the camera competes with some of the top systems out there. Since you’ll also get a copy of DaVinci Resolve ($995) and the UltraScope waveform monitor ($695) for the price of the Cinema camera ($2995), this just may be a deal many will feel that they can’t pass up.
Daniel Freytag has a good interview on his blog with DP John Brawley, who was able to use the camera during its development. Brawley has a graded test video posted on Vimeo that gives some idea of the camera sensor’s capabilities. Brawley also offers up this low-light video.
The Canon C300, which has been available for a few months now, engenders a range of opinions, mostly at the extremes. The specs include a Super 35mm sized sensor, the Digic DV III image processor, a codec delivering a 4:2:2 image at 50Mbs, and internal SSD storage that can handle data that fast.
Some balk though at its $16K (list price) camera with no lens, no built-in mic, an 8-bit image and 60fps slow motion only at 720p. Others feel comfortable with a known brand turning out a solidly built, low-light capable camera (maximum ISO 20,000), with a comfortable form factor, built-in ND filters and flat Canon C-Log cine gamma. Camera operators will appreciate the button near the right side handle that allows a zoom-in focus check during shooting.
Here’s a couple of early reviews that nail most of the issues, one from a Brit DP, the second from the prolific blogger Philip Bloom. AbelCine offers useful info on Log LUTs (look up tables) and other scene files here.
Red’s Scarlet-X offers up its ‘brain’ at $10K, although a complete system is somewhere north of $15K. Based on the sensor used in the top-of-the-line Epic, the camera delivers video at 4K and 5K still image captures at 12fps. Some complain about excessive pricing for Scarlett accessories ($3200 list for the SSD), while the camera as a whole prices higher than the original planned model that was to offer a single fixed lens. The camera was said to have plans to offer a 3K sensor camera for around $3K, but the Blackmagic camera has cut it off at the pass.
Adam Wilt offers his take on the camera and other matters RED (including an interview with RED’s frontman Ted Schilowitz) on this page.
Sony’s FS-700 created great interest when it was announced before the show. The camera can turn out an impressive 1920 x 1080 slo-mo image at 240fps, while a future firmware upgrade will deliver a promised 4K output. At around $8K list, this draws a line in the sand that other camera manufacturers will need to deal with. Although we can expect to see a flood of slo-mo when the camera delivers later this year, the solid low-light capability (at up to 12,000 ISO) looks equally attractive. Check out AbelCine’s Andy Shipsides low-light, dynamic range, and slo-mo tests here. (http://bit.ly/JyUmOu)
There are a number of cameras I can’t get to, but that deserve checking out.
Adam Wilt at the ProVideo Coalition site offers up even more from his NAB technology takes. Adam spots the tiny 4K JVC camcorder and JVC’s HM600/650 handheld HD camcorders as relevant gear to know about, but also goes on with info on cameras rarely considered, such as the FASTEC, DENZ, Carmagus and Ikonskop.
The Phantom Miro M320S delivers an astonishing 1540fps at 1920 x 1080. Check out Jim Geduldick’s behind-the-scenes video on the camera here. Panasonic has a Panasonic 4K VariCam in the works, but only a concept camera turned up at the show. The company’s new microP2 cards, however, were there.With a shape and sized like a SDHC card, it offers fast and reliable flash memory that should do the trick for that 4K camera.
I’ll be covering other new gear-including the out-of-left-field results of GoPro and Technicolor working together–in upcoming posts.