Well- another year, another NAB. My brain is sufficiently overloaded and my feet I think will fall right off soon; but nonetheless (and as always), it was a fantastic and fun week in which I got to drool over all the toys in the video production industry and have long and interesting talks with many like minded people around the floor. In fact, you often learn more about the products and how they measure up from the booth attendees compared to the actual booth reps.
I have had many people ask me for thoughts and info on the things I've seen down here, so I figured it would be easiest to just do a write up breaking down what I saw and my thoughts on some of the popular items.
Every year at NAB, the upcoming trends in the industry are incredibly apparent after spending just a few minutes walking around the show floor. This years trends? 4k, 4k, 4k resolution, handheld gimbal stabilizers and I am personally very happy to say it seems like 3d is finally dead. I didn't see a single reference to it over the course of the entire week.
I really thought that this was going to be the year that somebody made a big push and run at Red and that the camera market would see a big shake up this year. I was half right. There was a big shakeup. Both Blackmagic and AJA surprised everyone by announcing new 4k cameras. And speaking of, every single major camera manufacturer had either a 4k product close to launch or at least one in the prototype stage. 4k is coming, and fast!
Blackmagic Ursa: This was an intriguing one. The camera is big. Think around Red One size. Which doesn't actually nessecarily bother me, but the 16+ lbs weight for just the body changes dramatically how you need to support and work with the camera compared to a fixed lens camcorder or Red epic.
Image quality wise, I'm told it's the exact same sensor as the current 4k cinema camera they offer. Which honestly, I was disappointed with some of the results i saw from it. Yes, it's sharp and had nice skin tones. But the dynamic range seemed very poor, highlights were lost fast. And another huge drawback is the lowlight ability. It only goes to a max ISO of 800 in the current firmware and apparently is quite noisy even there, so I'm told to expect to usually be shooting no higher than 400 ISO.
It was also obviously still a work in progress as I found the menus to be a bit non responsive at times. And as with the cinema 4k camera they have, you have very limited setting control. Limited iso, only a few white balance settings (you can't dial in a specific amount), etc. But the body and design is a thing of beauty. It may not fit your needs, but it offers some very cool features for a certain group of shooters and studios. It has a massive 10" inch monitor that would be very convenient for framing, lighting and focus pulling. It then has two small monitors on each side of the camera. One of which can also be your menu. Great for your AC's to have access to. On the right side of the camera are huge audio level meters that can be controlled from dials on the body or from the menu. Full size XLR plug ins are on there. I was concerned with a little of this though, and hopefully they improve it before shipping, but the 3 monitors image did not look calibrated to each other or accurate period, making it hard to know what to trust. I also found the ten inch screen on the soft side sharpness wise. I'm not sure if it was a monitor or camera issue, but the color balance seemed to have a big issue... The models were lit under 5600k kino flos but on monitor when dialed into a matching white balance, their skin tones were hundreds of degrees too cool. Found this odd.
The camera records to cfast2 cards which I'm told are very expensive but may come down in price soon, they said $1200 for 120gb usually, which in the 4k prores only gets you 20-25 minutes the rep said. yikes! Talk about a media management nightmare for shooting and post. They are offering the camera in ef, pl or b4 mounts which is fantastic as the b4 mount also includes some great additional eng features such as built in nd. And the sensor is completely upgradable, protecting your investment for years to come. They also have an hdmi version of the Ursa camera which i personally found completely ridiculous. It's the same camera without a lens mount. In its place, it had a mounting plates to attach a small camera such as a dslr's or mirrorless cam. Then you use the body for monitoring and control. Can't imagine someone actually using this model... I guess maybe in a studio setting :/
So lots of positives and negatives for the system. But keep in mind that for this price point on both cameras they offer with the sensor ($3,000 for cinema and only $6000 for URSA With EF mount) that you are getting fantastic and unheard of value for what it is. Both cameras also ship with full copies of davinci resolve furthering the value.
Assuming they actually ship it in a decent timeframe for once... Personally, I won't be jumping into the Blackmagic camera world yet, but I'll be keeping a close eye on them as I think in 2-3 years once reliability, shipping and workflow issues are refined, that they will be a force to be reckoned with, but until then it's my advice to just proceed with caution and your eyes open.
AJA Cion: I didn't spend as much time with this one. But it was another surprise announcement as AJA has never done a camera before. It's another large bodied camera, however it is significantly lighter than the Ursa or a Red One. I got the chance to hold one and shoulder mount it and the weight felt comfortable especially if you come from an eng or shoulder mounted camera background. The camera is basically a ki pro quad with a sensor attached. It's only lens mount option is PL. They are not planning on offering any other options or adapters but will release the tech info to third parties so they may build ef, b4 etc mount adapters. What was also odd was the battery option. You can use v mount or ab batteries on the back as expected, but AJA doesn't even offer the plates to do so, they will have to be ordered through a third party as well. I get the sense, they are going to be doing this with a lot of needed accessories, at least for now... For the 9k price, and being able to record 4k in camera, it's another affordable option for videographers. The image quality seemed good but the menu system seemed clunky. The build and design was solid and light but large. It did have many connection and port options which is always welcomed. As with the Blackmagic 4k, this records 4k prores files that are just massive. It would definitely become a media burden in my mind. A 512gb SSS card (sold by AJA) in ProRes 4444 at 4k 23.98fps only gets you 54 minutes...
Canon: unfortunately Canon had no new cameras this year. They pitched their vastly overpriced 4k dslr's and their c500/300/100 models as well as their new servo cine zoom which is a great product but at a very high price point...
Panasonic: I didn't get a chance to check out the 4k Varicam but I did have a little time with the gh4. It's intriguing. The image quality is pretty, although the compression can be seen in the video if one looks closely. But I think that's being really picky considering this camera actually shoots 4k in camera for $2000... If one needs better compression, they can always use an external recorder. The biggest downfall in my opinion is the MFT mount. You are limited to not great lenses and if you use an adapter you have a pretty brutal crop factor making wide shots very difficult, that's a deal breaker for me unfortunately. Their bottom deck that gives you hd-sdi and XLR inputs is pricey and seems very bulky compared to the camera. It also has to be powered somehow with external battery or wall source which is frustrating. I think you'd be better of just getting a beachtek unit for you XLR and using the hdmi if you need to send an image feed out to recorder or monitor
Sony: I was impressed with Sony. They have a lot of great cameras and are moving fluidly into the 4k arena. They even announced an upgrade program so users of the f5 can jump up to the f55 easily if they'd like to. We already know about those cameras so I didn't spend any time with them. I did however spend a lot of time with their new mirrorless camera - the A7s. They had some demo footage playing from 1080p footage that was recorded in camera and 4k footage that was recorded using an external recorder. And it was beautiful. The images were crisp we great color reproduction. The camera also has a log look you can use for additional dynamic range. The camera is tiny but sure packs a punch. You can record up to 30 minute takes to class 10 sdxc cards which are really affordable. Both Atomos and convergent Design have semi affordable options to get that 4k image out of there too when your project calls for it. The camera apparently will have amazing low light capabilities and very high ISO availability/usability. They offer XLR plugs with phantom power through a hot shoe accessory that also includes a short shotgun microphone. You can shoot 60fps at 1080P and 120fps at 720P. So it's nice to have some slo mo options. I own all ef mount lenses so the sony lens mount was going to be a drawback for me. However they displayed a third party adapter from metabones to adapt ef lenses to the sony e mount and it felt solid and transfers all of the electronic info to camera. As a still camera, it only shoots 12 megapixels which is a bit of a bummer, but better than nothing and assists with getting the high video quality, so I understand the drawback. The haven't announced a price but it's rumored to be around $2000 plus costs for the XLR box and lens adapter if you don't use sony lenses and expect another $2,000-$2,500 for an external recorder if you want to use the 4k feature. I'm excited about this product.
Sony also had their 4k Camcorders with fixed lenses on display. They are already available and are a decent product. For the users that are used to shooting with similar cameras and are looking for something 4k, this fits the bill. But as all smaller sensor cameras, they suffer and are limited in low light. So that's a deal breaker for me. They are priced competitively at just over $5000 I believe.
Sony's 4k screens are a thing of beauty. It was fun just standing there and being mesmerized by them.
JVC: Had three 4k prototypes on display . Nothing shipping till end of year or later. Pretty uninspiring compared to other companies upcoming products.
Arri: Arri makes beautiful cameras with some of the best image quality, look and skin tones of any other camera out there. There is a reason their cameras are used on such a huge chunk of the biggest movies and shows. But they are geared towards that market too so are very expensive. So I didn't really spend much time there.
Red: I really thought this was the year somebody might make a big run at Red. But after spending hours and hours at the other camera booths, it became very apparent to me that the best value and quality is still the Red Epic/Scarlet. They had footage from their new 6k sensor on display in both 4k and IMAX projection and the sharpness/detail, dynamic range resolution and color rendition just blows everybody else out of the water. The fact they do this in such a small form factor is equally impressive. New competitors are coming in with cameras that are much closer to the original red one rather than to red's current offerings. The Red one was released around 2006/2007... But I think where red really succeeds in the 4k market is that they have mastered the compression/codec side of things. The R3d files are not only very efficient, but they are raw too, allowing for huge amount of flexibility in post, the new dragon sensor solves my biggest issues I had with the scarlet. The upgrade will allow for much better lowlight, higher resolution, more frame rate (Slow mo) options, even better compression efficiency in the files and multiple stops of additional dynamic range. I'll be signing up to upgrade my Red Scarlet to this new dragon sensor.
If you need the best and something for a reasonable budget, the Epic/Scarlet dragon line is king daddy in my mind. Keep in mind, when I say reasonable, I'm referring to it relative to the quality. As with any professional setup, Buying into Red is not cheap, it adds up fast. But it competes with cameras costing 4x more, so the value is huge.
*These are all just my opinions and are based on how the cameras would work best for me, they may not translate to your needs or budget. Always use the tool that works best for you. At the end of the day, your camera is just another tool that you use to tell the best story possible.
Movi: They started this whole craze and they are still the best. Their unit was the smoothest and most intuitive of all the units I tried.
DJI: For being half the price of the Movi, I was quite impressed. They had a simple design which I actually liked as it kept the weight down, but it was very smooth and felt good in the hands. The booth reps I spoke to were clueless unfortunately so I really didn't get the opportunity to have any of my questions answered or learn more about the software, settings and features they may offer. But it seems like this may be a good way to go if the movi is out of your budget.
Others: These gimbal stabilizers were absolutely everywhere. Both in booths and in people's hands roaming around the show floor. But the two above really stood out the most out of the ones I tried. Many models got clunky or over complicated I found. In fact at one booth, they powered everything from a single v-lock battery which I thought was great. But with a Red Epic on there, it was almost unuseable weight wise. So they had an easy rig style support arm and wire that's attached to you and went over your head. Yes, that took all the weight off, but it defeats the purpose and versatility of a handheld gimbal system being tethered liked that. You might as well just use a steadicam in the situations you would use that particular rig. Many rigs had glitchy software that would skip on the stabilization from time to time.
Commodo: This rig was different from the others as it is the same idea but features no gimbal or motors. It did have some sort of stabilizing gear unit on top. It's nice to have a model that doesn't require external power or long calibration time. It's not as steady as the gimbaled versions obviously and doesn't compensate for any Dutch shifting but I found the unit surprisingly smooth. Another smart feature, is the handles feature dual grips on each side to make for easy hand off between operators for dynamic moves, If you can't afford a gimbal or want something a little simpler, I think this unit is a great alternative. It is on my wish list.
Accessories: (a few highlights that I could remember from the thousands of items seen)
Wooden Camera: If you own a Blackmagic, dslr or red camera, you owe it to yourself to check out this company. Not only do they have some of the best customer service out there, but their vast line of products are great quality, innovative and fill a lot of needs.
Their new NATO top handle looked great. It quick release attaches to your NATO plate but it has mounting holes on all sides, a hot shoe mount and a 19mm rod opening on one side and 15mm on the other. The handle can be quickly rotated using a rosette based grip. Really handy item
If you own a red/epic or scarlet, their new c box is close to a must have. It has a small profile and fits on the back of your cam behind your battery plate. You input hdmi or hdsdi from the cam and the device allows you three hdsdi and two hdmi ports. Any can be used, even simultaneously, no matter your input. It even includes a USB output to power wireless transmitters and other devices. This is a very cool item at an attractive price point for what it is.
They also showed off their upcoming line of Matte boxes. These are great quality and they have really made some great solutions to those annoying donut adapters many of us usually have to fiddle with.
I can't stress enough how great they are to deal with, this company deserves your business.
Rycote: They had a new product called the Super Softie which is a great alternative to full zeppelin set ups to reduce wind noise from mins. It's durable, apparently blocks out huge amounts of wind and is easily washable if it gets dirt or other elements on it.
Atomos: They drew a huge crowd to their large booth this year. It may have had something to do with the half naked girl on stage being bodypainted ;) oh Vegas. But they had a great year. I'm not a big fan of external recorders but they had two new products that both fill important needs. They announced a $300 recorder to make hd prores files from camera. small and portable and no unnessecary monitor. It records to cfast cards and will be great for making ProRes files for clients with no transcoding or for making high quality video files from lower end cameras. The hdmi is loop through and it has automatic triggering and timecode for many of the camera brands.
They also had on display their new 4k capable recorder, the shogun. This will be coming in for under $2,000. Unfortunately it was only in a glass case and not yet useable, so I wasn't able to get a hands on look. But it allows 4k raw, prores or dng files and includes a full hdsdi high quality monitor. Those are usually over 2k alone, the monitor has waveform and all those other bells and whistles. It has a wireless remote and is even able to take XLR plugs. This will be in direct competition to the convergent designs odyssey unit.
Rig wheels: They have a Dana Dolly competitor that was very smooth. I was impressed with it. Even more so I really liked their bracket and portable dolly track system. It has connectable pieces that were very solid and caused no bumps. A huge space saver.
They also had these magnet mounts which where insanely strong.
Nila: They have these large output led lights that were very very bright and small size given their output. They are pricey but when you consider they can replace your hmi's, it seems more reasonable. They also had a filter system that shaped the light very impressively.
Arri: Their new LED fresnel units are very cool. Pretty good punch as far as LEDs go. They can be battery powered. What was really cool is they took the color control to a whole new level. You could dial in not only your white balance but also your green/purple tint. That's huge when trying to match with other non film set fluorescents you may run into on location. They also have a color mode that allows to choose the color of the light, red, blue, green, yellow, etc. and then even adjust the saturation of that color. No more gels :)
Zacuto: They had on display their new Gratical HD viewfinder. It was fantastic. The image quality was one of the best I've seen in an evf. It also includes many display customization options and allows you to see your waveform and scope monitors simultaneously with the image. The HD version was night and day compared to their lower cost version in my opinion.
Sachtler: They had a great new product for their 100mm bowl heads. It's called the super speed clamp and it replaces your bottom screw leveler with a handgrip, so all you have to is squeeze and unsqueeze the grip in order to re level your head. One of those simple items that would be a blessing on set.
Benro: I was actually impressed by their monopod which had the standard flip out bottom legs but they allowed you to smooth move your camera around for small moves or quick reframing. Simple but likeable item.
Spider Pod: a little pricey but a very convenient riser platform for your camera that includes a platform for the operator as well. The whole setup gets you two feet higher but breaks down to a small and skinny final case that is easy to carry. Good for guys who shoot a lot of speakers. It sets up in less than 30 seconds and very easily.
Interesting Future Technologies:
Andra Focus System: This technology is a total gamechanger. You will see many other companies jumping into this arena over the next few years. The system they designed allows you to place small tracker devices on actors, subjects, backgrounds etc. You then have a controller to select and switch between what tracker point is in focus, and no matter where they move, they stay in focus. You can ramp between subjects accurately with one button and you can change the rack focus speed easily. The system was very responsive to fast movements. The system is expensive but when you consider what it does, its pretty darn impressive.
Aime: This little gadget was also an interesting technology. You attach your gopro to the top of the unit and select your framing. You then attach a wireless rf unit to you subject and it automatically pans and tilts the camera to keep the subject in frame. Great for action sports shots.