Last year’s NAB conference’s theme was the promise of 4K-capable cameras and it seems that this year nearly every camera manufacturer has delivered or exceeded on this expectation. In fact there were a several cameras announced with sensors capable of capturing beyond 4K, a few with surprising price tags such as the relatively inexpensive Blackmagic URSA Mini or the mighty Red Weapon Dragon. What this means, however, is that 4K is no longer a differentiating feature when it comes to new camera tech.
The hot items this year were products built around the 4K capture devices such as external recorders, motion-control systems and stabilizers. I could list countless products in each of these categories. Last year, the show was focused heavily on more pixels and bigger files. 4K and codecs were big last year and of course we will continue to see improvements in resolution and compression efficiencies. In this area, camera tech has improved so swiftly and prices have dropped so rapidly, these features are becoming less relevant as differentiators from a production standpoint. Anyone can shoot 4K or download Adobe’s Creative Cloud. Most new cell phones shoot some version of a 4K image. Strip away all of the technical mumbo-jumbo and the products that really shined this year affected HOW shooters capture content. My favorite announcements this year focused on workflows and technology aimed at unlocking new creative possibilities. Cameras got smaller and are becoming more mobile with wireless and remote capabilities and the advances in camera sensors in terms of dynamic range (the range between the lightest and darkest parts of an image) were nuts this year. Oh yeah and there were drones, lots and lots of drones.
My Favorite Announcements
There were plenty of fancy and downright mind blowing things announced this year in terms of specs and capabilities. Regardless, here are a few that I can’t wait to use:
DJI, perhaps best known for their phantom series of consumer video drones, had the Ronin M on display in their booth this year. It’s the baby brother to the Ronin, a competitor to the Movi Freefly gymbal stabilization system. The M is designed to support camera setups weighing up to 8 pounds, is half the weight, all at nearly half the price of the original Ronin to boot! I got to play around with this guy a little bit and it would easily change the way we shoot projects here at Untold. While there is no substitute for having the right hardware for the right shot, for many “run and gun” or documentary style video projects, the Ronin could really add a lot of production value by allowing us to mimic slider, dolly, even crane shots all with one small, lightweight product. I’m very excited to use this product in the near future.
The DJI Ronin M
Redrock Micro’s Halo:
Redrock Micro has taken taken focus pulling into the future with their newest product, the Halo. It uses the “same tech as what cars use for collision detection”. The idea is to help automate focus pulling enough to make it fast, easy, and accurate without taking away any control from the focus puller. It uses a hybrid control approach, utilizing both a touch screen that has a focus wheel attached to the side of it. The Andra Motion Focus system blew minds last year, this one looks to be quite tasty as well. Having a product that can map objects in front of the camera in real time is really interesting to see.
Panasonic GH4 Firmware Update + Veydra anamorphic primes: Two products that will find a happy home together are the GH4, which just got a new firmware announcement and Veydra’s low cost anamorphic prime lenses built for 4/3 cameras. Available in 2016, the price point is the most interesting thing here for sure as these lenses will retail for under $5k each, which is a steal compared to traditional anamorphic primes. The GH4 camera, which is incredibly small and great for mounting on drones, will be able to capture a true anamorphic image. Furthermore, there is talk that it will adopt a V-log picture profile borrowed from the high end VariCam 35 making it potential B-cam option for bigger productions. An anamorphic image can add a ton of production value because it allows for a wider field of capture, and the lenses add those cool lens flares that we like seeing in big blockbuster films. Now we have an option that won’t cost a small fortune.
DVX200: Anyone who owned or used the original DVX100, which debuted in 2002, was excited to see this camera unveiled this year. The DVX100 was one of the first affordable camcorders to record video in 24p giving that craved “film-like look” in a form factor that nearly everyone loved. It was “the” camera in the early 2000’s and I have many fond memories of using it in my early filmmaking career. It was later replaced by a model that could shoot 720p HD footage, but this time around the DVX is packing heat with a 4/3″ 4K sensor. Unfortunately, the DVX200 was locked behind a glass case and was accompanied only by a spec sheet so we can only hope this little guy can fill the shoes of it’s legendary predecessors. I can’t wait to take it for a spin once it’s released this fall. This will hopefully be perfect camera for fast paced event-based video productions.
Panasonic’s 4K DVX-200
Frame.io: This web-based product helps change the client review process for video projects It’s a new cloud-based tool that lets you add collaborators to projects who can submit feedback in a timestamped timeline. No more ambiguous or confusing client emails! You can also upload individual assets to a project such as audio files and still image files. It’s a like a better dropbox, built for digital media assets, on steroids. I managed to nab beta access and have explored it’s features in depth. Untold will certainly be using this product for some future projects.
Talks & Presentations
A Conversation with Stephen Goldblatt: The Canon people got it right this year! They had a serious schedule of presentations featuring interviews and panels with award winning photographers and cinematographers at their booth again this year. These alone were worth the price of admission. The academy award nominated cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt spoke on just how different working with various directors can affect your process. My favorite takeaway from his talk was how he talked about carrying a film camera with him on set that he would use to take pictures of sets throughout the production process. After shooting had wrapped, he would develop his film in his home studio and print them out for the colorist on a project to use as a reference. You can’t argue with a photograph.
Checking Into “The Grand Budapest Hotel: An hour long session with cinematographer Robert Yeoman revealed a lot about his personal aesthetic as he’s evolved his process on various films throughout his career. Yeoman spoke about his love for the traditional film medium and how his transition to digital wasn’t as bad as he’d expected due to the fact that technology has really caught up and in some ways excelled beyond what can film can do. It was insightful to hear about his pre-production process and how putting the extra effort into planning pays off. He also spoke on practical effects, and how often simple lighting techniques and a simplified set of lenses in your kit are the best solution for a project.
Cinematographer Robert Yeoman talks shop with a packed house.
Philip Bloom & The Wonder List: Walking past the B&H booth I recognized a familiar voice. It was Philip Bloom! He’s has been a hero of mine for many years now. He helped lead the charge in the DSLR revolution and is perhaps best known for his in-depth independent product reviews, and cinematic aesthetic. It was exiting for me to hear last year that he was going to be shooting a new CNN documentary series called the Wonder List. He gave a very good presentation on how he managed a skeleton crew, what gear he used and why, and how long shoot days and crossing international borders made for some interesting adventures on his quest around the world. Check out his blog post (with lots of pictures) about the project and make sure to watch The Wonder List if you haven’t yet already.
Parker nabs a pic with Wonder List DP and world-famous filmmaker/blogger Philip Bloom!
NAB Labs Futures Park: An area of the show dedicated to showing off emerging technologies in the broadcast industry, several of which were so complex you’d need a PhD to understand. NHK had their 8K theater again like last year, this time featuring some new content. The University of Warwick in collaboration with GoHDR was showing a off a prototype of real-time HDR manipulation in a broadcast environment that could be the next big thing after we get tired of more pixels in our televisions. Vision III Imaging showed off a hardware adapter that allowed shooters to produce a 3D image from a single lens by having a motorized iris bounce back and forth in front of the lens at a calculated speed and then using software, convert that into a 3D image. The hardware was in prototype form (as was many other of the tech in Futures park) but the results were quite impressive. There were also booths dedicated to exploring zoned advertising, second screen interactivity, enhanced emergency alerting, and embeddable QR codes in a video stream.
NHK’s 8K panels on display at NAB Labs Futures Park.
Vizio – R series: I got to lay my eyes upon Vizio’s new R series TVs – 4K televisions incorporating the new Dolby Vision technology. Unfortunately, security was tight and photos were strictly prohibited, but they wouldn’t’ have done the picture quality of these screens justice anyway. Essentially, these TVs have produced images that are far beyond what today’s screens are capable of in terms of color and dynamic range. Unfortunately you won’t be able to see and believe for yourself until they are released, hopefully by the end of this year. Although pricing hasn’t been announced yet, a Vizio rep told me that it will be one of their flagship models when it launches and will undoubtedly have a premium price tag.
NAB is lots of different things for many different people all over the world. For me, it’s a week-long film school crash course. Also, the opportunity to interact with the people who are making the gear you are using and the opportunity to give them your feedback and opinions inevitably helps shape the future of the production industry. It’s inevitable that you will end up making a few friends and handing out a pile of business cards as you find people who share a similar background to your own. I was able to put my hands on gear, ask questions, and basically get training on both hardware and software that I have since used in a production environment. As production teams for many creative agencies are getting more streamlined and efficient, so is the technology. The tools for making bigger tastier content are here, now it’s time for us to get creative with how we are using those tools. It seems that the major bottleneck now is the data pipeline, but that is another discussion. Maybe compression will get some love next year. Google fiber anyone?