A week might be a long time in politics, but 24 hours is even longer in technology, as evidenced by this year’s NAB, which, regardless of the non attendance of some high profile companies, will go down in history as one of the most significant NABs ever.
Given recent developments in the HD DSLR world, one could reasonably have expected a slew of relevant and timely accessories from third party manufacturers, though some of these, such as Zacuto’s Z-Finder Pro LCD viewfinder, were announced in the run up to the show, rather than at NAB itself. I’m currently testing the original Z-Finder with a Canon 7D and have found that excellent as it is, fogging can be an issue. The new Z-Finder Pro (of which there are two models, offering a choice of 2.5x or 3x magnification) solves this with an anti-fog lens. It also adds a new mounting frame that, instead of relying upon adhesive, is held in place by a tripod mounting plate, providing a more secure and light tight connection.
Manfrotto waited until NAB to début their new 504HD fluid head tripod, which has been specifically designed for the filming (and at just over $700, the budgetary) requirements of DSLR video shooters. Despite much teasing, Redrock Micro also waited until the show to preview their forthcoming ‘microRemote’ , which looks set to revolutionise the industry by offering an affordable, innovative and complete remote follow focus system that starts at around $1000 and which can be controlled by an iPhone!
Litepanels, who had told me to expect new products at NAB, kept me guessing until the last minute, surprising me with their equally revolutionary Solas, a range of three flicker free LED Fresnels that offers beam control of 70 to 10 degrees, dimming from 0-100% with no noticeable colour shift and control of focus and dimming via either an onboard touch screen or remotely via their DMX interface…though not via an iPhone…well not yet, at any rate… There’s a blonde and a redhead equivalent, plus an ENG style on camera mini Sola, with a 230W equivalent output. Just to make sure they have all bases covered, they also revealed their new MicroPro Hybrid, a MicroPro that, when attached to a DSLR via a synch lead, can double up as a flashgun, by emitting four times its normal output, at a rate of up to 8 frames per second.
Adobe, who, on the other hand, had told me all of their secrets some time ago, timed the announcement of their new Creative Suite 5 to coincide with NAB. One of CS5’s headline features is the 64 bit version of Premiere Pro, whose GPU accelerated ‘Mercury Engine’ offers native support for pretty much every tapeless format you can think of, including Canon & Nikon DSLRs (eliminating the need for transcoding or re-wrapping). It can even cope with editing four simultaneous streams of RED 4Kdata in realtime. It’s almost as if Adobe want Premiere to be taken seriously…
Ever since Adobe started previewing the Mercury engine, DSLR users have been contemplating switching platforms, but Avid fired a shot across their bows with the almost simultaneous announcement that the forthcoming versions of Avid’s various packages will also offer native support of DSLR footage…plus Quicktime and Pro Res files. They also announced their acquisition Euphonix, whose control surfaces include one for Apple’s ‘colour’. It’s almost as if Avid want control of Apple…
Both Adobe and Avid’s new software will offer native support for the new Canon XF codec, found in the Canon XF305 and XF300, which were also announced at NAB…and previewed several weeks ago on The Technofile…
However the real story here is that completely out of the blue, Panasonic announced the AF101, a camcorder (remember those?) with a micro 4/3-inch 16:9 MOS sensor, optimised for video, that records 1080/60i, 50i, 30p, 25p, 24p natively (and 720/60p, 50p, 30p, 25p, 24p) to SDHC/SDXC cards and which takes interchangeable lenses.
The Micro Four Thirds standard has recently given birth to so called EVIL cameras (Electronic Viewfinder, Interchangeable Lens) which have been a huge success. As a result, there are already a substantial range of compatible, high quality lenses in use and available to buy new, plus a wealth of adaptors encompassing everything from ‘PL’ to Nikon ‘F’ mount.
The Panasonic AF101 includes most features that one would expect to find in a small handheld camcorder targeted at the video and film production communities, such as two channels of 48-kHz/16-bit audio, twin phantom powerable XLR inputs, timecode and built in ND filtering. Although it uses AVCAM, Panasonic’s implementation of the universally loathed and hated H.264 codec, the good news is that it outputs uncompressed data via its HD-SDI interface, which given its estimated street price of around $6000 (when it ships at the end of this year), means that you can buy an AF101 and a Nanoflash (which records 100MB/s 4:2:2) for around the same price as a Sony EX3, something Sony won’t take lying down…and they haven’t.
Squeezed at one end by the success of Canon’s 5D & 7D and at the other end by RED and the threat of Scarlet, Sony had an announcement of their own. At their NAB press conference, they revealed the prototype of a new small bodied camcorder with a ’35mm’ sensor. It’s unclear, at this time, whether this means Super 35mm (as used in the film industry) or the larger ‘full frame’ 24x36mm (used by the Canon 5D)? I suspect the former. It is also unclear what lens mount it will have. Given Sony’s stated intention that this camera will fit seamlessly into their line up of professional cinematography products, an Arri ‘PL’ rather than a Sony Alpha mount, would seem to make sense. Although very little is publicly known about this camera right now, Sony have confirmed it will be available by NAB 2011. Of course, the devil’s in the details and one of the big details they have not revealed is its price, though keeping an eye on Red and specifically their S35 Scarlet might yield some answers…
What all this means is that the holy grail of small affordable camcorders with large sensors and interchangeable lenses finally seems to be becoming reality. All we need now is for Canon to enter the fray…
So does this spell the death of the HD DSLR? Frankly I doubt it. For one thing, many consumers and third part manufacturers have already made a considerable investment in this technology. For another, people genuinely want convergence products (and have done for a long time). Video DSLRs will continue to appeal to consumers who must have the latest all singing, all dancing DSLRs, photojournalists and who need the convenience of being able to shoot stills and video in the field with the same kit and ‘film makers’ who misguidedly think that the ‘film look’ is all about achieving depth of field shallower than a gnat’s whisker. We all know that the DSLR form factor is not ideal and that current DSLRs have technical limitations, but as the Canon 7D that I am currently testing is proving, they are capable of producing stunning images and as this technology continues to advance and mature, its relatively low price tag will remain tempting to film and broadcast professionals.
Of course that’s all well and good, but I have expensive tastes and I understand that the best way to achieve ‘film look’ is by shooting on film, which is why the star of NAB, for me, was the Aaton Penelope Delta, the worlds first 35mm film camera to be able to shoot both 2/3 perf film and digital! Retaining all the advantages of a spinning shutter/reflex mirror and optical viewfinder, it can record uncompressed above 4K Raw data to an array of swappable 2.5” hard disc drives, via a S35 sized CCD built exclusively for Aaton by Dalsa. At an estimated price of 120,000 Euros, it’s not for everyone, but for those shooting film and wanting to future proof their investment, it offers a unique and extremely interesting proposition.
With all this and the announcement by Zeiss of their range of Compact Prime CP.2 lenses, built for full frame 35mm sensors and boasting interchangeable mounts that allow them to be used with Nikon, Canon and PL mount cameras, truly this was a legendary NAB.
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