We Survived NAB 2014! — James Mathers’ Reflections Covering the Show

by | Apr 29, 2014 | Essays | 0 comments

We Survived NAB 2014!

By James Mathers, Cinematographer and President of DCS

We survived NAB 2014!  I think that’s the general sentiment of the folks who work the show as they wrapped up another year.  The Digital Cinema Society shot 55 Booth Tour interviews from the show floor which are currently streaming from our website, (listed here in alphabetical order):

AbelCine – Adobe – Adorama – AJA – Angénieux – Anton Bauer – ARRI – AstroDesign – Avid – Band Pro – BBS Lighting – Birns & Sawyer – Blackmagic Design – Canon – Cartoni – Chrosziel – Cineo Lighting – Cinnafilm – Codex Digital – Convergent Design – Cooke Optics – Digital Sputnik – Dolby Vision with FilmLight – Fujinon – JVC – K5600 – Kino Flo – Leica – Libec – Litepanels – LumaForge – Manios Digital & Film – MōVI – MTI Film – Nila – NVIDIA – OConnor – Panasonic – Red Scorpion LED – Redrock Micro – Sachtler – Schneider Optics – Shutterstock – Sony CineAlta – Sony Colorworks – Sound Devices – Steadicam – The Studio-B&H – Tiffen Filters – Vision Research – Wooden Camera – Zacuto – Zeiss

There was a lot to see, but if there was a theme this year, it was 4K with new cameras, workflow solutions, and displays.  In fact, there were so many new 4K cameras that we didn’t have time to cover them all.  However we did feature new 4K models from Panasonic, Blackmagic Design, AJA, (yes AJA is now in the camera business), Vision Research, and JVC, while Sony and RED offered refinements to their previous models.  AstroDesign, on the other hand, is pushing right on through to 8K with an end-to-end workflow including an 8K camera, recorder, and test instruments.

There were also new Large Single Sensor HD models from ARRI, and Blackmagic that we did reports on and were quite interesting.  Although I got to see them off site at the annual CML gathering, we missed covering the 4K introduction from Kinefinity, and a new 2K camera called Digital Bolex.  As a Cinematographer, it is nice to have so many choices, but I do wonder how the industry will support so many new and existing cameras.

Having seen all these new cameras, I was asked many times over the course of the convention to share my thoughts, but I’ll reserve comment until I see them in the wild.  There is no way to give any kind of meaningful evaluation without actually using them in the real world, and I look forward to putting many of them through their paces someday soon.  We’ve also got DCS events upcoming that will take a closer look at some these new models.

As we strive to use the best tool for any given job, and with so many great choices of camera available, we are apt to work with a large variety of cameras and formats.   If investing in support equipment, we then want to make sure that it can work with all the various production tools and that’s where companies like Redrock Micro, Wooden Camera, Zacuto, and Chrosziel have really delivered.  In addition to basic camera accessories, Chrosziel and Redrock now offer wireless remote follow focus units, while Wooden Camera has electronic audio and video breakout boxes, and they all still make rail and matte box systems to unify various cameras and make the Cinematographer’s job easier in the process.

We were surprised to see a host of new products from traditional Camera Support manufacturers such as OConnor, Sachtler, Libec, and Cartoni.  In addition to heads and sticks, they were offering everything from Matte Boxes to Follow Focus Systems, Risers and Sliders.  One the other hand, Zacuto, who has traditionally made accessories, now has a new line of fluid heads and tripods.  Each manufacturer offers several models in various price and weight capacities making it easy to find the right fit for your particular needs.

In the area of Moving Camera support, we covered the Freefly MŌVI, remote heads, and their multi-rotor “heavy-lifter “ copter, the CineStar.  At the Tiffen booth, we were again treated to an always entertaining interview with Garrett Brown, ASC, the inventor of the ever-evolving Steadicam.  He showed us their latest innovations with the Steadicam M1 model.  Also at Tiffen, Carey Duffy then walked us through all their new filter technology including several diffusion filters, new titanium coatings, and their very impressive new variable NDs.

Challenging the notion of higher and higher resolution is Dolby, with their end to end system called Dolby Vision.  While not opposed to 4-or-More-K, their message with Dolby Vision seems to be about putting the emphasis on the quality of the pixels by increasing brightness, color space, and dynamic range, rather than the sheer number of pixels.  Working with partners like FilmLight, the system is agnostic as to acquisition format, and would encode new or archived content, then deliver it all the way to the home display with greatly improved quality and control.  It is difficult to discern from our streaming coverage, but it is quite impressive to view first hand.  It will take a lot of industrywide integration, (Postproduction, Broadcasters, Cable Operators, Display Manufacturers, etc.,) and is not something you’ll see implemented immediately, but it could be a promising future technology.  What Filmmaker wouldn’t want their content delivered this way, with improved visual quality along with metadata to help insure the picture is displayed as intended all the way to the home?

An Entertainment Technology trend that is building momentum is subscription or membership based software licenses.   Adobe began offering Creative Cloud at NAB 2013, and when we visited this year we saw it maturing with upgrades to Premiere Pro, After Effects, Prelude, SpeedGrade, and Media Encoder.  Avid, who still offers their software for sale via conventional channels, announced that they will also soon be making Media Composer available through a monthly or annual subscription or on demand with a floating license. These cloud based systems allow them to implement updates very quickly, rather than saving them up and having to wait for another full general release.   So, it seems this will be the model going forward.

Convergent Design has taken the subscription model to another segment of the industry, Digital Recorders.  Their Odyssey7Q records a wide variety of formats including ProRes 422 HQ, ARRIRAW, Canon C500 4K Raw, Sony FS700 Raw; with Multi-Stream HD and 2K Raw available soon.  The necessary firmware is available for purchase or through a rental key code by the day, week, or month.  In our interview with Mike Schell, he told me how well the system has been working out.  Camera Owners take only what they need for a particular job, and as with the aforementioned NLE systems, updates are very quick to implement.

Other Digital Recorder manufacturers we visited included Sound Devices, and Codex.  These units are also a boon to versatility allowing use of a large variety of camera and acquisition tools to record in the same format in order to maintain a cohesive workflow.  For example, shoot ARRI Alexa, RED Raw, Vision Research Phantom Flex, or the new VariCam 4K and manage them all using Codex’s on-set vault data management system to greatly simplify the workflow.  Or with the Sound Devices PIX units, you can shoot various HD formats, (1080i, 1080p, 720p), then transcode them as you record to a single unified codec such as ProRes up to 4:4:4.

Speaking of on-set workflow tools, MTI Film’s new Cortex “CarryOn” is a very compact and complete all-in-one data and color management system.  It is capable of processing dailies at any resolution up to 6K from all popular digital cinema cameras (ARRI, Sony, Canon and RED).  Tech specs include a liquid-cooled Intel i7 processor, 12TB SSD RAID, GPU-accelerated rendering and Thunderbolt; all in a suitcase style configuration small enough to treat as airline Carry-On luggage.

There were many new Cine Lenses on display, including Anamorphics from Cooke, ARRI/Zeiss, and Angénieux.  There were also lots of new spherical lenses with primes from Leica and Schneider, as well as several new zooms, from the Canon 17-120mm, to the Fujinon 25-300mm, and Zeiss 15-30mm, among many more.  It is wonderful to have so many choices of focal length, speed, and form factor, as well as price point.  Adding even more versatility to Fujinon’s 19-90mm T2.9 Cabrio zoom, Schneider Optics premiered a new Wide Angle Adapter. Designed for quick mounting and removal on the front of the Cabrio, it provides a 30-percent wider angle of view than the normal 19mm allows, with an effective minimum focal length of 14.5mm.

Another really active area of innovation is in the LED market.  We covered new units from Litepanels, Nila, Cineo, ARRI and Kino Flo, as well as several new companies including Digital Sputnik, BBS, and Red Scorpion.  We also saw an interesting new unit from Birns and Sawyer that features strips of LEDs placed into fluorescent style tubes designed primarily for retrofit of industrial and commercial fluorescent lighting.  In addition to Industrial applications, color precise versions will be very useful for cinematography because they don’t require a ballast, run cooler than tubes, have longer life, are more energy efficient and are relatively inexpensive.  Cineo Lighting also showed more purpose-built small remote-phosphor units called “Matchsticks.”  They come in 12”, 6”, and 3” as soft single strips of color controlled, dimmable, DC power units designed to stick into very small places.

With all these new LED variations, it was also nice to see that K5600 was still coming up with several new HMI units.  LEDs are great, but there are still some situations where you can’t beat the punch of an HMI.  K5600 showed a new 9K version of their very compact Alpha Fresnel, as well as a new 1600W model that can safely run off a 15amp household circuit, plus several kits mixing their various configurations of new lights with their popular Joker-Bugs.

We didn’t shoot anything we didn’t think was interesting and had promise, but a couple of things did stand out.  One thing you might otherwise overlook, but I suggest you check out, are the PAGlink camera batteries from Manios Digital & Film.  These are Lithium Ions built into small enough units, (94wh) to safely pass air travel restrictions.  However, two or more can be stacked to pool capacity, (i.e. combine two for 188wh.)  They can also be stacked for charging, (a four hole Anton Bauer charger can effectively charge a dozen or more batteries overnight.)  Another advantage is that they are hot swappable, and each has a separate capacity reading, (even giving you estimated run time based on current draw;) so you can see when batteries are getting low and swap out the last one in the chain without losing power before they all go down.

Speaking of batteries, Anton Bauer has completely refreshed their line with a streamlined color coded look and new cell construction.  Different battery capacities, such as their new Dionic 150 are a different color than their Dionic 90.  The new housing construction is designed to make them more rugged in order to safeguard their lithium ion contents, help them stay cooler, and add capacity, as well as add to the number of charge cycles during the life of the battery.

A new product from Zacuto that caught my eye is their Gratical HD EVF.  It features not only HDMI or SDI, but both, and can also cross convert. It supports viewing LUTs and can even export them to the Director’s display so everyone on set is seeing the Cinematographer’s intent.   Other high-end features include a built-in Wave Form, Histogram, False Color, Focus Assist, and Pixel-to-Pixel zoom, not to mention the OLED’s brilliant colors, rich blacks, and great contrast.  This is all offered in a very reasonably priced package that will allow the gear owner to quickly amortize their investment.

We also shot interviews with several resellers that can not only help you get a hold of some of these products, but will also offer their expertise in choosing and integrating items to best serve your needs.  These are Adorama, The Studio-B&H, Birns & Sawyer, and AbelCine.

If we didn’t cover some new technology, it was only because there wasn’t time.  With only three and a half days, and so much to see, there was no way to cover it all.  For much more on each of the mentioned technologies visit our website and view our Streaming NAB 2014:



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