Prior to 2011, NAB had a contracted, mid-recession feel that, while still just a few too many booths to explore in a day, managed to leave me feeling like tech companies had decided to buckle down and wait this thing out. I don't feel that way anymore.
This year's convention was literally bursting out of the convention center. I had only to walk to the other end of the LV Hilton to run smack into vendors flagging me down and trying (sometimes with little luck) to scan my barcoded badge. I left Las Vegas with a throbbing head, only this time it was from trying to keep track of the dozens of new or updated offerings from this year's show. Don't mind the crummy pics from my new iPad 2, enjoy the highlights.
Ms. Sensor, meet Mr. and Mrs. Recorder-Monitor
Now that large sensors have broken out of large digital cinema cameras (like the Arri D-21 and the Sony F-35) and certain photography companies seem reticent to follow up on their recent successes with fantastic, if flawed, versions of the same, the move now seems to be in the direction of sensors divorced from their companion recorders—camera a la carte, if you will.
This is by no means, an imminent happening, but signs point in that direction. This ground was first broken with recorders like the Ki, NanoFlash and Cinedeck. What's striking is the profusion of multi-function external recorders, all of which were inevitably slaved to a camera of some sort. These all feature the built-in video monitors, removable SSD media, and HD-SDI inputs. What makes all of these devices so interesting is that they take the place of existing pieces of kit rather than simply adding another doodad to your already overloaded camera. If the camera companies are listening, perhaps they will start offering large sensors that will be simply that and skip over recording media in the camera itself.
First in line has to be the Convergent Design Gemini 4:4:4 recorder. These are the same folks that brought us the NanoFlash CF card recorder a few years back and they've upped the ante with the Gemini by a lot. First off, it records uncompressed 10 bit 4:4:4 and 4:2:2 signal directly from HD-SDI in both single and dual streams. While the resulting file size would be a bit much for ABNR or other verité-style shows, it would certainly be the bee's knees for graphics and effects work, even out of the lowly PMW-EX1. It would also be a perfect fit for the new Sony PMW-F3. Gemini supports S-log and LUTs so you can shoot safely and preserve a look for post. It's solidly built from aluminum and houses two SSDs up to 512GB each for recording times of 88 minutes at 1080 24P 4:4:4. That's 11GB per minute! This is my only beef with this unit, it sure would be nice to be able to crank that down a bit and still take advantage of the flexibility this unit offers. The record format is a QuickTime ProRes, but future support is planned for both Avid and DPX workflows. Retail is $5995.
Another contender in this field is the Atomos Samurai. Less than half the price of the Gemini and smartly designed to run off two, inexpensive Sony L series batteries, you can run this as an external monitor with uninterruptible power with only a single BNC cable attached to the unit. Also recording in Apple ProRes, the Samurai offers Apple ProRes HQ recording at up to 220Mbps and supports 1080 24P as well as pull-down removal for cameras that do not output 24P. No mention is made of other formats or workflows. Recording media is also SSD or HDD, but you have to build them into caddies to mount them in the unit. That's annoying if you want to have the drive function like a giant SxS card. But they're cheap, so who cares?
Finally, Sound Devices has made a foray into this field with their Pix 240 recorder. More capable than just a field video recorder, the Pix integrates both video and audio into a unit that supports Apple ProRes as well as Avid DNxHD files formats recorded to either SSD or CF card. Set apart from the two recorders above by a well-integrated menu and capabilities like digital AES input, XLR mic/line analog inputs, analog stereo outputs as well as HD-SDI and HDMI inputs and outputs the Pix 240 is practically a rack of gear crammed into a monitor and made battery powerable. this beast can also function as your master clock since it includes Ambient's Lockit time code generator and can supply genlock output. Like all Sound Devices products, it is durably made and feels as though you could kick it down the street all morning then pick it up and put it to work. My only gripe here is size. At nearly two pounds (more than that with drives and batteries) it's twice the size of the Samurai. Yes, this is an extremely capable device that can function as both a camera-based recorder/monitor or a standalone audio recorder, I'm just not sure you would want something this large mounted to your rig. That said, you really can't beat the price of $2495 for all this functionality.
PMW-F3, You Say?
By far, the best item I saw for the PMW-F3 was Element Technica's integrated shoulder mount. Not yet available, but nicely put together nonetheless. Note the Arri rosettes and the shoulder pad built right into the thing. No swapping out clunky parts just to mount it on a head. What you can't see are the 15mm rod clamps just beneath the camera body in front and word has it that production models will also have 15mm rods extending rearward as well. Solid, compact and simple can you really ask for more?
You might also notice the great idea of removing the stock handle and viewfinder and replacing them with a massively solid piece of billet aluminum stock tapped to within an inch of its life. Don't ask, since it voids the warranty, we won't be doing it.
If you hang around the equipment room long enough, you're bound to here one of us shout to no one in particular, "That's totally bad ass!" and it is inevitably in regard to some portable piece of gear that might just find a home on one of ZPZ's many shoots. This is rarely the case with lighting. A few new things did catch my eye on the floor, though.
What! A fresnel that I can lug to the deepest jungles of Borneo?! Sort of. K 5600 Lighting, the makers of Joker Bugs, has added a new and unique take on what is both a soft box and a large-lens fresnel. Packable into something about the size of a large flex fill, the Big Eye is actually an accessory to existing Joker Bug fixtures. The lens is polycarbonate and the baffles are what seem to be neoprene—it's stretchy and pliable, anyway. What's best is that the whole thing is only about twenty pounds. It's just a shame that you can't fit it in a Pelican 1650 case.
Litepanels has been making handy, portable fixtures for quite a while and we're certainly not strangers to their wares, but I took an instant liking to this new fixture, the Sola ENG. Currently sold as a traditional camera-mounted ENG light, I see it more as a super-portable, battery-powered version of LTM's Pepper 100. Similar in function, if not form, this nearly weightless (only 10 ounces) fresnel actually out performs the Pepper in spot mode. I'd like to see it with a removable cable so that it could be a handy and lightweight top light or back light that could run off batteries no matter the location.
The Past Is the Future
Once again, there were scads of 3D rigs; prismatic contraptions that look as if they were made to take the place of MRI machines or else pull tires off 18 wheelers. I've yet to see a 3D rig that makes much sense in terms of portability, camera freedom, much less documentary-style shooting. Panasonic seems to be taking the lead among the major companies with the release of yet another camera with built-in 3D capability.
The Panasonic AG-3DP1 is available with dual 17X zoom lenses, 1920 x 1080 AVCIntra, 10 bit 4:2:2 sampling. The problem is that all of this comes out of two 1/3" imagers. Panasonic seems to think this large sensor thing is just a fad.
Perhaps the most exciting development in 3D is the new Phantom 65-Z3D system which is a collaboration between Vision Research and MKBK. The result is not only shoulder-friendly, but the resulting 3D is comfortable to watch. I will post again soon with more info.
Misc. Camera Thingamajigs
If the Sony PMW-F3 and the NEX-FS100 were the darlings of the show, the accessories for them (and others) were a close second.
The short supply of cine 35mm PL mount lenses coupled with an existing glut of 35mm SLR glass makes for a ripe market in adapters and mtf is there to serve up all kinds of goodies. Making their debut at NAB 2011 were the F3-compatible Nikon G to Sony PMW-F3 mount as well as the Arri PL to Sony E mount and Nikon G to Sony E mount adapters for the Sony NEX-FS100. No Canon EF adapters were at the show, but word is that a mechanical-only version will be available from mtf soon.
Birger Engineering was also there, with their Canon EF to AF100 mount and a prototype of the Canon EF to Sony NEX-FS100 mount. Word has it that they are working on an electrically compatible Canon EF to F3 mount now. What's great about their gear is that it is also compatible with a wireless remote that allows for follow focus control with the mount and the remote, no gears need to be mounted. No word on when it will be released.
I've never been a fan of handheld camera stabilizers. Mostly this is due to the fact that they are usually not built well and are clunky to operate. Sachtler, however, seems to have gotten a few things right with the artemis handheld. Designed to work with DSLRs, the system is well-built, solid and a joy to operate. They even made sure to give us a knurled bushing that covers the gimbal for pan control. Now if they could only make it so my arm didn't tire so quickly.
One of the best features of NAB is getting to put hands on gear rather than breezing through web reviews or being limited to what's available at a local retailer. Dana Dolly fits this bill perfectly. Simple, well, built and portable the Dana makes sense to anyone needing a dolly that can act as a slider and almost be a replacement for bigger gear.