Another year, another smash by Black Magic. I didn’t make it out to NAB to see the dazzling new offerings in broadcast and cinema products but with the live feeds and daily video posts it is not necessary. So there are more cameras coming out. Ok, but who was really asking for new cameras? These days we are working with smaller cameras at high resolutions. The market just gets a little more crowded and eventually there will be fewer cameras if resolution and compression stabilize. Most likely the startups like Digital Bolex will suffer the same fate as DALSA. Not enough reserves to make it through the next technical or manufacturing hiccup or the camera is too expensive for the market it was created for. But it could also be the makers with deep pockets that decide to back away. RED stopped making lenses after a short period, leaving it those that do it best.
Anyway, I was hoping to see more innovation (and lower prices) in cameras that acquire slow motion at 240FPS and above. Some cameras have pushed close as a standard feature or add-on (Arri Amira), but the Sony FS-700 still remains the best deal for short bursts of slow motion and very capable 1080 video work. With 4K add-on for that camera you are getting close to the price of a RED Scarlet, but with more features including better audio. On the upside of the the new cameras is the realization that they should still be operator friendly and shoulder mounted. The modular box is cool, but by the time you add all your third party accessories you have doubled the price of the camera.
On the horizon we have the GoPro Hero 4 being talked about with 120FPS at 1080 and 4K up to 30. Also the GH4 is shipping so there are plenty of new toys to try out. Do we really need them? Nope, but does a child with a room full of toys still enjoy a visit to the toy store? YES!
It is not often you get to chat about Cinematography with other Cinematographers in a public forum. Today I had the opportunity to discuss with my fellow Cinematographers the state of things in the MSPIFF forum. There was a packed tent with folks that were industry veterans and film students. We talked about the number of options today with electronic motion picture cameras. Too many? We talked about tools of the trade and 3 out of the 4 really missed pulling out the meter and really only Greg Winter said he still does use a meter regularly.
We talked some about lens quality and the overall shortage of quality lenses acknowledging that more lenses are being produced than ever before. Of course the discussion led to presentation and all of us agreed that digital projection is not there. Inconsistent, inaccurate, poor quality. All were hopeful that the quality would improve, perhaps. There was some discussion about the effect of not having a shutter on the electronic projection as a possible change to how we view films subconsciously.
Along with tools, we talked about how some of the lighting tools have changed, but others have not been replaced (18K).
We also had some discussion about other formats like 3D and interactive. Across the board 3D was viewed as a gimmick but Bo Hakala and Greg Winter had some interesting ideas on pushing the interactive nature of storytelling.
One question from the audience was on practical vs digital effects. Kevin Horn and I said we would prefer to film practical effects in camera and Greg and Bo brought up the idea of shooting digital effects with enhancement from the practical. Really blending the two.
Two hours went by really fast and I’m sure we could have kept chatting for at least another two.
NAB is just around the corner. There will be new tools and gadgets for sure. It is fun to speculate what will be the big trend. I’m not basing my predictions on anything too scientific, just what I have been seeing in my work, students’ work and others throughout the industry. Last year was all about 4K, with the Black Magic camera that I guessed they would make before it was announced. (it just started shipping last month I think). This year will be all about High Speed cameras. We’ve seen some of this with the basically boring Sony FS-700. A work horse video camera with a 4K upgrade path. The on-board recording is AVCHD but you can send an uncompressed signal out through SDI. What makes this thing cool is the ability to shoot a burst recording at high speed, what they call S&Q (slow and quick). It will do 120FPS, 240FPS, 480 and 960. Using some fancy math and at the expense of quality you can get all of those frame rates at 1080. The 120 and 240 look great, but 480 and 960 are really just for screwing around.
Ok, so this wasn’t intended to be a review of the FS-700, but it shows the path and trend we are on. People want slo-mo video in their projects. The Go Pro can do 120 at 720. The new GH4 has a burst up to 96 I believe. There was mention of a mirror-less camera from another manufacturer that had 240 and higher at reduced resolutions. Arri’s new Amira will do 200FPS with the purchase of the key$$$ to unlock it. My prediction is that we will see a lot of cameras with a 120fps capable rate and at least one under $5K that will do 240fps well.
In the mean time here is a clip from the FS-700 at 240FPS.
set-up test: Jami and Adam from little tree films on Vimeo.
2014 is here. What does that mean? Flying cars? no. Teleportation? no. Replicator? no, maybe 2014 is not the Star Trek future I had wished for, but there are some things to look forward to.
Cameras – The last few years has seen new cameras coming to market faster than ever. 2014 will be no different, or maybe it will be better. Arriflex or ARRI has the documentary bred Amira coming out some time after NAB. I haven’t been this excited about a camera since the SR3 came out when I was in college. The Alexa has proven that there is more to a camera than the size of the sensor.
Speaking of sensor size, the RED Dragon sensor will be exciting when it arrives in all of our cameras.
The Digital Bolex promises to be an indy darling for sure. Looking forward to getting my hands on one.
Black Magic Design has shaken up NAB the last two years, but have yet to deliver the 4K camera they promised. It is sure to attract the student, independents and some other productions, but if it is anything like the BMCC it still has to fight the ergonomics and other limitations.
What else is out there? Open source sensor and software developers. smartphones. action cameras. wearable cameras from Google and other wired sources.
Lighting – Who needs lighting when you have a RED Dragon sensor? LED lighting has begun to explode with many manufacturers entering the scene. We have adopted the AAdyntech lights this last year. Mole Richardson also brought updates to the classic Baby, Tweenie and Junior line with High CRI led instruments. This year there will be more compact sources packing high output and better CRI readings.
Monitors – How we watch the films we make pales in comparison to the resolution of these cameras. On set the monitor may be HD or near HD in pixel count, but the display of color and gamma needs varies widely. In the edit room these monitors get better but the calibration of the monitor is still something of a sorcerers conjuring leading to graded images the vary from venue to venue. Then of course is the monitor in your living room. Mine is still a Plasma 720. At least we stopped talking about 3D.
Here’s hoping the 2014 is an exciting year filled with cool new gear and lots of opportunities to use the gear we have.
So I had a chance to spend the weekend with a set of vintage Hawk anamorphic lenses. I was focus puller on a short project so I didn’t have a lot of time to try out the abilities of the lenses but did see some interesting things the D.P. pulled off. They were paired with the Alexa Plus 4:3. First of all they are beasts, like any large format cinema lens the glass is heavy but these were all in the front element. Given that these were vintage and from what I could tell not overhauled they had peculiarities. The 35mm was very wide, but only the center of the frame was truly sharp. The other lenses in the set were a 50, 75, and 100. A PL 2X was used to add a little more focal length to the set. The 100 looked fantastic as almost a long normal lens. The second thing about these lenses was the witness marks were all over the place. At each lens change I had to set up marks through the eyepiece using the zoom function on the camera. This is not out of the ordinary on a large shoot, but it would be nice if you could make adjustments to the focus using the marks on the lens. Finally, the stiffness of the focus ring made focus changes tough. It even caused the old Arri FF 2 to squeak. Thankfully we were not filming on a quiet set. Without seeing the final image taken through post I couldn’t say decisively how well these old lenses performed and whether or not it was worth the trouble. I look forward to working with anamorphic lenses again.
I’ve given a lot of thought to lenses this last week. The reason being that I was filming with a 5D mkIII and my longest lens was the 24-105 zoom. I’ve spent most of my filming career using 16mm, various formats of digital video and occasionally 35mm. The long focal length in these formats were readily available or part of the zoom lens on video cameras. The Angenieux 12-120 on the old Arri SR covered wide to telephoto. My use of various lenses in different formats in still photography was pretty average. A 150mm in 4X5, the trusty 50mm on my SLR and the fixed lens on my Rollei was a 75mm.
So what is the point of this post? Well, I really need to think about the format I’m shooting with when heading out for the next shoot. On the wider end of lenses a millimeter or two really makes the difference, but on the long end it will take a lot more. Jumping from film and digital cinema focal lengths to the 5D is a big jump. 100mm is only slightly telephoto. See you soon Canon 70-200mm 2.8.
Another article posted today about 4K and the arguments for and against, or rather digging into the hype. It is from the perspective of the team working on the Digital Bolex project. Joe makes some really good points about bit depth and comparing it to audio is a great way to understand it. It also reminded me of the Alexa demonstration where the guys from Arri were explaining why the Alexa’s 3.5K sensor was the right choice for digital cinema. Beyond the numbers and specs they were after a pleasing image which includes sharpness, color, clarity, definition, dynamic range, resolution and any other word one may want to use when trying to achieve an image as good as or better than motion picture film. Give the article a read and dig deeper into any new tool before touting it as the next big thing.
Here’s a post from AbelCine about the relative size of sensors of today’s cameras.
Have a look.
Here is a demo and overview video I made for my students and anyone else they may have the chance to shoot with the SR3.
Check out this tool for figuring out what your field of view will be for all the different flavors of cameras.
Abel Cine FOV calc