Gear & Now: Ultra High, Ultra Wide, Ultra Now
Posted Nov 8, 2007

As we’re looking at all the new HD and HDV cameras, new portable HD recording devices, new camera supports, and related gear released over the summer, culminating in Amsterdam at IBC, word comes that a local rental house has ordered 50—yes, fifty—new RED ONE Digital Cameras! Suddenly, we’re reminded that the pace of change that seems so challenging for the individual wedding and event videographer can be almost coronary-inducing for others in the food chain.

The RED ONE, if you haven’t heard, is not simply a video camera. It’s a 4K digital imaging device, and its initial anticipated purchase price was a quarter-million dollars. (Luckily, for the rental house owner, its actual MSRP has come in well below that—$17,500 for the body only, and $5,000–$8,500 for add-on lenses.)

Even at that lower-than-anticipated price, RED delivers 12M pixels (HD is so over; 12,065,000 pixels is being called UHD, or Ultra High Definition) at up to 60fps, and records a wide dynamic range and color space in 12-bit native RAW. It’s not quite enough for a full 4K signal, but the record capabilities of a new CompactFlash-based portable HD recorder are quite impressive nevertheless.

Convergent Design
Convergent Design’s Flash XDR, a new HD Field Recorder, will support MPEG-2 4:2:2, full-raster (1920x1080/1280x720) at 160Mbps. That’s a big boost to its originally announced 50Mbps rate (and it still supports HDV, XDCAM HD, 35Mbps, and 50Mbps 4:2:2 LongGOP MPEG-2 data rates as well as HD-SDI sources).

It features two hot-swappable solid-state card slots; one 16GB card can store up to 138 minutes of 1080i HDV. The video data stored on it can be transferred at 5X to 12X real time to a compatible nonlinear editor, in either QuickTime or .m2t. Switching between cards can be as simple as pressing the card eject button, as the recorder automatically starts recording to the second card.

That’s a big boon for event videographers, who cannot miss a single frame while their event is on, and it is a confidence booster for those who prefer to have simultaneous record capabilities.

With its CompactFlash media and programmable multi-purpose codec, Flash XDR is remarkably small and light for its capabilities. Its size is similar to a USB drive; its weight is about three pounds; and its power draw is a manageable 8 W. An Anton/Bauer ElipZ 10K battery is included, providing about eight hours of operation.

Expected to ship by the end of this year, the unit has a projected list price of $4,995. It may seem a lot for a video recorder, but not for one with these capabilities, and not one with the upgrade path for HD-SDI-based HDV shooters who wish to maintain the truly high-quality and uncompressed data rates of the source.

  Its programmable codec can be dialed in to the data rate most appropriate for the task at hand—anything from the HDV rates of 19.7 or 25Mbps, right on up to the full 160Mbps. This kind of digital flexibility and customizability is a dramatic foreshadowing of things to come.

Focus Enhancements MCSDI-1
Digital flexibility is a key benefit with the new MCSDI-1 Portable Media Converter from Focus Enhancements, expected to be available for $699. The MCSDI-1 converts HD analog, SD analog, or digital HDMI input signals to HD-SDI or SD-SDI output, all in a portable form factor that mounts to the bottom of a camcorder for handheld or tripod use. Its signal input auto-sensing is the shape of things to come; videographers must move seamlessly and losslessly to and from any number of digital recording and transport formats already, and that requirement will only increase in the future.

Audio-Technica and Ultra Wideband (UWB)
Following our report on "white space" comes word of a new audio technology, Ultra Wideband (UWB), designed specifically to address the issue. White space refers to those parts of the broadcast frequency spectrum that will be up for grabs after the February 2009 transition to digital TV. A variety of unlicensed consumer devices and proposed wireless broadband services may be allowed to operate in these areas. That can affect the operation of popular wireless audio products used by many event videographers.

Audio-Technica’s new SpectraPulse wireless microphone system is the first to use a patented and FCC-approved UWB technology in a commercial application. Ultra Wideband transmits data in extremely short-duration pulses over a wide frequency spectrum. Instead of a normal carrier channel, UWB sends short nanosecond pulses, and so is said to solve the white space issue. The signals, in precisely timed sequences, result in transmission of information near noise-floor levels. Because the signals are decoded with special technology, they are also secure and not susceptible to interception.

The new SpectraPulse Ultra Wideband wireless microphone system components include the mtu101 Microphone Transmitter Unit, drm141 Digital Receiver Module, aci707 Audio Control Interface, and cei007 Charger Encryption Interface.

New Sachtler LED and tripods
Now, LED lighting may not be quite as revolutionary as the UWB or UHD, but it is new enough to attract not only new customers, but new providers. LEDs are extremely energy-efficient; they enjoy a long working life, and because of their cooler operation, can be used in close proximity to the subject or object being videotaped—great for intimate wedding shoots.

It’s good to have another player in the game: a new LED was launched at IBC by Sachtler, the camera support company. Sachtler’s first-ever LED produces a light output of 250 lumens. The input voltage range of 6 to 24 V is well-suited for use with small DV or HDV camcorders right on up to broadcast cameras. The standard LED luminaire comes in daylight temperature, but using an exchangeable LED module, users can switch to tungsten.

When developing the LED luminaire, Sachtler kept the need for compact size in mind. The unit’s dimensions are 3.15" x 2.4" x 2.4" and it weighs less than a pound. At IBC Sachtler also unveiled a new line of SOOM tripods for MiniDV and HDV shooters, adding to its support gear offerings. There’s a new tripod that extends up to 55–56"; the tripod spreader is good at low levels of 8" or so, but can be used at about 20", so a very tall shooting platform can be configured. The new monopod/hi-pod system also extends upwards of 90". The units all feature spiked legs, rubber feet, and bowl compensation sizes for various mounts.

Vinten Pro-6
Camera support manufacturer Vinten also unveiled new products this season, among them its new Pro-6 HDV pan-and-tilt head, featuring multiple levels of counterbalance and leveling adjustments. The head easily accepts a wide range of camera weights, with its sideload attachment and removal system, and three interdependent levels of counterbalance, including zero, to best match pan-and-drag feel with the camera’s weight and balance points. There’s an illuminated leveling bubble for the kind of low-light operation, and it comes with adjustable spreader for extra stability.

16x9 EX Compact Super Fisheye
As much as the new high-def cameras require a stable shooting platform (just wait ’til you see shaky-cam images in 4K!), so, too, a steady shot is best when using new lenses, adapters, and optical accessories. For example, the exaggerated angles and extreme distortion realized with the new 16x9 EX Compact Super Fisheye from 16x9 Inc. It’s a smaller, lighter version of the extremely wide-angle EX Super Fisheye, and yet its delivered images are much more convex and dramatic.

The single-element adapter is designed for compact HDV camcorders like the Canon XH A1 and Sony V1U. Adding 0.4X magnification, it greatly expands the view of the original lens for a unique perspective that "pulls" the viewer closer to the center of the action.

New Filters for Tiffen dFX
Finally, Tiffen continues to add new features to its dFX digital filter software. Now as many as 1,000 filters, including glass filter effects, specialized lens simulations, optical lab processes, film grains, color correction, natural light, and photographic effects are available. There are even filters designed to work especially with HD imagery, and to reduce contrast while pulling up shadow details.

These are not screw-on filters; this is computer software, with processing on the Mac or PC at 8 or 16 bits per channel. The software comes both as a standalone solution and as application-specific plug-ins, integrating with popular image-manipulation software like Photoshop or a range of video postproduction tools.

The concept represents a revolutionary approach to image-making, and marks one of the final steps on the road to a fully digital video acquisition and production environment—DV, HDV, HD, UHD, or otherwise.

Lee Rickwood is a media consultant and freelance writer.