This year’s NAB convention boasted quite a lot of new things to see, but the two strongest, hottest topics on the show floor were 3D video and video production with DSLRs. Last year Panasonic announced its first stereoscopic 3D camera, and this year 3D, in various guises, was all over the Panasonic booth. 3D was also in every other name booth in either a production or a postproduction capacity; whether the issue was shooting, switching, or editing 3D, every company with a stake in the higher-end segments of the industry was touting 3D capability. As just about anyone who follows event filmmaking knows, video-capable DSLRs—which were still fairly new at NAB 2009—have also become a major factor in video production over the last year. Due to their low cost, shallow depth of field, lens interchangeability, and great low-light capability, the DSLRs are becoming hugely popular at almost every level of the video world. Panasonic saw an opening in this market and may have the hottest prospect in this field to date—more about that later.
But enough with the preliminaries. This article isn’t just about general trends in the industry in evidence at NAB but the products that make those trends and, in particular, the products and trends most relevant to event video production. This “Best of” list isn’t just about the best products that happened to be on display. Specifically, it’s about the best products that it would be accurate to describe as being introduced at the show. Therefore, I’ve only considered products that were either released less than 2 months before NAB 2010 kicked off and those scheduled to ship before the end of the year. Obviously, ship dates may slip, but that’s one part of the future we won’t try to predict here.
This year’s list is divided into the following categories:
• Production equipment (everything you’d use on a shoot but cameras)
We’ve also included some honorable mentions for products that aren't new but have great improvements or that aren’t a single product but are a new technology to be incorporated into new products.
Canon XF300 and XF305
Canon’s new entries are brand new camcorders that have a lot going for them. Both models feature Canon’s 18x HD L-series lens and promise good low-light capability. They record progressive 60/30/24p video to nonproprietary CF cards in three formats: 25Mbps MPEG-2 HDV (1440x1080 resolution, 4:2:0 color space); the 35Mbps MPEG-2 codec favored by Sony’s EX line (1920x1080 or 1280x720, 4:2:0); and Canon’s new XF codec, which records 1920x1080 or 1280x720 imagery at 50Mbps with 4:2:2 color sampling.
Both cameras also feature very sharp 4" LCDs that flip out bidirectionally from the top handle and dual XLR inputs. The XF300 (Figure 1, below) carries an MSRP of $6,799. The XF305, which is priced $1,200 higher at $7,999, has HD-SDI output, genlock, and time code in and out. Canon says both cameras will ship in late June.
This new Panasonic model--still under glass at NAB--may be the “game changer” for producers currently shooting video with DSLRs such as the Canon 5D or 7D or for those looking for DSLR-type imagery in a traditional handheld camcorder body. Currently, event filmmakers shoot video with DSLRs for the depth of field and the excellent low-light capability of the cameras’ large sensors. To shoot handheld video with a DSLR, you need a rig to hold it like a video camera and other accessories such as an audio recorder to capture professional-quality sound.
What Panasonic did was take the 4/3" MOS imager from its popular Lumix GH1 DSLR and build a video camera around it. No more rigs that look like they came from an erector set or external audio recorders. With the current body (who knows what may change before this camera ships in late 2010), you can (almost) hold it like a regular video camera (Figure 2, below).
It will accept all sorts of DSLR lenses, as well as cinema lenses with adapters if needed. It will record the AVCHD/AVCCAM format in several data and frame rates to two SDHC or SDXC memory cards, and Panasonic says it will support all the popular resolutions and frame rates. In 720p mode in can do fast- and slow-motion effects. It has stereo XLR inputs, and HD-SDI out. I think that when the AG-AF100 comes out this fall, it will hit with an impact similar to how the AG-DVX100 did nearly a decade ago, which is to say, it will compel the majority of shooters in our industry to sit up and take notice--even those already enthralled with their 5Ds.
Anyone in the videography business can tell you the worst part of our vocation is the schlepping. Somehow our camera bags always weigh twice what they should and account for numerous back, neck, and shoulder injuries.
Carrying everything I need to shoot in the field--camera, tripod, mics, and other accessories--with my Sony FX1 in my current Petrol bag (Figure 3, below) is doable. But the company’s new bag offers much more than that. Not only does it have wheels to roll it along, it sprouts legs and becomes the tripod! It has a payload of 9.9 lbs. and includes a 75mm ball to add your own head. The MSRP for the bag/tripod is $699; with head, the price is $799.
Manfrotto 504HD Head/546B Tripod System
Manfrotto’s new tripod system pretty much comes with everything you could want on a tripod, including low weight, lots of variable controls, and a low price. It also features new leg locks, threaded holes to connect accessories to the tripod, and variable fluid motion. It also has a load capacity of 16.5 lbs. for the counterbalance.
For the 504 head only, the MSRP is $400; 546B system (504HD head with legs, Figure 4, below) lists for $730.
TASCAM DR-2d Audio Recorder
Audio is one essential part of production that unfortunately goes overlooked by many videographers, not to mention DSLR makers (a good reminder that they’re manufacturing still cameras that happen to shoot great video rather than the other way around). One way to greatly improve your audio acquisition is by using a stand-alone digital audio recorder and by syncing the camcorder’s video and the audio together in editing.
Generally, a producer will set up the recorder by the band or speaker and pray the sound comes out well and doesn’t clip. What sets Tascam's DR-2d (Figure 5, below) apart is that it records a second audio file at a lower level in case the level you set was overdriven. This could be a real lifesaver! I like redundancy. The DR-2d is selling for $244.99 at bhphotovideo.com and is available now.
Litepanels SolaENG LED
I like Litepanels’ Micro and MicroPro LED for close-up interviews, but I have found that I need to switch to a different light with a longer throw, such as the Comer 1800 LED, in situations when I need to be able to hit a subject from any distance.
Litepanels has come up with its own solution to this problem with the SolaENG focusable Fresnel light (Figure 6, below), which features four giant LEDs and can be focused to use as a spotlight. It draws 30W of power and produces output equivalent to a 250W tungsten. The SolaENG is shipping now with an MSRP of $499.
JK Audio BlueDriver-F3 Microphone XLR-to-Bluetooth Transmitter
If you aren’t familiar with JK Audio, it’s probably because the company built its reputation well outside our space. JK is most well-known for integrating telephones into audiovisual setups for broadcast and recording.
At NAB, JK Audio came out with a microphone butt plug, the BlueDriver-F3 (Figure 7, below), that allows you to use a microphone 33' from your Bluetooth-enabled phone. This really helps if you’re doing a remote podcast and need to interview someone. Passing the phone back and forth is awkward; a handheld mic works a lot better. It can also be plugged into a mixer so you can get the whole mix. This new transmitter shipped in May with an MSRP of $249.
Focus Enhancements FS-H200 Pro Portable CF Recorder
The big news about the new FS-H200 from Focus Enhancements is that it records to inexpensive CF cards. What’s more, it also has a mini color LCD screen that not only makes reviewing the settings easier, but it can also play back proxy clips from the CF card without needing to be attached to the camera.
This is great way to review footage and take notes while you’re on location or in transit if you can’t take out a laptop but do have room for a notepad and a PDA/PMP-sized device. The FS-H200 (Figure 8, below) also has metadata support for logging and tagging video content. This can be done while recording with a web-enabled PDA (iPhone, etc.) or a laptop.
Panasonic AW-HS50 HD/SD Video Switcher
Panasonic’s new AW-HS50 is a compact video switcher with four HD/SD-SDI inputs and one HD DVI-D input, as well as a built-in MultiViewer, Chroma Keyer, Aux Bus, and 1080/29.94PsF support.
The amazing part about the AW-HS50 (Figure 9, below) is the MSRP of $4,000. At last there is a high-quality, low-cost HD switcher for the live event market. Similar HD switchers go for $10,000 more, which makes the AW-HS50 a real price/performance breakthrough.
Shining Technology CitiDISK HD FlashMem
This year Shining has added to its CitiDISK line with the world’s highest-capacity solid state recording device, the 512GB CitiDISK HD FlashMem. Weighing in at 6 oz., the FlashMem can record up to 38 hours of 25Mbps HDV or DV. It also uses only 60% of the power of spinning disks. Pricing for the 256GB version of the CitiDISK HD FlashMem is $1,795. Pricing for the 512GB model, which is slated to ship later in 2010, had not been announced at press time.
DYNAcore DS-130 Series Batteries
What makes DYNAcore’s new 130Wh lithium-ion batteries (Figure 10, below) special is that they are self-charging units, which means the company has integrated a charger into the battery with little size or weight increase. You need only plug it into any AC outlet with a standard three-prong AC cord.
I like the idea of not having to carry a charger around, just the cord. While some Chinese-manufactured batteries don’t have the greatest reputation, DYNAcore uses high-quality Sanyo cells, making this product tempting to take a look at. I’d love to see how these batteries hold up against my Anton/Bauers. The DS-130s are shipping now in Sony V-mount and Anton/Bauer mount models with an MSRP of $499.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: CAMERAS AND PRODUCTION
Shining Technology CitiDISK CFR
Although announced last year, the CitiDISK CFR has recently shipped with enough new features and a lower price to warrant putting it on the list again. Now the CitiDISK CFR not only records HDV and DV but also DVCPro 100 to inexpensive CF cards. That could save you a lot of money on P2 cards. I’d like to try the results of going out of the Sony S270’s HD-SDI output through an HD-SDI-to-1394 converter to the CitiDISK CFR. It requires 533-speed CF cards for DVCPro HD, but it can use slower ones for HDV. It also comes at a low cost of $500.
Panasonic AG-3DA1 Camcorder
The AG-3DA1 is the first “affordable” dual-lens 3D camcorder. It records AVCHD to two SDHC cards—one clip for the left eye and one for the right eye. If you want to do 2D, you can use just the left lens.
Most of the popular NLEs are reportedly able to edit the 3D footage, and you can make a 3D Blu-ray Disc with the assistance of Panasonic’s Advanced Authoring Center (within Panasonic Hollywood Laboratory), as the authoring is still a bit tricky, or you can try to tackle it yourself in Sony’s high-end Blu-print 3D.
The AG-3DA1 (Figure 11, below) may be a little expensive for event videographers at an MSRP of $21,000. But I’m sure there will be some early adopters willing to fork over the money when it ships this fall, if they can identify a market for it that will justify the cost.
Panasonic’s low-cost AG-HMC80 AVCHD camcorder is a major upgrade from the similarly positioned HMC70. It looks more solid. It can record about 3 hours of AVCCAM on a 32GB SDHC card at the highest quality setting. It can also record DV-AVI files and store 2 hours of SD footage on a 32GB SDHC card. There is also a massive new viewfinder/LCD that will make focusing a lot easier. This model carries an MSRP of $2,895 and is slated to ship later this year.
Adobe Production Premium CS5
The interface for Adobe’s Creative Suite 5 (Figure 12, below) may look a lot like CS4, but it’s what’s in the code that makes this upgrade count. Now Premiere Pro and After Effects are 64-bit-only applications. This allows these RAM-hungry programs to access more than 4GB, which was the glass ceiling for the applications when running on a 32-bit. The CS5 suite also includes the Mercury Playback Engine, which works with NVIDIA GPU cards that greatly enhances the editing experience by being able to play back more streams in real time.
Having had a chance to play with the beta of Premiere Pro CS5, I can tell you the difference is very noticeable. Testing it on an HP xw8400 with two dual core 3GHz Xeon CPUs against HP’s z800 with two quad core 3.2GHz Nehalem Xeon CPUs and Premiere Pro CS4, the older xw8400 compared quite favorably. While I can’t wait to try CS5 on the z800, I like that the Mercury Engine and 64-bit code may give your older workstations new life for HD projects and will make Premiere Pro absolutely scream on workstations such as the z800, which now has up to 12 hyperthreaded cores.
Digital Anarchy Beauty Box
In event videography and filmmaking, it’s our job to preserve the memories of the bride and groom, bar/bat mitzvah kids, or whomever the event is celebrating. Unfortunately, sometimes the star of the show has a bad complexion, rash, or other facial issue that doesn’t look good, especially on HD video.
Enter Digital Anarchy's Beauty Box (Figure 13, below), a plug-in for After Effects, Premiere Pro CS4, and Final Cut Pro that can pinpoint and smooth these skin problems without affecting the rest of the frame. There are plenty of automatic and manual adjustments that you can make to get the best results. Due to the complexity of the computations, the faster the system you have, the better. Beauty Box is shipping now with an MSRP of $199.
Boris FX Boris Continuum Complete (BCC) 7 64-Bit
Even though Boris FX’s namesake, Boris Yamnitsky, didn’t have a booth this year, he was roving the aisles of NAB, where he showed me the new BCC 7, all reworked for 64-bit systems to support Adobe’s CS5’s 64-bit video applications.
Along with the 64-bit overhaul, there are 11 new filters and features: BCC 3-Way Color Grade, BCC Lens Blur, BCC Lens Shape, BCC Lens Transition, BCC Beat Reactor, BCC Particle Array 3D, BCC Pin Art 3D, BCC Warp, BCC Morph, BCC Video Morph, and BCC Noise Reduction. MSRP is $995 for new users, and the upgrade for Continuum Complete 6 users is $295.
MATROX MXO2 Mini with Avid Support
Avid, the grandfather of NLEs, has been trying to reinvent itself for the past couple of years. This year it looks like the company’s efforts have paid off. Avid has revamped its familiar user interface to try and lure back people who switched to mouse-driven NLEs such as Premiere Pro, FCP, and Vegas.
You can now trim clips by dragging on the timeline. You can also work natively with any codec recognizable by Apple’s QuickTime, including ProRes, Canon XF, and RED, as well as the AVCHD format via an import function.
The most shocking development is that Avid has learned to play nice with another company. If you aren’t able to shell out $7,995 for Avid’s hardware that allows for capture and monitoring, you can now get a MATROX MXO2 Mini (Figure 14, below) for monitoring purposes for an MSRP of $449. Previously, the only hardware outside of Avid’s that would work with its own software was a few FireWire cards. While you won’t be able to capture into Media Composer with the MXO2 Mini, you can use the MATROX stand-alone capture application to capture files Media Composer can work with. With that amount of savings coupled with the new user interface, I can see this becoming a popular editing choice.
Singular Software PluralEyes for Adobe CS5
Singular Software's PluralEyes is a unique utility program that will help you save time with DSLR and multicamera shoots alike. Both will have you spending time synchronizing the cameras. What PluralEyes will do is analyze the waveform of whatever audio recorder you use, such as the TASCAM DR-2d, and the poor audio from the DSLR or your A and B cameras, and it will automatically sync them.
What’s more, it will even detect where to sync cameras if they were started and stopped and are broken up into clips in the sequence. PluralEyes has been available for Final Cut Pro and Sony’s Vegas Pro for some time now. Since NAB, it’s been shipping as a plug-in for Adobe Premiere Po CS5, as well as Premiere Pro CS4 for those not yet ready to jump to 64-bit.
Blackmagic Design Intensity Shuttle, UltraStudio Pro, and DaVinci Resolve Blackmagic Design's Intensity Shuttle (Figure 15, below) is a low-cost, high-quality HDMI and analog video and audio I/O device that plugs into the forthcoming USB 3.0 ports. It allows for capturing up to 10-bit uncompressed video and viewing your work on an external monitor from programs such as Premiere Pro, After Effects, Photoshop, and Fusion. It should ship in June with an MSRP of $199.
Also new from Blackmagic Design, UltraStudio Pro is the first USB 3.0 device that is able to capture HD-SDI at 3Gbps. It features HDMI as well as four channels of analog XLR audio and all the other types of I/O you can think of through a breakout cable. It allows for viewing your work on an external monitor from programs such as Premiere Pro, After Effects, Photoshop, and Fusion. It offers effect acceleration for Premiere Pro and After Effects. It should ship in June with an MSRP of $895.
The biggest news of NAB in color-grading circles was Blackmagic Design’s first moves with the DaVinci line since acquiring it last year. This high-end, cinema-class color corrector was priced at $200,000–$800,000 until a few months ago. Since the acquisition, Blackmagic has been working to make the line more affordable. The company now offers a Mac-only, software-only version of DaVinci Resolve that uses one high-end NVIDIA CUDA GPU. I can see a lot of event filmmakers going to town with this powerful system, which lists for $995.
New HP Workstations
If you’ve struggled with editing raw HDV or AVCHD files in the field, HP’s new EliteBook 8740w mobile workstations may be the answer. Featuring Intel i5 and i7 multicore CPUs, up to 16GB RAM, a dedicated 1GB of VRAM on an NVIDIA or ATI GPU, 17" screen, and many options, the 8740w line comes with a 3-year warranty on parts and labor. Prices start at MSRP $1,999. If you’re running a small office on a tight budget and need reliable multicore workstation power, the HP Z200 SFF (small form factor) Workstation may be for you. You can configure it with everything from dual-core Pentium CPUs on up to the fastest quad-core Xeon and up to 16GB RAM. Configurations range from $739 to $2,571 with a lot of powerful choices in between.
HONORABLE MENTION: POSTPRODUCTION
LaCie Is First to Ship USB 3.0 (5Gbps) Storage Products
LaCie seems to be first out the door with the new USB 3.0 drives. To put the speed of these drives in perspective, FireWire 400 is 400Mbps (.4 Gbps), FireWire 800 is 800Mbps (.8 Gbps), E-SATA 2 is 3Gbps, and USB 3.0 is close to twice that. If you work with external drives, you’ll be waiting for these to hit the stores. Unfortunately, if you work on a Mac, you’ll be waiting a bit longer as USB 3.0 is not yet implemented into OS X.
Marc Franklin (marcfvp at yahoo.com) has been shooting video since 1982 and has run Franklin Video Productions since 1992. He has been featured in the Hollywood Reporter, Forbes, and TV Technology and has written for Studio Monthly, Student Filmmakers, and WEVA.