A couple weeks ago, I traveled to Las Vegas for the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) convention. It’s held every April and all the major gear and software vendors (and countless smaller companies) show off the best of what they’ve got in the world of video and film production. And then on top of that there’s the educational elements, this year I took part in the “Post | Production World” (P|PW) set of sessions, and I also traveled out there with a good friend from school, Jared. It’s always interesting to get a different perspective on what we see at the show. As most of my experience is video production and most of his is audio, we look at different pieces of the convention through a different lens so to speak.
Of course I could go on forever about what I learned at any one year of the convention, but I'm going to try and keep as concise as possible and limit it to just this week and next week's posts. Lets see how well I do at that. This week I'm going to focus on the gear, next week I'll dig into some of the other stuff I learned out there.
So for starters, lets talk about the show itself. As I've said before, its massive. And just about every company that has a major impact in the industry was present either by having a booth themselves, or wandering the floor with some of their gear bouncing between booths like Freefly did this year. Interestingly, GoPro had no presence this year, which was surprising becuase they usually have a pretty large booth with big giveaways and the like. Not sure what that says about the current state of GoPro, but maybe we should start evaluating some of the other action cameras like what Sony has to offer?
Speaking of Sony - lets start there, since they had some news this time around:
FS5 II - this looks like a pretty great camera. A few weeks ago I posted my thoughts on the FS5 - if you missed it, check it out here. My thoughts on the "II" (with the limited time I had near the camera) are about the same but better - this still is absolutely the camera for 90% of what I shoot.
Okay - the major changes:
1) With what they learned making the Venice, Sony has tweaked the color science in the FS5 II so that skin tones capture better - in their words: "specifically tuned to meet the requirements of today’s content creators with rich mid-range colours, alluring facial tones and a softer tonal look tuned with the same expertise as Sony’s world-leading VENICE digital cinematography camera"
2) FS Raw is now "free" - this is a nice addition, the first FS5 had the capability to record raw via a software upgrade. The FS5 II includes that capability with the stock camera. Which means to an external recorder (like the Shogun Inferno I have) one could shoot 10 bit raw 4K with this camera - and it looks pretty great. I can't wait to have an excuse to try out that functionality.
3) Finally, the other difference is that the 240 fps (at 1080) slow mo has been pushed from 4 to 8 seconds of recording - which is a pretty significant boost when you slow it back down. (Or if you really need something crazy, you can shoot 240 at 2K externally for as long as you need to).
Of course there's some people who aren't a huge fan of the changes and don't think it goes far enough, but at the end of the day no one camera can do everything and Sony has a huge offering of cameras to sell based on your needs. And clearly Sony was thinking about new users with this upgrade, more than those who already bought the fs5. And from that perspective, it’s a pretty great deal.
The narrative and doc projects I tend to gravitate to are a perfect fit for this camera, however for something a little more "newsy", this isn't the perfect camera. And while one could shoot a feature film on an FS5 II with its capabilities, if you've got the budget you'd be better off with an F55 or the new Venice. That said it would be great for an indie feature - keeps your kit "cheap" and small. You're able to move quickly through your day, and all in all its pretty great. I think its a great update to a really solid camera. Especially when you consider the price - a little over $5200, including a lens.
Speaking of RAW recording, Atomos had a pretty great announcement this year. ProRes RAW. Having never worked with raw footage, I can only understand what this means for the raw workflow in a purely theoretical sense, but I know some people are thrilled about this. Bonus points, Atomos gives all the recorders that can record raw the upgrade for free. So my shogun inferno can now (with a free software upgrade) record ProRes raw. And that’s pretty cool.
Of course I stopped by Blackmagic's booth - there's always something new from them to check out and I’m convinced it’s literally impossible to miss their booth. They had Davinci Resolve 15 out on the floor (I'll get into that more next week), the new Pocket Cinema Camera, there's a broadcast version of the URSA, the list goes on. I'll just bounce through the things that stood out to me:
Now I’ll be the first to say, the quality of the lens on a camera has a major impact on the quality of the image. And they had a very VERY nice Fujinon broadcast lens on the front of this camera. But at the end of the day it’s a very good looking camera and, as I’ve said before, if someone were to be building a multi-cam studio from the ground up, it’s hard to go wrong with blackmagic gear for the quality and price. Their entire ecosystem works well and talks to each other very well. Granted, it’s harder to work blackmagic gear into an existing workflow - if you have a blackmagic switcher, it can’t give you the camera control on nonblackmagic cameras. And if you have a blackmagic camera, other switchers can’t control it in the same way. Of the video output still switches just fine, but a lot of the added value of the BMD gear is the way you can control it all without added hardware.
However, I’m still a little wary of this one. First of all, I know some people got bit by the first pocket cinema camera and it’s shortfalls. Though while it seems they’ve addressed this issues, I’ll wait till someone has really used it before I consider changing my mind of that. That said, I do know people who love the first one, so maybe it was just bad luck. The other issue I had with the first one was that the low light sensitivity was kinda awful. The demo at NAB of course was perfectly lit. It would be interesting to see the camera working in a less perfect environment.
More subjectively, I’m not a huge fan of the micro 4/3 sensor, it makes “normal” lenses a little more difficult to work with, and you fight a little more for your depth of field because the sensor is smaller. My a7s has a full frame 35mm sensor, and I love that look. After working with that camera, I’m not sure I could be happy shooting on something with a sensor smaller than the “super 35mm” sensors of the fs5/7 etc. Granted, if you don’t need it to match anything else and you need a small camera to run with (especially if you’re shooting a travel piece) it’s probably a great camera for you.
Overall, I'd definitely be interested in buying this tripod when it comes time to replace/upgrade the trusty manfrotto, even though its at a little higher price point.
Right next to the booth with the Me Video tripod was X-Rite. Now I'm not going to go on too long about them, there wasn't anything new from them this year, but it was my first chance to take a closer look at what they offer. There's two products that have caught my eye for a while. One is their video charts, the other is their i1 screen calibration tool. Combine the two and you can pretty much guarantee that you start your color grade with as close to "perfect color" as possible.
First, the chart - you shoot this for each setup and then in your color correction tool of choice, you can line the colors up with the scope and know that you're at the right starting point. However - in DaVinci, there's a tool where you select the version of the chart you're using and drag an overlay onto the video - the software then matches the colors, and tells you what percent match you have afterward (usually within 90% with all the demos I've seen) - this gets you through the busywork of color correction faster and into the artistic stuff. Its so simple, yet its an amazing tool and something I definitely need to add to my kit.
Then there's the i1 - this tool allows you to calibrate your screen to the most correct settings for any given color space - so if you're grading a project that needs the rec.709 color space, you can make sure your monitor is properly calibrated to that standard, and its got a pile of pre-sets you can set your monitor to as well. And while that's really super cool - it gets better, you can then leave the device connected and on your desk, and it will counter the ambient light to make sure your monitor is still showing you those correct colors, based on the light in the room - so if you have a window in your edit suite, your monitors will shift as the day changes.
And if that wasn't enough, I could also use this device to calibrate the Atomos Shogun Inferno that I shoot with, so my monitoring in the field and my monitoring in post match as close as absolutely possible, which seems like a minor thing, but at the end of the day is a major feat.
And to wrap up this week's post, lets talk about Moza.
One of the things I absolutely love about NAB isn't the stuff you plan on seeing - I know any year I go out there I'm going to see something awesome from Sony, and I'm going to see something cool over at Atomos' booth - DJI will always have some update or another, etc. But what's really cool is stumbling across the companies you didn't know existed. Some of them are larger companies that are just off your radar, others are smaller companies just breaking into the industry (usually from China).
This is the case with Moza - they make camera stabilizers. Maybe not 100% on par with the DJI ronin or the Freefly Movi, but definitely good ones, and really at the end of the day, who cares what you shot it on, as long as it looks good, right?
So as some of you already know, I have a DJI Ronin-M for my A7s - and I love it (I wish I had more excuses to use it in day to day work), but I frequently look at these smaller companies that make stabilizers for DSLRs because its good to know what your lower-cost alternatives are if you need to build up a second moving camera without a huge cost. Also, I've been agonizing over a stabilizer for my phone, especially now that I have the iPhone X that gives me the option to be carrying a very capable camera everywhere.
Now, there's still a couple things for me to check out before I pull the trigger. The big thing I need to decide is if I like it and the form factor better (enough) than that of the new Freefly Movi, which I also got some brief hands-on time with at NAB. (though not as much time as I would have liked). I like the form factor of the Freefly a lot - it feels more like holding a "real" camera than a phone on a stick. It's got a lot of features (though not the charging feature that's kinda nice) and they're a proven company. The biggest concern in the price point - not awful for the market, but in comparing the two - the freefly is $300, the Moza is only $109. I just need to do a little more digging before I settle on one over the other. Good news - they're both only available for pre-order right now, so I've got some time to decide, but don't be surprised if you start seeing more phone video from me in the near-ish future. This is pretty cool stuff.
Okay, so I lied - one more thing before we call it a day - Robots!
There were a lot of automated/controlled "robot" camera platforms that I saw out there this year, and this video only touches the surface of what I saw out there. I don't have a lot to say on them other than they're pretty cool, and the really impressive part is the precision in which they move. There's a great BTS video of Netflix's Bright out there somewhere that shows the "bolt" robot system moving the camera for an epic slowmo shot. It's very impressive.
Anyway, I think that's where I'll wrap it up for this week. Next week I'll talk a little about some of the sessions I took as part of Post Production World. If there's something you were hoping I'd mention in this post that I skipped (or forgot about in all the other excitement) let me know in the comments below!
Until then - thank you for reading, I hope you found it interesting.
Please be sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram: @tomameek
Bonus obligatory shot of the Bellagio fountains because I was in Las Vegas
Thomas Meek is an independent filmmaker living and working in Houston, TX