Unfortunately I didn’t get to spend a lot of time walking the floor at NAB. If you haven’t been, the venue and the event are huge. It would take days to go around and see everything. I was at NAB shooting some video’s for Sony Europe and that kept me busy, so I only got to see a few things away from the Sony booth. I’ll come back to the Sony stuff later.
BlackMagic and AJA cameras.
Lots of talk about these. I didn’t get to see the BlackMagic cameras so I can’t really comment on these. I have read a lot of negative comments about the size and weight of the BM Ursa. I did get to see the AJA Cion. It certainly looks the part and the design and ergonomics look pretty sound. But when I was over on the AJA booth the camera was shooting a couple of actors dressed in 1920’s clothes. The female actress was pretending to smoke a cigarette. Every time she brought her hand up to her face the back of her hand completely over exposed turning into a blobby white highlight. Not nice. Now this is a prototype camera, so maybe this will be sorted before release. AJA, like BlackMagic claim 12 stops of dynamic range for their cameras. I wasn’t seeing this at NAB.
Going forwards dynamic range is going to be just as important as high resolution. For a start being able to capture a greater dynamic range gives you more to play with in post and helps give pleasing highlights, even with today’s restricted range 709 based TV’s and monitors. But Dolby has developed Dolby Vision which brings images with a 100 times greater dynamic range to TV screens. Technicolor has also developed a system of it’s own a they claim is even better. These new technologies when combined with 4K will produce a viewing experience the likes of which we haven’t seen before. So it’s not just resolution that’s important but also dynamic range and 12 stops, whilst good isn’t really in the same league as cameras like the Alexa, F65, F55 which can all manage 14 stops or more.
Most of the cameras that I use rely on V-Mount batteries. I have been using batteries from various manufacturers and to be honest they have all worked well and without issue. One brand that I use is Dynacore. Dynacore are a Chinese manufacturer that specialise in batteries and lighting for broadcast. They had some interesting new batteries at NAB. First off it the one pictured to the left. This is a V-Mount or AB Gold mount battery with an integrated charger. It also has a D-Tap output as well as a 5v USB output. The D-Tap is great for powering lights and other 12v accessories and the 5V USB out can be used to power or charge a phone or tablet. With so many cameras now including control over WiFi, having that 5V output is very handy.
Another interesting Dynacore Battery is this one, the DS-U77B. This is a replacement for the Sony BPU series batteries as used on everything from the EX1 to the new PMW-300. I asked if this will work on the PMW-300 and was told yes, no problem. The 77Wh battery includes a D-Tap output and a 5V USB output making it very versatile, plus the higher capacity than the Sony BP-U60 (56Wh) means it will run your camera for longer.
Dynacore also make lights and had some nice 1×1 LED panels with pretty good CRI’s on show along with a LED Fresnel. The panels I saw were bi-color and DMX controllable. A test with a digital CRI meter returned an average CRI of 96 which is pretty good and pictures I took of objects illuminated by the lights look reasonably well balanced.
Another Dynacore light that caught my eye was this large Fresnel LED. The CRI is not as good as the 1×1 panels, coming in around 90 – 91, but I didn’t observe any nasty hue’s or color casts. It would be interesting to try this light in anger and see how it really performs in practice.
Whilst on the subject of lights Alphatron had a nice new Ledpro ES96 camera Light. The example on show at NAB was a pre-production unit, production should start soon. What’s interesting about this light is that it uses the same LED’s as the very nice and very bright Cineroid LM400 LED light. Shining it around the hall at NAB showed the Alphatron/LedPro light to be extremely bright for it’s size and the color purity looked to be excellent for an LED. As always Alphatron like to try to offer good value and I was assured that this LED light will be extremely competitively priced. On the back there are brightness and color controls as well as a socket for external power. Also on the Alphatron booth was their new Matte Box, based on a Vocas design this is a really nice Matte Box. I have a sample for review and will be writing about this soon.
Talking about Vocas, they had some new bit’s and pieces including a new shoulder mount for the Sony F5 and F55 cameras. This new base plate is extremely light. A lot of thought has clearly gone into the design. It looks pretty simple, but the design allows it to be slid forward and back for balance and then the shoulder pad can be moved forward and back within the shoulder mount. I’ll be writing a more in depth review of this very soon.
So what about Sony?
Lots of fuss around the Sony A7S. This is a new version of the already popular and highly regarded Sony A7 stills camera. Some big difference though. The A7S has a sensor better suited to video. It “only” has 12 megapixels compared to the 24 million or more found on most DSLR’s. The benefit being that as this is a full frame sensor the pixels are huge and you only need 8.8 Million pixels for 4K. Big pixels means great sensitivity and excellent dynamic range. The A7S has incredible low light performance with the ISO going almost all the way up to almost 1/2 a million (409,600 ISO to be precise). As well as low light sensitivity and high dynamic range the A7R can also output 4K video over micro HDMI. So this means that with a 4K capable recorder like the new Atomos Shogun or perhaps the Convergent Design Odyssey (if they enable the HDMI as a 4K input) you can use this camera to shoot 4K. Internally the camera records very high quality HD using XAVC-S or Mpeg4. With no line or pixel skipping the video from this pocket sized camera are really very good. To take advantage of the large dynamic range the A7S even has Sony’s SLog2 gamma curve. It’s a full frame sensor that uses Sony’s E-Mount. You can still use your older non full frame E-Mount lenses from the NEX range or your FS100/FS700, the camera reverts to a crop frame mode when you do this. If you want to know more about the A7S then take a look at Den Lennie’s in depth review and videos. It’s all very impressive. http://www.fstopacademy.com/blog/sony-alpha-7s-first-hands-on-shooting-review/
As well as the A7S Sony were also showing a new E-Mount power zoom lens. The 28-135mm lens looks very nice, but the specs are a bit vague and subject to change. There will be a firmware update later in the year for FS700 owners so that these new lenses can be used on the FS700. In addition the firmware update will auto-correct for geometric distortions and shading present in may E-Mount lenses, so a nice little update coming soon.
Another new camera from Sony is the PXW-X180.
The X180 is a 1/3″ camera that replaces not only the XDCAM PMW-150 but also the NXCAM NX5. The “X” in the X180 signifies that the camera also has Sony’s new XAVC codec. So, the X180 includes a multitude of codecs starting with standard definition DVCAM going up to HD with NXCAM AVCHD then on to XDCAM and finally XAVC. That’s an impressive list! In order to record all these different codecs there are also a number of different recording media options. The camera can use SD cards, SxS cards or XQD cards.
There are two SxS sized card slots and adapters are used for the other cards. An SD card adapter will be included in the box, so NXCAM owners moving up to this camera will be good to go from day 1. The two card slots can be independently controlled, so you can use the record button on the handgrip to trigger record on one slot and the record button on the handle for the other. Dual recording can be used for safety or to shoot say one long clip for a conference with shorter highlights clips for fast turn-around editing.
As well as all the neat recording features the X180 has an amazing 25x zoom lens! From very wide to very long this camera can do it all and with optical stabilisation. The cool features don’t stop there either. On the top of the handle there is a MI hot shoe. We have seen this shoe before on many consumer cameras, but the version on the X180 will allow you to connect many accessories including radio mics directly to the camera. If you have one of Sony’s new UWP-D radio mics the receiver will slide into a simple hot shoe which will power the mic as well as routing audio into the camera without wires or cables. Very neat. All in all the PXW-X180 is a very interesting camera, I hope to get one soon to review.
The PDW-850 was a bit of a surprise!
I wasn’t really expecting to see a new optical disc camcorder, but here it is the PDW-850. On the outside this doesn’t look a lot different to the older PDW-700 and F800 cameras, but under the skin there are some very useful updates. For a start power consumption has been reduced to 41W in record and 37w in standby giving a useful extension to operating times when battery powered. In addition the weight has been reduced to 4.2Kg. New 2/3″ CCD sensors are used so picture quality may be a little better. The small info LCD on the side of the camera has gone (to save weight and power) and the LCD screen has been upgraded with a higher resolution panel that is quite a big improvement over the one used on the 700 and F800.
And For Sony’s PMW-F5 and PMW-F55?
Just before NAB Sony announced a codec upgrade option for the PMW-F5 and F55. This new board will add both Apple ProRes and Avid DNxHD. AT the show itself Sony revealed a very interesting shoulder kit for the cameras that converts them into fully fledged ENG camera.
This rig is a lot more than just a fancy shoulder mount. At the front it adds a number of extra assignable buttons as well as familiar switches for white balance camera/bars select and gain. Under the front of the camera it adds a shutter select switch and white balance switch along with a rotary gain control for audio.
At the back on the side there are more audio controls including 4 knobs to set the audio levels across 4 tracks. On the very rear, just where they would be on a XDCAM shoulder camera are a pair of XLR audio inputs, a 5 pin XLR out and a headphone socket. On the right side of the mount at the front there is a 5 pin XLR input for the on-camera mic. At the top of the camera there is a new much longer handle that includes posts for a carry strap (hooray). It should be noted that the mount shown at the show was an early prototype so the finished product may be a little different/improved.