Zacuto Gratical Viewfinder

A little while back I was given the opportunity to try out a Zacuto Gratical viewfinder along with other parts of the Zacuto Recoil rig range. I had heard nothing but praise for the Gratical from other users, so I wanted to try one for myself. As a user of the Sony F5 and FS7 I was interested to see if, as I suspected having the ability to add LUT’s in the viewfinder would get around some of those cameras own LUT limitations.

What I wasn’t really expecting was to be totally blown away by the quality of the image! Sony’s viewfinders aren’t bad and I have been using them successfully for years, but the Gratical really took my breath away. Not only is it very high contrast, which is to be expected from an OLED panel, but it is also bright and remarkably sharp. I think a lot of the sharpness comes from the design and construction of the eyepiece which is very good indeed. The Gratical really is the first viewfinder that I have used where I didn’t feel the need to use peaking for day to day focus.

The use of a 4:3 OLED panel allows the Gratical to display a 16:9 image across the upper part of the screen while showing the waveform and vectorscope below, so the screen image is un-cluttered. As well as 16:9 the Gratical can display a wide range of other aspect ratios and also includes the ability to de-squeeze all the common anamorphic formats.

So what about the LUT capabilities? Well they really are very good. You can apply a LUT to the viewfinder image as well as the signal that is passed through the viewfinder independently. This gives you amazing flexibility, allowing you to monitor one LUT in the VF while sending a different LUT to the producer or director. There are built in LUT’s for the majority of the current log equipped cameras plus you can load your own LUT’s into it via USB, what more could you want.

All in all the Gratical is a great addition to almost any video camera. You will need to think about how you are going to power it, either via a Canon battery attached to the unit itself or by an external power supply, maybe something like a D-Tap or make use of the hirose on the F5/F55 or on the back of the FS7’s extension unit. Then you will need to mount it, but at least there are plenty of very secure mounting options, including Zacuto’s own very nice recoil system.

It’s not a cheap viewfinder, there are many cheaper viewfinders that offer many of the features of the Gratical, but none of the other ones I have tried have the beautiful image quality of the Gratical.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sony HXR-NX100 Webinar.

HXR-X100-sideI first came across the Sony NXR100 at Broadcast Asia and I thought it was a great little camera then. I’ve now just finished a short shoot with it and it confirms my first thoughts. This is an interesting little camera that shares the same 1″sensor as the PXW-X70 but in a larger housing that is easier to handle in many professional applications. You get the same great image quality (although only recording XAVC-S or AVCHD) but the bigger package really looks the part (important for corporate and other pro applications) and offers larger controls, more assignable buttons and separate focus and zoom rings. To find out more why not join me next week for an introductory webinar. Click here for more details.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Does the average TV viewer actually get the “film look”?

So I have just watched a TV commercial that I assume would have had a pretty big budget (it was shot on film) on the TV. If you are in the UK it’s the new John Lewis Insurance ad.

You can watch it here on YouTube.

Now when I first saw the add it immediately looked washed out and the blacks looked really milky, at first I thought there was something wrong with the encoding. But now I’ve seen it a few times in a few different places, in reality it’s meant to look like that, it’s obviously a creative look or style.

Frankly I don’t get it and I’m not sure many normal viewers appreciate the flat look and in some of the shots in this ad the blacks really are washed out. We have spent decades trying to figure out how to accurately capture deep shadows and display them convincingly. We are told how expensive OLED TV’s are so much better than LCD TV’s because they can show true deep blacks. People spend lots of money creating a home cinema with the right low light levels. Most modern TV’s include some kind of automatic contrast boosting mechanism. But at the same time it has become fashionable to show flat, low contrast, almost log like pictures on TV and online. Pictures that to me look like the pedestal/black level has been incorrectly set.

I guess here’s the thing: Shooting with log is in. Shooting with log is cool, shooting with log is the new fangled way to shoot. Producers, directors, creative people are being told that log is the best thing since sliced bread and from a capture point of view it does have some real benefits. The problem is that it appears that these people also believe that the normal viewing public also thinks that flat, log like pictures are cool. I’m not so sure that they do. Even though this was a film shoot it’s likely that the telecine would have used Cineon which is also a log curve, so the rushes would have looked very flat before grading.

Does grandma at home appreciate that a flat picture means a picture with a high dynamic range? Does Joe public think a flat washed out picture is special? Do they get the trendy flat creative style. Maybe they do, perhaps I’ve got it wrong, but to me it just looks all wrong. I’d much rather see a nice striking, contrasty image with rich colors and blacks that really are black. I think that sometimes creative people forget that outside of the industry peoples views on what looks good can be very different to the views of those of us that work in TV and film production.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

What does HDR mean in the world of video production?

I’m really, really excited by HDR.

4K is cool, higher resolution, sharper pictures, but sometimes it’s tough to tell the difference between good HD and 4K, especially on a small screen. But HDR….. well HDR really does have that wow factor. Finally we will be able to see images on the screen that have contrast and brightness that is true to life. Vibrant, vivid high resolution images, no more muddy low contrast, dull images.

First of all, lets get this straight, this is not the same thing as the HDR photography that’s been around for an age where you take multiple images at different exposures to capture a massive dynamic range that you then process with photoshop or similar to create some kind of artistic but otherwise un-natural looking picture with un real contrast. Video HDR (or at least what’s being talk about now) is about displaying images on screens that have a dynamic range that closely matches the real world.

And you know what the best bit of this is? A lot of us already have cameras that are shooting HDR or that can be made at least partially HDR capable at no additional cost!

So what is HDR?

Historically television and cinema standards have been limited by display technology. Today a high quality LCD TV will only show a dynamic range of around 6 stops. If you have a light meter check it out. Measure the brightest whites and the deepest blacks and you should find a 5 to 6 stop range. Because cinema screens depend on reflecting light there are limits as to the contrast range that you will see in the cinema too. This has been the case since the very beginning of film making. Yet today we have cameras that can capture dynamic ranges well in excess of this, even an older camera such as a Sony EX1 can manage to record 11 stops, but with normal TV’s and monitors we have no way of showing this 11 stop (or more) range 1:1. So we massage the captured image to fit within the current conventional 6 stop display range using fancy things like the “knee” or special gamma curves like cinegamma, hypergamma or by grading and fine tuning the image in post production.

It’s all about the display.

The key technology that’s changing this is OLED displays. Remember dynamic range is not just about highlights but also about deep, dark shadows. We can make LCD screens brighter, much brighter. An LCD panel works by having a large light source behind an array of tiny electronically controlled ND filters. But these ND filters are never 100% dark, some light always leaks through. This means that when you make the back light brighter the blacks become less black as more light leaks through, so you don’t increase the contrast, only the brightness. The other issue is that current TV broadcasting standards (rec-709) are designed to work within the limitations of current display tech, so we don’t actually broadcast more than a 6 stop range. If we did the pictures wouldn’t look right on a 6 stop screen.

An OLED display on the other hand uses an array of individual LED emitters that are totally dark when they are off and can be very bright when all the way on. As a result they are capable of displaying a far greater dynamic range. TV and monitor manufacturers are now producing displays that are capable of showing dynamic ranges well in excess of the normal 6 stop range. If we then change the standard of the signals that we send to these displays to include a greater dynamic range that’s when the magic starts to happen. But it’s not just about contrast, it’s also about color. OLED displays can also show much more highly saturated colors.

You have to see it to believe it.

Sony HDR demo at NAB

Sony HDR demo at NAB

Unfortunately there is no way I can show you HDR here. Your computer monitor probably only has a 6 stop range. So to really see and appreciate HDR you are going to have to go and see a demo. There will be many at IBC. Imagine a picture of a sunset where the clouds and sky really are VIVID orange, an orange that positively glows from the screen illuminating the faces of the viewers. Meanwhile in the same shot there is a deep dark canyon in the foreground and you can see every detail in the deepest shadows of that canyon. Or how about a night time cityscape where the unlit buildings are dark but still clear to see, meanwhile the lights on the buildings are like tiny bright diamonds of brilliant light. Maybe the easiest to imagine is a shot across water where the ripples of the water catching the sun really, really do sparkle and catch your eye. But remember it’s not just about a brighter display, but ones with much, much greater contrast and much richer colors.

HDR Limits.

Are there limits to HDR? Well yes there are, but these limits are becoming more to do with what is comfortable to view rather than what the display technology can do. Sony’s X300 HDR monitor can show I believe around an 11 stop range. Some colorists have told me that working on HDR material in a dark grading suite for a few hours can be quite tiring due to the increased eyestrain. Let’s face it, we wouldn’t want a shot of the setting sun that is so bright that it makes your eye’s hurt. So in practice I think 10 to 11 stops is about the natural limit of what we will be comfortable watching on a screen at home. But this is an enormous 10 fold increase over what we have now.

It’s FREE! Well, at least shooting and distribution is.

One key thing about HDR is that it doesn’t need any more bandwidth to broadcast or distribute than any other image of the same size. All you need to do is change the gamma curve and color space used. This means that OTT (Over The Top – web and internet) delivery services such as Netflix or Amazon can stream in HDR without needing to make any changes to their infrastructure, all they need to do is grade the programme to suit an HDR display. Right now you can already find a number of movies to stream in HDR and many, many more programmes will be available from Netflix and Amazon Prime in HDR this year.

The next thing to consider is that if you have been shooting material with a camera dynamic range greater than 10 or 11 stops then you may already have content that is going to look great in HDR. S-Log material is perfect for HDR, material shot by the F55 using S-Gamut or S-Gamut3 is excellent for HDR as not only does it have a high dynamic range but it’s sensor  also has a wide color gamut that will capture those highly saturated vibrant colors that only an HDR display can show. The F5 and FS7 will also shoot great material ready for HDR, although without some of the extended color range that the F55 is capable of. Even material shot with a Cinegamma or Hypergamma can be graded for HDR and in most cases will look better in HDR than it does on a conventional display.

Sony BVM-X300 HDR monitor.

Sony BVM-X300 HDR monitor.

So for us shooters, many of us already have equipment that can produce HDR content, in fact HDR will be the first time many of us will actually truly be able to see what we are shooting! To grade and produce HDR content you are going to need to invest in an HDR display. I’d love to get one of the new HDR capable Sony BVM-X300 monitors, but at £25k it’s too steep for me, so I will have to wait for a good quality HDR TV. The biggest issue with HDR will be that you will need to produce a different grade for HDR distribution compared to conventional Rec-709 distribution. But it must be remembered that many high end productions will already have different grades depending on the distribution method. After all a DVD or Bluray Rec-709 release of a film will need a different grade to the DCI-P3 cinema release.

Like 4K, HDR is already here. It’s not mainstream just yet, but it really isn’t far away. This isn’t a technology for the future, it’s a technology for today. Give it another 18 months and HDR TV’s will be common place in most TV stores, just as 4K TV’s are readily available now. Movie studios are sitting on huge archives of films that with a re-grade will look amazing in HDR. With the new 4K Bluray standard able to carry HDR content we really are looking at a tangible revolution in the quality of home viewing. Not just higher resolution but also higher contrast and dynamic range. If you are starting a big project now or want your material to have a long shelf life, you really should be shooting in 4K and using log or raw right now.

Better at home than in the cinema?

It’s interesting to consider that HDR is something that’s going to work much better in the home or at least via a display panel rather than via projection, so the home viewing experience may well exceed the cinema viewing experience (assuming that you have  decent sized screen and good sound system). The next generation broadcasting standard Rec-2020 allows for HDR. These are exciting times times and in the coming weeks I’m hoping to spend some time over at Sony’s Digital Motion Picture Center at Pinewood to learn more about grading and producing content for HDR, the details of which I’ll share with you here.

Bureaucracy in the way in Europe :(

In Europe we may have a problem. For HDR to work TV’s need to be brighter. Brighter TV’s consume more energy. At the moment it’s hard to sell an HDR TV in Europe as most exceed the power consumption limits laid down by the EU for televisions which are based on typical LCD technology :( So you may need to personally import an HDR TV from elsewhere.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Northern Lights Expeditions for 2016.

A rainbow of colours from the Northern Lights over the mountain cabins. Taken Jan 2013.

A rainbow of colours from the Northern Lights over the mountain cabins. Taken Jan 2013.

The dates are now up and I am now taking bookings for next years Northern Lights expeditions. I have been running these journeys of adventure into the arctic circle for 8 years following a tried and tested formula that gets better and better every year as we add more activities.

These are not just for photo and video enthusiasts. Many, many of those that come have little or no interest in photography and simply come to experience the arctic adventure and see the magical Northern Lights. Full details can be found here:

If you are into photography and video then these trips are an amazing opportunity to learn new skills as I offer unlimited free coaching and tuition on photographing the Northern Lights and working with video or stills cameras in this incredibly beautiful arctic environment. Almost every year people come back for a second or even third trip.

These trips normally sell out. I can only take a small group of up to 8 people due to some of the logistics of travelling by snow scooter up to the cabins and I only run these tours when the moon conditions are just right. So if you want to come let me know asap.

December 2015. Please contact me if you would like a bespoke tour in November or December 2015.

TOUR 1 Arrive 1st February 2016 – Depart 7th February 2016. £1,350 per person. Max 8 people. (cost of flights NOT included). 

Arrive 7th February 2016 – Depart 13th February 2016. £1,350 per person. Max 8 people. (cost of flights NOT included). 

The tour dates are timed for optimum moon conditions. You don’t want a bright full moon making the Auora invisible!  While the prices may seem high do consider that food is included for most of the trip. Eating out in Norway is very expensive, breakfast, lunch and an evening meal could easily cost £65-£100 ($100-$150) per day. A one day snow scooter safari costs around £400 to £500, but we are using snow scooters almost every day, so I hope you can see that these adventure tours really are excellent value. Where possible we now also go Dog Sledding on one day. There is an extra charge £110 per person for this and get to drive your own team of dogs during a magical 2 hour dog sled ride.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

All quiet on the XDCAM-USER front.

I’m still here. Still preparing lots of training aids for you. The reason I haven’t been posting anything recently is just simply because I’m extremely busy preparing a dozen training films, shooting an in-depth review and on top of all that a TV commercial. This is all good stuff and I think a lot of you will love the training films once they are released.

Later in September/Early Oct I will be running a 3 day film making workshop in the Berkshire in the UK. It will be class room on a Friday on preparing for a shoot, camera setup and then discussion of the storyboard. On the Saturday we will be shooting an interesting fast action  commercial and then on the Sunday we will have a class on grading and editing as we start to put the footage together. Cameras used will be the FS7, F5 and A7s. We will be using a lot of camera movement including jibs and gimbals. Space is limited so if you are interested drop me message using the contact form and I will fill you in with all the details.

That’s it for now. I promise there will be some new and interesting stuff for you on here very soon. Stay tuned.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Picture Profiles and scene settings for the PXW-X200

The new Sony PXW-X200 is externally very similar to the old PMW-200, but under the hood it is a very different camera. For a start it has new and much improved sensors and processing. That combined with 10 bit 422 XAVC means that there is a noticeable improvement in image quality, in particular noise levels. As a result the pictures from the X200 actually grade really well.

However for the best results when grading or for general purpose shooting I feel you can benefit from a few simple changes to the cameras picture profiles. Out of the factory the camera uses Rec-709 gamma with a knee. This gives a reasonable picture but the highlights can look rather crushed with some neon colours. I feel that the X200 really benefits from the use of a Hypergamma gamma curve. Below are some settings that you can change in the Picture Profiles for better image quality, change ONLY the settings listed:

General Purpose Profile for day to day shooting (NOT Broadcast Safe, 109% peak white):

Gamma: HG3, Black Gamma -40, Black Level -3.

White Clip: OFF

Matrix: ON, Select 1, Level +10, Phase -4, R-G +8, R-B +6, G-R -10, G-B -8, B-R -5, B-G -12.

HD Detail: Level -10, Frequency +15
Aperture Level +25

Recommend setting zebras 5% lower than you would normally.

General Purpose Profile for day to day shooting (Broadcast Safe, 100% peak white):

Gamma: HG1, Black Gamma -40, Black Level -3.

Matrix: ON, Select 1, Level +10, Phase -4, R-G +8, R-B +6, G-R -10, G-B -8, B-R -5, B-G -12.

HD Detail: Level -10, Frequency +15
Aperture Level +25

Recommend setting zebras 4% lower than you would normally.

Profile for high dynamic range shots, suitable for grading.

Gamma: HG4, Black Level -3.

White Clip: OFF

Matrix: ON, Select 1, Level +2, Phase -4, R-G +8, R-B +6, G-R -10, G-B -8, B-R -5, B-G -12.

HD Detail: Level -12, Frequency +15
Aperture Level +15

Recommend setting zebras 6% lower than you would normally.

Profile for night shooting where low light performance is critical and noise may be an issue.

Gamma: STD5,  Black Level -3.  Black Gamma +25

Matrix: ON, Select 1, Level +2, Phase -4, R-G +8, R-B +6, G-R -10, G-B -8, B-R -5, B-G -12.

HD Detail: Level -15, Frequency +15

Crispening +40

Low Key Sat -30

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

PAG PAGlink Battery System.

PAGlink PL96T Time Battery

PAGlink PL96T Time Battery

These are not just batteries, this is a battery system.

When I first saw them, yes, I liked the idea and the design, plus they are made in the UK. So a good start. But what I didn’t really realise was just how good the whole PAGLink system is.

The headline feature is the ability to stack up to 8 batteries together to produce what is in effect a single much higher capacity battery. This isn’t a unique feature, but it’s clever none the less.

2 PAGLink PL96T's stacked together on my PMW-F5

2 PAGLink PL96T’s stacked together on my PMW-F5

But here’s the thing, not only can you stack the batteries together to use them, you can also stack them together to charge them. This means that if you have a dual channel charger you can conceivably place 16 batteries on it to charge. Of course it takes longer to charge 4 batteries than 2, but it does mean that you could place 4 or even up to 8 batteries on the charger to charge all of them over night without having to get up in the middle of the night to swap over batteries.

PAGLink Micro Charger.

PAGLink Micro Charger.

As my regular readers will know I travel a lot. So I’m a big fan of anything that can cut down the bulk of the kit that I travel with. PAG have a really compact travel charger for the PAGLink system. It’s just a small “wall wart” plug in charger with an adapter that attaches to the battery. Again because of the ability to stack multiple batteries together I can use a single charger to charge several batteries at once.

By stacking several PAGLink batteries together you can charge many at a time even with the Micro Charger.

By stacking several PAGLink batteries together you can charge many at a time even with the Micro Charger.

I find that I can normally charge 3 completely flat batteries overnight this way, 4 if I have a decent overnight break. In practice this means that I can carry 4 batteries and a charger in my carry on luggage alongside my camera body and a lens.

Talking of carry-on luggage.  Currently you are not allowed to put Lithium Ion batteries of the kind we use to power our cameras in the holds of aircraft. So this means you MUST hand carry your batteries. Even then there are many additional restrictions such as an upper capacity limit of 2 batteries up to 150Wh. Up to 100Wh you can carry as many as reasonable for personal use. But any batteries taken on a plane must have passed a UN test. The UN tests ensures the battery is safe to transport. Poorly constructed Li-Ion batteries can burst in to flames without warning and the subsequent fire is very difficult to contain, not a good thing to have happen on an aircraft and there have already been aircraft brought down by Li-Ion battery fires and several cases of fires on the ground. A BBC crew were recently fined a lot of money for knowingly allowing Li-Ion camera batteries to go in the hold of a passenger flight.

Each PAGLink battery comes with a copy of it's UN test certification and has a flight safe sticker.

Each PAGLink battery comes with a copy of it’s UN test certification and has a flight safe sticker.

Each PAG battery comes with a copy of it’s UN test certificate along with a copy of the latest transportation regulations. In addition each battery has a sticker declaring it’s conformance with these regulations. Although the sticker has no formal legal standing it really does help smooth the way at security check points at airports and the paperwork can be essential in some countries (I’ve been asked for it in Dubai, India, USA and South Africa). When I tried to get a copy of the UN test certificate for a well known brand of Chinese made batteries I could not obtain one, despite discussions with the head office. One issue that has been brought to my attention is that many batteries with a D-Tap connector on them cannot be certified as the connector is unprotected against short circuits in most cases and this presents a possible safety hazard.

PAGLINK Power Hub provides up to 4 Hirose, D-Tap or PP90 power outlets as well as a 5V USB power outlet.

PAGLINK Power Hub provides up to 4 Hirose, D-Tap or PP90 power outlets as well as a 5V USB power outlet.

The PAGLink batteries do not have D-Tap outputs, but you can attach a rather clever device called a power hub. The Power Hub provides up to 4 user configurable power outlets. Each outlet can be removed and replaced with different options so you can have a mixture of say Hirose and D-Tap outlets. In addition there is a USB connector that provides a 5V power supply suitable for 5V accessories or for charging your mobile phone…… very handy! The power hub doesn’t need to go on the last battery in a stack, it can go in the middle as further batteries can be added to the Power Hub. This makes it possible to create a hot swap battery system that can give you continuous uninterrupted power not just to the camera but also for any accessories.

The batteries themselves have a nice and clear display that indicates the amount of power remaining. The “T” type time batteries will calculate the remaining run time and give you both a percentage capacity reading plus a run time in minutes on the LED display on the battery. On a Sony camera the V-Mount versions will also give you a time remaining indication in the cameras viewfinder. The 96Wh capacity batteries are great for medium power applications and on most modern camcorders that means a 2 to 3 hours of non-stop operation. Even on my PMW-F5 with the R5 raw recorder I get in excess of 2 hours from a single battery, but very often I will stack 2 together to power not just the camera but also monitors and other accessories from D-Taps on the Power Hub.

Sure these are a little more expensive than many of the Chinese made batteries available today. But they are so much nicer to use. They are remarkably small for the power they pack. They have great built in safety features including over current and high temperature protection. but this is more than just a set of nice batteries, it’s a well thought out system that includes the ability to charge lots of batteries from a range of compact chargers. The batteries are available with V-Mount or Anton Bauer mounts.

I highly recommend the PAG PAGLink battery system.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Convergent Design Odyssey Firmware version 5

Today Convergent Design have released a major update for the Odyssey. This update adds amazing LUT capabilities to the 7Q, so now you can load user 3D LUT’s in to the Odyssey as well as use the built in preset LUT’s. In addition you have anamorphic de-squeeze for the majority of anamorphic aspect ratios, dual zebras and a whole raft of other new features and bug fixes. For the full details go to the Convergent Design web site.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Cinemartin NEXT part 2.

If you haven’t seen part one, first jump over to part one, then take a look at the video below.

Cinemartin NEXT computer connectivity.

Cinemartin NEXT computer connectivity.

The Cinemartin NEXT has some really great connectivity even though it’s very small. When you are using it on location you can use just the built in high brightness touch screen, but as soon as you get back to base you can expand the display to one or two external monitors using the display port connectors. Expanding the desktop over a couple of external monitors turns the NEXT into a fully featured workstation that is perfect for editing, grading or transcoding functions.

SDI connectorsIn addition to the display port outputs for the computer desktop you can also connect a professional video monitor to the HDMI or SDI outputs of the integral Decklink video card. If you are working in SD you can even output via component or composite video. So with 3 monitors, two showing your desktop and one showing your video output you have a plenty of screen real estate to work on.

With this type of setup you will want to add an external keyboard and mouse. The touch screen display is great on location, but for more intensive edit, DiT or encoding operations a proper mouse and keyboard is much better. As there are plenty of USB3 ports you could just use a USB keyboard and mouse. Or you can plug in a tiny bluetooth adapter and connect your mouse and keyboard wirelessly.

As the NEXT is a computer you can run whichever edit application you prefer, or pretty much any application of any type that you wish. There is plenty of processing power (up to generation 5 i7 muticore) and lots of memory (up to 32GB) so it will run almost anything you want to throw at it, including OS-X.

Running Adobe Premiere on the NEXT is easy.

Running Adobe Premiere on the NEXT is easy.

When I tested it running Adobe Premier CC the editing experience was just as slick and smooth as my dedicated edit work station.  I could edit the 4K uncompressed material recorded directly on to the NEXT’s internal SSD with ease. Even transitions such as dissolves played back at 4K without jumps or skipping. The Decklink card gives you a direct monitor output connection from the Premiere Timeline at up to 4K. This should also work with the majority other other edit applications as the Decklink cards are pretty much the industry standard these days.

By using the USB3 ports you can expand the NEXT’s storage or bring in material from other sources with ease.

Samsung-T1-Portable-SSD-02One very neat way to expand it’s storage is with one of Samsungs T1 micro USB3 SSD’s. These drives really are tiny, not much bigger than an SxS card, but while small they do also offer great performance and can be used to record and playback 4K material. With 4 USB3 ports you could add up to 4TB of T1 storage or connect the NEXT to an external raid array for bigger projects.

Once you have done your editing you can play out your projects timeline direct from the NEXT. The integral Decklink hardware will play out 4K, HD and SD direct from Adobe Premiere’s timeline or via the included Decklink Studio player software.

Built in hardware based down conversion.

Built in hardware based down conversion.

In addition you can use the boards hardware downconverter to playback 4K content in HD, or HD content in SD. This is really useful if your working with 4K material but only have an HD monitor. The hardware based down conversion is much better than trying to re-scale from 4K to HD within Premiere. By attaching a breakout cable to the Decklink card you can get a full range of inputs and outputs including standard definition composite, component and Y/C (S-video).

The ability to play out and edit directly from the timeline will be great for news and other fast turnaround projects. By shooting directly on to the NEXT, editing directly with the NEXT and then playing out directly from the NEXT you cut out all those normal transfer, transcode and rendering steps that can really slow down your workflow.

Cinemartin Live background encoder.

Cinemartin Live background encoder.

If you do need to transcode your footage then the NEXT has a built in background encoder that can transcode to a number of ProRes and H265 presets very quickly while you are getting on with other work. Its hard to find decent H265 encoders at the moment. The Cinemartin Live application included with the NEXT is really very good and produces remarkably compact files with great image quality. H265 is great for sending material via ftp to broadcasters for breaking news stories. The compact file size means your transfer will happen quickly. Need to stream or ftp wirelessly? Well that’s no problem as you can simply insert whatever type of wireless modem you need into one of the USB3 slots, whether that’s a wifi dongle or 4G/LTE dongle. For wired connections there are already a pair of Gigabit Ethernet ports built in to the NEXT.

Just some of the recording options on the Cinemartin NEXT.

Just some of the recording options on the Cinemartin NEXT.

In terms of image quality, well the NEXT uses a Decklink 4K input and output card. These cards are used in high end edit systems (it’s what I have in my workstation). The uncompressed video is just that: Uncompressed. You can even record full RGB 444 in 4K at up to 60fps with the higher end models. This means that there are absolutely no compression artefacts. What comes out of the camera is what’s recorded, with no loss. So the playback is identical to the camera output. This means you are getting the absolute best quality recordings possible, better in most cases than the cameras internal recordings. There are some side by side examples in the video at the top of the page of just how video compression can really degrade the quality of a recording.

Shooting with the Cinemartin NEXT

Shooting with the Cinemartin NEXT

Uncompressed video like this is wonderful for green screen or chroma key where compression artefacts can really degrade the quality of the key. Its also fantastic for shooting in log as you retain every possible bit of data in the log recording so you will have the best possible master recording to take into the grade. And don’t forget you can even do the grade using the NEXT. Adobe SpeedGrade runs very well on it. If you don’t need uncompressed then there is also the option to record compressed using very high quality MJPEG as well as a DPX recording option. If you want ProRes than that isn’t a problem as you can shoot in uncompressed and then while shooting use the Cinemartin Live application to transcode your uncompressed footage to ProRes in the background. It’s recommended that if you want to do this you opt for one of the i5 or i7 processor models to deliver the fastest encoding performance.

Of course video is really dull without sound. In the sound department the next won’t disappoint either. You can record and play back up to 8 channels of audio embedded in the HDMI or HDSDI video stream or you can use the separate AES/EBU digital inputs or up to 4 channels of analog audio in and out (depending on model) that can be connected via the decklink cards breakout cable.

If you are shooting in 3D then a single NEXT can take the HDSDI outputs of both the left and right cameras at the same time and record both in a single multiplexed video stream. This saves the often time consuming chore of re-syncing and pairing discreet recordings and keeps everything together in a perfectly synced single file. I really wish the NEXT had been around 4 years ago when I was still shooting a lot of 3D.

The Cinemartin NEXT on my PMW-F5.

The Cinemartin NEXT on my PMW-F5.

The power consumption is very low at around 30W. This means you can easily run it from a D-Tap connection on your camera or existing battery system. If you need a stand-alone battery system then you can use highly affordable external laptop batteries batteries that start at about $150 and will typically power the NEXT for between 3 and 5 hours.

The NEXT isn’t going to be a device for everyone. It is a bit bigger than some of the other recorders on the market. But it can do so much more than just record. As already mentioned you can use it to edit, grade, encode and stream. You can even use it to check your emails. You could use it as a video player for interactive installations, use it as a high end 4K media server. A recorder with multi-channel audio capabilities for concerts or other similar events. There really isn’t anything else quite like it on the market. Price wise it is very competitive compared to other 4K capable recorders starting at around $2200 USD for a basic 4K HDMI capable unit going up to around $6000 for the very highest specified unit. But don’t forget, this isn’t just a recorder, it can do so much more and cuts out the need to transfer material from cards to the computer for editing.  So do take a look at the wealth of information about the NEXT available on the Cinemartin web site.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment