Thursday, April 10, 2014

Making "Big Hollywood" Production Values More Accessible - Exclusive Interview with Eric Kessler

The place for the cool people to hang out at NAB this year was clearly the well-stocked bar between the Zacuto and Kessler booths.

The biggest crowds I saw at the show were at GoPro - the most ostentatious displays were at Sony, Canon, Blackmagic and RED - and the Vegas showgirls were at the booths of companies I'd never heard of (which is why the showgirls were there) - but if you wanted to see Philip Bloom holding forth or see Steve Weiss showing a shoulder rig to Vincent Lafloret or meet Eric Kessler, this was the place to be.

I didn't get a chance to meet Phil or Steve or Vincent, but Eric Kessler took a few minutes with HCR to describe some of their latest products and talk a little about Kessler's mission.

I was really impressed by what I saw at the Kessler booth.  I've been saving up for a slider and thought about settling for one of the low-end models.  But my conversation with Eric convinced me that it would be better to wait a little longer and buy something that will last a lifetime.

If you're in the market for a high quality slider, jib or camera support system - and anything here has helped you to make a decision to buy Kessler products, please visit the Kessler Crane Storefront on Amazon or click on one of the display ads below. It won't cost you anything extra, and it will help keep posts like this coming.  Thanks!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

New Product from NAB - Affordable Multi-Axis Stabilizers from Big Balance

So I see a gentleman in Flava Flav-style white framed sunglasses racing around the show floor in a motorized wheelchair, followed by another guy "flying" a very small handheld gimbal. Okay, so my interest is piqued.

I start following these two to see where they're going. Turns out they're headed back to the booth for Big Balance Technology - an exciting new player in the multi-axis gimbal market.

With the introduction of the $15K MoVI 10, the $5K MoVI 5 and the $1.8K Defy last year - plus the proliferation of brushless gimbals we're starting to see on 'copters (such as the Zenmuse Z15), there are lots of gimbals at NAB this year. For years, I've dreamt of smooth, gimbaled Hollywood-style motion from a 2 or 3-azis stabilizer, but I hadn't planned to stop by any of the gimbal manufacturers' booths this week, because there was no way I could afford a powered stabilizer - or so I thought.

Enter Big Balance. A new Hong Kong company with a presence in the US and Europe. They saw the opportunity to bring multi-axis gimbal technology down from the high-end to smartphones, action cams, small and large interchangeable lens cameras - and this year they're at NAB, planning to ship their products in June. Prices start at an unbelievable $220 for their "Gazelle" 2-axis smartphone stabilizer.

Here's my interview with Larry Reich from Big Balance with a demo of the $995 Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera on a $750(!) Big Balance Gorilla stabilizer. I was so impressed,I forgot to pay attention to holding focus on Larry:

For smartphone and action cam filmmakers, this is a no-brainer. They should buy the Husky and the Mustang as soon as they are available.

For compact cam and DSLR/DSLM filmmakers, it's a little more money - but still worth it - especially for BMPCC owners (like me) who are frustrated by how hard it is to hold the camera steady.

If you have been on the fence about buying the BMPCC because you have been concerned about image stabilization - it may be time to pull the trigger.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Bear on the loose - no, it's not the Russians, it's the Blackmagic Ursa!

This morning at NAB, while I was still enroute, Blackmagic dropped their latest bombshell. Two new cameras, the Studio Camera and the Ursa, for the pro TV and cinema markets. Hard to believe that the Ursa is $6495 for the PL mount version and $5995 for the EF mount version. Global shutter, Super 35 sensor, 12 stops of DR, a built-in 10' monitor, and dual CFast RAW or ProRes recording.

Unlike some other bloggers, I am not upset that they didn't fix their existing cameras first. Disruptive companies disrupt. That's what they do. I have a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera - it is an imperfect camera, yes - but for the image quality it produces, it is still a great value for the money.

That said, unfortunately for Sony, the specs on this camera sound a lot like the specs on the $29,000 F55.

Between the A7s' externally recorded 4K and the Ursa, it has already been a bad week for Sony - and it's only Monday.

I am waiting to see the price for the HDMI Ursa - the DSLR/DSLM "dock" that will turn cameras like the Panasonic GH4 and Sony A7s into cinema production cameras.

If you want to get on the waiting list for the Ursa (and knowing Blackmagic, you want to get on the list early, because it is likely to be a long wait), please click on the links above or the display ad below. It won't cost you anything extra, and it will help keep updates like this one coming. Thanks!

Final Rig Configuration for NAB 2014

The last piece of my "Frankenrig" arrived on Saturday - so here's the final configuration I'll be using for interviews and B roll on the show floor at NAB.

Instead of a static picture, as in my first post on "Frank", I shot a short video to point out all the pieces/parts - and try out my new Audio Technica AT8004L handheld mic (on sale for $89 plus shipping right now at Adorama).

This setup is for shoulder-mounted work and not really for mounting on a tripod, due to oscillation. But the ability to mount it on the tripod will still be convenient for interviews (and for giving my shoulder a rest).

And, given that it's NAB, there will probably be plenty of people with huge cameras and tripods walking around - so I won't look too strange.

If you have a mirrorless camera with an EVF, and you'd like to build your own in-line rifle style rig, the parts list is in the display ads below - or you can go directly to the video and order from the links in the "About" section.

Hope to see you at NAB!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Sony Announces 4K Full Frame A7s - How Does It Stack Up Against the Panasonic GH4?

Sony unveils the A7s - a full frame, interchangeable lens 4K video camera

This is a big turnaround for Sony. A couple of months ago, in an article entitled, "Sony: Consumers aren't quite ready for 4K recording", Sony executives were quoted as saying, "Some competitors have already introduced 4K recording models so it is a point of differentiation that we don’t have at the moment but we see the need for it."

But with the firestorm of interest around the new Panasonic GH4 (and Sony's own FDR-AX100 4K camcorder), Sony seems to have changed its tune. At the end of today's press event at NAB 2014, Sony unveiled a new full-frame, interchangable lens camera based on the A7 - the A7s (high level specs on the slide below):

The headline number is clearly the ISO. In fact, the "s" in A7s stands for "sensitivity".  It is clear that Sony is going to make the case that low light shooters should buy this camera instead of the GH4.

But the rest of the specs aren't really competitive.  An optional XLR input doesn't match an optional quad 4K HD-SDI output. The A7s' slow motion will be a relatively lo-res 720/120p against the GH4's full HD 1080/96p.  The A7s' XAVX-S 50Mbps will certainly look nice, but if it is 8-bit 4:2:0, it won't grade as well as the GH4's 100Mbps 10-bit 4:2:2 HDMI output.  As for shooting LOG, the GH4's CineLike D will at least give S-Log2 a run for its money.

The elephant in the room, however, is price.  How much will this camera cost?  If, like the A7r,  it is a few hundred dollars over $2000 - I don't think they'll sell a lot of them.  If, however, it is closer to the price of the A7, the GH4 may have a fight on its hands.  Of course, that will kill A7 sales and create a lot of angry A7 owners.  It will be interesting to see what Sony does.

Really looking forward to getting to Vegas tomorrow!

EDIT: Just saw that DJ over at DSLRFilmNoob is reporting that the A7s cannot record 4K internally and that the price will be $2500.  If true, I don't think they're going to sell a lot of these cameras.

EDIT 2: The press release seems to confirm that the camera records 3840x2160 to an external recorder and 1080p to the internal card.  For cinema shooters who want DCI compatible 4096x2160 and prefer to record internally, this is a non-starter.  It looks like the GH4 is the winner on resolution, internal 4K recording and price.

EDIT 3:   Here's the first video shot with the A7s.  Compressed for YouTube and not downloadable:

 EDIT 4: Andrew Reid at EOSHD is reporting that Atomos has announced the Atomos Shogun external recorder for the A7s.  It will be "less than $2000" and will record the A7s' 8-bit 4K output as 10-bit ProRes.  So you'll need to add a ~$2000 recorder to the A7s' estimated $2500 price to get 10-bit 4K (transcoded from 8-bit).  That's a lot of money for a transcode.

If you've been waiting to see what Sony would do before deciding to pre-order your GH4, and this post has helped you make a decision, please pre-order through one of the links above or the display ads below. It won't cost you anything extra, and it will help to keep these updates coming. Thanks!

A Reminder of What Has Sony (and Canon) Worried - Adorama Reviews the Panasonic GH4!

Panasonic DMC-GH4 with DMW-YAGH Pro Audio-Video Interface - $3298
Click Here or on the Photo to Order 

While we wait for Sony NAB 2014 Press Event (less than an hour away as I write this), here's a reminder of why Sony is (may be) in such a rush to introduce a 4K interchangeable lens mirrorless camera - the enthusiastic reception that the 4K $1698 Panasonic GH4 is getting.

Adorama TV has just released another positive GH4 review - with example scenes from different shooting scenarios - to include recording to an Aja Ki Pro Quad (with the usual caveat that you can't tell a lot from YouTube compressed video).

And there's a lot more on the DMW-YAGH audio video interface (which the reviewer calls a "breakout box") and on the camera's ergonomics when it is combines with the YAGH and an external recorder.

Here's the video:

This is a great reminder of the high bar that Sony will have to clear if they want to compete with the GH4. With any luck, I can get my hands on both cameras at NAB and tell you all about it.

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Saturday, April 5, 2014

World's First Full Frame 4K Camera? Watch Sony NAB Announcement Live!

Sunday Night, April 6th, at 2PM Pacific, 5PM Eastern and 10PM London time, Sony will hold its annual NAB Press Event. The rumor sites are pretty much all reporting that the company will announce an "A7s" 4K full frame video/still camera.

Full frame is nice, but we'll have to see whether the new camera's codec and connectivity measure up to the GH4's.

Sadly, I don't get to Vegas until Monday night, but Sony will live stream the event - so we can all watch it right here on HCR!

EDIT: Okay, okay - it's the world's second full frame 4K camera (after the very expensive Canon 1D C). That said, it is likely to be the world's first full frame 4K camera that many people can afford.