2012 Highlights in Video Tech
With manufacturers’ hands revealed, we can comfortably take stock of the trends and legacy of this momentous year for filmmakers.
Sony FS700 – Slo-mo for the rest of us
High framerate HD has long been the domain of luxury car-priced specialty cameras like the Phantom Miro. Sony changed this with its sub-$10,000 FS700 super 35mm all-rounder. With Full HD video up to 240fps (and reduced resolution up to 960fps), slow motion is no longer an expensive and costly imposition, but seamlessly integrates with the production workflow. That the camera inherits the FS100’s low light prowess, and is 4K-capable with a recently revealed add on recorder, means this camera will be a future-proof, affordable, swiss army knife of a camera for filmmakers and DPs everywhere. Check out our Sony FS700 interview at NAB.
Canon goes all-in on Digital Cinema
Little over a year ago, a “Cinema EOS” division was just a gleam in Canon’s eye. While other camera manufacturers seemed content to let their video capabilities on DSLR and mirrorless offerings act as value-added features to the core still-photography tool, Canon decided to take a gutsy leap into the Digital Cinema fray. By year’s end, it offers a full range of digital cameras, lenses and peripherals along a variety of price points, carving out a position among industry mainstays. We’ve seen customers enthusiastically adopting these cameras in all areas of the Digital Cinema industry: features, documentaries, music videos, commercials and more. Read our year one analysis of the Canon Cinema EOS line after our industry event.
Digital Continues its Hollywood Takeover
With a few notable exceptions (The Dark Knight Rises, The Master, which utilized IMAX or 70mm film stocks, respectively), many of the year’s biggest and most visually exceptional movies were shot digitally. Films like Prometheus, Skyfall, Life of Pi, The Avengers, Zero Dark Thirty and plenty more surreptitiously replaced their medium’s namesake for digital alternatives from ARRI and RED.
Sony Solves the Global Shutter Problem
While digital cinema cameras marched slowly toward film parity over the last decade, they always lacked a fundamental advantage of their film counterparts: a global shutter. Synonymous with film cameras, global shutters allow the entire frame to be exposed at once, rather than the progressive exposure of digital sensors. Fast processors and internal algorithms and post software were able to mitigate the problems inherent in rolling shutters, yet skew, wobble and partial exposures plagued even the most advanced cameras in use today, and required artistic compromises during the shooting process. Late in the year, Sony announced two spec-heavy cinema cameras in the form of the F5 and F55. The cameras were so its impressive in their own right, it was easy to overlook the monumental achievement the F5 added to its long spec sheet: the first global shutter on a digital cinema camera. Read about the F5, F55 and other Sony 4K news.
The Year of the Price Cut
If Martin Luther King, Jr. declared “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” the filmmaking equivalent would be: “the arc of technology is pretty short, and it bends towards Crazy Eddie prices.” The shadow of the DSLR revolution hangs over the industry, when “film-like” depth-of-field and color range came within reach of millions of idea-rich but cash-poor filmmakers. Yet the truly high-end sheen and clarity of Hollywood imagery remained tantalizingly beyond the grasp of Indie filmmakers and small production houses. But perhaps more so than any other year, 2012 saw the dramatic price drop of cinema-grade options. First, the Blackmagic Cinema Camera and Sony FS700 ruffled players at NAB with pro-level spec sheets at consumer level prices. Then, to top off the trend, RED finished the year with across the board cuts to its entire line, in many cases practically halving the cost of camera “brains.” Of course, “cheap” doesn’t begin to describe cameras, especially when requisite peripherals are added to the cost, and renting remains the most cost-effective option for most DPs, but the fact remains – the price and quality gap between high end and low end shooting has never been smaller.
Blackmagic Ups the Ante with its Cinema Camera
Blackmagic, no stranger to bold shakeups in every area of the industry it enters, nevertheless shocked the filmmaking world at NAB by casting its lot into the mature camera market with the Cinema Camera. The specs seemed too good to be true: common EF and Micro Four Thirds Mounts, bleeding edge Thunderbolt I/O, built in SSD and, most importantly, 2.5K, 12-bit RAW codec – all for the price of a DSLR. Its encountered no shortage of setbacks since its announcement: from endless production delays (we’re the only rental house in the city with one), to buggy firmware, limited featureset, less than intuitive UI and massive files requiring huge post processing power. Nevertheless, its fundamental advantage, incredible internal codecs and pliable final output for post work put a serious wrench in the careful pricing strategies the major players use to protect price brackets along the product range. If the BMCC takes off, 8-bit compressed codecs on 5 digit price points will not hold water much longer. Now, its a question whether Blackmagic can resolve its production bottleneck and get it into the hands of more users. Follow our full coverage of the BMCC.
4K Goes Mainstream
NAB’s big cinema camera manufacturers all had optimized 4K theaters showing off the game-changing potential of a high resolution calibrated experience. It was such a startling event that all four ARC team members on the floor in Vegas wrote about the experience in our post-NAB report. It remains to be seen whether audiences demand the hyper-realism of high resolution, but savvy filmmakers aren’t going to ignore the future-proofing a 4K+ master provides. Astoundingly, even GoPro got in on the high res action at the end of the year with its Hero 3 Black Edition shooting 4K at 15fps for only $400. Read our 4K commentary from NAB.
Full-Frame Reaches Dedicated Video-Cameras
The full-frame “look” became so common during the 5D Mark II heyday that beautifully shallow depth of field and the focus searching that attended it became a common attribute of half the films on Vimeo, an aesthetic unto itself. Yet Super 35mm remained the de facto standard for dedicated digital cinema cameras, leaving filmmakers who wanted to achieve the distinctive shallow affect with a handful of cameras aimed at stills shooters. Sony took a step toward changing this with its E-mount NEX-VG900. While the camera has notable shortcomings for filmmakers – a somewhat muddy image for film work and auto-oriented camcorder layout and interface, it still was the first Full-Frame camera with such a thin flange-mount distance, allowing for a massive array of lenses to be affixed via adapters. Here’s hoping for more large-sensor offerings in video camera bodies to come. Follow the tremendous developments in full-frame this year.
GH2 Upsets at Zacuto’s “Revenge”
The hacked Panasonic GH2 claimed long-overdue credit as a formidable filmmaking tool when it upset the major players in a blind screening of Zacuto’s annual camera test. While the strictly controlled standard lighting scenario showed the cameras falling more closely along their price points, the GH2 was able to win over the audience (including Francis Ford Coppola) when individual teams were allowed to take on each camera and compensate for their weaknesses with additional fill light. While this was as much a victory for the DPs as the camera itself, it nevertheless showed off the surprising image quality of the hacked version of the camera, with its increased bitrates and added features. Now we can eagerly look forward to the GH3, which promises to bring many of the hacked features to the native firmware. Read our analysis of the test and our interview with “Revenge” test administrator, Bruce Logan.
OM-D E-M5 Image Stabilization – The Beginning of the End of Steadicam?
The diminutive Micro Four Thirds enthusiast camera got plenty of plaudits from the photography press this year, but most coverage highlighted the camera’s accomplishments for the stills shooter, with unprecedented image quality from such a small sensor, speedy autofocus and fantastic build quality and ergonomics. Video seemed an afterthought for Olympus, so much so that they somehow managed to leave out 24p, the standard framerate among filmmakers and a key ingredient in approximating the “film-look.” But the five-axis onboard image stabilization was a revolutionary leap forward for hand-holding filmmaking. Micro-shake is an inescapable reality, requiring heavy and cumbersome rigs or steadicams for even the most trivial hand-held shot, or unreliable post-tools. With this camera, we got to peak into a future of IS so advanced as to potentially remove the need for burdensome peripherals.
What do you think?
This roundup is just one glimpse into some of the massive changes we’ve seen in the industry this past year. It’s all come so fast, it’s actually been hard to keep up at times. What had the biggest impact for you this year? What did we miss? Add your voice in the comments!
Also take our poll below, which change was most important for you in 2012?