THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS | A PRO PHOTO & VIDEO BLOG

2012 Highlights in Video Tech

Posted in News, Video by Nathan Lee Bush on December 20, 2012

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
sony fs700High 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
Canon C500Little 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
Sony F5 ModularWhile 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
blackmagicBlackmagic, 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 
sony nexvg900The 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?
Olympus OMD EM5The 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?

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The Cinema EOS Gambit: Report from the Canon/Adorama Presentation

Posted in Events, News, Video by Nathan Lee Bush on November 19, 2012

It’s easy to forget how recently film lorded over the Hollywood; how absolute, how unquestionable it’s dominance as the medium of choice.

Sure, digital was convenient, and certainly there was that mysterious theoretical crossover point at which image quality could uncannily pass the Turing test of a trained DP’s eye, for film. But there was a lingering denial in many hearts that such a day would come, and for so long, this held true. Nothing could match the latitude of a film negative, not to mention replicate that “look.” Video was confined to a “choice” for risk-taking filmmakers, eager to push the aesthetic envelope of audience comfort (think David Lynch or Lars von Trier) or by trigger happy directors prematurely convinced of its substitutability and advantages (Michael Mann comes to mind).

Yet Moore’s Law marches stoically forward, and with it, hearts follow minds into the future reality, which has finally become the current one. The all-caps opposites – staid, storied ARRI and its foil, the plucky upstart, RED – took an early lead in getting real films, indistinguishable from the namesake, into theaters. Notably, the gorgeous Skyfall was shot on the Alexa and the approaching Hobbit trilogy was EPIC shot. Sony, never one to be left out of seemingly any market, answered with the formidable F65, used on the forthcoming M. Night Shyamalan feature. A new oligarchy around the centerpiece of cinematic technology – the camera – was forming, as suddenly as the market came up for grabs. Canon, seeing (more…)

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Canon Digital Cinema Event from Adorama

Posted in Events, Video by Nathan Lee Bush on November 7, 2012

This coming Tuesday, join Adorama and Canon for an in depth Presentation by Larry Thorpe, Senior Fellow of the Professional Engineering & Solutions Division of Canon USA, Inc., on the Cinema EOS cameras, including the newly announced C500C1001DC, as well as the C300.

The presentation will be followed by hands on time on the full Cinema Family products, CINE lenses (Primes and Zooms) and the Pro Camcorder lineup (XF/XA products).

Food and drinks drinks will be served. Doors open at 6, the presentation starts at 6.30, and you’ll have the opportunity to go hands-on with the gear at 8.

The event will be held at Union Square Ballroom, 27 Union Square W. Please click the image to RSVP. See you there!

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Canon 6D vs. Nikon D600: Two Approaches to Entry-Level Full Frame

Posted in News, Photography by Nathan Lee Bush on September 20, 2012

I apparently spoke too soon with my post last week about full-frame entrants pushing the once-prized upmarket sensor size down the path toward becoming the “new normal,” as it had historically been throughout much of film era. The news just keeps coming. Fujifilm openly discussed interest in full-frame this week, and Leica for the first time introduced a semi-affordable (by Leica standards, at $5,450) simplified variant of its M9, the M-E.

And no sooner had Nikon redefined “entry level” full-frame with the $2200, 24 megapixel D600 than Canon announced its equally-priced answer in the form of the 20 megapixel 6D. The cameras represent two distinct visions of what its conceptualized end user would prize most, and what he or she could manage without.

If the 7D is Canon’s pro body APS-C camera, than the 6D is more a consumer-body full-frame, with the stripped-down controls of the 60D. Canon’s decision to push the 60D downmarket with stripped-down external controls was controversial, and its decision to mimic those changes on its entry level full-frame may be equally contentious. The D600, too, is a full-frame crammed into a D7000-inspired body. The main difference though, is that the D7000 body and control layout is decidedly more pro-geared than the 60D.

Control layout aside, the cameras differ in other areas of emphasis as well. Two particularly impactful choices are (more…)

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ARC @ NAB 2012: Canon C500, 1D C & 4K Monitor

Posted in Equipment, News, Video by Nathan Lee Bush on April 20, 2012

 

Adorama Rental Co’s Miguel Goodbar meets with Canon’s Chuck Westfall to discuss the new 4K flagship cinema camera, the EOS C500, EOS 1D-C 4K cinema DSLR, new compact cinema zoom lenses and concept 4K display.

We find out who these cameras are aimed at, where the 1080p C300 fits in the range, and why Canon has its sights on 4K.

(more…)

Canon 5D Mark III vs. 5D Mark II Video Test: Moiré, Rolling Shutter, Dynamic Range, High ISO

Posted in Equipment, Video by Nathan Lee Bush on March 29, 2012

We took Canon’s newest full frame pro DSLR, the 5D Mark III, and compared it to its predecessor, the 5D Mark II, which revolutionized the filmmaking world upon its release almost four years ago.

In these real world tests, we compared:

  • moiré patterns
  • rolling shutter (the dreaded “jello effect”) during pans
  • high ISO performance
  • a high contrast scene to test dynamic range

Both cameras were fitted with the Canon 50/1.2 L,  with the “Standard” color profile and shot at 24 fps. All 5D Mark III footage was shot in the new ALL-I high bitrate codec.

Is the Mark III a huge leap forward in video or an incremental upgrade? Let us know what you think in the comments!

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Nathan Lee Bush is a fine art photographer and filmmaker in New York City. His work is on his site and blog.

FINALLY! Canon 5D Mark III Lands With Upgraded Everything

Posted in Equipment, News by Nathan Lee Bush on March 2, 2012

And Now, the Moment You’ve All Been Waiting for…

If there’s any rockstar-like moment in the photo industry that would warrant a comparison to a seminal launch in other mainstream consumer electronics, like a new iPhone 5 or Windows 8 announcement, the Canon 5D Mark III would be that moment. The 5D Mark II was one of those industry defining products, which made the leap to cultural ubiquity, to the point where all your friends with no interest in photography and too much money on their hands keep asking you, “should I get this 5D Matt II I keep hearing about?” Why did it achieve such widespread acclaim?

The HDSLR Revolution

The 5D Mark II is a great stills camera, yet, to the surprise of pretty much everyone, its dominance came by revolutionizing, of all things, filmmaking. Nikon was first out of the video gate with the D90, but the Mark II was an astonishing leap forward in manual control and image quality in movie mode, and the ability to capture cinematic images, with their characteristic shallow DOF, from a relatively affordable stills camera changed the face of the film industry forever.

Before the Mark II, pro video cameras many times the cost utilized small sensors, inhibiting film-like shallow depth of field, dynamic range, and low-light capabilities. The 5D Mark II pushed the whole imaging industry into catchup mode as it was enthusiastically embraced by DIY filmmakers the world over, and instigated a revolution from below, allowing enterprising and savvy bit players a spot at the table on formerly higher end jobs. Simultaneously, stills shooters have (more…)

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Nikon D4 vs. Canon 1D X: The Battle Begins

Posted in Equipment, News, Photography by Nathan Lee Bush on January 6, 2012

A Momentous Occasion

The ultra high-end full-frame performance camera market seems like a rebuke to everything our society stands for. It’s the one reprieve from the breakneck pace of development in almost every other technological niche. The nimble mirrorless market sees a substantial updates for each model at a yearly clip, while entry level cameras cascade from the open mouths of camera makers like water from the Trevi Fountain (just today, Fujifilm tossed 30 point and shoots into the throng). Apple updates its computer lines about every nine months on average. Car manufacturers get out an updated model every year. Even space shuttle launches happened a few times year until they were ended last summer.

These cameras are different. In what feels like an interminable period, the Big Two sequester themselves in their respective R&D labs, painstakingly refining their pro flagships. It’s been over 2 years since Nikon announced its incrementally updated D3s, and over five years since the D3 was revealed. To put this in perspective, the first iPhone was released just two months prior. This delayed upgrading is no conspiracy, these cameras are just really damn expensive! The market for them is so specific, that tacking on a few new features every year is not practical.

For all the excitement over the raft of features, the upgrades are essentially conservative refinements: a new function button here, a slightly re-angled shutter button there. These cameras are the culmination of literally a century of refinement of the 35mm (now full frame) format, so everything works about just as well as you could hope. With entire careers hinging on their success, one misstep could be disastrous for the companies.

The moment has finally arrived: the D3 successor has landed. Close on the heels of the recently announced Canon flagship, the 1D X, Nikon has just announced the D4, and with that press release, the race for the hearts and minds of photojournalists and sports photographers has begun. Allow me a second to take in this momentous occassion…

Okay, I’m done. Now, onto the comparison.

The Highlights

With the 1D X Canon, merged its studio and its field camera into one impressive animal, designed to please its broad swath of pro customers.

Nikon, presumably sticking to its previous two-model strategy, has the luxury of focusing this model on performance and improving it’s already industry-leading high ISO performance. Its new EXPEED 3 processor promises to do just that, with a native ISO of 100-12,800 and expandable to 50-204,800. They’ve even added illuminated buttons to really drive home the fact that this camera pretty much sees in the dark. The 1D X natively supports up to 51,200 ISO, but the D4’s redesigned 16MP CMOS sensor might allow it to retain its low-light chops against Canon’s 18MP resolution. Of course, we’ll have to wait until we have samples to properly peep pixels.

The camera has upped its game slightly in performance, with full time autofocus and autoexposure at 10fps, and 11fps locked. But the Canon rival can go 12fps and 14fps in these scenarios, respectively. With the new XQD format, just announced as the Compact Flash successor, the D4 will be able to theoretically pump out 105 uncompressed RAW files at 10fps, autofocusing all the while. The camera has 51 autofocus points, 15 of which are cross-type (compared to 61-point AF sensor with 21 cross type AF points on the Canon 1D X).

Like the 1D X, it gains an ethernet port allowing faster data transfer and longer cable. But this also includes a WT-5A transmitter which can wirelessly send images via FTP server. The LCD is a slightly larger 3.2″ and features an enhanced color gamut, and will adjust saturation, contrast, brightness and gamma depending on ambient light conditions. Canon’s LCD is the same size but sports a slightly higher resolution – 920k vs. 1.04 million pixels.

After getting hammered by Canon for years in the video department, it seems Nikon has finally woken up to the desire for serious video chops among pro users, presenting the D4 as a “multi-media DSLR.” A mic in and headphone out with adjustable levels, the B-frame compression standard of h.264 at 24mbps, the full-time contrast detect autofocus recording, aperture control, and most importantly, a direct HDMI out for uncompressed recording, imply a newfound seriousness about the video needs of contemporary photographers. Old definitions are falling away, and ‘image making’ is becoming the new byword for many industry professionals. The one annoyance in the video department is for slow motion enthusiasts (namely everyone), Sony remains the only company to recognize the demand for 1080p, 60fps video. Why can’t Nikon or Canon figure out how to crack that egg on $6,000 cameras with supercomputers built in, when Sony implemented it on a $600 camera (the NEX-5N) half a year ago?

The Winner?

On the spec sheet, Canon seems to have gained the upper hand this round, after arguably losing the last. But at the end of the day, it will come down to the output, useability and real-world performance, and we’ll have to wait until the exhaustive reviews start trickling in.

For those of us who don’t need to capture the pores of people sprinting 20 miles an hour down a field trying to catch a ball, these recent announcements are captivating for the same reason watching Ali v Frazier is captivating: a brief, rare glimpse of two giants at the top of their game, going head to head. They also give us a sneak peak at some of the groundbreaking technology, which, by the end of the product cycle, will have filtered down to the humbler end of the product range.

So let the new round of turf wars begin! I for one, will be eating popcorn tonight watching the Nikon and Canon fanboys each proclaim absolute dominion over the other. But they’re getting a couple years ahead of themselves. In this war, the first battle has just begun.

The D4 is available for pre-order here.

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Nathan Lee Bush is a fashion and fine art photographer and filmmaker in New York City. His work is on his site, vimeo and blog.

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Breaking Canon launches C300 Digital Cinema Camera

Posted in Equipment, Video by Nathan Lee Bush on November 3, 2011

Canon EOS C300

Few, if any, announcements this year were as eagerly anticipated in the film world as Canon’s November 3rd unveiling of a “historic” project at Paramount Hollywood. Canon pulled out all the stops, with film luminaries like Robert Rodriguez, JJ Abrams, and Ron Howard in attendance, and Martin Scorsese himself speaking about how small but capable cameras are transforming the craft. The event is currently underway, with Canon announcing a Super 35mm pro digital cinema camera to try to wrestle some of the market share from the reigning contenders, RED, ARRI, and Sony.

Canon showed a stream of short films from various filmmakers to display the range of the camera, from dark sci-fi films to natural light naturalistic films shot in the desert.

Now to the camera itself. The event was short on specs, but here’s what we know: the form factor is very compact, and decidedly Canon in look and feel. The C300 is available in either EOS or PL mount versions. Pricing quotes varied from site to site, so I won’t comment until it’s confirmed. Rumors of a 2K or higher camera were wrong, with 1080p the maximum resolution, and, disappointingly, only 720p at 50/60 fps. Dual CF card slots and 10 bit HD-SDI will be onboard, as well as 4″ detachable LCD monitor. While the spec sheet is not that hugely impressive, Canon seems to be banking on leveraging the powerful on-board processing power to shine in color reproduction, especially on skin tones, which it claims are top-notch. Canon also emphasized the high ISO capabilities of the camera.

Did the event live up to the “historic” billing? The early internet pulse has mixed reactions. The camera didn’t seem to knock anyone’s socks off, but in the end, the image quality will decide its fate, for better or worse.

We’ll report as more information on the camera is revealed.

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PhotoPlus 2011: Canon 1D X

Posted in Equipment by Nathan Lee Bush on November 2, 2011

David Paul Larson had a chance to interview Canon’s Chuck Westfall about Canon’s new full-frame flagship, the 1DX. They discussed the new on-board processing power, new 18MP sensor technology and how Canon catered to three separate markets with the one camera.

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