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?
Mere days after Sony’s 4K bomb dropped, with the F5 and F55, RED CEO Jim Jannard announced an across-the-board price cut on the “brains” of all its current camera models. this included a Crazy Eddie slash of its “battle-tested” (i.e. used) RED ONE MX, from $25,000 to a mere $4,000. That’s slightly more than a used FS100, though of course will require expensive peripherals to bring it to life. Still 4.5K RAW for $4k sounds pretty unreal. It’s 5K offerings also see substantial drops. The EPIC-M falls almost half from $39,500 to $24,000, while the EPIC-X falls to $19,000 from $34,500. The Scarlet drops a less dramatic sum from its pricetag, to $7,950 from $9,700.
It now remains to be seen how Sony will respond. It was cleverly silent on the pricing for its latest announcements – aware, no doubt, of RED’s impending move following Jannard’s earlier post hinting such a change was imminent. Now it can adjust its final pricing accordingly.
It’s Canon’s move now – its push into digital cinema a bit more precarious following these announcements. Its 8-bit 4K 1D C DSLR is $13,000 and it’s $26,000 C500 is due this month. It’s anyone’s guess when and how it responds, but its DSLR division has shown itself eager to drop prices in the wake of product launches, so a similar move is not unthinkable.
As with all things digital, the end user is the ultimate winner. It’s hard to remember that prior to NAB last spring, anything beyond Full-HD seemed exotic. Five digit pricetag cameras like the C300 and F3 were happy offering 720/60p. But now we have three cameras under the magical $10,000 threshold sporting greater than HD resolution and many with high framerates to match their astronomical resolutions. The corollary cost, of course, is the increased processing power and storage needed to handle the massive resulting files. Nevertheless, it seems that the long-awaited high resolution future is indeed now.
Update: we added a poll to get your take on the current landscape!
RED, never one to back away from a risky but potentially fruitful market, just announced the EPIC-M Monochrome. The entire camera is optimized for B&W recording with custom firmware and a specialized sensor that allows the debayer to be removed, preserving net resolution and sharpness. RED’s Jarred Land has revealed that David Fincher is already using it for his current project.
It’s an exciting move for the niche community interested in a custom solution for high end B&W filmmaking, with an option which may finally rival film in dynamic range. B&W is an artistic choice which has grown increasingly popular in the last few years, with easy conversion techniques making their way into popular and specialized color grading applications. But nothing can match the image optimized for B&W directly in-camera.
Modern classics, like Wings of Desire and American History X, reintroduced audiences to the magic of the medium, while still failing to bring B&W into the mainstream. I can still recall the sense of wonder when watching Jim Jarmusch’s 1995 film Dead Man, which took advantage of then-modern B&W film technologies to produce an image of unsurpassed beauty, with a strikingly rich range of tones from black-and-white. Until that moment, I’d always thought of black-and-white as anachronistic, belonging to another era, and not a living media, which could be utilized today.
Monochrome images have a distancing and abstracting effect upon the mimetic nature of photography, removing it by degrees from the descriptive qualities of color which we see around us. As anyone who has shot with black-and-white film, the experience of shooting in black-and-white requires a totally different way of seeing, one that takes into account totally different factors – contrast, light and shadow interplay – to achieve emotional poignancy.
RED joins Leica, which earlier this year announced the M-Monochrom, in offering a high-end custom solution geared towards black-and-white enthusiasts. Hopefully, this latest option will fan the growing flame of black-and-white fervor and bring this vibrant medium into greater relevancy in the modern day filmmaker’s toolkit.
Miguel Goodbar of Adorama Rental Co. talks with Jean-Marc Bouchut of Thales Angenieux about the new PL-mount cinema lenses optimized for 5K video, including the Optimo 28-340 T3.2 and the Optimo 19.5-94 T2.6, as well as the Optimo Servo Unit for zoom and iris control for run-and-gun shooting.
Jean-Marc also shares some of the French company’s storied history in the development of cinema.
We interview Ted Schilowitz of RED at NAB 2012 about the latest developments coming down the road from the digital cinema company. He talks about the new 6K Dragon sensor with 15 stops of dynamic range which will be available later this year for $6,000 in RED EPICs and Scarlets.
He also talks about the Canon, Nikon and Leica mount adaptors and the further bridging of the still and video world that such high resolution image capture provides.
He shows off some wireless systems to reduce cable clutter on set, as well as a tack sharp nine-inch touchscreen display.
[an earlier version of this post said the Dragon sensor was available for the Epic and One, when it’s the Epic and Scarlet.]
I managed to take a quick peek at REDuser forum for the announcement before losing the page. Here are the final specs+ price:
It’sa Super35 sensor that shoots 4K video!!
Then 3K at 48fps, 2K at 60fps, and 1K at 120fps. Shoots at a compression rate of 50 megabytes p/sec or 400 mbits p/sec and the FULL sensor size is 5k (5120×2700). Oh…and what is the price with all the accessories, you ask? Ready…?!
RED servers are DOWN!!!! Here is a site I found that managed to find some initial info
“RED makes professional cameras. DSMC means digital stills and motion camera. Stills need to be higher resolution than 3K. *So does motion.* What seemed like a good idea 3 years ago is not a good idea now nor will it be a good idea going forward. Additionally, a 2/3″ sensor is not big enough. The world has moved past small sensors and low resolution. -Jim Jannard”
In less than an hour (Eastern time that is), Jim Jannard, owner and head of operations at RED digital cinema co. along with his team will announce the long….long…LONG awaited, Scarlet digital still and motion camera. The camera was teased to the production community way back in 2008 and a prototype shown at CES in 2010 but constant setbacks kept the camera from being released until now. The re-announcement comes at an interesting time as it’s at the same time as Canon’s new digital cinema camera, the C300 (initial post below).
I will be covering the progress of this announcement as it develops and will post official pictures of Scarlet and specs, but if you want to head-over to RED’s user-forum to follow the breaking news and celebratory remarks follow the link below!
Oh…and did I mention…? Adorama Rental Co. will be offering the Scarlet as soon as it becomes available! And just between the Canon-lovers and I, I was told today that the owner of Adorama ALREADY purchased the C300 so we’ll be offering that soon as well! More to come SOON!
So, I have to say that I’m a huge fan of these Schneider lenses. A few people might even call it ‘waxing poetic’ when I describe them. I’m psyched for the Leicas, but these definitely have a place in my heart.
Schneider introduced their Xenar lenses at last year’s NAB, but this year they are showing updated models. The glass is the same, but the housing has changed a bit, with the mechanics of the housing allowing smoother lens travel.
What I like about these lenses is the versatility. They come in PL or EF mounts, and the glass is extremely sharp and virtually no breathing at all when I racked from the foreground to the pretty model in the background. I also like the price-point: $22K for a 5-lens set!! You get the following lengths: 25mm, 35mm, 50mm, 75mm and 95mm, with F-stops ranging from T2.0-2.2.
To boot, they cover 5K on RED and super 35mm sensors. At their booth they had a 35mm on the new Sony F3… what a pair!
Dave Goldgaber is one of ARC’s resident video specialists. He is available for hire as a DP, AC or technical adviser.