NAB: from the frontline

Sony HDC4300
Acquisition
May 6th 2015 at 4:12PM

Sony – Canon – Arri – Panasonic – Ikegami – Red – Blackmagic Design

NAB Show 2015 was awash with new cameras and, as Samantha Arlow reveals, things have certainly moved on since the first tapeless shooter.  

As we descend into the desert for the 2015 NAB convention, there’s an air of excitement pervading the plane. After all this is Sin City; the traditional launch event for new broadcast equipment and technology.

In fact, this year is exactly twenty years since NAB saw Avid and Ikegami jointly unveil Editcam, the world’s first tapeless video camera and forefather of all the acquisition cameras on the market today.

Much has changed since then and so we made our annual jaunt across the pond to see exactly how far beyond the tapeless revolution the broadcast industry has come.

Before we arrived a number of manufacturers had already jumped the gun and released details of new cameras and lenses we wanted to see.

Sony

First in line was the Sony HDC-4300 (pictured), a 3-Chip, 2/3 inch, 4k Studio/Triax camera with a B4 Lens mount and IP roadmap. Combine this with Fujinon getting the jump on Canon and bringing to market two 4k B4 mount lenses - the UA80x9 Box Lens and UA22x8 ENG Style - and you have a far more practical 4k offering for sports and live event OBs.

This is much better than operators struggling to pull focus and deal with a very shallow depth of field whilst trying to track a player on the pitch, or an over enthusiastic rocker at Glastonbury! Exciting times for us at Five Arrows too as we may finally start to see those 4k truck builds that have been held off until the workflow is better established.

Canon

Canon also had interest piqued early as they revealed a 4k version of the ever popular C300 camera. The C300 Mark II provides 4k internal recording at 30p (and 60p to an external recorder) with an interchangeable lens mount, an open codec, and a higher dynamic range than the Arri Alexa.

Given that the original C300 has topped the ‘most rented’ list for the past few years, this is definitely one for us to watch.

Arri

Arri was really upping the ante, and already advocating the charge beyond 4k resolution, by showcasing its rental-only Alexa 65 – footage from which was no less than stunning.

Back in the 4k arena it had the Alexa SXT and Alexa Mini representing the continuing evolution of the Alexa family. With in-camera 4k Pro-Res recording and the latest generation of FPGA Processors from the Alexa 65 forming the basis of a completely overhauled image processing chain, the Alexa SXT is able to take advantage of the extremely wide colour gamut of the native Alexa sensor along with rec 2020 gamma to provide radically different creative looks for onset dailies and faster final grading.

NAB shows us that the pace of innovation has grown markedly over the past twenty years and this begs the question: where will the technology be next year?

The Alexa Mini pretty much does what it says on the tin, combining the popular Alexa sensor with a super lightweight carbon body and wireless control to enable specialised shots with images matched to footage from regular Arri cameras.

Panasonic

My favourite on the camera front was once again the Panasonic Varicam. Seen last year in the teaser ‘glass case’ it was now on the stand in all its glory surrounded by a moodily lit drama stage set up to really demonstrate how the dual ISO, variable frame rate and silent fan recording mode is getting the drama market excited.

This year’s glass case contained an AG-DVX 200 which has the same block as Panasonic’s popular GH4 DSLR but in a ‘run & gun’ style with a 13x fixed lens delivering a shallow depth of field and wide angle of view. It records 4k, UHD and HD to MPV or .mov files and will offer variable frame rate recording up to 120fps.

Panasonic was also showing 4k versions of its market leading PTZ robotic cameras and its own 4k 2/3 inch studio camera (AK-UC3000) which we’re likely to see properly going head to head with the Sony HDC-4300 and Grass Valley LDX-86 Universe by the time IBC comes around.

Ikegami

So, with all the other major players covered, what have the chaps at Ikegami been up to? After all, they started this whole thing!

Well, its 2/3 inch 4k camera is still a way off, so you’d be forgiven for thinking that they are behind the times; but not so. For the past five years Ikegami has been working with NHK developing an 8k super hi-vision camera offering which is now in its 4th generation and 1/10th of the volume of its original incarnation.

The camera itself is therefore neat and compact, offering a large super-35 CMOS sensor transferring data at 40gbps via SMPTE Cabling. This has been used by NHK at both the London Olympics and the Brazil World Cup. Ikegami also had an 8k monitor on display, but with full 4k production workflows not quite there yet it’s likely to be quite some time before 8k is adopted by the masses – but then didn’t they say that about tapeless?!

Blackmagic Design

Like Ikegami’s 8k shooter, smaller and lighter seemed to be the way many cameras were going. Blackmagic and Arri were both showing mini versions of their URSA and Alexa models, and the new RED WEAPON CF is Red’s smallest and lightest camera yet.

Given the wide range of drones flying the halls from £1.5k starter rigs to full Aerigon Octocopters with their full feature film credentials, you can see why.

Red

Packing as much punch as possible into a small package, the RED WEAPON camera brain incorporates Pro-Res recording, interchangeable i/o expanders so you can configure your camera to fit every production type, and enhancements like automatic black shade calibrations, improved low light sensor performance, and look up tables.

There is also a rumour that the WEAPON sensor can be further upgraded to output full frame 8k, but as the stand was packed we couldn’t get anyone to verify this! Something we will see at IBC perhaps?

So, twenty years after it was shown that broadcast could streamline workflow by moving from tape to file transfer, this is now a reality. The focus is now on streamlining these workflows further. We are actively developing virtual sets, remote production solutions, cloud media asset management and video over the internet.

So while pixel resolution increases, data transfer speeds get faster and broadcasters’ appetites for content grow in order to service consumer appetites for multiple screen viewing, NAB shows us that the pace of innovation has grown markedly over the past twenty years and this begs the question: where will the technology be next year? And who can even imagine where it will go in the next twenty?

Samantha Arlow is the area sales manager at Five Arrows Media Finance