Each April, technicians, content producers, and video gear heads from around the world descend on Las Vegas for a convention to celebrate the broadcast and all the gear that goes with it.
Well gee… I hope so.
As a long time attendee of the show, I have grown a bit jaded with all the new toys and gadgets – although there still is a certain charm to manhandling a new camera prototype. To me, NAB 2014 will really be about getting to connect with people – meeting fans of the site really makes me feel like the not-infrequent 12 hour days in the studio working on the site are worth it. For all those that came up and said “hi” – THANK YOU and we’ve got something big for you guys in store…
But enough of this touchy feely crap…
I really hate that moniker… but it is true. I have been very skeptical about 4K for years now. I could see a difference between SD and HD – from HD to 4K the differences are harder to perceive. At last year’s NAB, I acquiesced that 4K for acquisition was probably going to be in my future soon. With this year’s crop of new camera entries, there’s just no question – we will all have the option of shooting 4K in our cameras very soon. We will still deliver mostly in HD although there are some networks who are hungry for 4K content, but 4K cameras are a serious reality.
And of all the cameras touted at this year’s show, the one that struck me as the most groundbreaking was AJA’s first entry into the camera market: The Cion.
Priced just under 9 grand, the Cion looks to be a real formidable player in studio and low budget production world. Capable of shooting 4K in every flavor of ProRes, you can set the data rate to what you need for that project instead of being forced into crazy high bit rate for everything.
But the most important thing that separates the Cion from other cameras in this range is it’s focus on ergonomics. The engineers at AJA know how cameras are operated on a set – altough the base unit does not come with a EVF style viewfinder, you’ll find P-tap power as well as SDI and HDMI monitor hookups in the front within a short reach. Unlike DSLRs or modular camera set ups, getting this into a shoulder mount setup involves just adding a few rails – industry standard rosettes on the side of the camera allow for quick installation of handlebars and the camera already has a sturdy leather shoulder pad. Weighing in at about 6lbs, the camera is surprisingly light on the arms.
Basically what AJA did, was make a camera, look and behave like a camera again.
Now if the DSLR form factor is more your taste and budget, the Panasonic GH4 and the newly announced Sony a7s are new entries into the 4K marketplace.
Unlike the Panasonic, the Sony cannot record 4K internally, but can send a 4K signal out through an HDMI 2 cable. I spent considerable amount of time playing with the Sony a7s – currently it is the world’s smallest full frame DSLR – a fact that shocks you when you remove the lens and look at how big the sensor is compared to the body. Boasting ISO up to the 409,600 (which for the most part is too noisy to be usable – I found that 128,000 was the most acceptable high ISO judging by the back of the camera), the Sony could be real contender for the budget 4K filmmaker although Sony was tight lipped about release dates and price.
It Ain’t all About the Cameras
4K doesn’t just exist in a vacuum – there’s going to be significant needs in terms of storage and processing to handle that data. Fortunately computer video graphics cards are up to the challenge as demonstrated in this ridiculously large screen at the NVIDIA booth:
Compensating for something?
Although the gear and gadgets are cool toys to play with – let’s not forget that filmmaking is still about people first – from craftsmen, to human stories – the art of filmmaking involves people, not just imaging machines. For all the press coverage, attending the convention is still about the personal contact with the manufacturer and engineers. Where else could you see broadcast professionals playing team Pac-Man:
… While just a few feet away, rubbing elbows with the legendary Garrett Brown, inventor of the steadicam and responsible for iconic shots in Rocky and The Shining…