Making the Case against Good Enough

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Thu, 01/13/2011 - 19:00 -- Nick Dager

Band Pro’s One World has been a production industry staple for many years now. The event is typically equal parts trade show seminar and holiday party and this year’s edition – held last month in Burbank – lived up to the tradition. As much an excuse to unwind and catch up with old friends at the end of the year as it is a serious occasion One World nevertheless always manages to deliver news. If there was a theme to this year’s gathering it was probably best expressed by Ammon Band the founder and owner of the high-end technology reseller that bears his name who said it was time for production professionals to push back against what he called “the good-enough mentality.” Band was speaking at the start of an afternoon seminar that featured a wide range of technology introductions. “This was one of the most revolutionary years in our industry ” he said “and one of the most rocky.” “People don’t measure quality the way they used to ” he said. He pointed to the rise of reality TV shows that are sometimes using consumer cameras for some of their shots and to news organizations that are increasingly using DSLRs as just two examples. “This year there were more idle film cameras [in Hollywood rental houses] than ever before ” he said. Band is not against lower cost innovations in technology. On the contrary his company prides itself on a broad range of technology choices for all kinds of productions. To me what he was suggesting was simply that it would be a serious mistake to believe you can create a video for YouTube and assume that same piece could work on a 40-foot movie theatre screen. Band’s remarks were a fitting background for what I think was the highlight of Band Pro One World this year which was the introduction of Leica’s Summilux-C lenses – a groundbreaking new line of PL mount primes designed to deliver ultra-high optical performance for film and digital capture. The product of more than three years of development these new T1.4 close focus primes employ a unique multi-aspheric design and high-precision cine lens mechanics to provide unmatched flat field illumination across the entire 35mm frame and suppression of color fringing in the farthest corners of the frame with no discernable breathing. Iain Neil president of ScotOptix and a supervising consultant for Leica on the development of the new lenses outlined some of the challenges that any lens company has these days in creating a new product. The first he said is the fact that unlike during the film era “there is no standard in digital cameras” and added to that new digital cameras come to market virtually every year.  This serves to magnify the risks manufacturers face because said Neil “It takes at least two years to develop a lens from scratch.” In addition he said film is more for cameras in terms of lens design. Perhaps the single biggest breakthrough of the news lenses is the fact that all Leica Summilux-C lenses share a uniform length 95mm threaded lens front advanced distance focus scales and similar location of focus and iris rings—which allow quick interchange of lenses in a busy production environment. Another unique feature is an integrated net ring threaded into the rear element. “This is something no one has addressed in say oh the last hundred years ” Neil said. In simple terms what it means is the focus-pull on the 18mm lens is the same as the focus-pull and the 100mm and all the lenses in between. Designed to be lightweight yet rugged the mount and lens barrel are manufactured from high-strength titanium. Leica Summilux-C lenses weigh between 3.5 and 4.0 pounds (1.6-1.8kg). Available worldwide from Band Pro the lenses will initially be offered in focus lengths of 18mm 21mm 25mm 35mm 40mm 50mm 75mm and 100mm. Product delivery was scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2010. Additional focal lengths will become available in a second phase. Hugo Gaggioni chief technology officer vice president Sony Electronics introduced the newest entry in Sony’s camera line the PMW-F3 its first professional handheld digital production camera with a Super 35mm imager. Recording formats include 1920x1080 1440x1080 and 1280x720 at 23.98/25/29.97p 50/59.94i and in DVCAM mode 25/29.97PsF and 50/59.94i. Shooters can also take advantage of “slow” and “quick” recording from 1 to 30 fps at 1920x1080 (17 to 30 fps in dual-link mode) and 1 to 60 fps at 1280x720 (17 to 60 fps in dual-link mode). The PMW-F3’s PL mount adapter can accommodate both PL and upcoming Sony’s zoom lenses and offers compatibility with a variety of cine lenses such as Cooke Fujinon and Zeiss. As with all its digital motion picture production technologies Sony is also planning to introduce a compatible SR Memory Portable Recorder for the PMW-F3 camcorder. SR Memory Sony’s new high-speed high-capacity card format will give users the ability to record directly to the industry standard HDCAM SR codec using the SR Memory Portable Recorder connected to the F3 camera’s single-link and dual-link output. The camera will also support Look-up Table unique for dailies and on-set color management. Up to four LUT’s can be stored in the camera and stamped onto the footage on the SxS card simultaneously using the camera’s dual link output with S-Log for the unprocessed image. This creates the perfect off-line on-line workflow combining the SxS and SR codec with the SR Memory Portable Recorder connected to the F3 and recording to the SR codec. The new F3 camcorder is based on Sony’s XDCAM EX workflow and uses Sony’s SxS ExpressCard-based recording media format. Its Super 35mm CMOS imager delivers shallow depth of field with high sensitivity and low noise levels (ISO 800 F11; and S/N ratio of 63dB in 1920x1080/59.94i mode) as well as wide dynamic range. The camcorder offers shooters a wide range of image creation options. Through the use of an HD-SDI dual-link output for external recording (4:2:2 1080 50/59.94P as standard; and RGB 1080 23.98/25/29.97PsF as an option) footage shot with the F3 can be seamlessly inter-cut with content shot on Sony’s F35 or SRW-9000PL cameras. The PMW-F3 camcorder will be available in February for a suggested list price of $16 000 (PMW-F3L without lens) and $23 000 (PMW-F3K (with PL Lens kit). Sarah Priestnall vice president of market development Codex Digital gave a brief overview of the company’s newest workflow product the Codex Desktop Transfer Station. The Transfer Station can be easily configured to automatically provide a full set of production and post-production deliverables from viewing copies to archives. And it can produce them all in less time than traditional systems take to make a single copy. Capable of ingesting digital production material from codex recorders as well as from files and other digital systems the Codex Desktop Transfer Station provides high capacity and expandability. All of the material can be kept online and is immediately available at any time for daily deliverables and reprints on-demand. When the edit is complete the finishing-files can be generated automatically – in minutes or hours not days. It can completely manage a wide range of broadcast productions (S3D multi-camera episodic TV drama light entertainment) and digital motion pictures. Multiple productions can be handled on a single system and it is designed for easy integration into the editing/effects facility. It can even be directly connected on set or location. The Desktop Transfer Station holds material on data packs and uses the Codex virtual file system to deliver shots in multiple industry-standard formats to archive tape disk or network. Red Digital Cinema’s Ted Schilowitz gave an overview of the company’s newest offerings: the 5K Red Epic and the 3K Red Scarlet. The Epic which as has been widely reported is being used by Peter Jackson to shoot The Hobbit uses the new Leica lenses. It shoots 120 fps at 5K 250 fps at 2K. According to Schilowitz the 5K chip delivers 60 percent more picture information than 4K models of Red. The Scarlet has many of the same features but with a smaller chip. The Epic is available now to current Red users for $45 000 for the body only. Schilowitz said it would be available to the entire market in May. A number of companies displayed new technology the following day at Band Pro’s Open House. These are the highlights: Element Technica showed its Pulsar 3D rig which provides stereoscopic mounting of mid-sized high-resolution digital cameras with ENG-style lenses. The Pulsar joins the Quasar (large cameras) and Neutron (smallest cameras) by providing stereoscopic mounting of mid-sized and box-style cameras including the Scarlet Epic SI-2K Sony EX3 and P1. The Pulsar provides the same stereoscopic control of interocular and convergence as is available on the Quasar and Neutron rigs either via wired or wireless linking with the Technica Hand Controller. The Pulsar can also be interfaced with stereoscopic optimization processors such as the Sony MPE-200 and Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft HHS STAN which allow them to be quickly integrated into multi-camera productions. Like other Technica 3D rigs the Pulsar can be configured in side-by-side and beam splitter mode (both over/thru and under/thru) and can be quickly reconfigured from one mode to the other. For crane dolly camera car stabilizer and hand held operation of the Pulsar bumping and jostling are the norm. The Pulsar maintains rock-solid rigidity through its construction from aircraft-grade CNC machined aluminum as well as stainless steel and carbon fiber. The compact design of the Pulsar yields a rugged 3D rig at the lowest possible weight. The same small tool-kit and setup and alignment procedures are employed with all three Technica 3D rigs including the Pulsar. An experienced 2D assistant trained on one of the rigs can apply that knowledge and tools to the whole family of rigs. Bogen/Manfrotto demonstrated the Hurricane Rig which was designed by Genus from the outset to be a cost effective entry-level 3D mirror rig. According to the company mirror rigs are the most versatile type of stereoscopic 3D camera rigs currently available. They can be used in an extremely broad range of 3D applications. However traditionally they have been very expensive devices only made in small volumes or to special order. The Hurricane Rig through clever design and large scale production will make high quality 3D accessible to video enthusiasts owner operators and others that would have previously found the cost of a Mirror Rig prohibitive. K-Tek introduced the Norbert Filmmaker Kit which it calls frame the next step in camera accessory management systems and is designed to complement SLR professional and semi-professional video-capable DSLR and compact HD video cameras–including the new 4/3-inch chip models. The Norbert Filmmaker Kit comes complete with a height-adjustable black anodized aluminum frame (with Manfrotto quick release plate and dovetail) iris rod clamp with 8-inch carbon fiber iris rods and two locking handgrips. Unlike brackets that mount on the camera shoe Norbert attaches at the camera base for extra stability. The lightweight yet rugged frame is strong enough to ensure valuable accessories remain securely on the rig. Threaded holes on the wide flat base enable the entire assembly to easily mount on a tripod. The list price for the complete Norbert Filmmaker Kit is $530 and the Norbert Frame alone is $199. Litepanels showcased its Sola series of Fresnel lights which offer daylight-balanced controllability and single-shadow properties inherent in a Fresnel light but that utilize just a fraction of the power of conventional fixtures. Like all Litepanels Sola Fresnels feature instant dimming from 100 percent to zero with no noticeable color shift. The SolaENG provides manual focus and dimming control via camera lens style ergonomic controls. The Sola6 provides on-fixture motorized control of focus and local dimming via a convenient touch screen and are also remote-controllable via their integrated DMX interface. Output is fully flicker free and remains consistent even as the battery voltage goes down. Sachtler was showing a new fluid head specially designed for DSLR filmmakers. The Cine DSLR has a payload range of 2 to 11 pounds and is thus ideal for digital single-lens reflex cameras with HD video function. A counterbalance in ten steps as well as three vertical and horizontal grades of drag allow for professional operation. In addition the Cine DSLR comes with a special camera plate with an anti-twist retainer for HD DSLR cameras. If a video-enabled DSLR is being used for filming precise panning and tilting are only possible with fluid heads equipped with a corresponding tilt range. And it also requires well-engineered damping says Barbara Jaumann product manager at Sachtler. For smooth horizontal and vertical pans the new Cine DSLR fluid head works with the fully developed technology of the big Sachtler heads: The 3-step damping is based on the patented Sachtler damping system. Element Technica K-Tek Litepanels Sachtler Sony