Some years, the NAB show comes and goes without causing a ripple. 2013 was not one of those years. After sifting through the mass of products, launches and announcements from this year’s show, I’ve culled the list down to the three things you absolutely need to know.
1. Blackmagic Destroys the Video Camera Industry
There are, basically, two kinds of video cameras: high-end cameras that offer RAW video, expansive dynamic range, big sensors, and professional audio capability; and low-end cameras that offer compressed recording formats, limited dynamic range, and either small sensors or limited audio capability. Thanks to Blackmagic Design, that status quo has been turned on its head.
First, Blackmagic wipes out the high-end camera market by making the “Production Camera 4K,” which sports a Super 35mm-sized sensor with a global shutter (translation: DSLR-style depth of field control without DSLR-style rolling shutter “jello” wobble in the image), and records your choice of 4K (3840 x 2160) or HD (1920 x 1080) footage in either RAW or ProRes 422 codecs. The only odd thing about the Production Camera is that, instead of XLR audio inputs, it has guitar-style 1/4″ jacks. But that’s okay, ’cause the price sure is right. This baby is available for pre-order for $3,995. Yep, that’s right: 4K for $4K.
Then, since there are plenty of people who can’t afford a $4,000 camera (even one with specs that you couldn’t touch for under $50,000 just a few months ago) but who still want to make movies, Blackmagic wipes out the low-end market by offering the “Pocket Cinema Camera” for $995. This little guy has a super-16mm-sized sensor and takes standard micro 4/3 sized lenses (meaning that, with an inexpensive adapter, you can use virtually any SLR lens). Like the typical DSLR, the Pocket Cinema Camera accepts a 1/8″ audio input. Unlike any DSLR, it records full HD (1920 x 1080) in both ProRes 422 and RAW formats.
RAW video has been the Holy Grail of video for a while now. DSLRs made cinema-style depth of field and image clarity affordable for the microbudget shooter, but the fact that DSLRs record footage in the highly compressed H264 format causes issues with color grading and chroma keying. The RAW files captured by cameras like the RED Epic and Arri Alexa allow for much more dynamic range, post-processing flexibility, and keying quality. By packing RAW video into their DSLR-priced cameras – currently the Cinema Camera, and soon the Production Camera and Pocket Cinema Camera – Blackmagic Design is effectively removing the last barrier of entry to professional cinematography. From now on, virtually every filmmaker will have access to tools capable of delivering Hollywood-quality images. Instead of being judged by the quality of your camera, you will be judged by the quality of your cinematography, directing, editing, production design, creativity, and so on. So, no more excuses!
2. Freefly Destroys the Steadicam Industry
Freefly, a company that nobody had ever heard of before, made a huge splash at NAB with the “MoVi” – a
“digital 3-axis gyro-stabilized handheld camera gimbal.” In other words, you put your camera in it and carry it around, and everything looks perfectly smooth. In this case, a video is worth a thousand words.
Gyro-stabilized camera mounts have been around for a while (they are standard for helicopter footage, for example), but they are normally larger, bulkier and more expensive. The M?Vi will not be cheap – it will sell for about $15,000 – but because it’s the kind of thing everybody will want to use once in a while, and because, unlike a steadicam, there’s virtually no learning curve, expect it to have a huge life in the rental market.
3. Editshare Destroys the Editing Industry
What Blackmagic is doing to the video camera industry, Editshare is trying to do to the NLE (Non Linear Editing System) industry. While Blackmagic is offering high-end features at low-end prices, Editshare is offering their high-end software – Lightworks – for … free! Back in 2010, I wrote about Editshare’s announcement that they would be taking Lightworks – which was used for “The King’s Speech,” Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo,” “The Departed,” and “Mission Impossible,” to name a few – into the open-source domain. First came Linux, then came Windows, and at NAB 2013, Editshare demonstrated Lightworks running on a Mac. While Lightworks is still in various stages of Alpha and Beta testing on the different platforms, it’s only a matter of months before students and filmmakers of all levels will have access to a full-featured NLE workstation at no cost whatsoever.
After years of incremental changes to existing technology and gradually dropping prices, NAB 2013 was a massive sea-change. Soon, filmmakers will be able to shoot cinema-quality RAW video on a $4,000 camera, rent one gadget that will take the place of a Steadicam and dolly, and then edit it with free software. This continues the trend set in motion by the introduction of the original video-enabled DSLR, the Canon 5D Mark II: pro-level image quality at amateur-level prices. Once the products announced at NAB 2013 hit the streets, he filmmaking industry will be democratized in a way that was unimaginable only a few years ago.