NAB 2014 Recap and Reflections: The Gimbal Revolution & 4K for the People
Posted on Monday April 7, 02014
My Fitbit says I walked 22,000 steps today and Southwest Airlines says I flew 820 miles, but my trip to this year's National Association of Broadcasters Conference in Las Vegas was immeasurable. Hopefully that was a suitably cheesy opening line, but I was really proud of my steps and had to get the word out! Every year there are new tools (and toys) for the industry to show off and each year seems to have a theme that is pretty distinct. In years past, we saw the explosion of DSLR's, 3D production tools, high end 4K cameras and lens options to fit the PL to EF market places. Sometimes NAB shows the future like in the case of the DSLR's taking center stage there for a while and then sometimes NAB shows us a possible world which may or may not succeed (read: 3D). So there is always a part of my brain that I TRY to reserve for the possibility that this year's new advances my actually turn out to be busts in the long term. BUT this year I think we have two themes which have been bubbling for a bit now and I think are going to prove to be winners. This year's themes from my perspective were evenly split between The Gimbal Stabilization Revolution and the Democratization of 4K Production.
Let's start with The Gimbal Stabilization Revolution
I'm starting here because Shoulder High Productions owns a Freefly Movi M10 (soon to be an upgraded M15) and it has become our favorite and most versatile tool in our storytelling/image capturing arsenal. The Honeymoon period is not over and today's release of the upgrade from our current M10 model to our M15 model and the brand new Movi RC which integrates a follow focus controller and the remote control of the pan/tilt into one sleek design are both total game changers for us.
With the M15 we can now fly the larger cameras starting from our long bodied Sony FS700 and going all the way up to the Sony F3, F5, and F55 cameras. And with the new RC unit a single Movi tech can operate the Follow Focus and the RC controls. That makes the full capabilities of the tool a two man crew rather than 3 and that makes all the difference in the world to our clients. I knew the second I put my hands on the Movi at last year's NAB that this was going to be a groundbreaking tool. Thanks to the gang at Freefly for not resting on their accomplishments so far. I can't wait to start working these advances into our offerings.
Here is the list of features and specs on both these items.
Fully enclosed camera cage for maximum rigidity and shot stability
Twin tube pan axis to allow for max payload while in inverted mode
Fully protected wiring
Simplified fully tool-less balancing
Inverted mode for more comfortable eye-level camera position
Quick release top handle to allow for rapid adjustment
Software, mechanical, and electrical improvements to optimize performance with larger camera systems
Weight: 2.3kg / 5lbs
Camera cage dimensions: 200mm (Length) x 200mm (Width) x 160mm (Height)
Maximum payload: 15lb / 6.8kg with compatible camera / lens combinations.
Movi RC Unit:
Full carbon fiber construction
High-resolution focus knob
Zoom control rocker
Shutter / record start-stop button
Long-range wireless link (1200 ft)
Real-time telemetry from the M?VI
Hardpoints for mounting monitor and accessories
Optional IDX mounting plate for powering via IDX batteries
Assignable switches and potentiometers to allow user customization
5V USB power output
Neck strap for mobile operation
I certainly hope they believe that imitation is the best form of flattery because I counted 15 different companies with competitive options. Most are two gimbal systems for smaller cameras. There were a few 3 gimbal systems and even a handful of systems with payload capacities rivaling the Movi M15. But none that gave me buyers remorse, none at all. One little innovation which I have to give SHAPE props for is their system for mounting their 2 gimbal system inverted to a shoulder pad and 15mm rail set. In theory it takes the weight off your deltoids and back and puts it more evenly dispersed to your shoulder and core. For long interviews that turn into walk and talks this would be really cool. I've been trying to get my EazyRig to achieve the same function but to little avail so far. I say in theory because the demo unit didn't actually work and was not holding the horizon. I think they just needed to tweak the setup a bit, not a flaw in the design. But I think with a little ingenuity something could be rigged to achieve the same functionality with the Movi. I'll let you know if I succeed at this.
The other half of the Gimbal Revolution is where it all started. Up in the air. (ideally) The number of different drone and octocopter systems on display was staggering. I've seen some amazing footage with these and I've seen a number of really devastating crashes that have destroyed cameras and lenses. I've worked with a test pilot of the US NAVY flying a 6 foot mini helicopter while flying our Sony FS700. I'm going to leave this game to him and their kind. I didn't play enough video games in my childhood...or I wasn't good enough at them I guess, to think that I'm going to master the art of levitating and flying. If you want to do it yourself, great! GOOD LUCK! Really, good luck and let me know when you're really really good and I'll try to hire you. Either that or buy one that only flies a gopro and if it crashes you only have to make sure you don't hit someone. It isn't a bad skill to develop, because if the filming side of this doesn't pan out I'm sure Amazon might hire you to deliver packages. :)
If you ask me THIS IS A DRONE!!!!
OK onto the Democratization of 4K
BlackMagic, AJA, Panasonic, and Sony all released brand new models that shoot 4k this year. And they range from a many tens of thousands of dollars to a few thousand and from a few ounces to a couple dozen pounds. They even range from having 3 inch lcd screens on the back of a dslr body to having a 10" flip out viewing wall where your head would normally preside.
Most of these cameras have a ProRes 4k options and some have an internal option to scale your recording codec and file size to meet the project.
Panny finally gots into the S35 game with their modular 4k VariCam and is the most robustly built professionally looking camera. Its certainly is ready for your shoulder but is quite a load up there, so be ready for what you ask for. I do like what they are trying to do with it on many levels but again...it's really really big. I'm not sure what to say about Blackmagic's URSA behemoth. It is also really big and I'm sorry but I approached the camera on the right hand side and saw huge screen which I thought was a bit excessive but interesting and non conforming. But then I went to the left hand side of the camera and I saw the HUGE 10" screen(which is hinding a 3rd screen) and ... well I didn't laugh but I just stopped taking it seriously after that. To be fair I'll go back and check it out more online, but it looked and felt like a toy with gimmicky selling points. But unless I was reading it incorrectly it is selling for only $6000 so maybe the joke will be on me. I started to write it off though when I saw that you had to choose between EF or PL mount. FAIL...
AJA, I didn't give you a fair crack at my 6 hours on the show floor, but you're even newer to the camera market than BlackMagic is so forgive me, we'll spend more time together next year.
Red, I love your Epic and the Dragonis even more amazing and your video on the beach in your booth was...great. Thank you for that. Clearly Red continues its pioneering work and if you play with their tools you make beautiful images for sure. I haven't made the leap yet but I love the Epic on our Movi. A match made in gear heaven.
Sony came out with a 4k Alpha dslr which has hit the blogoshpere already so I won't review it. But Canon and Panasonic also have 4k dslr options and they are all pretty slick.
What I am MOST excited about though in this 4K field is the product I've been waiting on since last year. Shocker here, I'm really psyched out it because it represents a modular upgrade to my existing equipment rather than a brand new investment. Modular hardware and firmware upgrades are such life savers for the owner operator business model and The Convergent Design's Odyessy 7Q fits the bill exactly. Actually it isn't just an upgrade from tools like the Sound Devices Pix240 and Atmos products, it is a total class changing addition to our equipment offerings. The Odyssey 7Q turns our 8bit Sony FS700 into a 4K powerhouse. It gives us continuous 240fps recording capabilities and lets us shoot slog with luts on the screen already. It makes the FS700 an F5 and in some ways it allows some options which boost it to even higher comparisons. The option I'm most excited about is the 12bit 4K to 10 bit 1920 ProRes HQ capability. The results are staggering and Philip Bloom gave us the best write up there is on the combination of the Odyssey 7Q and FS700 so I'll just link to him and say thank you very much. I can't wait to receive our 7Q.
Our switch to Adobe's Premiere CC is complete and I think the days of FCP7 are finally over this year. You know...I'm actually fine with it now. The learning curve was and is still there to get back up to the speed I was with FCP7 but we're quickly mastering it and discovering how truly powerful it is with it's integration into the full Adobe line. If 4K or at least RAW is on our doorstep how will we store all this data and are the towers we're using up to the challenge? LaCie and Gtech both have HUUUUUUUGE thunderbolt options for mobile and office setups which seriously make me think twice about upgrading my current fiber based SAN edit suites. But the team at Promax has continued to evolve and refine their Platform product and its scalable cross platform...platform, is really taking the guess work out of how to configure the next shared edit suite to be ready for growth and speed. I won't make this decision for a bit still, but I'm glad to learn their Platform architecture is back to being able to be joined with Apple's newest towers. So from the small, thunderbolt, non shared options to the large, shared access systems, I think there isn't an insurmountable barrier to editing and producing in 4k or RAW anymore. It will just cost a ton to archive, but it always has.
All in all, I saw a lot of great gear this year and shook a lot of hands of people I've been working with and collaborating with for many years. All the greatest tools in the world don't automatically mean you have a great story or enjoy the people you work with. I for one can say that I am grateful for those last two things for sure which I value most above all else.