April 29, 2010

Bag yourself a tripod

If you shoot video on anything more professional than an iPhone, then you'll probably have a fair bit of kit to carry round, and need something to support the camera while you are shooting. Now, what if the bag you use to carry everything could also, somehow, provide the support for the camera? That's what the people at Petrol Bags thought when they came up with their new Cambio Camera Carrier/Support System, which converts from a trolley bag into a sort of tripod.

It's not Petrol's first attempt to give its bags a support function. Have a look at the Petrol Pillow Staybag, which can provide support where using a tripod isn't possible (such as strapped to a moving car, on rocks or other uneven surface) where the camera rests on a pillow of Steadi-Balls that moulds to its shape and that of the surface it's on, with straps to attach the bag to the car (or whatever).

The Cambio has an extendable centre column (up to 142cm) that is usually used as the trolley bag handle (also useful for those of us that find most trolley bag handles too short). You can screw a tripod head into the handle (using a 75mm bowl), and it will support cameras weighing up to 4.5kg, including the head (so will take most budget camcorders – up to a JVC HM700 – and any HD DSLRs)

The wheels extend to the sides, and come with integral chocks to prevent movement, and you pull out a leg from the centre of the bag to create the tripod.

The Cambio will cost $699 for the bag, or $799 for a usable system including an easily attached lightweight micro-fluid head. For the same money, you could get a pretty good, lightweight, compact three-stage tripod and a separate trolley bag, and have greater flexibility. However, the Cambio can be taken as carry-on luggage, and with the ever greater restrictions being placed on airline baggage, that could be the deciding factor.

Have a look at Petrol's video of the Cambio in action to see how it works.

By David Fox

April 25, 2010

Motion slickness

Why would a battery need a motion detection sensor? To deploy a parachute if you drop it…. Or to keep you informed of earthquakes…. Or even so its little LEDs can glow red with embarrassment if you dance.

Apparently not. In fact, Anton/Bauer has added motion detection to its latest camera battery because it "significantly increases battery life".

The new 120 Watt-hour capacity Dionic HCX uses motion detection so that it can go into a deep sleep after two weeks without use, and then wake up as soon as you move it. This allows extended storage with "nearly zero capacity loss", and extends the overall life of the battery by mitigating lithium-ion battery self-discharge when the battery is not in use. 

Once Anton/Bauer integrates the Dionic HCX with its Battery Management System users will be able to program the length of inactivity needed prior to the battery going to sleep.

The 1.09 kg battery can also withstand high instantaneous current draws in addition to 10 amp sustained current draws, and can power a 40 Watt camera with a 20W light for more than two hours.

By David Fox

April 18, 2010

Cine lenses for HD DSLRs

Carl Zeiss is creating a set of prime (from 18mm to 85mm) and zoom lenses for HD DSLR cameras.

Its upcoming Compact Prime CP.2 and Lightweight Zoom LWZ.2 lenses will have interchangeable mounts that can be used with Canon EF, Nikon F, and PL-mount cameras.

The primes can be used on full frame cameras (like the Canon 5D Mark II), and will all open to T2.1 (although in the press photograph of the lenses, the 85mm is shown as a T1.5). However, the 15.5-45mm/T2.6 zoom lens can only be used with crop sensors (such as on the Canon EOS 7D – up to 24.9x18.7mm, a Super 35mm film frame). The zoom will weigh about 2kg, which makes it useful for Steadicam applications. Thanks to the interchangeable mounts, the lenses should be very attractive to hire companies, as they will cover a wide range of traditional cine cameras and HD DSLRs.

Prices are likely to be at least as much as many of the cameras they are fitted to, and they should be available from June.

Being designed for moviemaking, they will be a lot easier to use than stills lenses, especially for focusing, with longer focus rotation (making it a lot easier to be precise – particularly for manual use).

The iris opening in the prime lenses uses 14 high-precision blades, which stay consistently round and symmetrical over the entire T-stop range. This should translate into natural and pleasing out-of-focus highlights and a smooth bokeh (the ring around the blurred highlights). The lens design and tight tolerances are claimed to "ensure low distortion, high resolution and excellent colour rendition for sharp, punchy images."

By David Fox

DaVinci colour grades going cheap

Blackmagic Design is to unleash high-end colour grading at low end prices, offering the full capabilities of a DaVinci Resolve system as software for OS X at only $995. Its new Resolve version 7.0 basically does what previously took a system costing $200,000 upwards, although you have to provide your own Mac – and the DaVinci controller hardware (if you want it) does cost extra, although still a significant price reduction at $29,995.

DaVinci is the gold standard of colour correction and grading systems, used by most high-end facilities, and in the OS X configuration will be good enough for HD or even 2k work in realtime. For top-end use (such as 3D movies), the price has also dropped dramatically, from more than $800,000 to about $150,000 for a fully featured Linux multi-processor system. Blackmagic Design only bought DaVinci six months ago.

Certainly, for any Mac users that find Apple's Color software insufficient for their purposes, Resolve sounds like a fantastic deal. It should be available by July.

Have a look at the TVB Europe story for lots more information.

By David Fox

April 15, 2010

Canon fires out first 4:2:2 file-based camcorders

Canon has launched its first Full HD MPEG-2 4:2:2 50Mbps camcorders. The XF305 and XF300 record industry-standard MXF (Material eXchange Format) files to Compact Flash memory cards, making them very easily compatible with broadcast post production (all the major non-linear editing systems). Most rival cameras record 4:2:0, which offers half the colour information – making them less suitable for such things as greenscreen work.

The cameras have 18x L-series HD lenses, three 1/3-inch CMOS sensors and DIGIC DV III processors. They have two CF card slots, for continuous recording.

The sensors are claimed to offer "exceptional colour accuracy, wide dynamic range and low noise" and use high-speed data readout (2x speed) to minimise the rolling shutter skew common to most CMOS camcorders.

The 29.3mm "wide angle" F1.6 lens has zoom and focus rings with physical end stops, for more accurate control, plus an independent iris ring, and uses high-end optics and coatings.

The cameras have a 1.55 million dot electronic viewfinder with 100% coverage and a high-resolution (1.23 million dots) LCD that can be switched from left to right and, at 4-inches (10cm) is about the largest of any LCD in this class of camcorder.

The cameras will also offer slow and fast motion recording, with 20 speeds to choose from in 720p mode and nine in 1080p (normal recording speeds are 1080 50i or 25p, 720 50/25p (in the European versions).

Both models record 16-bit linear PCM audio at 48kHz, from either the integrated stereo microphone or via two XLR connectors. Power consumption is an admirably low 9W, and the cameras weigh about 2.7kg.

The only difference between them is for studio or multi-camera use, for which the XF305 adds HD-SDI output, Genlock input and Time code i/o. The XF305 should cost about $8,000, while the XF300 will be $1,300 less (list), with availability from June.

Related post: Canon's codec choice

By David Fox

Sensor sensitivity ULTra enhanced

Panasonic's new AG-HPX370/AG-HPX371 P2 HD camcorder is an update to its very successful HPX300/HPX301. The shoulder-mounted model retains the same reasonable price (under 10,000 Euros/ $11,700 list), but uses newly-developed 1/3-inch, full-HD 2.2 megapixel Ultra Luminance Technology 3-MOS sensors.

The new sensors are claimed to rival "the image quality and sensitivity of half-inch imagers" offering "marked improvements in sensitivity, measured at F10" thanks to ULT. These levels of sensitivity and image quality have been achieved with a new high-sensitivity photodiode and low-noise pixel transistor, both based on low-noise analogue process technology. The same levels of sensitivity and image production that characterize the interlace mode are now possible in progressive mode courtesy of Progressive Advanced Processing, a 3D adaptive processing technology.

The HPX370/HPX371 also features flash band detection and compensation software that eliminates the "flash band" effect that can occur with MOS-based imagers (a by product of rolling shutter).

It also has a 20-bit Digital Signal Processor, and records full 1920x1080 using 10-bit, 4:2:2, independent-frame AVC-Intra recording (to two P2 card slots).

In AVC-Intra 100 and 50, it records in 1080 at 59.94i, 29.97p, 23.98p (native 24p/30p), 50i and 25p (native) and in 720p with variable frames in 23.98p  (native), 29.97p (native), 59.94p, 50p and 25p (native). It also supports 100Mbps DVCPRO HD and standard definition recording in DVCPRO50, DVCPRO and DV.

The kit lens is a Fujinon 17x HD zoom but it can take any 1/3-inch lens or, via an adapter, 2/3-inch lenses. The camera has Chromatic Aberration Compensation, scan reverse for use with film lenses, a Dynamic Range Stretch to help compensate for wide variations in lighting, a waveform monitor and vector scope display, and two focus assist functions – picture expansion and a focus bar. It also has a one-clip REC function that records up to 99 consecutive cuts as a single clip, to make nonlinear editing simpler.

It has two HD-SDI outputs, FireWire, USB 2.0, time code input/output, and can be used as a studio camera. with the optional AJ-RC10G Remote Control Unit and compatible studio remote control systems. Panasonic offers a customized studio configuration that includes the AG-BS300 base station, AG-EC4 extension control unit and AG-CA300 remote control camera adapter.

It weighs about 3.6kg and power consumption is 19 Watts.

[[UPDATE: Panasonic has released 18 new, free, downloadable scene styles for the HPX370]]

Panasonic's new 3megapixel, 3MOS HMC80/HMC81 camcorder is the first AVCCAM model with both HD (up to 24Mbps AVCHD) and SD (DV 25Mbps) recording. It can also take 10.6MP still images and store them as standard JPEGs on the SDHC card.

The shoulder-mounted camera includes: user-assignable manual focus ring functions (Focus/Iris/Zoom); time code/UB recording; time/date stamp; and two wired remote control terminals (for zoom, focus, iris, REC start/stop controls). It has a 12x zoom lens with a surprisingly poor 40.8mm (35mm lens equivalent) wide-angle setting. It has an Optical Image Stabilizer, Dynamic Range Stretch and a Cine-Like Gamma mode to give recordings a more film-like look – it can record 1080/24p (as well as 25/30p, 50/60i and 720 24p, 25/30p. 50/60p).

Outputs include: HDMI (AVCHD only), USB 2.0, composite (BNC), analogue component (BNC x 3),and  FireWire (DV). For audio it has a built-in stereo microphone, a 3.5mm mini jack, and two XLR inputs. It will be available in September.

3D to order

Its new twin-lens HD 3D Camcorder, the AG-3DA1, is now available for pre-order, promising September delivery, and has already garnered a lot of interest, showing a working prototype at NAB. "As a single rig camera offering recording direct to an SD media card, it vastly simplifies 3D content capture, which will help to bring down remaining barriers to 3D filming," said Carmen Mendoza, Panasonic’s Broadcast Marketing GM.

It records AVCHD 1080 60/50i, 30/25p and 24p (native), plus 720 50/60p, weighs less than 3kg, has dual HD-SDI out (so you can bypass the AVCHD and record on a Ki-Pro or nanoFlash), HDMI (version 1.4), two XLR connectors, built-in stereo microphone and twin-lens camera remotes. It will cost 16,800 Euros.

Related post: Panasonic 3D camcorder gets AVCHD 

By David Fox

Sony embarks on 35mm camera development

At NAB, Sony showed a mock-up/prototype of an "entry level" 35mm sensor camera that is scheduled for launch "prior to NAB 2011" as part of a whole range of such cameras. It should be "affordable", said Alec Shapiro, Sony's senior VP sales and marketing, Broadcast and Production Systems Division (pictured above). It will almost certainly be more expensive than Panasonic's AG-AF100/AG-AF101, but probably higher quality too (larger sensor, probably recording to SxS cards).

April 14, 2010

Pan pipes in micro 4/3 video camera

The HD DSLR revolution has taken an unexpected turn with the introduction of the first video camera based on a stills camera system – albeit not the one many people were wishing for.

Panasonic launched a few new cameras at NAB, most notably the first professional micro 4/3-inch HD video camcorder. Micro Four Thirds stills cameras with interchangeable lenses are available from Panasonic and Olympus (and will record video too, although at lower bit rates), but the new AG-AF101 (or AG-AF100 in the US) will give users a shallower depth of field than even the larger sensor broadcast cameras (which use 2/3-inch chips), plus the benefit from being designed primarily for video rather than stills.

It is aimed at digital cinematography, and will be able to use any micro 4/3-inch lenses, filters and adapters (for access to other 35mm lenses). It will record AVCHD (up to 24Mbps 4:2:0) in 1080 60/50i, 30/25p and 24p (native) plus 720 60/50p, 30/25p and 24p (native), with variable frame rates and professional audio, on to SDHC and SDXC cards (two slots – allowing it to record up to 12 hours on two 64GB SDXC cards at best quality). It will be 60Hz/50Hz switchable for use in any country.

The micro 4/3-inch 16:9 MOS imager will give a 2x crop compared to 35mm stills (so a 50mm 35mm stills lens is effectively 100mm – although the chip size isn't much smaller than a 35mm movie frame).

It will have built-in ND filtering and promises "dramatically reduced video aliasing" thanks to an optical low pass filter, and will have HD-SDI out (for uncompressed 4:2:2), HDMI, USB 2.0, time code recording, built-in stereo microphone, two XLR inputs with +48V Phantom Power, 48-kHz/16-bit two-channel digital audio recording (LPCM/Dolby-AC3). As the mock-up pictured above shows, it should be easier to hold than a DSLR-style camera, being about the size of Panasonic's HPX200 camcorder (but a little taller).

It should be available by the end of 2010, with the price expected to be under $6,000. Of course, by then, Canon could have announced its own repackaging of a larger sensor HD DSLR in a video body….

[UPDATED: Have a look at our report on the AF100 / AF101 from IBC - with pictures of the engineering prototype (there will be changes to some of the buttons and they'll make some of the dials bigger), plus a mini-review of the first videos made with it.]

By David Fox

April 13, 2010

ENG and studio connected by ProHD

JVC has introduced a new range topper for its ProHD camcorder line at NAB. The GY-HM790 effectively takes the successful GY-HM700 and makes it more flexible and studio friendly. The HM790 can be fitted with multicore or fibre outputs for studio or OB use.

It has three 1/3-inch CCDs (so no rolling shutter effects), recording 1920x1080 at 50/60i, or 720p, or standard definition, recording using Sony's 35Mbps XDCAM codec or Final Cut-compatible .mov files to SDHC cards. An optional SxS recorder module allows simultaneous recording to SDHC and SxS cards.

An optional ASI output module provides a direct feed from the camera to a satellite uplink or microwave transmitter via BNC for live HD video. For ENG use, there is also an analogue SD pool feed input. It has a 4.3-inch LCD screen and a 1.2megapixel LCOS viewfinder, plus two XLR audio inputs, HD-SDI and FireWire ports

For studio or multi-camera use the HM790 has time code in/out and genlock. The studio modules connect directly to the camera without external cabling, so they can be used either with the studio sled or handheld JVC may bring out further modules. A remote camera control unit, remote shader panel, 8.4-inch studio viewfinder, and multi-input special effects generators, are also available. It should be available in the Summer, priced at under $12,000 including a Canon 14x zoom lens (it will also be available without the lens).

However, there will be a further version in the Autumn that might be very interesting. The GY-HM790LL is a low light version that will use JVC’s patented LoLux function to capture video in "extremely low light" – on some of its other cameras this is as low as 0.05 lux, which is hardly any light (1 lux performance is usually about the best you can get).

By David Fox

XDCAM eXtended by a half…

Sony has added to its XDCAM range with a new, lightweight shoulder-mounted camcorder with three half-inch sensors. The new PMW-320 (announced at NAB) is basically a cross between the EX1R and the PMW-350.

To the sensors and functions of the EX1R it adds enhancements such as a Scene File System and four-channel audio of the 350. It weighs just 3.2kg (plus lens and battery, and anything else you add), which should make it a very comfortable system for anyone who needs to run around a lot carrying a camcorder – certainly a big improvement on hand-holding an EX1.

It can do slow/fast motion, with speeds from 1-60 frames per second in 720p mode, or 1-30fps in 1080p, can be bought with a 16x Fujinon HD lens, or as a body only, and records to two SxS cards.

It effectively competes with Panasonic's HPX-300 camcorder (watch our video here). The Panasonic has a higher bitrate 10-bit 422 compression system while the Sony has larger sensors (and probably a higher price).

Related posts: Sony EXpands XDCAM EX range

By David Fox

Small addition to Sony AVCHD line

Sony has announced a new entry-level addition to its NXCAM range. The HXR-MC50E camcorder records AVCHD and should cost less than £1,600.

However, it only has a single 1/3-inch Exmor CMOS sensor (although it promises reasonable low-light performance of about 3Lux).

There isn't a lot of information about it yet, but it seems to be an upgraded consumer camcorder (I think it is the Sony HDR-CX550), recording to SDHC or Memory Stick cards at 24Mbps. It includes improved audio control plus an ECM shotgun microphone (instead of the in-body mic), a higher capacity battery, and a lens hood for the Sony 10x G lens (with a could-be-wider wide angle of 29.8mm).

It is not, however, a proper replacement for the much-loved and now venerable HVR-A1 (with its ability to shoot infra-red for night shots and dual XLR connectors). That would be more interesting.

By David Fox

April 10, 2010

Alexa picks ProRes and SxS workflow

Arri has chosen Apple's ProRes 422 (HQ) and ProRes 4444 codecs recording on to Sony's SxS cards as the primary workflow for its upcoming Alexa digital cinema camcorder. While it can also output uncompressed HD video and uncompressed Arriraw data, it believes that ProRes will offer the fastest possible workflow.

"It is a combination of the most popular and widely spread codec and probably the fastest recording medium at the moment," said Milan Krsljanin, Arri Media's business development manager. The ProRes XML files (including metadata) will be instantly available for use in Final Cut Pro, with no need to transcode – or any quality loss that might entail. "We wanted to get as fast to post as possible," and the introduction of 12-bit ProRes 4444 (at 330Mbps) in the current version of FCP made the choice "irresistible."

Read the rest of this in my piece for TVB Europe magazine.

For more on the Anonymous Red Mysterium X v Alexa test, mentioned at the end of the article, have a look at Marc Weigert's blog article.

Making the work flow: Four ways of getting video from the Alexa to your non-linear editor

By David Fox