September 30, 2010

Rotolight's Stealth approach to lights

Rotolight from UrbanFox.TV on Vimeo.

The Rotolight RL48-A Stealth ringlight started life last year as yet another mic-mounted LED light, although with a few nice touches, such as being rubberised for easier/quieter handling and having a circular filter holder that also protects against rain. It has since been added to, to create a neat little package that can be used on a hot-shoe mount or fixed to a light stand, and the colour adjusted with lots of different filters.

It uses 48 LEDs, is "dimmable" by over 1.5 stops (using included ND filters), can give accurate 6900K, 5600K, 4100K and 3200K light (again using the Lee Lighting filters), works for about three hours on one set of three AA batteries, and is reasonably inexpensive (£85.10 ex VAT / $125.00 / €105).

The addition of the Rotolight Stand (£29.99ex / $44.99 / €36.99) allows it to be mounted on hot shoes or tripods, and there is now a new Rotolight Interview Kit (£249.99ex / $375.00 / €305) that includes two RL48-A lights, two stands, a Colour FX Filter Kit (with ten filters), and a belt pouch to take them all (plus batteries, phone, etc.). We interviewed its MD, Rod Gammons, at IBC (video above), who demonstrated what it can do.

By David Fox

September 28, 2010

Ryder Cup coverage to a tee

Cablecam guys: Bush and Bradley with the Skytrac HD
When the Ryder Cup players walk from the clubhouse to the first tee as Europe take on America this weekend, they will be followed by a new, custom-designed cablecam system from Bradley Engineering.

The Skytrac HD has been built for Remote Solutions, whose owner, Stuart Bush, had been searching for a suitable cablecam system for years. He bought one, but it didn't work properly and he couldn't find a suitable replacement. "I couldn't buy anything that was fit for purpose," he explained. So, he went to Bradley with the problem. Then, when he won the contract for Sky Sport's Ryder Cup coverage, development had to be pushed ahead faster.

Bush is having three of the £235,000 systems built (two are still being completed), but he intends to sell one on and had several people wanting to buy it at IBC.

Skytrac HD in postion at Celtic Manor for the Ryder Cup coverage
The sleek, "racing car" design looks good in shot, which in the Ryder Cup case is an almost 200m run. "All the others just look functional. This looks nice. It's also waterproof as all the electronics are inside. It's designed for its purpose. It's incredibly strong," he said.

"It is a dual-cable system, which makes it inherently safe for flying over crowds," added its maker, David Bradley. The wheels are bonded to the body and can't come off the cables. The coated Kevlar cables are "incredibly smooth and silent," said Bush, and even if both did break, the 4mm drive cable is even stronger (with a breaking strain of several tonnes). The system weighs only 30kg, although at Celtic Manor the tension wires are tied to a three-ton concrete block at one end – the driver motor is at the other end.

The Skytrac is very good on power. There are two V-lock batteries, which give at least two hours use – it could be three or four hours, but they are changing them every two hours just in case. The driver motor can also be battery powered (48v) if mains isn't available.

It is fitted with Bradley's new Gyro 350 five-axis stabilised gimbal (Bush is only its second buyer – the other, Flycam, Australia, is using it for a similar system). "It had to be a gyro stabilised camera, and there's nothing else light enough that could be used, or nothing as good value," said Bush.

It houses a Panasonic AS-HE870 HD camera with Canon 20x lens. "The camera was the only one at the time with HD component output, and it only cost €10,000, and the lens is short, making the most of the physical space available. And the whole package is easily remotable," added Bradley. For the golf coverage a Link 1500 transmitter, supplied by Broadcast RF, has been installed. The aerials, and a microphone, are the only things on the outside.

By David Fox

September 27, 2010

Light-mounted wireless camera link

RF Central has unveiled a small, energy efficient wireless camera transmitter using MPEG-4 compression that can be mounted on a light.

The MicroLite HD COFDM transmitter is designed to fit on the back of a Litepanels Micro on-camera LED light (both companies are part of the Vitec group), to take up as little room on the camera as possible, although it can also be used separately.

The transmitter is integrated using a dedicated bracket that allows it and the light to be mounted in a camera hot shoe.  The package has been designed for use with any compact HD-SDI camera, most of which would need an additional bracket to be added to take a normal transmitter.

It takes HD-SDI/SDI or composite input. The MPEG H.264 transmitter uses a DVB-T compliant bit rate and may be used with any compliant receiver, such as RF Central's own MicroLite HD receiver, or other RF Central and Nucomm diversity receivers, when paired with an external MPEG-4 decoder. It uses H.264 main profile, which allows a 30% bit rate reduction over encoders operating at the baseline profile, or higher quality video at the same bit rate. In its standard configuration the delay is 200ms, but a low delay option will be available.

It operates in 6, 7 or 8MHz bandwidth for video and embedded audio, and the efficiency of MPEG-4 compression enables "very high quality HD in a very small transmission space," said a spokesperson.

Typical power consumption should be less than 12 Watts with a 12-volt power source.  The unit’s standard output power is 100mW, although it can also be operated in a 20mW low power mode, or up to 250mW. Range is dependent on terrain and the antenna selected by the customer. The unit is offered for use in 2GHz and 5.8GHz bands (other bands on request). The MicroLite HD should start shipping in October.

By David Fox

Elements combine for HD, 3D + Cine

Fujinon showed a host of new HD and 3D lenses at IBC, plus its range of recently introduced PL-mount digital cinema lenses.

Its HA14x4.5BERM/RD is a new high-end ENG-style wide-angle HD lens for 2/3-inch cameras, boasting the world's first 2.2x extender (taking the focal length from 9.9mm to 138mm). Ordinarily, the lens ranges from 4.5mm to 63mm. Features include: full remote control via RS-232; maximum relative aperture at 1:1.8 from 4.5mm to 41mm and 1:2.8 at 63mm; minimized geometric distortion and improved corner resolution and contrast.

The XA16sx8BRAM 2/3-inch lens is suited to news, corporate, and independent videos. It has a newly designed rear-focusing system that eliminates pumping, while new glass properties minimize colour fringing, and a new EBC optical coating improves transmission.

The new XA20sx8.5BRM 2/3-inch 20x zoom lens is a cost-efficient ENG telephoto aimed at corporate and budget production. It promises high-optical quality and fast, quiet, precise servo zoom and focus.

For 1/3-inch cameras, it has introduced two models: the XT17sx4.5BRM ENG-Style lens; and the XT20sx4.7BRM cost-efficient ENG-Style zoom. Half-inch cameras get the new XS20x6.3BRM.

Its 3D HD broadcast range includes five lenses for 2/3-inch cameras. The HA23x7.6BEZD-T5DD, HA18x7.6BEZD-T5DD, HAs18x7.6BZD-T5DD, HA16x6.3BEZD-T5DD and XA4x7.5BMD-D3L/D3R all work with its new synchronous zoom and focus control box (the HJ-303A-08A). The lenses are claimed to display extremely small centering tolerances in the optical axis over the entire zoom and focus range. The zoom function also works without any mechanical- backlash.

A Fujinon 18-85mm PL-mount lens attracts attention at IBC
Fujinon made its first PL-mount lens in 2006, as a test, but decided the market for prime cine lenses was too crowded. However, it noticed a gap in the market for zoom lenses, and has designed a range with shallow mounts that won't hit the shutter of any digital cameras.

It showed the 18-85mm/T2 (HK4.7x18) model at IBC 2009, and has now added a 14.5-45mm/T2 (HK3.1x14.5), a 24-180mm/T2.6 (HK7.5x24), and a 75-400mm/T2.8-T3.8 (HK5.3x75). They are made to order, and expensive, "but they have, we think, the best quality in the market at the moment," said Andreas Adler, Fujinon Europe''s general manager, optical division.

They are all colour-matched to the Zeiss primes and the Arri Alura lenses – Fujinon make the Alura for Arri, offering an 18-80mm/T2.6 and a 45-250mm/T2.6. Arri has sold more than 200 of the recently introduced Aluras so far.

EastEnders HD goes Fujinon

The BBC has bought Fujinon HD lenses from Pyser-SGI for its top-rated shout fest (soap), EastEnders, which has recently gone HD.

The order for 2/3-inch ENG style lenses was for two HA13x4.5BERD HD ENG wide-angle lenses, two HA22x7.3BERD HD ENG/EFP lenses, and 12 HA23x7.6BERD HD ENG telephoto lenses. The lenses included full servo kits and small, lower cost, shot boxes that have been specially designed by Fujinon for BBC Studios and Post Production. The new shot box is based on an earlier design ENG shot box, and is available to other customers too as the Fujinon ESB-24A-A01.

The ENG style lenses were chosen to allow crews to work in confined spaces and awkward areas, increasing production efficiency and programme flow on the Elstree set.

The HA13x4.5 lens offers a very wide-angle view for close-ups, while the HA23x7.6 combines good telephoto range plus wide angle.

By David Fox

PL-mount Cine-Xenar primes primed

Chrosziel is to sell the new Cine-Xenar lenses from Schneider-Kreuznach worldwide, and has developed a complete set of accessories for them.

It has put together a package that includes: the five prime PL-mount lenses (25mm/T2.2, 35mm/T2.1, and 50, 75 and 95mm T.20 versions), plus its LightWeight Support; MatteBox 456 Academy Double; Bellows with Light Prevention Tube; DSW Direct Swing-Away-System; Studio Rig Cine Single follow focus; and a transport-trolley case.

The package will cost €18,450 (compared to €21,375 for the individual items), and the case will also be able to take the upcoming 18mm T1.9 Cine-Xenar lens. There is also a version for the Canon EOS 7D HD DSLR, costing €18,560 – as it needs extra lens support to relieve pressure on the EF-S mount. Once properly aligned, the MatteBox and Follow Focus remain unchanged when switching lenses.

The Cine-Xenar lenses are claimed to offer "excellent picture quality" and use a telecentric design, which ensures even illumination across the entire sensor.  The lenses have 12, 14 or even 18 iris blades, for a "unique bokeh". All the features are "remarkable for this price,” claimed Chrosziel. Additional sets for Red cameras and the Arri Alexa were shown by Chrosziel at Cinec in Munich. For more information, there is a pdf datasheet to download.

By David Fox

Cartoni swings nodal head towards 3D

The "first specifically designed nodal pan and tilt professional support for 3D rigs" was launched by Cartoni at IBC.

The Lambda Twin 3D Head takes its versatile Lambda Nodal Head concept and applies it to 3D Rigs for stereoscopic parallel and beam splitter shooting styles. It can take full-sized HD cameras like the Alexa, Genesis, Red One, Epic, or F35.

It is essentially a double Lambda face-to-face, connected in the middle, featuring a U-shaped swinging platform suitable for under-slung shots supporting 3D Rigs up to 90kg, where it can allow 3D Rigs to be positioned all the way to the ground. Its design allows the optical plane to coincide with the rotation centre and the centre of gravity and it can both pan and tilt through a full 360°.
It has also introduced the new Airfloater (right), which can facilitate moving heavy cameras (up to 150Kg) to give realistic point-of-view style shots without putting the strain on a cameraman's back. It can simulate an active shoulder shot from a tripod or camera mount, and offers considerable freedom of movement as it can pan 360° and tilt 18° in any direction.

It has a variety of base attachments: Chapman/Whitworth bolt; four bore Vinten holes; 300mm Mitchell with castle nut; and has a quick-release base plate. It weighs 15kg and is nearly the same dimensions as a conventional fluid head (at 25cm high and 34cm wide).

By David Fox

On-camera HD WiFi video encoder

The Teradek Cube WiFi camera link is claimed to be "the first of its kind, a camera-mounted HD network video encoder."

It captures live video directly from the camera, encodes it using H.264 and streams it over WiFi or Ethernet (up to 1080 23.98/24/25p or 50/59.94/60i, 720 50/59.94/60p) using IP. Bit rates are selectable between 250Kbps and 10Mbps.

It uses very little power, only 2.5 Watts, and can be powered by any 12v camera battery. It comes in several versions, with or without WiFi, and with HDMI (particularly suitable for use with HD DSLRs, which typically only have HDMI output) or HD-SDI/SDI input, with prices ranging from $1,490 to $2,190.

It can be mounted to the tripod screw under small video cameras for handheld operation, between the base of the camera and the tripod or to a hot shoe or rail system. Control and video monitoring is via a web user interface, viewable on any browser.

It would be useful for remote monitoring on set, where users could see the camera feed on a laptop, mobile phone or iPad, or for wireless recording from remote mounts (including in-vehicle cameras) or Steadicam systems. Or it could be used for live news feeds from anywhere in range of a WiFi connection. However, delay is about one third of a second over WiFi so probably not suitable for interviews.

By David Fox

New heads show Vision + intelligence

Vinten launched three new tripod heads at IBC, including one suitable for lightweight camcorders and HD DSLRs, plus two models for outside broadcasts and live events.

Its new Vision Blue is a budget high-performance tripod head aimed at "the lightest of camcorders and DSLRs equipped for video", and "is designed to deliver all the quality and performance users have come to expect from a Vinten Vision head," incorporating infinitely adjustable, Perfect Balance and LF drag technology. This functionality was previously only available with its more expensive Vision 3AS and above. It can carry payloads between 2.1 - 5kg -we used one at IBC with a Canon XF305, and, as you'd expect with Vinten, it was very nice.

“All professional camera operators want the same things: smooth, perfectly balanced movement, fast set-up and security against unwanted movement; and a reliable product that will provide long service,” said Peter Harman, Vinten product manager. “That is true for all our customers, but up until now there has been a gap in the market for a broadcast quality tripod system that can genuinely balance the smaller, lightly accessorised camcorders that are so common today, without any compromise on creativity."

Its new Vector 750i (pictured) blurs the distinction between Vinten and its sister company, Vinten Radamec, bringing the sort of electronic intelligence associated with VR's studio robotics to the realm of outside broadcasts and live events. The 750i is Vinten's first encoded pantographic head, and was developed with OB customers, such as SportVision in the US and Telegenic in the UK. It has a new Intelligence Module allowing semi automatic set-up, slide plate tracking and kinematic compensation, to ensure stable and precise placement of virtual graphics into a live environment.

The Vector 430 is a compact head with a very wide payload range (from 10kg to 43kg), for productions or rental companies working with multiple camera set-ups who can now use a single head when two may have been required before. It is also available with an encoder output as the Vector 430i, which can have an optional inclinometer to measure any platform movement.

"These two new Vector heads have been developed to meet real user requirements, to give them the operational flexibility they need in the studio or out on the field, and seamlessly integrate virtual reality graphics into live production," said Harman.

By David Fox

September 22, 2010

Enter the Ninja – ProRes recorder

A start-up Hong Kong/Australian company, Atomos, has launched a new hard drive based ProRes recorder that undercuts its rivals from AJA Video Systems and Convergent Design and also acts as a monitor.

The Ninja will cost €795, £695 or $995, including two hot-swappable hard drive caddies (you have to supply your own 2.5-inch 9.5mm-high laptop-sized hard drives – disk or solid state). A pack of five caddies for installing extra drives will cost about €25.

It has a dual battery system, using common Sony DV batteries (it comes with two MP570s offering 4.5hours of power). These are hot swappable, so when one depletes, it will switch to the second, and the first can be replaced.

It records 10-bit ProRes HQ at 220Mbps, 422 at 150Mbps or LT at 100Mbps in hardware, and Apple has checked that it is "bit-for-bit accurate" (and gave its approval) said Atomos CEO, Jeromy Young (pictured). It means that you can bypass the camera compression (on those cameras that have non-compressed HDMI outputs).

"We were trying to solve three problems: storage capacity, quality of recording and battery life," he said.

Users can edit off the hard drive, using a docking station that is included with the Ninja – it has FireWire 800, USB 2.0 and 3.0 and eSata connections. The recorder also comes with a carrying case.

It has LANC input/output for control plus a 4.3-inch touch screen. For audio, it has a mini-jack stereo input, or can record up to six channels of digital audio via HDMI (if the camera supports it), and a headphone jack. It has 1/4-inch mounts top and bottom.

It should be available early December, and further models are planned, including one with HD-SDI input.

[UPDATE: See our comprehensive Atomos Ninja Review]

Related posts: IBC update - cameras and recorders, Tiny nano3D recorder starts shippingHD video recording in a nanoFlashNinja ships – disappoints DSLR users + Gemini twins record 4:4:4 and 3D

By David Fox

Ikonoskop A-Cam dII finally ready

The tiny Ikonoskop A-Cam dII digital film camera is finally ready to ship, two years after being announced at IBC 2008. It can record uncompressed HD raw from its single 2/3-inch 1920x1080 (250-300 ISO) CCD sensor to a swappable 160GB card. It uses the Adobe Cinema DNG format that can be edited by Adobe or (soon) Avid software, and is also compatible with Iridas grading software, CineForm and MXF4Mac conversions tools, and will soon be supported by Da Vinci. As other camera manufacturers are adopting Cinema DNG (such as Indiecam with its 3D camera), other software should also support the format.

Daniel Jonsäter with A-Cam dII
The camera uses a standard Sony battery and can be fitted with PL-mount, C-mount, Leica M or IMS lenses. "16mm lenses are ideal, because they are available at very low cost," said founder, Daniel Jonsäter. The A-Cam dII will cost €6,950, plus between €550 to €750 for a lens mount. The memory cards, which were developed by Ikonoskop because it couldn't find one that was fast enough elsewhere (with a writing speed of 240MB per second), will cost €950. Each frame takes up 3.5Mbps and a card can hold 34 minutes at 25fps.

There will also be a memory card reader (which was shown in prototype), which will display rushes and has a USB 2.0 connection for loading into a computer. It takes about two hours to offload 30 minutes of video, so for serious shooting users would need at least four cards.

It can shoot at up to 30fps, fully variable, and its first use was for the title sequence of a Swedish feature film – the footage is viewable on its website, where there is also some uncompressed video (as well as ProRes and H.264) that can be downloaded to test the workflow. Development was delayed because "2009 was a really rough year financially. We lost all of our funding, so had to put down all development for some months," explained Jonsäter. Fortunately, "all problems are now solved," and it has more than 50 orders, with down payments – mostly from Sweden and the Netherlands. The first cameras should ship by the end of October.

The funding problems meant that development also had to stop on its 3D camcorder, although it will have a software option for the standard dII to sync two cameras to line level (a 200th of a frame) in master/slave mode. Jonsäter hopes to resume work on the integrated 3D camcorder, "but it's not a priority. It will probably be IBC next year."

In the meantime, Ikonoskop is also developing a refined version of its A-Cam SP16 compact 16mm film camera (often used as a crash camera on movies). It will have higher frame rates, improved electronics, and bug fixes, and should be available during 2011.

By David Fox

September 18, 2010

Nikon D7000 full HD DSLR launched

Nikon D7000 Launch from UrbanFox.TV on Vimeo.

Nikon's new D7000 is not, as some rumours had it, a replacement for its D90, but will sit in the Nikon range above the D90 and below the D300s.

It is Nikon's second full HD DSLR, following the recently introduced D3100, but has a lot more to offer than the entry-level model.

In our brief tests of a pre-production model, there seemed to be a fair bit of noise from the auto-focus motor. At 1600 ISO, there was noticeable grain, but it wasn't objectionable – although a JPEG taken at the same setting exhibited less grain. As you'd expect with a CMOS sensor, there was skew caused by the rolling shutter, but this seemed to be less than was evident on the D3100, and barely noticeable at any sensible panning speed (and got lost in motion blur if panned much faster).

We shot several videos (which we can't show because it wasn't a production model), but the bit rates on these varied from 23.96Mbps to 27.82Mbps – a higher rate than on the D3100 (which averaged about 20Mbps), however, these were shot indoors, in an artificially lit room in fairly poor light (at ISO 1600), which would probably push the compression a bit higher than the better lit conditions we tried the D3100 out in. That said, the picture quality was good, with accurate colour rendition.

Price (list):
£1099.99 / €1303 (Body only) or
£1299.99 / €1540 (D7000 + 18-105mm VR kit lens bundle)
It should start shipping 29th October 2010.

Features include:
  • 1920x1080 @ 24 frames per second, 1280x720 @ 24, 25 and 30 frames per second;
  • MPEG4 AVC/H.264 compression using  .mov file format;
  • Stereo microphone mini jack input - recording 16-bit PCM audio at 48kHz;
  • 3-inch TFT LCD Monitor, with 921k-dot resolution;
  • Video clip trimming;
  • Mini HDMI output;
  • Simple, direct access, Live View and video recording control;
  • Tone and colour controls that let you set the look and mood of your pictures and movies before you shoot;
  • Good low-light performance (100-6400 ISO, extendable up to 25600 ISO);
  • Twin SD memory card slots (SDHC and SDXC) allow for extra storage capacity;
  • Bundled ViewNX 2 software, easy-to-use Windows software for editing photos and movies;
  • New image-processing engine, EXPEED 2, which delivers higher image quality and faster processing;
  • New 16.2 megapixel CMOS image sensor; 
  • Rugged, magnesium top and back with dust and moisture sealing;
  • Glass Pentaprism Viewfinder with 100% frame coverage and 0.94x magnification;
  • Newly developed AF system featuring 39 focus points, including 9 cross-type sensors in the centre;
  • AF-F during video recording, giving continuous focus;
  • Face detection with contrast AF that is claimed to be is faster than previously;
  • The ability to detect up to 35 faces within about 0.08 seconds, even if subjects are not directly looking at the camera;
  • Subject Tracking to keep moving subjects in focus;
  • New 2,016 pixel RGB metering sensor
Weight: 780g including battery.

Magnesium top and back
Level indicator

[UPDATE: Nikon has posted a firmware update for the D7000 that reduces occasional video problems where shots of dark scenes or objects might exhibit bright spots]

Related posts: Nikon D3100 full HD DSLR + Nikon D3100 video interview

By David Fox

September 16, 2010

Panasonic AF100 / AF101 - the movie

We did a long interview with Panasonic US product manager, Jan Crittenden Livingston at IBC about the new AG-AF101 (AG-AF100 in the US), which should be available late December and will cost 4,900 Euros (list). She does a great job explaining a camera that is only 70-75% complete - although the few pictures we've seen from it look very nice. 

Related posts: Panasonic's HD DSLR killer + New Panasonic AF100/AF101(updated)

September 13, 2010

Panasonic's HD DSLR killer

Given the interest being shown in the AG-AF100 / AF101 - here is a copy of a piece I wrote for the IBC Daily - we'll add more, including a lengthy video, once we're home (and recovered):

One of the most eagerly anticipated introductions of IBC was Panasonic's new AG-AF101, which puts a DSLR-sized sensor in a professional camcorder, to offer shallow depth of field without the picture problems that stills cameras have in video mode.

It has shown the first pictures shot using the camera, including material shot by the producer/author, Barry Green, of, who tested it on the sorts of repeating patterns (like brick walls and roof tiles) that cause DSLRs to exhibit aliasing and moiré patterns. On the AF101, these weren't evident, even on a big screen.

"It is made for video, and it gives this shallow depth of field that people are looking for, for artistic film making," said Jerome Berrard, director AV Systems, Panasonic Europe (pictured).

The camera will have all the video functions camcorder users expect, such as peaking, variable frame rates and HD-SDI output, with the added advantage of being able to take almost any 35mm lens (including those for Canon and Nikon cameras via adapters). It will cost €4,900 when it starts shipping in late December.

Panasonic is showing 15 new products at IBC, including its 3D camcorder, the AG-3DA1, which already has more than 800 pre-orders worldwide, with more than 150 in Europe. Projects the cameras will be used for include coverage of Milan fashion shows and the production of 3D Blue-ray tours of cities like Venice.

Have a look at the video we did at IBC about the AF100/AF101 - Panasonic AF100 / AF101 - the movie

By David Fox

September 11, 2010

IBC update - cameras and recorders

I managed to pack in three more free training sessions today at IBC and during my free time have a look around the halls looking for new stuff for a new gadgets talk I'm doing Sunday (13.00) and Monday (17.00).

The thing that has excited most interest is the Panasonic AF101 (AF100). The more we find out the more it looks like curtains for DSLR shooting (although both Canon and Nikon are due to announce new cameras soon).

I'm doing a DSLR talk while I'm here but it is difficult not to keep saying: look guys just go over to the Panasonic stand and your problems will be solved.

  • You won't need to buy an expensive monitor with peaking and Zebra - because the AF101 already has them.
  • You won't have to buy an expensive Vari ND - because it has ND built in too.
  • Stop the order for a Zoom H4n - this camera has built in XLRs with phantom power (line and mic level).
  • Want to do timelapse? No need to buy an intervalometer - it has one already built in.
  • It has pre-record - so you won't accidentally miss the start of the action.
You have to ask why would you struggle on shooting video on a stills camera when the AF101 has all the features we expect (and make life easier) on a video camera.

Recording choices

But something that might still be needed is a separate field recorder, because the most obvious weakness of the AF101 is its 24Mbps AVCHD recording codec. Certainly, the nanoFlash from Convergent Design is selling well. But there are some new rivals too. AJA is showing its new Ki Pro Mini, a cut down version of the successful Ki Pro launched last year, and it records straight to ProRes for any Apple Final Cut Pro users, as does the Ninja, from Atomos.

The Ninja has the huge advantage of only costing 795 Euros - it records to swappable 2.5-inch laptop drives (so you have to factor in the cost of those too), which can be hard disks or much more reliable solid state drives. Also swappable are its twin batteries, so you never need to lose power. It also has a small LCD touch screen for control and viewing rushes.

I shot some videos with most of these companies, and more, for the gadgets session, I'm doing - I'll eventually do a proper edit on them, adding in all the cutaways, but that's for after IBC.... In the meantime, here's a video from Atomos on the Ninja. 

By Christina Fox

September 09, 2010

IBC Free Training (updated)

We started our free training at IBC when the exhibition opened on Friday afternoon, and had lots of people come along (we tried to cater for everyone, even on the small workshops - although there weren't seats for everyone - but there was plenty of room in the seminars).

If you want to find out about all the sessions available you'll find a full list at the IBC site.

We are in the Production Village in Hall 11 - beside IBC TV News and the Panasonic stand. There's also free post-production training in Hall 7.

All my DSLR workshops are booked out - so, if you wanted a place the next best thing is my talk on Getting the Best From Your Camera.  I'll be running that one again on Sunday and Tuesday - as these are seminars, there is a lot more space. The Production On A Budget session (Saturday, Monday and Tuesday) will be of use to anyone considering buying a camera (especially if you are wondering whether to get a DSLR or conventional camcorder)

I'm looking forward to going along to some of the other sessions. Alan Roberts' talks are always interesting. He's doing one calleHow It Works: Things We Forgot We KnewHopefully he'll remind me of stuff I do know - but knowing Alan we'll all learn a lot of new stuff we didn't know - but now do. Must remember to take note so I don't forget it all again ;-)

There'll also be a chance to get hands-on with some 3D kit. Just in case 3D isn't a fad - maybe I should get along to that one too - except that being workshops, they're also fully booked, luckily there are a couple of 3D seminars too.

Just beside our training area we have the camera shoot out area, where you'll be able to test and compare a lot of cameras side by side (on the same monitors in the same shooting conditions). This was the list as of 20 August.

By Christina Fox

New Panasonic AF100/AF101(updated)

At IBC Panasonic is showing engineering samples of its new AF101 Micro Four Thirds-based camcorder (aka the AF100 in the US).

What's the big deal? Well, it is the DSLR spoiler.... and this is the first time we've seen it as a working model, we were told that the anti-aliasing technology they are developing to give it a significant edge over HD DSLRs isn't finished yet, so any opinions you might see about the pictures won't be the final word. Street price is likely to be under £4,000, so it should attract a lot of interest.

It is quite a boxy shape. Definitely not like a DSLR or the Sony Handycam NEX-VG10, but should fit into DSLR rigs or work like a conventional camcorder.

[UPDATE: Now we've had a chance to see the pictures it can produce, we're even more impressed. Someone from Panasonic in Germany shot a performance/theatre piece, with lots of nice shallow depth of field, and not a lot to trouble the codec. But, the pictures looked very filmic, there was no video harshness, the colours appeared to be very accurate. It was restrained, not flat, but not in your face. More interestingly, they'd given the camera to the ebullient Barry Green, of, who had tried it on some of the pictures that normally cause aliasing on DSLRs, repeating patterns such as roof tiles and brickwork, and we didn't notice any aliasing at all - and on a big screen we would have. Although recording 24Mbps AVCHD does involve a lot of compression, the pictures stood up very well. Certainly, with the advantage of the AF101's HD-SDI output, being able to record to the Convergent Design nanoFlash, AJA's new Ki Pro Mini or Panasonic's own external AVC-I recorders, means that the codec choice shouldn't be a worry - just that you'll have to spend more on the extra recorder.]

[UPDATE AGAIN: We now have video - Panasonic AF100 / AF101 - the movie]

[FURTHER UPDATE: The new AF100A/AF101A can record up to 28Mbps internally and output 10-bit 4:2:2 via HD-SDI to an external recorder]

Key Specifications:

  • Micro 4/3-inch camcorder MOS sensor
  • Full 1080/720 - 60i, 50i, 30p 25p 24p
  • AVCHD 24Mbps
  • Variable frame rates
  • 2 XLR inputs with phantom power
  • SD cards
  • Shipping end of 2010

Panasonic were still building the stand so, they didn't have a lot of time to talk. Plus, apologies for the dark pictures but the stand wasn't lit. Hopefully during the show I'll get a chance to get a few well lit shots and some hands-on time with the camera.

We've previously written about the Panasonic AF100/AF101.  Plus, it has its own Panasonic micro site .

By Christina Fox

September 02, 2010

Beating budget bugbears and bitrates

There is a lot of really great technology being used on budget cameras – unfortunately, not all on the same camera…

Whether you are using an HD DSLR or any of the many compact camcorders, it is possible to produce very nice looking pictures. It isn’t easy and broadcasters might flinch from the results because some aspect of your camera doesn't meet their technical requirements for HD. However, the distance between the camera you have and the camera you need seems bridgeable. So, why isn't it being bridged?

At the HD Masters 2008 conference, Andy Quested, principal technologist, BBC HD, stated that he essentially wanted a camcorder with the front end of a Sony EX1 and the back-end of a Panasonic HVX 200 (or similar), as the BBC didn't believe that compact cameras with sensors of less than half an inch or inter-frame camera compression below 50Mbps were good enough for HD. Given that as the BBC goes, many others would follow, you'd think manufacturers would have rushed to produce something with exactly those specifications.

After all, there are an awful lot of Sony Z1 HDV camcorders out there (which were used to shoot observational documentaries and more in standard definition), and production companies are crying out for an HD replacement.

For that market, size is critical, as is ease of use. Price is also an issue, but less critical than you might think if the technology is right. However, manufacturers would prefer that broadcast users would buy their larger, more expensive models, which are not what productions need.

At the moment, the closest to the ideal seems to be the new Canon XF300 and XF305 camcorders, which are the most affordable cameras on the BBC's latest list of approved cameras for HD production – although they are only permitted for use by independent productions. The XF300 costs less than £6,000, while the XF305 (pictured) adds HD-SDI output, Genlock input and Time code i/o for about 10% extra. The other cameras on the approved list cost at least three or four times more.

The XF models are Canon's first Full HD MPEG-2 4:2:2 50Mbps camcorders (meeting one of Quested's parameters). They record MXF files to Compact Flash cards, and are highly compatible with broadcast post production. Most rival cameras record 4:2:0.

However, behind their 18x L-series HD lenses, the cameras have three 1/3-inch CMOS sensors. Although they 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 sensor size isn't ideal.

The cameras 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). The upcoming Canon XF100 and XF105 use the same recording system, but have only one CMOS sensor, which will inevitably diminish picture quality - even if that won't be evident to many viewers. However, their size seems perfect for typical self shooters.

Sensor sensibility

What many productions would like are larger sensors. Much larger. Conventional broadcast cameras tend to use three 2/3-inch sensors, but HD DSLRs usually use a single APS-C sensor (some 5.5 times larger and roughly the size of a 35mm movie frame). This gives very shallow depth of field and permits the use of a wide range of excellent lenses that are often relatively inexpensive (by video standards). Some DSLRs, such as the Canon EOS 7D, can also be fitted with PL-mount cine lenses.

The results can be excellent. However, there are lots of compromises to be made. The latest slew of HD DSLRs from Sony, Nikon and Canon suffer from a range of "features" that can frustrate anyone trying to use them for serious video production.

The recording bitrate on HD DLSRs and budget camcorders is almost invariably too low. The Canon 550D/60D/7D trio are about the best of the bunch, recording at 44Mbps, but Sony's DSLRs record using the more efficient AVCHD, but at just 17Mbps (despite the fact that the AVCHD standard goes up to 24Mbps). Nikon hasn't revealed official figures for its new D3100, but our testing showed about 20Mbps on a pre-production model. At the very least both should have aimed for 24Mbps.

Panasonic's micro-four thirds cameras are similarly constrained – despite the fact that its consumer camcorder division makes a little three CMOS camcorder, the SD700, that records AVCHD at 28Mbps (at 50/60p).

Both Panasonic and Sony also seem to have settled on AVCHD at 24Mbps for their compact professional camcorders, such as Sony's NXCAM or its upcoming DSLR-based Handycam NEX-VG10E (pictured). When Panasonic first showed a mock-up of its forthcoming 3D camcorder it had an AVC-Ultra logo (which would have meant recording up to 200Mbps), although AVC-Intra (at 100Mbps) would have been more than acceptable. Instead, the AG-3DA1 records 24Mbps AVCHD when even its consumer Mini-Me version (the new SD700-based HDC-SDT750) records at 28Mbps…

Bitrate hacked

The improvement a higher bitrate can make is easily seen on Panasonic's GH1 camera. It has been hacked to record at higher bitrates.

Andrew Reid of shot a test on the GH1 at ISO 1600 using both 1080/24p AVCHD at 44Mbps and 720/30p MJPEG at 70Mbps – both show a considerable improvement over the standard 17Mbps, although the AVCHD is a clear winner.

EOSHD GH1 High Bitrate Test - Low Light from Andrew Reid

Of course, HD DSLRs have other hurdles to overcome, not least aliasing and moiré patterns, which are evident on Reid's video. Panasonic promises to address this problem with the new AG-AF100 / AG-AF101 camcorder, which is based on the Micro Four Thirds sensor and lens system used by the GH1. However, the AG-AF101 is also limited to AVCHD 24Mbps 4:2:0. It also appears that Panasonic may have taken action to prevent the hack working on the most recent shipments of the GH1, so the AF101 may not be hackable either. Perhaps Panasonic should offer its own 44Mbps (or higher) version at a reasonable mark up.

The NEX-VG10E and AG-AF101 are just the first of several DSLR-inspired cameras coming over the next few months, and hopefully will inspire the likes of Nikon and Canon to respond with more video-friendly features, such as peaking and zebras to aid focusing and exposure, anti-aliasing, better audio controls, those higher bitrates or, at least, HDMI interfaces that allow non-compressed video to be recorded in a nanoFlash or similar higher bitrate recorder. CMOS sensors with less pronounced rolling shutter defects would be nice too.

Despite the problems, the artistic possibilities of HD DSLRs and their ilk can make all the hassle worthwhile. Canon's 5D Mark II, with its even larger full-frame 35mm sensor, was used to shoot the finale of last season's run of House. It had a noticeably different look to the standard film production, but worked well for what they wanted it to do. For the upcoming season of House the 5D will be used routinely on episodes, especially when they want a more intimate look. This certainly proves that the rapid adoption of HD DSLRs has not just been for cost reasons. It certainly hasn't been for ease of use….

By David Fox

Hand-held 3D gets a dose of 3ality

3ality Digital Systems is launching a new, lightweight beam-splitter mirror rig for 3D at IBC that is ideal for Steadicam use.

The TS-5 is claimed to be the first fully automated, remotely aligned, lightweight beam-splitter on the market, and is aimed at lightweight and wireless camera operations and tight spaces.

It weighs 10kg, but has the same capabilities as 3ality Digital’s full-sized rigs, including: precision motor-driven adjustment of inter-axial distance and convergence for fast, accurate set-ups; camera alignments that remain in precise alignment; and matched zooms.

It builds on the technology used in the existing TS-2 beam-splitter production rig and TS-4 side-by-side rig.

The 3D rigs are used in conjunction with 3ality's proprietary stereo image processors: the SIP-2100 (which controls a single camera); and the SIP-2900 (which can control up to eight cameras from the same base electronics). Both models allow users to align tracking and sync lenses, to monitor and optimise the 3D, and to match pairs of cameras for seamless colour tracking.

“This is undoubtedly the year of stereoscopic 3D, and 3ality Digital is totally focussed on providing superb enabling technologies for it,” said Steve Schklair, 3ality's CEO.  “Whether on set in a movie, giving a camera operator the freedom to go anywhere with wireless cameras, or embracing the viewer with 3D content, we are there, removing the mysteries of stereoscopic shooting and releasing creativity.”

Schklair is giving a keynote session on 3D Day at IBC, which will feature a demonstration of shooting techniques using the various rigs and SIPs, including two wireless cameras mounted on a TS-5.

Related post: The 3Ality of the HD to 3D transition

By David Fox

Alexa makes case for upgradeability

Arri is developing new electronics modules for added functionality on its high-end Alexa digital camera, starting with added lens and camera control.

The first replacement panel will be available early 2011, and will include wireless remote control of camera and lens functions, with improved connectivity, lens motor electronics, a second monitor output and third RS accessory power output.

It will allow control of focus, iris, zoom and camera record/stop functions through Arri's Wireless Remote System without needing additional accessories or interface adapters.

To permit depth of field and other lens data to be displayed, the camera’s standard PL lens mount will be exchanged for a Lens Data System-enabled PL mount as part of the upgrade. Arri is also providing field-interchangeable BNC connectors on the module, avoiding the need to disassemble the camera for connector repairs.

For 3D work, the module will include stereoscopic lens calibration and precise camera synchronization functions. The unit also includes positioning and motion sensors, providing valuable information for visual effects work in post.

The €45,000 Alexa is already at work on numerous productions including: Martin Scorsese's first 3D movie, Hugo Cabret (which is using at least eight Alexas - two per 3D rig), NCIS: Los Angeles, No Ordinary Family, Trauma, Law & Order: Los Angeles and the Disney feature, Prom.

By David Fox

Redrock rolls out nano DSLR rigs

Redrock Micro's new nano range of video DSLR rigs and accessories are, by the standards of such rigs, fairly affordable.

Prices for the seven rigs range from $107.50 for the simple nano Grippit (little more than a grip handle) to $608 for the nano Stealth V (a shoulder/chest mount - pictured right).

The nano line is designed for low-cost entry level, photojournalism or documentary use, and discreet shooting applications, and nano rigs can be easily upgraded to more advanced rigs as needed.

The Grippit rig is a "sturdy rubberized grip combined with the nano DSLR baseplate" to allow users keep their hands off the camera itself, to reduce shake. The runningMan rig ($467) is a compact shoulder mount made up of the microBrace body pad, microHandGrip, and optional microFinder loupe accessory, which together deliver three points of contact for more stable shots.

The LowDown ($244) and LowDown Deluxe ($491.50) both allow low angle shooting – the Deluxe also comes with grips for normal height use, while the LowDown includes an articulating arm useful for attaching a small monitor.

The Stealth ($387.50) and Stealth Grip ($432.50) are simpler versions of the Stealth V for shoulder-mount use.

There are also five accessories in the range: the Nano baseplate; Nano focus+zoom lever; microHandle Plus (with integrated shoe mount); 2-inch 15mm carbon fibre rails; and 2-inch handlebar rod.

“We developed the nano rigs from extensive input from professional and aspiring still/motion photographers,” said James Hurd, Redrock's Chief Revolutionary. “Customers said they wanted additional options that were smaller, more lightweight, and offered an affordable entry point, all while maintaining Redrock professional quality and interoperability.”

By David Fox

Tiny nano3D recorder starts shipping

3D nano - Convergent Design from UrbanFox.TV on Vimeo.

Convergent Design has begun shipping limited numbers of its nano3D, which it claims is "the world’s smallest, lightest-weight, lowest-power 3D recorder." It combines two of its nanoFlash recorders, plus additional software to enable frame synchronized recording and playback with side-by-side combining. 

The nano3D supports I-Frame-Only recording at bit-rates up to 280Mbps with external time-code (LTC) input.  It records two independent QuickTime/MXF files (left and right) on to two separate Compact  Flash cards. The results can be loaded into Avid, FCP, Premiere, Vegas or Edius for creation of the final 3D movie. A few of its features aren't full enabled yet, but will be in the next few weeks.

Convergent Design has now sold more than 2,000 of its small nanoFlash recorders. These are being used for a wide range of documentaries and other programmes, as well as commercials, particularly in extreme environments or confined spaces.

Users of Premiere Pro CS5 have noticed some problems synching audio from some nanoFlash files (as they have with some camcorders). This has apparently been fixed and will be part of an upcoming CS5 update. CS5 users will then have native support for all nanoFlash MXF files in both Long-GoP and I-Frame codecs, at all bit-rates.

By David Fox

Maxell FireWire media recorder

Maxell Europe has introduced a new rugged field capture recorder. The pocket-sized iVDR VC102 records on to a removable iVDR disc cartridges (up to 500GB), and supports DV, DVCAM, DVCPRO, DVCPRO 50, DVCPRO HD & HDV, QuickTime and AVI. It is based on Shining Technology's CitiDISK tapeless video recorder, but using Maxell's removable media, and captures via FireWire.

Features include: loop recording, hot-swappable cartridges, and plug-and-play use with non-linear editors.

Maxell has also expanded its range of recordable media, offering: new XD Cam discs (single layer 23GB and dual layer 50GB); P2 E series media cards; and LTO5 Data Tape for archiving, with capacities up to 3TB.

By David Fox

Lowel SoftCore light turns heads

Lowel is showing two new lights at IBC next week: the versatile, multi-headed SoftCore and the easily portable Trio three-lamp fluorescent fixture.

The SoftCore is essentially an accessory for video softboxes that folds out to attach to a stand or boom. Users have a choice of three quick-change lampheads that hold one, three or five Edison-base screw-threaded fluorescent lamps in individually switched sockets to provide variable light output. It has a unique four-arm system that expands to quickly hook onto softboxes, and a simple rotation lock for positioning.

Used with Lowel's new 80-Watt fluorescent lamps, it delivers soft, constant daylight with a high colour rendering index of 90+, for accurate colour representation For use with larger lampheads and softboxes, it accepts a counterweight arm system for balance on larger stands.

The Lowel Trio uses three high CRI daylight or tungsten 55W lamps, and folds to a slim, easy-to carry package. The three lamps are individually switched to control the light output. Its mounting system keeps the light balanced over the stand while allowing a full range of tilting positions.

By David Fox

Prompting: There's an app for that…

Autoscript is launching a software App for Apple's iOS-powered mobile devices. "We have been looking at how we could use the iPhone, iPod Touch and, more recently, the iPad, in a prompting environment. Although there are a number of very basic Apps in this area, we wanted to offer a system the Autoscript way," explained its Managing Director, Brian Larter.

The new i-Plus App will interface to its WinPlus News or Studio software (or any of the main newsroom computer systems) and allow downloading or transfer of scripts or running orders directly to the device. This means that a WinPlus System could send a script to a reporter on location, anywhere in the world. The App will be available on the App store for download from mid September. Autoscript is also offering scroll controls and lightweight through the lens mounts for the system.

Also coming up at IBC, Autoscript will have enhancements to its LED range of TFT On-Camera units, giving better performance and features, and new features for WinPlus including a real-time prompt preview on a PC laptop, negating the need for a preview monitor.

Related post: iPad puts broadcasters in control

By David Fox