Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Reading the Runes at BVE. Canon XF100, Panasonic AF101 cameras.

Maybe it's wishful thinking, but there seemed more of a buzz about the BVE trade show (Earls Court last week) than the last couple of years.  Certainly more new cameras, and a wider range of formats than in recent years, and on the face of it, more for your money in terms of picture quality.

I'm not a great fan of exhibitions, with the crowds of wannabe film-makers, overpriced catering and demos too slick to be convincing - but this year's BVE started well for me, with a piece of good luck.   By happenstance, the first familiar face I saw was Dr Alan Roberts, the man who knows Everything about cameras.   Alan tells me that the talk he debuted for us in Bristol (Things we've forgotten we knew) has now been through 30 or so performances.   Given that he changes the talk each time based on instant feedback, it's probably about time he came back to us;  like Nelson's Victory, few of the original timbers now remain.

Alan's top tips for me to see were the new Canon and Panasonic cameras, previously announced but now shipping - the Canon XF 100/105, which is a smaller, cheaper, 1-chip version of the XF300/305 models, with an impressive set of features and picture quality, and the Panasonic AF101, the 4/3" sensor 'digital cinematography' kit with interchangeable lenses.  If you knew where to look (such as under the big 'Canon' sign) both models were in evidence at the show, and I'm certain we're going to be seeing their footage everywhere, soon.

Which means, oh goody, time to start revisiting the techy details of formats, codecs, and workflows.  Whether it's the Canon, with mpeg-2 files on CF cards (as MXF format) or Panny with AVCHD files on SDHC cards (or for that matter, at a higher price, the new Sony F3 XDCAM on SxS cards), the recordings are files, no tape anymore.   And obviously, they're not particularly compatible.  Add to this the abundance of shooting formats (frame rate, HD field size, i or p) and it's going to be an 'interesting' couple of years in the cutting room.

Also debuting (but needing a little hunting out) was the 'Ninja' external hard-drive recorder, a neat box no bigger than the standard LCD camera-mounted monitor, which records in ProRes (you choose the flavour) from the HDMI output.

That was one of many extras available to hang onto the camera - and given the smaller form-factor of these new cameras, it's my first prediction that this year will see more and more of us turn to shoulder support / matte box / rail systems just to keep the equipment in a workable, portable form.   Plenty of those too at the show.  But, to some extent, compatible with each other!

After a week's reflection, mostly taken up with reading the brochures and mags I picked up at the show, (and then working out what I didn't see at the time), my main impression is that we've been here before  - roughly 15 years before, when the first of the DV cameras to hit broadcast TV (the Sony VX1000) began to make its mark.   The big deal then was how affordable 'high quality' DV pictures could be, at a price point (I think) of around £1500 - £2000, and how this would revolutionise productions.   Didn't quite happen except for docu-soaps on TV, but look what you get for your money now:  full HD, widescreen.  And (depending on how you correct for inflation) £1500 1995 pounds are the equivalent of some £2250 in 2011.  Hard drives are insanely cheap (1TB for under £40 if you buy the bare drive) and we all know about how the cost of editing hardware and software has dropped (compared to 1995!). 

My next prediction - this is to be the year when HD tapeless production goes mainstream.   Tapes for big drama and features, maybe, files for the rest of us.  Backwaters of broadcasting will stick with the expensive hardware they've got (better the devil you know) but for the rest of us, we can do better, smaller, cheaper:  so brush up your knowledge of standards, codecs, file formats, backups, transfers and yes metadata.  If you don't have an archive strategy, get one, even if it's just burning to DVD-ROM.  If you don't have media browsing / cataloging, get some.  And keep an eye to the future.   What comes next is cloud-based, collaborative, maybe even platform-agnostic.   But that's for another day.

PS.   There were quite a few 3D kits out there too.   So far, not in my living room.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Feb 2011 - Apps Store, Aperture, Pixelmator, Lightworks, Sofortbild

It was generally agreed that the Apps Store is a Good Thing, provided you keep your credit cards well out of reach - it's the online equivalent of the Apple store, but more so!
And, to the surprise of some, there are bargains to be had, my favourites being:
Aperture - at £45, this has to be the best buy of the year, if photo-treatment and indexing software is what you need.  I'm a user of 'phpture' which is the brainchild of a freeware genius out there, making your Aperture collection accessible through an IP connection (and with a lot of php magic glue to make it happen).  More on this another time.
iPhoto / Pages / Numbers - Apple now sells the components of iWork and iPlay (whatever it's called) separately - with the prices around £12 and individually purchasable, again these are bargains.  Pages is a really good wordpro / layout program, and if you don't have Excel, Numbers is a must-have.
Pixelmator is my non-Apple choice.  A well featured graphics program, with good use of Snow Leopard's visual interfaces - at £18 a good choice for any cutting room.
What I like too is the recognition that we're often likely to run a couple of macs (specially if we've visited the Apple Store too often) and so the licensing system is on a 'user' basis, meaning you can install purchased software across machines that you own.

I'm sure what we're seeing is the beginning of a trend towards exclusive on-line delivery of software - and be honest, apart from FCP, when did you last buy a physical DVD of a program, and a trend towards smaller chunks of program, to do discrete jobs - wonder if there are implications here for the next iteration of Final Cut, then?

If you hadn't noticed, the Apps Store came with the last upgrade (download) of Snow Leopard - both it and the Apps are exclusively Intel Mac only....

In other news, I reported on the intriguing developments at Editshare, who have made Lightworks a free open-source program.   Currently it's Windows only, but Mac and Linux versions are promised by the end of 2011.  Track them at - note the 'beta' in the title.
Couple of things aren't clear:
how editshare will make money and survive (though there are hints all around in the prices for surrounding kit, such as shared storage)
how you get the steenbeck-style controller.  Maybe they'll open source the 3D CAD plans so you can build your own.

I posed the question, what's the major difference between Canon and Nikon DSLRs - the answer being the £100 or so Nikon charge for tethering software.   Now there's a good FREE alternative, which I couldn't find on the mac on Monday night.   The reason for this is that I installed it on the G5, back here in the international operations centre for wefcpug, which is turning into a set of historic collections of mac hardware.  The software is called Sofortbild, which I translate as 'instant picture' - and it's available for download here, where the developer Stefan Hafeneger has done a superb job of explaining what it does, and how to use it!

Our next wefcpug is to be on March 7th unless otherwise notified here!
Thanks for attending/reading - watch out for the redecoration on this site.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Feb 2011 wefcpug meeting

A reminder that we reconvene for business this year on Monday next, 7th Feb - usual place (BBC Whiteladies Rd, back security gate) at the usual time - 7pm.
On the agenda -
kit & apps review from the last couple of months
planning this year's events at wefcpug
and of course - the world famous round-table Mac/FCP clinic.

All stray problems and unsolicited footage for viewing welcomed.  Except it won't be unsolicited now...

So, in a week when it's been announced that the BBC's Digital Media Initiative, far from saving them £18M, has cost £11M, do what they didn't, and attend wefcpug.