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NAB: New cameras


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#1 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 17 April 2012 - 01:04 AM

My, what a lot of unexpected new cameras.

OK, the Panasonic "4K Varicam" is probably just an empty box with some connectors on it at this point, otherwise they'd have shown us some footage, and probably waved it around in front of our faces for more than nine seconds. But Canon, Sony, and - surprisingly - Blackmagic all have interesting new light-to-electrons conversion technology available.

I'm not going to dwell on the C500 here as it's really just a spec list at this point. There is at least one working C500 on the AJA booth, but it's in a glass case where nobody can press the buttons, presumably because the firmware is a little unrefined at this point and they don't want the likes of me to see it crash. I'm not sure exactly what the sensor is in this thing, because one Canon person mentioned it's the same as the C300 but their website calls it "newly developed". I suppose the C300 sensor isn't exactly an old design at this point, but I'm not sure what's really going on here. It's sort of important, because the C300 sensor is only about 3.8K wide, so a full 4096-wide output image would be somewhat upscaled. The controversy over what 4K really means in terms of a Bayer sensor is not new, but I suppose the bottom line is really what it looks like and the C300 sensor looks great - at least when sampled down to HD frame sizes. I suspect a 4K device based on the same technology will lack the nice grainlike structure that results from noise being downscaled.

Anyway, it's a 12-bit 4K 60-frame-per-second camera with onboard compactflash proxy recording and nice - and reasonably low-cost - recording options from AJA. This alone puts it streets ahead of Red, inasmuch as you can go straight to 4K ProRes with it and obviate any cumbersome rendering step in post. They're clearly going for this market, and for Alexa, because they've priced it at $30k. Like the C300, this seems expensive, especially since, if it does use the C300 sensor or anything similar, you're actualy then paying more money for a camera with the option to actually do less processing on the image. Presumably this will drop to nearer 20K reasonably quickly, as the C300 did, but I guess the success of the thing really depends on whether it actually does start to hit those Alexa jobs. As I said about the C300, I certainly have more confidence in Canon to produce a solid, reliable piece of kit than I do Red.

I guess what really makes the C500 look pricey is what Blackmagic have done. It's been discussed elsewhere on the forum, but briefly, it's a camera with a lot of dynamic range and resolution for not much money. They're being slightly cagey about sensitivity, which implies that the smallish roughly-super-16 sized sensor may be slightly noisy, and it's difficult to critically evaluate that on a trade show floor. Certainly it's a lot of pixels for a sensor that size, and it's nice to see that Blackmagic are taking the same grown-up approach that Canon did with the C300, and not trying to pretend that n bayer pixels makes an n K output image.

Blackmagic, while we're on the subject, are officially a weird company. They claim their spate of recent corporate acquisitions was not particularly planned, but simply happened as suitable things became available at the right price. At least one of these companies - Da Vinci - is actually an interesting example of a company being desperately wedded to a hardware design approach which was overtaken massively by the abilities of desktop computers, something various people - including me, if I'm allowed to say I told you so - had predicted for years. Now they've bought Teranex, producer of standards converters and scalers, and taken their usual approach of reworking older hardware designs and reducing prices accordingly. What I really liked, though, were their nice rugged line of converters (SDI to HDMI, fiber to copper, etc) which include battery power. This could turn out to be a real time saver in situations where you'd otherwise need a custom cable to draw power from a camera rig, or end up running mains power to an odd location. They're housed in beautiful little milled alloy cases which are apparently literally tank-proof. It's only a couple of hours' worth of power, given the need to keep size and weight reasonable, and they use lithium-ion power packs which will decay after a few years regardless of how much they're used, but that's just the state of modern battery technology.

I have a meeting with Blackmagic tomorrow at which I may be able to find out more details of the camera, and I'll investigate the sensitivity thing.
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#2 John Brawley

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Posted 17 April 2012 - 06:32 AM

I have a meeting with Blackmagic tomorrow at which I may be able to find out more details of the camera, and I'll investigate the sensitivity thing.



Phil, they're still working on this. Sensor calibration is where they are up to right now. It's not a Canon C300, but she's no slouch either.

jb
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