The Top Ten Products Of 2011
In a landmark year for production and post-production gear, 2011 will most likely be remembered for the tragic events in Northern Japan. Although minor compared to the devastation and loss of life, all the major camera manufacturers (Sony, Canon, Panasonic, etc.) were greatly affected by the disaster leaving factories badly damaged, which disrupted production and distribution for the entire year.
Having said that, we still saw a number of digital cameras announced in 2010, such as the ARRI ALEXA, RED EPIC, and Sony F3; dominate the production field in 2011. Combining this with a bumpy economy, we’re seeing Kodak quickly approaching bankruptcy and Aaton, ARRI, and Panavision ceasing to build motion picture cameras.
Even with the Japan disaster, 2011 still introduced some amazing digital camera systems, as well as placing a mark on the inevitable end of motion picture film – a medium that has captured the greatest art form for the last 120 years. I, for one, love film and will greatly miss it. But if we can apply Moore’s law of an integrated circuit doubling every two years to digital production, post-production and exhibition technology, it’s not a stretch to say we’ll be fine.
The Top 10 Products of 2011
Here is my list of the ten best products announced in 2011. These ten will most likely have a big impact in 2012 as well.
10. iPhone 4S And Its Apps
How can you place a cell phone in a list of significant production tools you ask? Well, the iPhone (www.apple.com/iphone) has quietly become an essential tool for cinematographers. The device’s camera shoots exceptional 8-megapixel stills with a 2.4 aperture and captures 1080p video (the same resolution as the ARRI ALEXA). There are also several companies, like Zacuto and Schneider that are building rigs and lens attachments to give the images a more professional look. But the main reason why the iPhone 4S makes this list is due to the App infrastructure built around iOS. Several apps like iMovie for iPhone, which lets you edit your HD footage and FiLMiC Pro, which allows you to shoot in 24p are great for amateur video enthusiasts. For professionals, there are hundreds of new apps such as Panascout from Panavision, which simulates the cinematographer’s viewpoint from a professional cinema camera, Tiffen Photo FX, which simulates the looks of popular filters, and Helios, which allows a cinematographer to plan his or her day around the changing light of the sun. Cinematographer Newton Thomas Siegel used the very popular Hipstamatic app to help develop the look for the year’s hippest film, Drive. For many photographers, the best camera is the one you always have with you. Although cinematographers would not use an iPhone to shoot their movies, the iPhone 4S is still a pretty nifty accompanyment.
9. Angenieux Optimo 45-120
Angenieux’s Optimo DP zooms (16-42 and 30-80) made it possible for many cinematographers to purchase their own high quality zoom lenses. But those lenses were primarily designed for digital cameras and didn’t have long telephoto capability. For 2011, Angenieux (www.angenieux.com) released the Optimo 45-120, which is designed for both 35mm film cameras as well as the latest large sensor digital cameras. The lens is fast at T2.8 and is lightweight enough at 4.3-lbs. to be used for handheld shooting. For camera assistants, its focus ring has 320° focus rotation with over 50 precise focus witness marks and minimal breathing, which is something you won’t get with a video ENG zoom lens. The lens has a few great accessories, including 1.4x and 2x extenders, ADS /i Technology, as well as Nikon and Canon mounts. Although the 45-120 is more than double the price of an Optimo DP zoom, it still should be the go-to lens of any RED EPIC or ARRI ALEXA owner, as well as a great investment knowing Angenieux’s reputation of making some of the best PL-mount zooms in the industry.
In the post-production world, with the cost of storage hitting all time lows, and the ability to edit natively with uncompressed files, speed and simplicity have become the most important features for post professionals. With Macs still dominating the hardware market for the post community, Apple announced it’s new I/O technology, Thunderbolt (www.apple.com/thunderbolt), in its new MacBook Pros in early 2011. Developed by Apple and Intel, Thunderbolt is an interface that connects peripheral devices through the Mac’s Mini DisplayPort. The I/O technology gives you two channels on the same connector with an amazing 10-Gbps of throughput in both directions, which is up to 20 times faster than FireWire 800. What’s also great is you’re able to daisy chain multiple devices without using a hub or switch. As of today, Thunderbolt has been implemented in all of the Mac line-up with the exception of the Mac Pro. Apple’s new Thunderbolt Display has a Mini DisplayPort, allowing you to edit your project using a MacBook Air and Thunderbolt enabled RAID or external hard drive. Thunderbolt is terrific technology that helps simplify your complicated workflows.
7. Technicolor CineStyle
One of the great features within the Canon EOS system is the ability to create and assign different looks, or Picture Styles, to your image. A whole marketplace of Picture Styles has been created by Canon EOS users to emulate the look of different film stocks, filters, period styles, or raw, neutral color spaces. One of the leaders for content management and delivery, as well as high-end visual effects and post production services, Technicolor (www.technicolor.com) has created a Picture Style designed for the Canon 5D Mark II. CineStyle was created by Technicolor color scientists and engineers to provide more dynamic range, giving the cinematographer and colorist more to work with during production and post. The basic goal was to take the 5D Mark II’s H.264 REC709 color space and move it into a log color space. Technicolor also developed a CineStyle LUT that can be applied in Premiere Pro, AfterEffects or Final Cut Pro 7. In 2012, Technicolor will be releasing additional Picture Styles designed for the EOS system and you can be sure they’re working with Canon on the new Cinema EOS system as well.
6. RED Scarlet-X
Speaking of Cinema EOS, riding on Canon’s coattails for the release of the C300, RED (www.red.com) announced the arrival of its long awaited Scarlet camera. The camera was originally announced back in late 2008 but due to the 5D Mark II and the DSLR revolution, it was wisely put on hold. No longer a 2/3” sensor and lens mount, the Scarlet-X is being marketed as a hybrid stills/motion camera enabling 5K stills and 4K motion capture. The small “medium-format” looking body also contains HDRx, shoots up to 60fps at 1080, and maintains its REDCODE RAW codec. Sounds amazing, right? So why would I buy an EPIC now? Well, at the Scarlet-X unveiling event, RED founder Jim Jannard revealed that RED has a surplus of chips built for the EPIC that have been bought and paid for, but spec out at lower performance. He explained that these ASICs (Application-Specific Integrated Circuits) are being used for the Scarlet-X and are essentially free for the company, hence the cost difference. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the camera is that RED is offering both a PL and a Canon EF mount. Jannard has constantly trashed the Canon 5D Mark II’s line skipping technology and weak H.264 codec but he’s smart enough to realize he needs to play ball with Canon, considering how many EF lenses are out in the field (Canon estimates 70 million). The EF-mount Scarlet will retail for $9,750 but as you start to add on essential accessories (LCD screen, batteries, RED Station, etc.), it’s no longer a sub $10,000 camera but a $14,000 system. Although RED has reinvented the digital camera space like no other camera company in years, we’ll see how much of an impact they’ll have on the lower priced-to-own cinematography space that Canon, Sony and Panasonic have owned for years.
5. Convergent Design Gemini 4:4:4
Convergent Design’s (www.convergent-design.com) Gemini 4:4:4 is a compact video recorder that is built for today’s digital production needs. Unlike AJA’s KiPro, which only captures Apple ProRes 422 QuickTime files, the Gemini captures 10‐bit uncompressed 4:4:4/4:2:2 video in HD/2K/3G formats to two removable SSDs simultaneously. It also contains a 5-inch, 800×480 24-bit LCD touch screen for monitor and playback. With the Sony F3 becoming one of the most popular digital cinema camera systems on the market due to its compact size and professional features, the Gemini is the perfect companion with its Sony S-Log support and programmable viewing LUTs. You can even record native S-Log to one SSD with burned in LUTs to the second SSD for fast creations of off line proxies. For 3D work, the Gemini can also output footage in multiple formats simultaneously to aid in camera alignment and monitoring. At $5,995, the device is definitely aimed at the pro market but it’s still a small price to pay if you’re looking for a convenient and mobile device to capture uncompressed footage.
4. Zacuto Z-Finder EVF Pro
Among other weaknesses, a big one within DSLR motion capture is proper monitoring. Up until now, most DSLR shooters have been mounting an external monitor to the camera via HDMI or using an optical viewfinder that sits fixed at the back of the camera. If you want to shoot day exteriors, an LCD monitor won’t cut it due to glare and your typical optical viewfinder on a 5D Mark II or 7D is not adjustable if you want to monitor shots from high or low angles. Camera accessory builder Zacuto (www.zacuto.com) released the Z-Finder optical viewfinder a few years back and it was a must-have tool for any DSLR shooter looking to achieve critical focus. This year they released the Z-Finder EVF, which takes DSLR monitoring, or any camcorder that has an HDMI output, to the next level by letting you monitor your shots as if you were working with a film or ENG style camera. The Z-Finder EVF Pro is a complete electronic viewfinder that contains both an EVF monitor and an optical viewfinder that snaps onto the frame of the EVF. The Z-Finder EVF has many features that you can’t get with an optical viewfinder such as False Color, Zebra stripes, focus assist, aspect ratio frame lines, etc. One of the coolest features on the Z-Finder EVF is scaling, which allows you to scale your camera’s video signal to view the entire imaging area. (When outputting via HDMI, many DSLRs, such as the 5D Mark II, do not output a full HD 16×9 signal.) The 3.2” LCD on the Z-Finder EVF has a resolution of 800×480 and is powered by a Canon LP-E6 battery or equivalent. Although pricey at $1,000, the Z-Finder EVF Pro really ups your DSLR’s game, helping to keep DSLRs relevant for both no-budget and professional filmmakers.
3. Canon C300 And Cinema EOS
It was only a matter of time when Canon (www.usa.canon.com) would release a large sensor camcorder, having changed the game more than 3 years ago with the release of the 5D Mark II. Cinema EOS and its first camera offering were launched at Paramount Studios in a red carpet affair with appearances by Martin Scorsese and Ron Howard. The new EOS C300/C300 PL contains a Super 35mm-sized CMOS sensor and records full 1920 x 1080 resolution to CF cards. Like the Scarlet-X, Canon will offer both PL and EF mount versions of the camera. The camera uses the same codec as the XF camcorder line, which is MPEG-2, 50-Mbps, 4:2:2 color sampling. The camera has a viewfinder but also contains a unique LCD monitor that you can attach to the camera’s hot shoe or on a handle that attaches to the camera for raised viewing. The C300’s biggest selling point is its ability to shoot in low light with far less noise at high ISOs. The C300 is also Canon’s first digital video camera to employ Canon Log, which like Sony’s S-Log or RED’s REDCODE RAW, gives you better tonal reproduction in the highlights and shadows. According to Canon, it maintains a total dynamic range of 800% or up to 12-stops. Canon’s other big announcement is that they are releasing a series of cinema-style EOS Cinema Lenses that offer 4K optical performance. For zooms, Canon offers a wide-angle 14.5-60mm/T2.6 as well as a 30-300/T2.95-3.7. For people who want more speed, Canon is offering three prime lenses (EF mount only) – a 24mm/T1.5, a 50mm/1.3 and an 85mm/1.3. The preliminary price of the C300 was announced at the event at $20,000 for the body only, a price point that will probably come down before the camera is available in early 2012. If the price point comes down to $16K (the current rumor), it will be in the same ballpark as the Scarlet-X and the Sony F3. It remains to be seen which will be the best camera in this new sub $20K camera class, but the DSLR revolution and EF lenses probably place Canon in the pole position.
2. Sony F65
Just as the majority of filmmakers were getting used to 1920 x 1080, 4K is now a reality. At the present time, I kind of look at 4K the same way I look at 3D. The workflow is too cumbersome and difficult for your average indie filmmaker and it’s not practical until distribution in 4K is more commonplace. (The main difference is 4K is an inevitable format while 3D is going the same route as it did in the ‘50s.) With the ARRI ALEXA and RED EPIC gaining a solid foothold in the professional production landscape, many people were wondering what Sony would come up with next, since their F35 was nearing the end of its production cycle. At NAB this year, Sony blew away expectations by announcing the arrival of the F65 (www.sony.com/f65) – a 4K system with an 8K sensor, 14-stops of latitude and the ability to capture 16-bit Linear RAW data. In regards to Sony, movie theaters around the world have installed over 10,000 of their SXRD 4K-digital cinema projection systems so with SXRD and the F65, Sony offers the first true 4K digital pipeline. A cool feature that Sony will be offering is a new Rotary Shutter F65 that will help eliminate Jell-O Cam effects from capturing fast motion. The F65 will retail for $65,000 and this includes a color viewfinder. This pricing smartly places it in line with bot the ALEXA and EPIC. With the F65 now exceeding film specs in terms of dynamic range, color gamut and signal-to-noise ratio, it really makes it easier to accept the loss of film.
1. Adobe CS5.5
Although it’s a top notched non-linear editing system with a bundle of great programs, I have a confession to make. If it weren’t for the release of Apple’s Final Cut Pro X, CS5.5 might not be my product of the year. Since its release back in 1999, Final Cut Pro has grown to control over 50% of the NLE market share – according to market research firm SCRI – and many in the professional community look at the software as Apple’s crown jewel. But with the release of its new 64-bit system, Final Cut Pro X has been pegged as an upgrade to iMovie rather than Final Cut Pro and has caused nothing but confusion and outrage in the professional post-production community since its release. The biggest beneficiary to the FCP X backlash has been Adobe (www.adobe.com), who has seen a 45% increase in Mac licenses since the release of FCP X. But Adobe struck at the perfect time in releasing and marketing a great NLE package. One of the great things about Premiere Pro is its flexibility and the ability to throw virtually any codec or format at the program and edit natively with the format. (One of the biggest beefs with Final Cut Pro 7 was the inability to edit H.264 natively and having to transcode to an intermediate codec.) With CS5.5, not only do you get a superb NLE system in Premiere Pro, you also get AfterEffects and Photoshop, two industry standard programs. Adobe’s Dynamic Link makes the changes you make in AfterEffects seamlessly appear back in Premiere Pro. A great feature in AfterEffects is the new Warp Stabilizer, which allows you to smooth out shaky, handheld camera footage so it looks as if it was shot on a dolly or Steadicam. If that weren’t enough, the suite also includes Audition (sound editing), Illustrator, Media Encoder, and Adobe Story, a terrific screenwriting program that can replace your expensive license for Final Draft. The $1,699 price tag for the suite is worth every penny.
Although there were countless more tools that could have made this list, these ten tools really represent breakthrough, as well as disruptive, technology. I’m predicting 2012 to ramp up on 4K workflows and HDR on the high end, with DSLR technology only improving with 4K and the possible elimination of line skipping. Just by looking at declining 3D box office receipts in 2011, it’s pretty easy to see the demise of 3D. I certainly won’t miss it.
So what were some of your favorite products of 2011?
Oh, by the way, Happy New Year! Wishing you great success for all of your 2012 productions!