December 31st, 2012

The Top 10 Products of 2012 – This Year, the Digital Democracy Train Kept A Rollin’

Posted By Neil Matsumoto

Happy New Year! May 2013 bring us even more innovative filmmaking tools!

If you’re online as much as I am, you’ve probably been following the whole Instagram debacle. Earlier this year, Facebook bought the popular photo sharing/social networking site for approximately one billion dollars. What was most astonishing was at that price, the small start up company with less than 20 employees could now buy imaging giant Kodak several times over. Within a few months Instagram updated its Terms of Service, which would allow them to sell users’ photos to third parties without their knowledge and more importantly – with no money going to the photographer. This would essentially make Instagram the largest stock photo company in the world.

As you probably know, stock photo companies have had a tremendous effect on the professional still photography world. With the ability to license a photo for a few hundred dollars instead of paying a professional thousands, many photographers are basically packing it up. The question has become, will the video world follow this trend? How far can the democratization of filmmaking go?

Before you go off and shoot your next feature film on your iPhone 5, 2012 still saw most blockbuster films being shot with the ARRI ALEXA, RED EPIC, and yes, 35mm (even 65mm) motion picture film. But in my opinion, in the past few years, the most impressive production and post-production tools that have been released have been aimed at indie, or even consumer, filmmakers. Another trend has been huge price cuts of high-end cameras and software – essentially giving companies slimmer margins but wider access to filmmakers. In either case, it’s still an exciting time to be a filmmaker.

Anyway, here are my top ten products of 2012:

10. Apple iPad 4

With resolution at 2048 x 1536, Apple's iPad 4 has become an essential dailies tool.

Since its release, filmmakers have been using the iPad on the set as a movie slate, to figure out sun patterns, analyze depth and field of view and even as a teleprompter. With the release of the iPad 3 and 4, being able to view better high quality footage has made the Apple tablet an essential production and post tool due to its 2048 x 1536 resolution, especially for dailies. For example, Light Iron’s Todailies enables their customers to review footage minutes after it was shot. According to Light Iron CEO Michael Cioni, viewing shots on the iPad is even better than watching HDCAM. Although it wasn’t necessarily made for moviemaking, the iPad makes my list because of its accessibility – it’s literally in the hands of everyone, yet it can still serve unique creative purposes for filmmakers.

9. Technicolor CineStyle Color Assist

Technicolor's Color Assist gives you 25 preset Technicolor-approved looks and works seamlessly with CineStyle.

Due to the demise of film, like Deluxe, Technicolor has had to reinvent itself from a motion picture lab to a digital solutions company. A few years back, they released the CineStyle profile for the Canon 5D Mark II, which gave DSLR users the ability to professionally color grade their footage. It was tremendously successful. This year they released CineStyle Color Assist, an application that gives you 25 unique preset Looks designed by Technicolor’s color scientists, as well as easy to use color correcting tools to grade your footage in real time. What really makes Color Assist special is that it is designed to work with CineStyle’s Log curve. In the past, filmmakers have had some difficulty incorporating the CineStyle LUT into their timelines and CineStyle Color Assist makes the process easy and efficient. CineStyle Color Assist can be used directly with Final Cut Pro 7 and Adobe CS5.5 and 6 and sells for only $99. If you’re a Canon DSLR user, this is an essential buy.

8. ARRI/ZEISS Anamorphic Primes

ARRI/ZEISS release the Master Anamorphic Prime lenses that are designed for digital cinema cameras

Yes, anamorphic lenses are back and this time digital filmmakers are not out of the loop. ARRI/ZEISS have announced the Master Anamorphic Prime lenses that are specifically designed for digital cinema cameras (film cameras too). For digital capture, the ARRI Anamorphic Primes are ideal with the ALEXA Studio, M and Plus 4:3 models, all of which have a 4:3 sensor. (Since the sensor is more square, it’s much better for anamorphic conversion compared to 16:9 sensors found on almost all digital cameras.) What’s truly great about the Prime lenses is that they contain the unique blue streak lines, reflections and flares produced by classic anamorphic lenses – looks that are sought out by cinematographers for the past 60 years because of their artistic visual elements. True widescreen digital cinematography will definitely give ARRI a significant advantage over its competitors.

7. Sound Devices Pix 240i

Sound Devices' PIX 240i lets you capture either Apple ProRes or Avid DNxHD files from cameras that feature both HD-SDI and HDMI outputs.

I had the opportunity to try out the Sound Devices Pix 240i with a Nikon D800 earlier this year and it was one of the best digital recorders I’ve used. It was also very easy to set up and immediately start recording. Although they’re primarily known as a high-end audio equipment company, Sound Devices released the PIX 240i, which lets you capture either Apple ProRes or Avid DNxHD files from video cameras or DSLRs and features both HD-SDI and HDMI inputs and outputs. For DSLR filmmakers, the advantage of capturing 4:2:2 ProRes or DNxHD files over H.264 is better color depth and less compression, giving you more leeway during post. What also sets the recorder apart from video recorders in its class is its 5” LCD display, which gives you a nice 800×480-resolution, Exposure and Focus Assist, as well as False Color, Zebras, Peaking and 1:1 Pixel Mapping. Although a little pricey for a DSLR filmmaker (street price: $3295), if you’re doing a feature or ambitious short, the Pix 240i will be a great investment for your project.

6. Adobe Anywhere

Adobe Everywhere takes Premiere Pro to new heights in creating a powerful workflow platform that enables collaboration between two or more people in different locations.

CS5.5 was my product of the year last year and this year Adobe released an even better suite in CS6, which offered a new more intuitive UI to Premiere Pro, new and exciting features for After Effects, a world class color-grading system in SpeedGrade and much more. Adobe also announced Adobe Anywhere (still in development and to be released in 2013), which will elevate Premiere Pro to new heights in creating a powerful workflow platform that enables collaboration between two or more people in two different locations. With centralized media and assets across a network, you’re able to log, edit, and finish your project with your editor, who may be working on the other side of the globe while you sleep. What’s great about Adobe Everywhere is that it can be used on any existing hardware or networks, which reduces the need for extra post-production gear. With CS6  taking much of Apple’s marketshare in the professional NLE world, Adobe Everywhere might just put them over the top.

5. Blackmagic Cinema Camera

The Blackmagic Cinema Camera has captured the imagination of indie filmmakers, as well as disrupted the digital camera marketplace.

Most people would put the Blackmagic Cinema Camera at the top of their list for camera of the year. After all, not since the RED ONE back in 2007 has a camera captured the imagination of indie filmmakers, as well as completely disrupted the digital camera marketplace out of nowhere. The small “boxlike” camera contains a 2.5K sensor, records 12-bit RAW files at 2432×1366, has 13 stops of latitude, a touch-screen LCD, a removable 2.5-inch SSD, HD-SDI out and more. If that weren’t enough, Blackmagic also threw in DaVinci Resolve (previously a high-end color-grading system) and UltraScope, which enables on-set waveform monitoring. Even more shocking than the specs is the camera’s price tag, which is just $2,995. Perhaps the only drawback to the camera is its smaller than 4/3s sensor, which is four times smaller than the Canon 5D Mark III’s full-frame sensor and has a 2.3x crop factor for lenses (compared to full-frame), which almost eliminates the use of good wide angle lenses. Although the BMCC is probably the most exciting low cost digital camera ever, I had difficulty placing it at the top of my list, especially since it’s Blackmagic’s first digital camera system to the market and I have yet to touch the camera. After repeated attempts at getting a review unit, Blackmagic reps have instructed me that all available units are being sent to customers rather than journalists. Oh well, here’s hoping I’ll get to try one out in 2013?

4. Autodesk Smoke 2013

Autodesk's Smoke 2013 is an all-in-one editing and effects super app.

Democratization also has a flipside to its advantages and if you work in the industry, you’ve probably noticed how budgets have shrunk over the years. For post, editors have been asked to perform brand-new tasks, including titling, color correction and sometimes even visual effects. Autodesk’s Smoke has been one of the go-to programs for editors and visual effects artists but when you think of Smoke, you usually think of a high-end finishing system that costs a bundle (approximately $15,000) and isn’t accessible to the indie filmmaker. It also should be noted that if you haven’t used Smoke before, it’s not the most intuitive program to work with. But things have changed in our new digital democracy and at NAB 2012, Autodesk announced the new Smoke—an all-in-one editing and effects super app. Dubbed Smoke 2013, the new Smoke will help editors simplify their workflow, centrally manage their media, work interactively with high-res media throughout their projects and deliver high-end content. Smoke 2013 has a new intuitive UI, powerful node-based compositing tools, a media hub and has much lower system requirements to run the program. Oh, did I mention price? Smoke 2013 will be priced at an astounding $3,495.

3. Vimeo Tip Jar

For filmmakers, Vimeo's Tip Jar is the best solution yet for Internet revenue.

In 2012, affordable filmmaking gear has vastly changed the production and post-production landscape but in terms of distribution, video sharing sites and social media has had an even bigger effect. Founded in 2004 and based in New York City, Vimeo reaches a global audience of more than 75 million each month and has a creative network of over 13 million registered users. Vimeo has released a new feature to their service that I feel is a great model for filmmakers looking to recoup some of their production costs. What’s equally great is that with Vimeo’s new service, Tip Jar, viewers will not be inundated with ads like YouTube’s AdSense service. Instead of showing ads, Tip Jar allows a viewer to show their appreciation to a filmmaker by voluntarily contributing money to support their work. Taking a cue from crowdsource websites like Kickstarter, Tip Jar will allow anyone to give tips before, during or after watching a video through a PayPal or credit card account. Vimeo will then pay 85-percent of the gross revenue to the creator. I really think Vimeo has created the best Internet revenue solution yet for filmmakers.

2. Sony PMW-F5/F55

Sony's 4K PMW-F55 delivers the same ultra wide color gamut as the flagship F65

With Panavision and Kodak no longer the powerhouses they once were, Sony has been aggressively trying to lock up the high-end cinematography marketplace. They have released an impressive array of HD cameras the past few years in multiple categories, but they still felt they were missing a camera in one new category, which was somewhere between the F65 (List Price – approximately $65,000) and the F3 (List Price – $16,800). Instead of one, Sony outdid themselves by announcing two new cameras – the PMW-F5 and F55 – that have a modular and compact design (a la the ALEXA) and feature a new 4K Super 35mm image sensor with a 4096 x 2160 resolution. The F5 and F55 give a shooter more options in terms of resolution – HD, 2K QFHD and 4K – and both cameras offer multi-codec support, which include Sony’s new XAVC MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 format, the SR codec (MPEG4 SStP), and XDCAM 50Mbps 4:2:2 codec. When it was announced that the pricing for the F5 would be $19,400 and the F55 at $34,900, RED reduced pricing of its camera offerings across the board that very day. I’m sure ARRI won’t be far behind.

1. GoPro HERO3 Black Edition

GoPro's HERO3 Black Edition not only positions itself to dominate the action-sports/social-media platform, but it establishes a better position in the professional filmmaking community.

You’ve got to be joking, right? A consumer “action” camera targeted towards skateboarders and snowboarders tops HDVideoPro’s list? With a price tag of only $399, the HERO3 Black Edition’s specs blew everyone and everything out of the water. The tiny action camera can shoot 4K at 12 or 15 fps, 2.7K at 30, 25 or 24 fps and 120 fps in 720p, capture an MP4 file whose 45-Mbps bit-rate rivals the Canon EOS 5D Mark III’s ALL-I codec, and offers built-in WiFi and improved low-light performance, as well as take 12-megapixel stills. The HERO3 is no longer your daddy’s wearable camera. But with all that, the best features for cinematographers are GoPro’s CineForm Studio application and Protune firmware upgrade. GoPro partnered with Technicolor in developing Protunes, a more neutral look that’s similar to what Technicolor did with the CineStyle profile for the 5D Mark II. With Protunes enabled, your HERO3 functions more like a digital motion-picture camera. And shooting in 4K or 2.7K in 24p, you can seamlessly drop GoPro clips into any ARRI ALEXA, Sony F3, or 5D Mark III timeline. With the HERO3 Black Edition, GoPro not only positions itself to dominate the action-sports/social-media platform, but it establishes a better position in the professional filmmaking community. We’re already seeing GoPro shots in hit television shows like The Deadliest Catch and in blockbuster movies like Pain & Gain. Although you could, you probably wouldn’t shoot an entire feature film with the HERO3, but I really think GoPro went to great lengths in releasing a mini blockbuster of a camera. Photographer/filmmaker Vincent Laforet declared at the HERO3’s media event that the camera would be as influential to imaging as the Canon 5D Mark II and Eastman Kodak Brownie camera before it. I would have to agree.

Well, there you have it. It’s important to remember that whether you use a Sony F55, RED EPIC, or GoPro HERO3, it’s not about what your camera can do, it’s about what you do with your camera.

Happy New Year and happy shooting! I can’t wait to see what 2013 will bring. (Lead Photo: Copyright: Shutterstock)

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