BURBANK — What was once called the “HD Expo” was freshly re-branded Creatasphere Entertainment Expo recently. Doesn’t quite roll off the tongue as a tradeshow brand, but the name does manage to get away from that passé “HD” thing into a catch-all, be-all for cinema technology in about any form available for tradeshow fare. In fact, “CreativeSpheres” was something of a miniature NAB with many of the favored shakers and movers of the cinema entertainment trade. Sony, Panasonic and Canon were on the floor and had a ready presence at seminar “intensives” meant to enlighten and persuade. Notably missing from the mix were familiar industry standards such as Arri, Silicon Imaging, Red Digital Cinema, Adobe, Avid and Autodesk (although Adobe did sponsor a Canon-focused HDSLR intensive) and some others.
So how did the show do as a snapshot of the cinema culture?
I confess I didn’t get to see every intensive or visit every booth. I did manage to hit most of the high spots and I can say the show made for an appealing picture of what top suppliers wanted media makers to know and maybe more vital: what they wanted to keep to themselves.
At the high-end 3D space, the Kerner Group showed off a camera rig composed of two prime-level zooms rigged together for a simpler take on capturing 3D for anything from studio to indie producers, directors and DPs. Fuji, with its impressive elite lens lineup, was there, and for post production AJA showed a trove of improvements to an already solid mid- to high-end workflow from the Kona G3 to new deck and panel options. Ditto for BlackMagic Design, with its novel DeckLink and Da Vinci lines, and for an innovative gaggle of others.
On the cinema camera front, show goers were treated to the wake of Canon’s astounding (and unintended) HDSLR 5D revolution across to fellow rivals such as Panasonic with its new AG-AF100 and — at the high-end — Sony with its world-class SRW-9000 camera.
At a base body price of about $6,000, there is small doubt that Panasonic with its micro 3/4 chip AG-AF100 cam was looking in the rear view at the Canon 5D wunderkind. The show was a bit ironic for Canon since it was not stressing its 5D camera on the floor. Instead Canon presented its three 1/3 inch CMOS chipped pro fixed lens effort, the $8,000 XF305 camera, with an announcement for a singe 1/3 inch CMOS chip XF105 fixed lens camera in the $5,000 range. Both cameras are “long depth of field” cameras so they won’t have that look many indie filmmakers have learned to love about the Canon 5D. However both Canon cams have pro post features including extended dynamic range (about 10 stops), 10-bit output to popular post packages (Adobe & Apple) with XLR pro audio, G-lock timecode, SDI support, etc. And Canon EF lenses can be used by way of a Red Rock adaptor. Obviously these are fine cameras that are not ideal for all indie filmmakers. Just as obvious, this latest round is not the last word from Canon — especially in regard to a wider indie cinema base.
At its price, the Panasonic AG-AF100 is a serious contender with industrial audio, interchangeable lenses, robust imaging, HD-SDI and “cine” style depth of field performance that so many indie filmmakers clamor for. However, as interesting as this effort is — with its micro 3/4 chip — depth of field performance is not as narrow and finely controllable as that available on full frame 35mm chipped cameras. Note: beyond the front-end feature sets, all these “CreataSphere” show cameras have their own unique post production paths that will be the major stumbling block or blessing to cinema makers. (A hot topic for future blogs and stories here and everywhere).
Of course, at about a $72,000 base price and with its 12-stop plus dynamic range added to a host of utterly professional studio features, it would be a heavy stretch to say the new Sony 35mm SRW-9000 wonder-cam is a response to any HDSLR (a rival to the brilliant Arri Alexa cam would make more sense).
But could the same be said of the new Sony camera that didn’t make it to the show?
Sony’s latest effort is a professional-grade cam with interchangeable lenses, pro audio, HD-SDI and planned 10-bit post support into Avid, Apple FCS and more. At $16,000 base for its camera body, the full-frame 35mm chipped Sony PMW-F3 was announced days after Creatasphere under the notion that: "If you have a first-unit F35 or SRW-9000, this would be a perfect second camera,” notes Peter Crithary, Sony marketing manager for production.
But the Sony PMW-F3 could also be seen as a pre-emptive move on what Canon no doubt has up its sleeve next year via a keenly anticipated and real cinema follow-up to its unplanned indie 5D revolution. And at these prices the new smaller footprint cams are targeted for an indie purchase market — not so much for the tony rental market.
In other words, the indie camera and post production scene is about to be shaken up harder with more cinema quality choices than anyone could have suspected a few dog years ago. That’s all to the good for struggling and strapped indie filmmakers and for established pros alike. And as we’ve all seen, true cinema competition is a healthy thing at a place made for surprises.