The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – News from NAB 2017

After all the dust has settled from the NAB show of April 22-27, 2017, the world’s largest annual convention produced by the National Association of Broadcasters held in Las Vegas, the following are my lasting impressions, having followed various live streams and reports from a broad range of vloggers on YouTube. According to many, this year’s show was quite uneventful, when it comes to the unveiling of revolutionary products. As an exemple, NAB has been the venue for Blackmagic Design to pronounce their new products, in particular their cameras. This year BMD announced the URSA Mini Pro almost two months ahead of NAB in a live streamed conference, together with the DaVinci Resolve Micro and Mini Panels, although they did announce a hidden Bluetooth feature in that camera during NAB 2017 that now has been enabled, making the camera controllable from an iPad. However, the URSA Mini Pro is out of my league, both budget wise and form factor wise; it’s simply to big and expensive. Also, that 4.6K sensor, although producing wonderful colours, its image looks too sharp and too clinical – to videotesque – for my tastes. I am considering to purchase the DaVinci Resolve Micro Panel though, with a retail price of $995. Many were dissapointed that BMD didn’t unveil a new Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera II, with a 4K sensor; I wasn’t one of them for shure. One of the staff members of Blackmagic Design made a official announcement concering the future of a Pocket II, as seen in this video (starting at 5:22):

In a nutshell, BMD obviously wants to produce a 4K Blackmagic Pocket II, using the same small form factor, but they want it to have the same image quality with at least 13 stops of dynamic range, using CinemaDNG RAW and ProRes. However, current technology doesn’t allow for them to produce it yet. The main issue is heat created in such a small package using current sensors. There you have it. Many have asked for a larger size of the camera, but that wouldn’t make into a new pocket camera, would it? Another issue I have with a 4K Super 16 sensor is the challenge created by such small photosites to provide high enough dynamic range. As an example, the Blackmagic Micro Studio Camera 4K has a slightly oversized Super 16 sensor (13.056 x 7.344mm compared to 12.48 x 7.02mm of the BMPCC or BMMCC) which is only specified to 11 stops of dynamic range. No, the biggest good announcement made by Blackmagic Design was the launch of DaVinci Resolve 14, which has been completely overhauled. It uses the same user interface but apparently works 10 times as fast or easy, relieving small sized computers (such as ours) from the overburden of the currently heavy DaVinci Resolve 12.5. It has greatly developed the NLE, in particular audio-wise; audio has always been its Achilles’ heel. Backmagic has inplemented the full Fairlight audio software, which they aquired one year ago, into DaVinci Resolve, creating an entirely new tab for it, making the NLE into a audio mixer on par with its colour grader. It has also massively improved the image stabilisation feature of DaVinci, something that I personally am exited about, as well as thrown in loads of different effects features into the program (mostly for Studio users). However, they have made a massive price drop for the DaVinci Resolve Studio version, from $995 down to $299! This makes it almost worth paying for this spledid piece of sofware, in particular if I could get access to its noise reduction features. Currently, DaVinci Resolve 14 is in its beta phase, and reports state that there are lots of bugs to resove before I will do my upgrade; I have settled for DaVinci Resolve 12.5.5 for now.

The other good news from NAB 2017 is the new SmallHD Focus 5″ monitor, optimised for DSLR’s (and similar small size factor cameras, such as the BMPCC). Previously I have had my eyes on the Blackmagic Video Assist 5″ monitor and recorder, as well as the Atomos Ninja Blade 5″ ditto. However, I don’t need the recording feature in my monitor as I mostly (or rather only) record in CinemaDNG RAW, which isn’t recordable to an external recorder (both the BMD Video Assist and Atomos Ninja Blade only records to ProRes HQ at the most). Also, both the BMD Video Assist and Ninja Blade are not that good in broad daylight conditions, whereas the new SmallHD Focus monitor is optimised for outdoors and full sunlight situations. The SmallHD monitor doesn’t record either. It has all of the other features that either of the Blackmagic and Atomos products sports, such as focus peaking, focus assist, false colours, LUT’s and waveforms (only the BMD Video Assist 7″ has scopes as of NAB 2017). The SmallHD Focus is mounted to its own fixed arm, which provides the monitor to be tilted forwards (which also also reverses the image); the arm is mounted to the camera using a cold shoe mount (which I have on my SmallRig top handle), and sports an additional cold shoe mount on its side for an addition accessory, such as a mic. One other really good feature of the SmallHD Focus is that its Sony type F battery also is able to feed the camera, even the BMPCC, such as with a Anton Bauer NP-F774 7.2V 4400mAh Li-Ion battery, extending its operativity three times or more; you’ll need to purchase the proper DC Barrel Power Cable (2.1mm from the SmallHD and 0.7mm to the BMPCC) to do that. Like the BMPCC, it features a Micro HDMI connector out, a fragile standard (in contrast to the full HDMI connections of the BMD Video Assist and Ninja Blade); it is at least ergonomically well designed with a hollow space for the connection and placed in a diagonal position, at the lower left corner of the body, not at right angles and salient, preventing stress to the connection. It’s projected price is $499, approximately the same as the BMD Video Assist 5″ and the Atomos Ninja Blade, and it ships in June 2017. It will feature accessories, such as various cables, sun shade, etc.

R.I.P.

There were some other interesting news from NAB 2017, such as the new range of LED lights from Apurture. However, NAB has also left a sad aftertaste. The bad news is that the classic camera which basically started it all, bringing 12-bit RAW to the people, the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, has been discontinued. At least, that it the only way to interpret that the BMCC has been removed from Blackmagic Design’s website. This is a shame, as it is still – five years later – an outstanding camera, superior to its competion in the $1.995 segment, with its 13 stops of dynamic range and a colour science that only the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, and the Backmagic Micro Cinema Camera, emulates. When introduced and NAB 2012 it was a virtual bomb shell that blew the lid of the camera market, and forced other companies to push their envelopes. It became the standard that other companies reluctantly found themselves being compared to. This is sad, although it is purchasable for a while yet. The lesser and to be honest failed models, the ugly Blackmagic Production Camera 4K and the Blackmagic URSA 4K (both using the flawed 4K sensor), has also been discontinued. Good riddance. The only cinema cameras still being produced by Blackmagic Design today, are the URSA Mini (4K and 4.6K) and Mini Pro (4.6K), as well as the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera and Micro Cinema Camera. Out of these, only the BMMCC is the one that interest me, as a B-camera for higher frame rates, slightly better rolling shutter and moire handling, and possble as a drone camera. The BMPCC being still out there on the website is a sign, according to many, that it is still being considered to be replaced with the next generation Pocket Cinema Camera. We’ll see about that. Personally, I hope that they will settle for a 2.5K, 2.7K or 2.8K sensor to pull that off, repeating the great success of design of the original BMPCC.

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