NAB ’14 Camera Recap: What Did We Really Get

The annual NAB show has come and gone. It was a good year for cameras and it also saw the spreading of some interesting trends:

Dockable Cameras: What’s old is new again. The two piece camera concept, something big up through the late 90’s, is back. We saw two piece, head-dock combo cameras from Blackmagic Design with the URSA and from Panasonic with the new VariCam system. We’ll see if these dock systems catch on with more manufacturers and more models and if these docks actually pay off with the flexibility the makers claim 

High Speed: We’re starting to get to a point where 60p is just expected in a professional camera. But we’re also introducing the concept that to make a “high speed” camera you don’t have to be Phantom creating thousands of frames per second. Most users are very excited about 120 or 240. For a lot of camera makers frame rates in this range are now becoming very tangible specifications. AJA, Panasonic, Sony, and even JVC all showed cameras that could reach the 120 threshold.

ProRes & Other Beefy 10-Bit Codecs: ProRes is starting to become the closest thing the video industry has ever had to a high end “universal standard” codec. Blackmagic, AJA, and even Sony and Panasonic all showed ProRes recording cameras. And we have more options for ProRes external records then ever, thanks to AJA and Atomos. Beyond ProRes the theme was 10-bit. XAVC and AVC-Ultra where shown off on many new models, all recording in 10-bit. In some cases the compression schemes have become so good we can get a 10-bit signal out of a 25mbps package. RAW recording is starting to become more readily available, though i wouldn’t quite call it a “common” feature yet.

Super35mm: Large sensor “cinema” cameras have been the growing trend for the last 3-4 NAB shows. This year the ratio of cameras that specifically use the Super35mm standard compared to smaller sensors was the biggest it’s ever been. Panasonic, AJA, Blackmagic Design, JVC, and Sony all showed new cameras that make use of this format. There were very few cameras shown with smaller traditional broadcast 1/3” or 2/3” sensors.

Shoulder Mount/ Improved Ergonomics: Generally speaking there weren’t too many cameras that required kitting out shown this year. There was a very pleasant uptake in ready to go cameras. The Blackmagic URSA, The AJA CION, the new VariCams, and the new JVC all use shoulder mount designs. Sony’s even gone to the lengths of improving the F5 & F55 shoulder mount. Those cameras are already shoulder-mountable, and always have been. But now they’ve gone totally ENG with a new control layout and new features via a docking sled. JVC even showed an economically designed hand-held camera with a large Super35mm sensor. For some reason that’s a concept that hasn’t really been that prevalent before.

Post by Eric C. Petrie

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What is ProRes?

More and more we’re starting to see ProRes popping up as an acquisition format. The codec has had popularity from 3rd parties like AJA, Blackmagic Design, and Atomos for a few years now. But then we started seeing it natively in cameras from the likes of Arri and Blackmagic. Now even the big old digital camera brands, Sony and Panasonic, have started adding it into their cameras. So what exactly is ProRes and why is it in everything.

ProRes is a format that was invented by Apple. It debuted in 2007 with Final Cut Pro 6. At the time Final Cut was starting to gain some very serious headway into ultra high end post production. But there was one glaring issue: no mastering format of their own. The big intermediate codecs of the day were Avid DNx and CineForm. Apple decided they need to have their own solution. Hence ProRes was born. ProRes is an all Intra-Frame, minimum 10-bit, minimum 4:2:2 codec. But then a funny thing started happening. Camera manufacturers started using more internal compression to compensate for the large amounts of data that H.D. created. We started getting these really great cameras at very reasonable prices but they used low quality internal recording codecs. Companies like Panasonic and Sony wanted to protect their high-end cameras by reserving their best formats for the higher-end market.

Enter AJA with the Ki-Pro. The Ki-Pro recorded ProRes to SSDs from an HD-SDI input. The original Ki-Pro was designed more as a studio ProRes deck. Something to put into a rack or an edit desk. But AJA had the idea to market it as a mobile device as well. People loved the idea but weren’t thrilled about the form factor. Next came the Ki-Pro Mini. The Mini was perfectly designed to mount onto the back of a tape-based camera and instantly turn it into a non-linear tapeless ProRes camera. Then the products starting popping out more. Blackmagic Design, Atomos, and others began putting their own spin on mobile ProRes recording. Both Avid and Adobe began to support it natively. At this time  Atomos released their first recorder in 2011. Around the same time Arri began shipping the Alexa camera with internal ProRes recording. The Alexa set a new standard for 1080p digital cinema cameras. And it showed the benefits of recording in a ready-to-edit format as appose to RED and their everything-RAW approach. Soon ProRes was synonymous with high quality codec. Blackmagic Design released several cameras with internal ProRes recording. If you purchased a Canon Cinema EOS camera there was a good change you hooked an external ProRes recorder to it. And now we have Panasonic putting ProRes in their new 4K VairCam and Sony, after 2 years of pressure, putting ProRes into the F5 & F55 cinema cameras.

There are several flavors of ProRes. As previously mentioned all ProRes formats are Intra-Frame and all are a minimum of 10-bit 4:2:2. ProRes Proxy is 35mbps, 4:2:2, 10-bit, Intra-Frame. ProRes LT is a 100mbps 4:2:2, 10-bit, Intra-Frame format. ProRes is runs at 150mbps, 4:2:2, 10-bit, Intra-Frame. ProRes HQ delivers 220mbps, 4:2:2, 10-bit, Intra-Frame. Finally ProRes 4444 is a 330mbps, 4:4:4, 12-bit, Intra-Frame codec. All of these bit rates are based on 30 frame per second recording. If you were to record 60 frames per second you would need to double the mbps. ProRes HQ and ProRes 4444 are capable of recording 4K resolution. If you were to shoot in 4K you would multiply these data rates by a factor of 4x. There fore, at 4K ProRes HQ, 4:2:2, 10-bit, Intra-Frame, would run around 900mbps. And PreRes 4444 at 4K,  4:4:4, 12-bit, Intra-Frame, would be over 1200mbps. These are crazy-high data rates that really just show that ProRes as near limitless. Between ProRes’ limitless nature, high image quality, and extremely consistent cross platform behavior it’s no wonder we’re seeing larger adoption then ever before. It’s the closest thing to a universal high-end video format there has ever been. Post by Eric C. Petrie

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Arri Amira Begins Shipping at End of April

The hotly anticipated Arri Amira will begin shipping at the end of April. This camera features 2k ProRes recording at 4:4:4, up to 200 frames per second, and has an interchangeable PL, B4, and Canon EF lens mount. It records to CFast memory cards. It uses the same Super35mm sensor as some of the Alexa camera series. Compared to the Alexa the Amira aims to offer a lighter weight body designed more with a single, one-man, DP/operator in mind. The average Amira body package runs about $40,000. Professional Video doesn’t sell Arri cameras at this point but we do sell all of the accessories you will need to go with your Amira, including lenses, matte boxes, follow focuses, LCD monitors, and more. Post by Eric C. Petrie

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