NAB joy for gear heads

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, April 26, 2023, 3:00 PM | comments: 0

All of the video nerds were out covering NAB last week, which is the big broadcast/video trade show. NAB is the National Association of Broadcasters, but like IAAPA, referring to the acronym often means referring to the trade show instead of the association. I've actually been to the show once, in 2011 I think, because I was already in Vegas for a Microsoft conference. It's usually pretty easy to get free tickets because most of the vendors are giving them away.

One of the things that I greatly appreciate right now in making a documentary is how inexpensive all of the gear is relative to what you can get out of it. It still requires knowledge and experience (I've definitely made some mistakes already), but what is good is really good. I could not have captured the same stuff a decade ago. The cameras were pretty good, even if they were mostly HD, but a lot of the peripheral stuff for lighting and sound was unreasonably expensive. It has changed so much.

Cameras are of course the first thing that you think about. While it seems kind of silly that anyone would have a say about what's "good enough," Netflix publishes an "approved" camera list. What I think they're mostly looking at is the minimum resolution and the color sampling ability of the camera. They want 10-bit color sampled at 4:2:2. Having compressed many things for YouTube over the years, I assume that they want this because it starts you out with enough information that the eventual compression for delivery doesn't result in banding or other weird artifacts. The point though is that there are a lot of cameras on this list now, many of which are under $5k. The AF100 I bought back in 2012 was $4k at the time, and it was regular HD resolution, 8-bit, 4:2:0 sampling for internal recording. The Canon C70 I have now, which is still going for $5,500, makes the list, but it can even record 12-bit raw images at 4K resolution, which is insane. That used to be the exclusive domain of five-figure cameras that cost at a minimum four times as much.

For the doc, I've bought better lighting, better wireless audio, a drone and faster memory cards. And Canon updated the camera with new features. In fact, another camera update is the only real camera news from Canon coming out of NAB. I suppose this is good because it doesn't create any new gear envy, and it shows that they're building on the platform that they already sold me. Other manufacturers made announcements, yes, but at the level that I'm working at, you pick a system and you largely stick with it. The lens investments are expensive so it isn't easy to switch. Sony or Panasonic might introduce the greatest thing ever, but I'm deep into the Canon lens systems.

And it's hard to see what the market share is in the broad sense. YouTubers love Sony, and for good reason. Their price-performance-feature ratios are really strong. They keep making better and better lenses, too. Some of the newer things shipped without features that are common in the Canon ecosystem, but they keep improving. All of the A-series FX variations are pretty great. No huge announcements from them either, but that's not surprising given the new cameras introduced in the last two years. Panasonic has surprised everyone with their latest mirrorless hybrid under the Lumix brand, and they have another one in the pipeline (and under glass at the show). I'm kind of disappointed that they haven't followed up the EVA1, which I almost jumped to a few years ago since it uses Canon EF lenses, and I'm very familiar with their gear.

One of the biggest darlings is Blackmagic Design, in no small part because of how great DaVinci Resolve has become for post production. I'm right there with them. Their series of cameras over the years have always pushed the boundaries of what was possible at lower price points, though a lot of pros weren't crazy about them because of certain reliability problems and software. It seems like most of that is behind them as far as equipment goes, and they're making amazing things. Having Resolve to tie it all together is a great strategy, too.

There is a lot of interesting new virtual stuff going on too, pushing the tech behind "The Volume" used on recent Star Wars stuff down to more common people. Robotic movement, drones and such are also getting better and cheaper. It's really cool to see.

Again, the relative stability on the camera scene is kind of a relief. Yes, 8K is nice, but I can barely keep up the hard drive size and speed race now. And until 8K TV's become commonplace, it isn't necessary yet. It took my personally about 15 years to go from HD to 4K in the living room, but I'm not naive enough to think the next interval won't be shorter.

All of this gear stuff is inspiring though. In fact, this weekend, I'm going to try to do some "cool" product photography for the doc. Here's hoping it ends up as cool as it seems in my mind!


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