It’s that time of the year again when “Best of” lists proliferate. We are no exception here at NYC Production & Post News, though we like to tweak our lists a bit for what we think folks working in the New York market will appreciate. End-of-the-year lists, of course, are arbitrary. There is lots of great technology that we just can’t get to in this short list.
Would you make different choices? I sure you could – please let us know – we would love to hear from you!
— Joe Herman & Dan Ochiva
And — in alphabetical order — our choices for the most newsworthy tech of 2013…
Adobe Creative Cloud
While there might have been some initial grumblings about Adobe’s move to a cloud infrastructure, the idea appealed to me from the start. First, I immediately liked “pay as you go” approach. It seems to me that this is a great way to get into software affordably without breaking the bank.
In addition, I like the Creative Cloud’s promise that Adobe’s ubiquitous collection of software will be continuously updated throughout the year without having to wait for the next major software release cycle.
Living up to that promise, Adobe has made some exciting updates to the apps in Creative Cloud. Key updates to the video applications include a direct link integrated color pipeline between Premiere Pro CC and SpeedGrade CC; a streamlined editing environment in Premiere CC; a new mask tracker in After Effects CC; better algorithms for image upscaling; the ability to control multiple instances of effects from the properties of the original effect and more.
Autodesk Smoke 2013
Let’s hear it for a big company that can make a space for itself in a fast changing market. Autodesk Smoke was once a hardware/software package coming in at over $100K. Since 2009 a reconfigured version was offered as standalone software for the Mac. Targeted at mid-sized studios, Smoke then tipped the scales at $15,000. That app, however, targeted middle market studios that shrank steadily even as boutique shops and indie producers proliferated.
Autodesk decided to shake the whole thing up and began a multi-year rebuild. They pruned the app’s learning curve, simplified the UI, and made it more Mac-friendly, even to the point of running well on more modest iMacs and MacBooks. Finally, Autodesk targeted a broader group of professionals with a low-ball $3500 price point.
They did a great job. The response to the open beta was enthusiastic. No wonder. No longer was such a potent app the sole domain of the VFX artist comfortable with an arcane node interface. The interface was simple for anyone experienced with one of the traditional NLEs, with operations like color grading simply a matter of switching to a new mode – you’re returned to that same timeline when done. Right clicking for access to modal menus is also a carry-over from the standard Mac interface.
The node approach of Connect FX (brought over from the top-of-the-line Flame) enables the more intensive visual effects work of building a composite or pulling a green screen key.
Smoke 2013 integrates well with groups editing with Avid Media Composer, Apple Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere Pro CC too.
Avid Pro Tools 11
Avid shipped Pro Tools 11 this year, and it was some job, by all accounts, since it involved porting decades of legacy 32-bit code to the new 64-bit architecture. At the same time, the Tewksbury, Mass.-based company had to integrate its new AAX plugin architecture, which supports 64-bit processing. Kudos to Avid, whose up-and-down financial reality hasn’t made this any easier.
But it was worth all the effort. This venerable program continues as the leading digital audio software, used every day to produce music, film scores and oodles of post-production sound. Some of Version 11’s other notable features include offline bouncing and an all-new Avid Audio Engine, offers greatly increasing processing power while intelligently tracking what is going on in a session moment-by-moment and releases or uses system resources as necessary. There is also a host of new interface enhancements. To read my full review of Pro Tools 11 which I wrote for CineMontage Magazine, see https://www.editorsguild.com/Magazine.cfm?ArticleID=1253
Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve 10
This major update adds a lot of crucial features – and one surprising one – that make for an even more impressive product. That surprising new feature is non-linear editing functionality. It’s not clear if Blackmagic is positioning the app to become a serious competitor to the other established NLEs. However, for those who spend most of their time color grading, the thought that you don’t need to leave the program to put together dailies reels or rough cuts is a real plus.
Another top point: Support comes for the OpenFX plugin architecture. That’s important since industry standard plugins such as GenArt’s Sapphire use this open source API. Other new things we like include unlimited Power Windows per node; expanded XML and AAF round-trip support; displaying of multiple grades so comparison among them is easier; and easyDCP integration (license needed) for DCP delivery, enabling you to output JPEG 2000 files for direct theater projection.
Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera
Blackmagic Design has taken the video production universe by storm with its forward-looking approach to postproduction gear (i.e. use the latest off-the-shelf technology to save costs and pair it with an Apple-style design sense) and shaking up the camera market with its Cinema Camera, which delivers true cinematic quality in 2.5K-resolution at reasonable prices.
Blackmagic unveiled both the Cinema Camera and the Pocket Cinema Camera at NAB 2013. (The Blackmagic Production Camera 4K, also introduced at the show, wasn’t shipping at press time, or it would have made the list too.)
The Cinema Camera and Pocket Cinema Camera use a Micro Four Thirds sensor, similar to that of a classic Super 16mm camera. The Pocket delivers 13 stops of dynamic range, and can record to a log format (at 1080p), which gives you a tremendous amount of latitude during color grading. Lenses are interchangeable, and the active lens mount on the Pocket delivers camera metadata that can be useful in postproduction.
What’s unique about the Pocket Cinema Camera is its size. Fitted with a small prime lens like the 20mm Panasonic LUMIX Pancake, its slim, lightweight form fits in your pocket, so you’ll want to take it with you. A recent software upgrade delivers even more flexibility by enabling CinemaDNG RAW recording for the most flexibility in post. You’ll want to use your free copy of DaVinci Resolve to grade this.
I recently had the chance to review this fun to use camera, which can deliver a real cinematic feel for not a lot of money. Watch this video review I put together. (Full disclosure: NYCPPNEWS receives advertising money from Blackmagic Design. The camera used for this review was a loaner model that we returned.)
I consider HP’s production-worthy workstations as leading the pack for anyone working on Windows or Linux. This past fall didn’t disappoint as HP kept up their pace of introducing innovative, hard-working gear by emphasizing a new series of powerful laptops.
I was impressed with these sleek new ZBooks. This line of powerful mobile workstations is thinner and lighter than the HP EliteBook series it replaces, or for that matter any laptop the company has done before.
The ZBook 17 (you get it – it sports a 17-in. diameter screen) has capacity for four internal drives, which can be RAID’d if you like. Both the 17 and Zbook 15 can be had with a DreamColor IPS panel — great for color critical work as there is nothing so capable. These two also offer a standard Thunderbolt port.
The ZBook 14 is real slick; it’s remarkably thin, light, and powerful, enough so that HP calls it the first workstation Ultrabook. Like its brethren, it features the latest Intel Haswell processors, which employ the smallest 22nm circuitry for speed and power-saving benefits. You can get Nvidia’s Keplar-based pro graphics in the two larger models, with an AMD card another option in all three. The HP ZBook 15 includes an option for a super-high-resolution QHD+ (3,200 x 1,800 pixel) display with loads of extra detail for anyone who requires extreme image accuracy
To show how rooted HP is in the engineering legacy of its line of Z-series workstations, all laptops feature a tool-free chassis for easy upgrades and serviceability. Maybe that’s not a big deal in the whole world of production, but to me it shows that HP takes care of all the details on gear you will rely upon. That feels good.
Maxon CINEMA 4D R15
I became a CINEMA 4D (C4D ) user because I found the app to be a powerful, fully featured 3D solution that can handle basically every project I throw at it. At the same time, I think it has one of the most elegant and intuitive user interfaces around.
This year not only saw the introduction of Cineware — a tremendously useful direct pipeline between C4D and Adobe After Effects — but the release of R15. This fifteenth version of the fully featured 3D modeling and animation app contains useful new features such as advanced typographical controls (kerning, tracking and leading); Team Render, a handy new network rendering solution; improved rendering with new irradiance caching and light mapping; new world class beveling features; improved sculpting; and a handy new texture manager, which lets you keep track of all the textures in your scene.
(Full disclosure: I often demo and represent the software for Maxon at trade shows and other events.)
Magic Lantern software
The Magic Lantern team offers a unique approach compared to any of the others here: without that company’s permission, they open Canon DSLRs to new capabilities. ML also uniquely don’t make money from this effort, to do it out of the challenge of hacking Canon gear for the betterment of all. (ML doesn’t actually make any changes to the camera’s firmware; the software boots each time the camera is turned on.)
The 5D Mark III and EOS 7D are the main targets for this effort. This year for the first time RAW video recording has been enabled on the 5D. Dynamic range has also been boosted by an astounding three stops via some different method of sampling the chip’s sensor readout.
With the full-frame sensor on the 5D Mark III and its whole lineup of Canon lenses available, many had already used it for B camera duties. Now, with Magic Lantern delivering a whole new range of light-gathering ability as well as RAW recording, Canon has a new video camera in its line-up, like it or not.
Metabones Speed Booster
Two small companies working together — camera accessory manufacturer Metabones and optics company Caldwell Photographics — are radically transforming cameras via their odd sounding device, the Metabones Speed Booster.
It looks like a lens adapter for mounting SLR lenses on APS-C and Micro Four Thirds mirrorless cameras, which it is. But it also contains optics that reduce the focal length of attached lenses by a factor of 0.71x and increases the maximum aperture by 1 stop. (The Metabones Speed Booster doesn’t increase the focal length and reduce the aperture as you would find by connecting a teleconverter adapter, but it decreases the focal length and increases the aperture.)
That’s kinda like magic.
More magic comes out with recently released adapters for two of the Blackmagic cameras. One adapter is for the Cinema Camera. Using the new 0.64x Speed Booster reduces the camera’s full-frame crop factor from 2.39x to 1.53x., which opens up a whole range of lenses. (A lower crop factor means that previously when you attached a lens you would have had to live with the fact that it was moving towards the telephoto end by a factor of 2.39x; a 50mm lens would in reality look to the camera like a 119.5mm telephoto. Now the Cinema Camera “sees” that same lens as a 76.5mm one, which is a more useful focal length.)
The second aspect of the Metabones adapter’s technical finesse is that the speed of a lens attached to the Cinema Camera with the mount has its light gathering power increased by 1 1/3 stops, with a maximum output aperture of f/0.80. Wow. That means an f/1.8 lens becomes nearly as fast as an f/1.0, which would be prohibitively expensive without the use of the adapter.)
The second 0.58x Speed Booster reduces the crop factor of a lens attached to the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera from 2.88x to 1.75x, with an extraordinary f/0.74 the maximum output aperture you can wring from an attached lens. For example, on the Pocket Cinema Camera a standard 50mm f/1.2 now becomes a 29mm f/0.74. A good, reasonably priced zoom, the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8, becomes an astonishing 10.5-20.3mm f/1.0 zoom.
Either of Sony’s PMW-F55 and PMW-F5 CineAlta 4K cameras, introduced at NAB 2013, would have been good to write up here. But I chose the full frame sensor A7r DSLR since I wanted to emphasize how Sony has been on a tear to put great tech into its full range of pro cameras. (Sony also released a less expensive A7, but the 7r better suits our ‘best of’ slant in this article.)
Canon and Nikon have serious competition in the new Sony A7R, which lists for $2300 (body only), less than either of the other manufacturers full frame cameras. What’s unique – so far anyway – is its mirrorless mount, which makes for much smaller, full-featured camera that can take any number of lenses via the right adapter.
The A7r’s high resolving power (36 megap ixels) is more like what a medium format camera delivers. Two new top-notch ‘FE-series’ prime lenses released with the camera also show that Sony is starting to deliver top quality glass too.
HD video recording – what we’re interested in here – records at 1080/60p, 24p and manual exposure control. You also get uncompressed HDMI output so you can attach a third-party recorder; headphone and mic ports; audio meter; zebra pattern; and XLR support via an optional adapter)
The latest Bionz X processor adds more processing power, making for more subtle sharpening – I know, we don’t like sharpening, but this supposedly pulls the edging effect back – and ‘Diffraction Reduction’ which is said to correct for image softness as the lens aperture is closed down.
One drawback: the A7r uses AVCHD 2.0 to compress stills and video, so recording via an outboard device using the HDMI port is the way to go for top quality. For that, consider the new Atomos Samurai Blade monitor and recorder. The Samurai can record to 2.5-in. hard drives, and also features S-Log recording, along with a waveform monitor and vectorscope. While some might complain that this is just bulking up a small DSLR wonder, both camera and recorder together are still much smaller than most anything available.