December 31st, 2010

Quick Thoughts On 2010 And The Inevitable Top Ten List

Posted By Neil Matsumoto

The Canon 5D Mark II continues its reign as the camera of choice for indie filmmakers

Happy New Year!

2010 will go down as a landmark year for further leveling the playing field between studio and independent filmmakers. Like in ’09, 2010 was again dominated by HD DSLRs. Although the Canon 5D Mark II made its debut back in ’08, it still continues to transform the production industry in new and exciting ways and is now the camera of choice for most indie filmmakers. Even on the pro-level, HD DSLRs have shot major TV spots, music videos, network shows and feature films with A-list talent. With the rumors of a possible 5D Mark III soon to be announced in 2011, I don’t expect the HD DSLR revolution to die down.

Sony's upcoming PMW-F3 will try to take some of the 5D Mark II's market share

Because of the proliferation of HD DSLRs on the market, 2010 also marked the year that the camcorder empire struck back. With the numerous workarounds a filmmaker needs to learn working with HD DSLRs–which includes the lack of professional sound, monitoring, outputs, waveforms, vectorforms, etc.–the camcorder industry announced a few models containing large sensors that can capture cinematic shallow depth of field while still having all the benefits of a video camera. Panasonic just released the AG-AF100, a compact camcorder that contains a micro 4/3s sensor and Sony announced the PMW-F3, a Super 35mm sized sensor inside a compact body that allows you to mount professional cinema lenses. The AF100 has an excellent price point ($4,795), which is close to an outfitted HD DSLR but the F3’s price at $16K puts it somewhere between an HD DSLR and a RED ONE, making it more of a rental camera. I can see the F3 being a great B-camera for big budget F35 productions.

Peter Jackson tests out the new RED EPIC for pre-production on The Hobbit

Always a newsmaker, RED continued with their implementation of their Mysterium X sensor, which is a sensor upgrade to the RED ONE camera. With the MX,  a shooter can capture  4K footage in low light environments since the sensor is rated at 800ASA. We saw director David Fincher use the MX RED ONE to great effect for his work on The Social Network, which incidentally was one of my favorite films of 2010. Peter Jackson just announced he will be using 30 RED EPICs in 3D rigs for two film adaptations of The Hobbit. As long as the specs don’t change (like the usual RED release), the EPIC will be a monster for professional filmmaking. The camera is is 1/3 the size of the RED ONE, contains a 5K Mysterium-X sensor, can capture up to 120 frames per second, and contains their newly developed HDRx, which has an extended dynamic range of up to 18 stops. I think it’s a good move that RED is focusing on the professional filmmaking space rather than the prosumer space since they would never be able to compete with Canon or Sony.

Here is a quick top ten list of my favorite tools released this year.

My pick for product of the year--the ARRI ALEXA

1. ARRI ALEXA – Perhaps the best camera manufacturer in the business of cinematography, ARRI has created a new digital system to compete with the RED ONE and RED EPIC. The ALEXA offers 13-1/2 stops of latitude, 800 ASA sensitivity, the ability to record Apple ProRes files for instant editing and much more. What’s also great about the ALEXA system is that when new technology emerges, you’ll be able to upgrade your camera in terms of adding recording drives, new sensors, lens mounts, etc.. Unlike Canon, who can release a new HD DSLR every year, a professional camera system tends to be released every three years, so a modular system like the ALEXA makes perfect sense.

2. Sony SRW-9000PL – SR – the next generation! An upgrade from the B4 mounted SRW-9000, the 9000PL has the same sensor and recording capability as the super F35, but is much lighter, uses less power and is significantly cheaper. This year we’re also going to see the new SR 1TB memory card that captures 5-Gb/s (that’s science fiction speed). This is a super all purpose camera that can easily capture any project.

The inner workings of a Zeiss CP.2 lens

3. Zeiss CP.2 lenses – Zeiss saw the power of the HD DSLR movement and knew professional cinematographers would be looking for more advanced lens features for pulling focus, which is the achilles heel for DSLR lenses. Zeiss is also offering a new micro 4/3s compact prime, which I’m sure we’ll be seeing on the front end of nearly every Panasonic AF100 camcorder.

4. iDC System Zero – I’m quite fond of gear that is priced in line of the equipment it’s serving. Instead of having a multitude of gears, rods and screws, the iDC System Zero is both easy to use and easy to set up and is a fraction of the cost of most follow focus systems. The days of paying more for a camera accessory than your actual camera are behind us.

5. Adobe CS5 – Let’s face it. Apple sells more iPhones and iPads than Final Cut Studio packages in the amount of time it takes to write this sentence. This year, Adobe and Avid attempt to capture some of Apple’s share of the indie market. Adobe’s CS5 Production premium is a huge jump for both the indie filmmaker and a post production studio. What I like most about the new Premiere Pro is that it lets you edit natively in H.264, unlike the tedious process of transcoding in Final Cut Pro.

Litepanels' Sola6 Fresnel is a cool new instrument

6. Litepanels Sola6 Fresnel – Good cinematography is about shaping light, not flooding your set with flat lighting like a TMZ cameraman. Offering beam control of 70˚ to 10˚, the daylight-balanced Solas provide the the same sort of control you can get in a Fresnel light, and accepts traditional cinematography lighting accessories like barn doors. What separates the light from tradition Fresnels is that the Sola6 draws only 75 watts, yet produces output equivalent to a 650-watt tungsten unit, draws little heat and weighs only six pounds.

7. Singular Software PluralEyes -This breakthrough software automatically synchronizes audio and video clips without the need for timecode, clappers or other processes even with multicamera video, including 3D. Works great for HD DSLR filmmakers shooting double system sound, as well as filmmakers using a multitude of cameras.

8. Panasonic AG-3DA1 –  James Cameron probably won’t be creating Avatar 2 with the 3DA1 but I’ll bet a lot of indie filmmakers will be using Panasonic’s new single body, twin lens 3D camcorder–the first of it’s kind–for their unique 3D productions. With 3D cable channels from Discovery, ESPN and more, the 3DA1 will definitely be the go-to camera for new opportunities in low budget, run-and-gun 3D TV.

9. Matrox MXO2 With MAX Technology – Professional HD studio monitors used in postproduction can run anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 on the low end to nearly $20,000 on the high end. The Matrox MXO2 is a powerful device that gives an editor or a colorist multiple features, and can turn an HDMI-enabled HDTV screen into a professional-grade video monitor with color-calibration tools, including blue-only. With MAX technology, you can deliver H.264 up to 500% faster without giving up quality.

Leica Summilux C- Prime lenses - The new gold standard?

10. Leica Summilux C- Prime lenses – For you camera snobs out there, Leica is getting into the cinema business by releasing an impressive set of prime lenses designed by Iain Neil, the principal optical designer of the Panavision Primo lenses, perhaps the finest lenses ever. In development for over three years, the 1.4 close focus primes utilize a unique multi-aspheric design and high-precision cine-lens mechanics to provide unmatched, flat-field illumination across the entire 35mm frame, as well as suppression of color fringing in the farthest corners of the frame with no discernable breathing. I’m very excited to see the images these lenses will deliver!

With all this new groundbreaking gear–much of it priced for the indie filmmaker–a filmmaker can create a look with a camera that costs less than $2,000 that can almost compete with the studios. Now, more than ever, there is no excuse not to make your movie in 2011.

So what are you waiting for?

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