Monday, November 2, 2009

IBC Fin-al-ly

Ok, so I've eventually got around to putting up some pics and info from the IBC  broadcast show in Amsterdam. It's a long enough piece, so click 'read more' to check it out.

This was my first time at IBC, a massive conference for all things related to production and broadcast. When I say massive, I mean it. There's about four or five halls, varying in size. The largest are on a similar scale to a football pitch. There are thousands of exhibitors, ranging in scale from the large scale, well known names in technology, to the minor start ups attempting to catch an investor's eye.

The big companies go all out to attract people to their stands. Futuristic displays, fancy architecture. Free sweets and pens. Some offer tutorials on their products. Some go for gimmicky toys, such as this robotic dog. Actually, the robotic dog was fairly cool.

Anyway, basically it's a massive show, with lots of stuff that didn't interesting me at all, but plenty of things to keep me occupied all the same.

So, I'll give a roundup of what I saw, divided into a few different sections -

Lots of cameras there, as you can imagine. I had my sights set on a glimpse of the Epic prototype, which was supposedly wandering the floor, cradled by Red founder Jim Jannard. Despite rushing out there on the Satruday, and spending hours trawling the various massive conference halls, I never got to see it. Frustrating, but there was plenty more to see.

One section had a round-up of the top digital cameras available, all trained on a bizarre stage that featured a train set, some women on exercise bikes, and a caricature artist. You could train the camera of your choice on the subject of your choice and get a decent superficial overview of the various images.

Here I am checking out the capabilities of an unidentified camera :)

The usual suspects were there. Red, Genesis, D21, Viper and F35 as well as prosumer models from Panasonic and Canon. The top of the range cameras all looked good - and similar- to me, except for the Viper, which has noticeably greater depth of field, due to its 2/3" sensor. This lends it a less cinematic look than its full sensored rivals, although the camera produce beautiful images in the right hands (think Zodiac, shot by Harris Savides). I guess the lesson there is that shallow DoF is more immediately attractive, but not necessarily more cinematic in the long run. Although personally, I'd rather have the option of shallow DoF and just stop down should I need that extra depth.

From top to to bottom - The elegant looking new 4k camera from JVC (Aimed at the broadcast market, I think), looking through the Sony F35, and the rather impressive Arri D-21- check out the lens on that bad boy.

Anyway, they all looked good, although in terms of ergonomics they were equally large and heavy. I think the next battle (the results of which I expect we'll see by the start of next year) is to combine the image quality of these cameras with the portability and ergonomics of something like an Aaton or a 235. It's like the historical advancements in film cameras, only this time I reckon it's going to happen a lot quicker.

One of the reasons they need to be smaller is to reduce the size of 3d rigs. 3D was omnipresent at IBC this year. From camera rigs to displays and broadcast, it was definitely a running theme. In terms of 3D camera rigs, there were a few on offer. The all seem incredibly bulky - a big step back in terms of ergonomics I think - with exception of the smaller 'parallel' rigs (which I'm pretty sure are not as effective as their larger 'beamsplitter' cousins). My favourite rig in terms of style was the Element Technica One:

But, yeah, as you can see, it's not the most portable device in the world. The 3D images on their showreel were also the best I saw at the show. Overall the quality of 3D varied from pretty good to very poor - the poorest being the 'non-glasses' 3D, which just looked fuzzy and cheap. I caught a glimpse of Sky's 3D format - due to be released next year. It was fine. Not as clear as the ET stuff, but still quite 3D. I think it should work best for live sports and musi, if sports fans can be convinced to wear the specs.

I did attend a special seminar on 3D, where they showed live footage, and the effect of adjusting the inter-ocular convergence (!) amongst other things. Basically what that told me is that it's pretty damn complicated to shoot 3d properly, and that you run into a lot of problems if you don't do it properly (headaches mainly). I think for the time being it's too restrictive to catch on completely, both in the production and display end of things. 3D animation is undoubtedly going to be almost entirely 3D from here on in, but live action has a long way to go. Sports and music - we'll see next year. It is pretty impressive that they can now stream live 3D - it could result in cinemas reinventing themselves to attract the sporting crowd. Or perhaps pubs will have special screening rooms? Who knows.

What I actually found to be more impressive than 3D was this:

It's an ASTRO 4K display - that's 4 times the resolution of regular HD. I've been shooting 4k (actually closer to 3.5k, technically, I think) footage on my Red for the past year, but the best monitor I've seen it on is my Apple Cinema Display. It was literally an eye-opener to see 4k footage on a 4k screen. Much sharper than any 3d material, and without the ugly artificial sharpening on most current television displays, this was really impressive and hopefully will become standard withing the next five years. For the moment, the price must be astro-nomical - that's if it's even for sale.

On a side note, at the same exhibit I got the chance to watch myself in 3d:

You've got to love the sign on top of the monitor. All that technology, and a little hand drawn sign. It wasn't even in 3d :)

Some of the most fun gadgets were from the grip department. I wont write about them, as they are pretty self-explanetory....

Not a huge amount in the way of lighting. All the big companies were there, and there were lamps of various shapes and sizes. As expected, LEDs were out in force. The LitePanel team had a couple of pretty cool lamps - one that can be dialed between tungsten and daylight and another flat panel that you could vary the angle of the light (so for example in a tight space you could rig it to a ceiling and create a 3/4s light rather than just toplight.)

The only picture of a light I took was this Joker, which I liked the look of because it looked powerful runs on batteries:

Camera Tests
Finally, I also attended a screening of both the BSC and ASC camera comparison tests, which showed footage from all the high end cameras in succession and also in split screen. It was great to see it there, not only because it was projected on a 2k projector, but also because there was a live commentary from both societies during their respective showreels.

It was also interesting because both teams approached the test differently. The BSC presented the camera footage raw and ungraded, whilst the ASC graded their footage as closely as possible to the 'film look'. I wont go through everything, partially because I can't recall the details, but I do remember my overall opinions, having seen both tests.

First off, out of all the digital cameras, the Genesis and D-21 were the best. I think the only reason for their superiority was their dynamic range. The Sony F-35 and Red followed closely behind - very closely, in most cases, with both cameras suffering only in the highlights. Second, I should stress that the differences between the Genesis/D-21 and the 35mm film were imperceptible. That's right. They looked exactly the same, and remember that this is at 2k resolution - not quite the highest quality available, but the current and near-future leader in digital cinema. Both tests ran a series of scenes that challenged the cameras in terms of dynamic range, movement and sensitivity and although you could at times tell the difference in the ungraded BSC tests, with the graded footage there was no perceptible difference between high end digital and film.

The Red was doing well until the low light, high contrast scene (lit entirely with a bare bulb). Here it lost the highlights completely. Although there has been some consternation about this since (with some arguing that it was exposed incorrectly), in the end of the day it just doesn't have quite the same dynamic range as it's grossly more expensive contemporaries. It's a problem that Red are willing to accept, and looks like they are willing to solve - the Epic will supposedly have the extra couple of stops to bring it to the level of Genesis/D-21. If they succeed with this, they will truly have achieved something extra-special, as they will equal the quality of film for a fraction of the price of their established rivals.

Next point - 16mm looked really grainy and very soft in comparison to the other formats. I love 16mm as a format, and over the last couple of years I have seen some great stuff shot on it (Barry Akroyd's photography on Hurt Locker and Rob Hardy's on Red Riding:1974 are two that come to mind). But up there, in 2K, the quality of the 16mm stock was hugely noticeable. It's important to note that only the ungraded, BSC tests showed 16mm footage, so we can assume that a lot of the grain would be reduced in the grade. But even still, it was funny to see how archaic the footage looked when compared to the latest digital cameras and 35mm stock. I suppose it's like lining up Super8 footage next to 16.

Third point, both the SI-2k and the Canon 5d were used in the BSC tests, and both showed up poorly. There was suggestion that the footage had been processed improperly, but I do think the difference is noticeable - think the slum chase scenes in Slumdog Millionaire - looked great, but there was a big quality difference between them and the 35mm footage. The 5d just didn't hold up, and I think it's a question of compression as much as processing. There is some really beautiful 5d footage out there, but I reserve judgment before seeing it in a 2k projection.

 In terms of discussion, a lot of it was directed towards defending particular cameras (there were obviously company representatives in the audience). The most agreed and salient point was the need for a standardized post processing path - it was apparent that it was at this stage that the digital footage became truly filmic, and with a gowing range of options and algorithms, it is important that a simple standard system be devised and agreed upon, so that the DoP/Director/Producer can confidently assume that what they shot will turn out as intended, once the film moves into post.

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