Best of NAB 2012: Professional Gear for Every Producer

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) had its annual convention in Las Vegas this April. NAB is the world’s largest electronic media event, with more than 92,000 attendees and 1,600 journalists from around the world searching for the latest information on media technology and products from 1,600 exhibitors from 151 countries. To put it mildly, it was huge!

Since the democratization of video production, in which nearly everyone has access to affordable video production tools, the NAB Show has become the venue to experience emerging products and technologies that will affect and improve your video production world.

A team of your Videomaker editors and contributing writers spread out across the massive venue of the Las Vegas Convention Center, the main site for the event which netted 815,000 square feet of exhibit space. We collectively scoured the “miles of aisles” to discover the hottest products that you should be most interested in.

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This Best of NAB report will be broken down into three main categories – video acquisition, audio acquisition, and post-production. Video acquisition: camcorders, DSLRs, and accessories such as external recorders, tripods, teleprompters, and lighting gear. Audio acquisition: external microphones and their systems. Post-production: Video editing and visual effects systems.

Video Acquisition

It all starts with your camcorder, and there were plenty of new HD camcorder models on exhibit, but there were also DSLR camera companies showing exciting new models that shoot video with interchangeable lenses – some with the newest 4K video resolution.

Sony’s HXR-NX30U ($2,500) is a handheld AVCHD camcorder with an integrated Zeiss 10x zoom lens that can shoot up to 1080, 60p format video on its internal 96GB memory (40 hours), or on SD memory cards. Important features include a built-in 100-inch video projector, Balanced Optical SteadyShot image stabilization, manual XLR audio, and great low-light sensitivity from the 1/2.88-inch Exmor R CMOS sensor.

Sony’s NEX-FS700 is an amazing high speed video camcorder that offers 120/240/480 or 960 frames per second for a variety of slow-motion playback speeds, interchangeable E-mount lenses for cinema-like depth of field, and a professional HD-SDI digital video output port which can be connected to an external recorder. The FS700 should be available in June with pricing scheduled to be less than $10,000. pro.sony.com.

JVC unveiled two ProHD camcorders – the GY-HM600 ($4,700) and GY-HM650 ($5,700.) The HM600 offers a couple key video recording formats MP4 and MOV) at 1920×1080. Video is recorded on SD cards. The Pre Rec feature automatically stores five seconds of video previous to the actual record start time, great for catching those spontaneous events that started before you were ready. The HM600 also boasts three 1/3-inch CMOS sensors and a 23x Fujinon (29-667mm) zoom lens. The HM650 big brother is designed for remote and Internet broadcast uploading by offering not only full HD (1920×1080) resolution, but also 1/4 resolution for wireless broadcast via a built-in FTP and Wi-Fi feature. Each camcorder also has a 1.2 million pixel color viewfinder, a 3.5-inch LCD color monitor, and pair of XLR microphone audio inputs.

JVC’s GY-HMQ10 ($5,550) is the world’s first 4K handheld camcorder available to pro shooters. 4K recordings up to two hours can be made using 4 – 32GB SD memory cards. www.pro.jvc.com.

Panasonic demonstrated first time upgrades to its venerable AG-AC130 and AC160 AVCCAM camcorders with the new designation – AC130A ($5,000) and AC160A ($5,100). Owners of the AC130 and AC160 can upgrade the firmware for $300. Features in the “A” upgrade include expanded focus assist, and turbo speed one-push auto focus. The AG-160/130 camcorders use 1/3-inch 3MOS sensors, a wide integrated 22x zoom, and two SD memory card slots for relay or simultaneous recording. The AC160A also offers 1080, 60p, as well as 30 and 24p. www.panasonic.com.

DSLRs and a Dark Horse – Digital Cinema Camera

DSLRs that can record HD video are the hottest buzz on the video block. That’s because of their interchangeable lenses which give videographers the true cinematic depth-of-field effects from prime”fast” lenses.

Nikon showed off its recently introduced D800 that we reviewed in the June 2012 issue: www.videomaker.com/article/15632. The D800 (body only, $3,000) is packed with video features: HDMI uncompressed output (12 or 14-bit) which can be recorded on external portable recorders, 1080, 30p/24p or 720, 24p/30p/60p, an external microphone input and audio monitoring at 20 levels of manual adjustment. www.nikonusa.com.

The Canon EOS 5D Mark III (body only, $3,500) is the update to the well-loved 5D Mark II, the DSLR that set the video production world on fire. Improved features in the Mark III model include a 22MP full-frame CMOS sensor, 1080, 30p/25p/24p resolution, a boosted 61-point auto focus, high dynamic range, and better weatherproofing.

At the high end of Canon’s DSLRs we have the EOS-1D C ($15,000), and EOS C500 (about $30,000.) While these prices are probably way beyond the reach of typical Videomaker readers, they do point to the next big trend coming – 4K resolution video recording for camcorders and DSLRs. As a 4K camera, the EOS-1D C is one of the smallest and can shoot video at 60p/24p. Numerous Canon EF mount lenses are available for the EOS-1D C. The EOS C500 bumps it up a big notch with uncompressed HD-SDI output (for external recorders.) www.usa.canon.com.

Blackmagic Design is renowned for a variety of accessories for your digital video production needs. One of their products that got a lot of interest was the Blackmagic Cinema Camera with 2.5K resolution (2432×1366) which records in uncompressed video file formats on a solid state drive (SSD). Three video formats are available for recording: CinemaDNG RAW, DNxHD (for Avid), and ProRes (for Final Cut Pro) for direct use by your video editing application. Almost buttonless, the 5-inch touch LCD screen is your main interface. The Blackmagic Cinema Camera uses Canon EF or Zeiss ZE interchangeable lenses, with 13 stops of dynamic range and 12-bit RAW image capture. At $3000, the Blackmagic Cinema Camera would appear to be a strong competitor for those who want to get into digital cinema production but can’t afford the entry fee of a RED system, or some of the other DSLR solutions. Blackmagic’s Cinema Camera should be available later this year. www.blackmagic-design.com.

GoPro’s HD Hero2 miniature HD camcorder ($300 in three editions) for extreme sports tantalized the crowd with grand POV shows on big screens. The amazing thing to us is that GoPro had such a big presence at NAB. We suspect this is because the Hero2 is becoming accepted as a “disposable camera” that can be depended on for great image quality, even if the camera must take on the most dangerous situations due to the nature of the shoot. An added bonus: two of these cameras can be interlocked for capturing 3D stereoscopic video. www.gopro.com.


Video Acquisition Accessories

An external digital video recorder relieves your camcorder from being the only place your digital video is stored, which is a good thing. It’s also the best way to capture video in a compatible format for your video editing system. Two of the best companies offering field recorders are AJA and Atomos.

AJA caught our attention with two models – the Ki Pro ($4,000) and Ki Pro Mini ($2,000). Each model has HD-SDI or HDMI inputs, along with XLR audio. The Ki Pro records to SSD or HDD/250GB, while the Ki Pro Mini records to select 32GB+ CF cards. Video is encoded in the ProRes format. The Mini weighs in at 1.2lbs, while the Pro is 7lbs. Looking to the future, their Ki Pro Quad has 4K recording capability for the next generation of cameras. It’s scheduled to be available later this year, for $4,000. www.aja.com.

Certainly the coolest and most affordable field recorder is Atomos’ second generation Ninja, the Ninja 2 ($995) – a tiny 13oz. recorder that has many of its features derived from real world extreme conditions, such as filmmaker James Cameron’s recent 6.8-mile dive into the Mariana Trench using the rugged Ninja 2’s close relative, Samurai. The Ninja 2 is a portable touchscreen 10-bit HD video recorder, audio monitor, and playback device. It accepts HDMI from HD camcorders and real-time encodes into the Apple ProRes format. Storage is on 2.5-inch HDD or SSD drives, and with 1TB HDDs, one can record from 10-22 hours, depending on the quality setting. Rechargeable battery packs, and a sturdy carrying case round out the package. www.atomos.com.

Tripod systems from several manufacturers were also on display. The Tiffen/Davis and Sanford line of tripods, and from the Vitec Group, the Vinten and Sachtler brands were all showing new models that work perfectly with the next generation of smaller camcorders and DSLRs. Vinten presented its Vision blue5 ($2,025) for cams weighing 12-26lbs. www.vinten.com, and Sachtler revealed its Ace tripod system ($615) for cams up to 8lbs. www.sachtler.com.

>Davis and Sanford previewed its ProElite PE5075-15 ($700) for cams 2-15lbs., complete with two stage crutch legs and an adjustable ground spreader. www.tiffen.com.

But if you are walking around with your camcorder or camera, you will need a handheld stabilization system. And one of the most popular is Tiffen Steadicam Merlin 2 ($850.) It’s designed for a wide variety of smaller camcorders. We even saw it stabilizing the third generation iPad, with its built-in 1080p video camera. But even hand-holding the Merlin 2 with a camcorder will eventually wear your arms out, so the Steadicam Merlin Arm and Vest ($1,600) can take that strain off. www.tiffen.com.

Manfrotto revealed its Sympla system to assist in hand-held shooting with smaller cameras and DSLRs. The Shoulder Support System ($1,150) puts everything on your shoulder, with easy-to-use swivel joint handles to aid in control. The Flexible Mattebox ($1,150) holds 4×4-inch filters in front of the lens for cinematic effects or depth of field control. The Long Lens Support ($1,050) is custom designed to reduce vibrations so common with long focal length lenses. www.manfrotto.com.

Redrock Micro is a leader in rigs for DSLRs. They have a wide variety of rigs that work with the most popular DSLRS, including the Canon 5D Mark II/III as well as Nikon’s D800. Handheld rig models range from less than $500 to about $1,500, and shoulder mounted rigs from $770 to $1,300, depending on the model. Also available are micro FollowFocus modules (from $640) that are used to achieve precision focus on many DSLRs. www.redrockmicro.com.

For on-camera talent, nothing beats a teleprompter. The next generation of teleprompters from Tiffen/Listec use Android based smartphones or Apple iPhones to create the scrolling text and reflect it up into the camera lens. Listec’s PromptWare PW-04 all-in-one kit ($319) contains a 4-inch screen, prompting software, keyboard wireless controller and the necessary adapters to connect to your camcorder lens. www.listec.com.

A good lighting system is vital to high quality video production. The Litepanels system from Vitec uses the next generation of LED-based lighting panels that are cool to the touch and very energy efficient. Lightpanels latest Inca 4 and Inca 6 focusing Fresnel lights are the same color balance as tungsten-halogen lamps studio lights, yet they consume nearly 90 percent less electricity. They might seem expensive at $1500 and $2900 respectively, but they should pay for themselves in energy saved within 3 years. www.litepanels.com.

Audio Acquisition

Audio is often an afterthought in video production, but what elements are more important than good clean audio? The microphone is built into your camcorder is good in a pinch, but you should always aim for using a quality external mic. Each of the camcorders and DSLR cameras we found on display had provisions for an external mic for the great audio quality. One company showing excellent quality mics was Marshall Electronics.

The Marshall Electronics MXL FR-310 hot shoe shotgun mic is a compact 5-inch super cardioid directional microphone that sits atop your cameras hot shoe mount. It features a three-position gain switch, an integrated foam windscreen, high-pass filter, and one AAA battery for 500 hours of use. It comes complete with a rugged flight case and is very affordable at $130. www.mars-cam.com.

Audio Technica has a wide variety of external wired mics in omnidirectional, cardioid, or super cardioid (super directional), and wireless microphones that are in wide use by the ENG/video production industry. Check out their website for all they have to offer. www.audio-technica.com.

Sennheiser wowed attendees with their ENG wireless microphone kit, the Evolution G3 (about $600). It’s a small two part wireless transmitter/receiver that is perfect for shooting location videos, documentaries, weddings, etc. The sound quality is clear and free from the wireless “noise” that plague so many other lesser quality wireless microphone systems. www.sennheiser.com.

Post-Production

Adobe presented its brand new CS6 Production Premium bundle. Key programs in the suite include adobe Premiere Pro CS6 (video editing), Photoshop CS6 Extended, Prelude CS6 (logging and capture), Adobe Audition CS6 (audio editing), and Encore CS6 (authoring.) A tempting new feature is the suite’s integration with Adobe Creative Cloud storage service. With numerous features including an entirely new visual interface for Premiere Pro, the CS6 Production Premium is $1900. Current owners of CS5 or CS5.5 Production Premium can get the CS6 upgrade for $750 or $375 respectively. www.adobe.com.

Sony Creative Software’s Vegas Pro 11 has recently been reviewed by Videomaker, and it’s an excellent editing application for Windows users. Two in-development software programs that support Vegas Pro were shown – Spectral Layers, and ThemeBuilder. Spectral Layers (from DIVIDE FRAME) is an audio editing app for Mac/Windows that is frequency spectrum based, rather than based on time, so it offers more in-depth manipulation of the audio spectrum. ThemeBuilder (from NewBlue) is a Vegas Pro plug-in that creates intelligent templates for video projects and automates repetitive editing tasks. Spectral Layers and ThemeBuilder will be out later this year. www.sonycreativesoftware.com.

Animation and visual effects giant Autodesk impressed the NAB crowd with a totally redone hybrid video editing/visual effects package called Smoke 2013. It may sound just like another iteration of the previous Smoke, but it’s radically different in structure, and significantly lower in price – $3,500, down from the steeply priced $15,000 of the previous 2012 version. Smoke 2013 is a Mac application only, and its creators call it a “super app” because its integrated effects are performed right in the editing timeline- no need to take the results from one application to another. Does this mean you’ll say goodbye to Final Cut Pro? Not likely, but it remains to be seen what the impact of this hybrid editing/effects package will have on the Mac community. usa.autodesk.com/smoke.

As always, we find the newest, latest and greatest as soon as it comes down the pike. Watch for reviews of many of these products soon. What’s in store for next year? Affordable 4K? Holographic editing and storage? When the news breaks, we’ll have it for you. ‘Til next year…

Tony Gomez is a veteran producer, editor, videographer, digital photographer, and reviewer of consumer and professional digital imaging and video products, with over 30 years experience.

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.