From the sea of gear, we identify a handful of products deserving of special recognition. Here are this year’s Best of NAB 2015 Award picks.
Most Innovative: Manfrotto Digital Director
Manfrotto wants to do more than provide great camera support, so building upon their tripod remote control technology, they’ve created the Digital Director. This Apple Certified interface allows for supreme camera control via an app, the Digital Director and an iPad. The physical component of Digital Director comes in at $500, is available as of late May/early June, and allows users to adjust focus, exposure, white balance, ISO, shutter speed, aperture, start and stop recording, and more.
Controlling the camera remotely really isn’t new, but the level of integration into the workflow is. From the iPad, video can be immediately edited and distributed. The other aspect of Digital Director that makes shooting easier is a better display. So rather than a small external monitor, or a larger alternative, the Digital Director allows for big time monitoring assistance to move production along more efficiently.
For these reasons, we award Manfrotto’s Digital Director the Most Innovative Product of NAB 2015.
Best Storage: PROMISE Technology Pegasus2 R2+
The Pegasus2 R2+ combines separate Media Pods that can operate individually via USB 3.0. You can also swap between the HDD Pod, SSD Reader Pod, and CF/SD Reader Pods. The Pegasus2 R2+ is designed to bring data together from Thunderbolt-connected devices, Windows computers and through USB 3.0. The hot-swappable 2-bay enclosure gives versatility or added protection by supporting RAID 0 and RAID 1. When you need your video files stored or accessed, Pegasus2 R2+ can keep mirrored copies with RAID 1 or speed up computer processing with RAID 0.
When you’re ready to leave your editing station, grab a Pod and you’ll be able to work elsewhere with the CF/SD Reader. For exceptional versatility and speed, we award the Pegasus2 R2+ the Best Storage Device of NAB 2015.
Best Computer Monitor: Hewlett-Packard Dreamcolor Z32x
HP makes an addition to their DreamColor line with a 31.5-inch 4K display. This time the pixel count is up to eight million. The Z32x is geared for professional work, though it’s the HP Z27x DreamColor that supports professional instruments. If you don’t use extra tools, a well-calibrated monitor will help you edit and touch up videos correctly. Keeping a monitor calibrated can help you be efficient instead of having to go back on a project or clip to fix color that ended up off the mark.
We’ve come to expect specs like 10-bit color, sRGB, BT709 and Adobe RGB. The IPS is a welcome standard, as is 300 nit brightness and 1000:1 contrast ratio. With the Z32x and with any monitor, one area we always look to first is the inputs. Here you’ll find one each of HDMI 2.0, HDMI 1.4, DisplayPort, Mini-DisplayPort, audio port, along with pairs of USB 3.0 ports on the side and rear. We definitely appreciate products that make life better for editors, and a good monitor can do that.
We know editing 4K is becoming a reality for many, so we’re honoring top choices that will make such intensive editing possible and enjoyable. HP makes excellent displays like the Z32x, and starts the line at $600. That’s why we’re pleased to award the HP DreamColor Z32x display our Best Computer Monitor of NAB 2015 award.
Best Light: BBS Lighting Pipeline Reporter Kit
Rethinking the light fixture takes some new fresh ideas, and the Pipeline System is one great result of that from BBS Lighting. These slim lights operate without a fan and are good at rendering 4300K, daylight or tungsten light. A wireless DMX allows control of the lights, and the two-light kit gives a business traveler plenty of light options even in tight areas. With quick set up, the Pipeline System Remote Phosphor LED uses little desk space and keeps the light setup creative and manageable.
Our award for the Pipeline System Remote Phosphor Lights nearly took up more floor space than the kit itself, yet the light from the pair would make many lighting situations smoother with a soft yet bright light. As an effective execution of a portable light kit, BBS Lighting earns our honor of the Best Light of NAB 2015 for the Pipeline System Remote Phosphor Lights.
Best Microphone: Sennheiser AVX
This is a microphone advancement if we ever heard one. Sennheiser wants to make our lives easier with a fully self-configuring mic system, the AVX wireless microphone system. “Thank you” comes to mind with the AVX system. It starts with the receiver, which plugs straight into an XLR socket, activates the phantom power, finds the right frequency with the transmitter, then matches the mic sensitivity to the camera. Then, during the shoot the AVX system will navigate to a clean frequency if any interference shows up, all without an audible difference. Also, the AVX system will shut down to save power if the camera is shut off, then turn on with the camera to help ensure you don’t miss a sound bite. We can’t wait to do in-depth tests on that functionality ourselves. Did we mention that the Li-Ion 3.7-volt battery charges via USB?
The AVX system uses the license-free 1.9GHz range of frequency. Sennheiser has also accounted for DSLR users by including an XLR-3 to mini jack adapter cable with hot shoe mounting options.
The AVX system is available as of May 2015 as individual transmitter/receiver pairs or a combo set. The cost with start around $1,100. We’re pleased to award the Sennheiser AVX our Best Microphone of NAB 2015 award.
Best Follow Focus: Redrock Micro HALO
The Redrock Micro HALO brings technology from space and automatic cars and puts it to use for video production. HALO keeps track of people and things that are in the field of view and lets you choose how much help you want in focusing on individual subjects or objects. HALO shows you your iris, distance to subject and depth of field, so focus pulling is as precise as can be and requires fewer calculations prior to a shot.
For changing the way follow focus can be accomplished, we award the Redrock Micro HALO the Best Follow Focus of NAB 2015.
Best Audio/Video Recorder: Sound Devices PIX-E5
The PIX-E5 brings great technology to the top of a camera. Virtually all you would want from a monitor is here with the PIX-E series, with the PIX-E5 being the smallest. Body aside, the processing power that will allow Apple ProRes 4444 XQ video to be recorded is excellent. This should help preserve the high dynamic range some cameras can achieve. The colors on the 1920 x 1080, 5-inch screen will be accurate and visible in the Sun with brightness of 500 nit.
The 441ppi is a lot to pack into a small device, and you’ll have your hands all over the PIX-E5, touching the combination interface of buttons and touch screen. The touch functions are reserved for features that require specification on the screen, like focus areas. The lineup under PIX Assist is robust and includes features like zebras, waveforms, vectorscopes, histogram and false color. As the for the construction of the PIX-E5, Sound Devices includes Gorilla Glass 2 on a die-cast metal chassis. For these reasons and more, we’ve awarded it Best Audio/Video Recorder of NAB 2015. The PIX-E5 is available via retailers and should cost around $1,400.
Best Reference Monitor: SmallHD 502 and Sidefinder
SmallHD brings along a high resolution EVF with 1366 x 768 display, the Sidefinder. It has an adjustable diopter to match your personal vision as well as a wide and narrow mode. Wide mode can help you feel immersed in your shot, while the narrow mode is for getting detail without straining your eyes. The Sidefinder can be mounted on a NATO rail, 15mm rail, ARRI Rosette or the humble 1/4-inch-20.
The SmallHD 502 is an on-camera monitor with a full 1920 x 1080 LCD display, and it’s shaped like a smartphone. Make no mistake, after attaching Canon LP-E6 batteries, HDMI in, HDMI out and perhaps the Sidefinder, the 502 won’t look at all like a phone. SmallHD is known for making quality monitors and their 3D LUTS are exceptional. The screen comes to 441 pixels per inch, and that’s more than the iPhone 6. The 502 has a 1080p display that uses a joystick for navigation, and 3-second boot up time. At 9oz., you’ll hardly feel the weight of the 502 and with width of ¾-inch, it fits perfectly into the Sidefinder. When the Sidefinder and 502 are being used together, it’ll be a sight to behold as on-camera monitoring takes on a very different look.
For its innovative design and multi-tasking functionality, we recognize the 502 and Sidefinder combo as the Best Reference Monitor of NAB 2015.
Best Camera Support: DJI Ronin-M
Steady your camera with DJI’s floating camera support, the Ronin-M. This miniature version of the high-end Ronin will be welcomed by many, especially at its $1400 price point. With 3-axis stabilizers being well-developed beyond their first generation, you’re probably looking for the Ronin-M to answer trouble spots that came up with previous versions. Maybe the whole rig was too heavy, the motors were too loud, the battery life short, or it was unwieldy to transport.
DJI has responded to pain points such as these with the Ronin-M. The best floating camera shots may use Auto Tune Stability, and the Ronin-M has battery power for up to six hours, which should match many camera batteries. The three orientations make it easy to get a wide range of shots, from straightforward shots in the underslung mode, to over-the-crowd shots in the upright mode, and briefcase mode for shots that need to move through narrow spaces.
The Ronin-M itself comes in at 5lbs and can support up to 8lbs. Thankfully you won’t need to carry around tools for balancing or tuning. Breaking the Ronin-M down is also toolless with crossbars that unscrew. The frame is a molded single piece of magnesium, which contributes to its lightweight nature and rigidity.
DJI is etching its initials as the go-to source for floating camera stabilization, and time will tell how much the Ronin-M helps that effort. For the lightweight and very low price, we’re recognizing the DJI Ronin-M as the Best Camera Support of NAB 2015.
Best Drone: 3D Robotics Solo
The Solo drone from 3D Robotics alters the idea of drones as radio controlled hobby model aircraft and uses video games as the inspiration. 3DR made sure the Solo allows for more focus on the imagery, and the controller shows it all, with knobs for adjusting camera angle, angle presets and simple-to-use buttons. The team at 3DR wants to reduce the need to pilot a drone and make flying feel like playing a game. The Solo has preset flight patterns, including a cablecam mode that imitates keyframes, allowing you to direct the camera angle while the Solo moves between a pre-determined point A and point B. It’ll even ease into and out of the move.
The Solo itself will fly a GoPro HERO camera and charge it, too. The propellers are self-tightening, controlled by the 1GHz onboard computer. Solo also has safety options with lights to help show orientation and limits, often set at 400 feet altitude and a user-defined radius.
The gaming theme continues with the ability to pause the drone. That alone is sure to save many a new user. For more enjoyment, take the HDMI out from the controller and put the video on a big screen. The Solo is setting up to be an absolute joy to fly and even more enjoyable to shoot with. For now, it’s on pre-order via retailers and is coming in around $1,000. It’s an easy pick as the Best Drone of NAB 2015.
Best Editing Software: Adobe Creative Cloud 2015
The Creative Cloud community is spreading its branches out by developing communication between mobile apps and their desktop applications. The update during this year’s NAB focuses on color, and how you’ll get to apply it to your videos. One of the most notable is known as Project Candy and allows a mobile app to take photos of colors in the real world and turn them into stylized looks that can help you grade your footage. Alongside this is easy transition of Adobe Premiere Clip projects on a smartphone to Premiere Pro CC on a computer.
There is also a new transition you might actually use: Morph Cut will blend frames to cover jump cuts. Smoothing video out always feels good. When you get to Media Encoder, the new Time Tuner will help you line up times to be an exact length. This could be indispensable for commercials and broadcast content. After Effects gains the Face Tracker to make it easier to blurred out faces or objects, and the motion tracking technology is also showcased in the impressive Character Animator, which allows you to animate 2D characters in real time via webcam. Though the Creative Cloud isn’t new, this group of updates will surely make it a new experience. Adobe Creative Cloud 2015 is our Best Editing Software of NAB 2015.
…and Finally, Best Camera: Blackmagic Design URSA Mini
The Blackmagic URSA has really taken off — some weight that is. The Blackmagic URSA Mini will follow it’s big brother in many ways, one of which is the four slightly varied models. The least expensive is the version we’ll focus on, with an EF mount. Another version has the PL mount for cinematic lenses, then Blackmagic Design makes 4.6K sensors for both of these mounts.
At the base, the Blackmagic URSA Mini carries some hefty stats, starting with a Super 35 sensor capable of 4K or 4.6K footage depending on the version you chose. An echo from the first URSA camera is the control within the camera; you can utilize either a global or rolling shutter and up to 15 stops of dynamic range. To process the cinematic footage, the Blackmagic URSA Mini needs to deal with the right formats, so it uses dual RAW ProRes recorders and 12-bit lossless CinemaDNG RAW. We’re excited to see what sensor refrigeration does for maximizing the dynamic range. Externally, the camera allows for mounting rails, lenses and matte boxes to the magnesium alloy body, as well as standard 1/4-inch-20 mounts on top and bottom. A flip-out, 5-inch display, dual XLR audio inputs with phantom power and dual CFast 2.0 card readers will round out the usability points. Lastly, DaVinci Resolve is included with the Blackmagic URSA Mini. The base price for the URSA Mini EF is $2,995.
For the combination of specs and form factor, we’ve awarded the URSA Mini as our Best Camera of NAB 2015.
A Final Word of Thanks
We want to thank all those who came to show off at NAB. For us, it was a show packed with exciting gear and lively discussion. It’s always tough to choose the best among many worthy contenders, but we strive to identify the products we think our readers will love. We can’t wait to see what new innovations next year’s show will bring.