film reporter

Plethora of new cameras creates options, confusion

Digital cinematography is in a state of chaos. During this week's National Association of Broadcasters Show — which brought a reported 105,000 attendees to Las Vegas — new cameras from Arri, Iconix, Red and Sony joined an already crowded market.

The confusion stems from too many choices. For instance, options include tape- or file-based recording. File-based recording affords several more choices. Price points vary from $5,000-$300,000, says Michael Bravin of technology provider Band Pro.

At the high end, digital cameras compete with film cameras to get on set, while at the low end, cameras are democratizing filmmaking. Now, camera makers are jockeying for position in the 3-D arena.

"It's like the wild, wild West out there," says director of photography Steven Poster, adding that broad workflows' challenges include independent color management. "Work needs to be done," he says. "We need to find a way all of this can work together."

Some efforts have started. For instance, at NAB, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Science and Technology Council and the American Society of Cinematographers' Technology Committee launched a "Common File Format for Look-Up Tables" to address some challenges.

New cameras unveiled this week at the trade show include:

Arri's Arriflex D-21, an upgrade to its D-20, designed to offer improvements to the image-processing engine and image quality. Options include a 2K raw data output mode and the use of anamorphic lenses.

Sony's developing F35 camera system, which features a 35mm CCD image sensor; 10-bit, 4:4:4 recording; and a PL lens mount. Improvements are planned in dynamic range, signal-to-noise ratio and depth of field.

Iconix's Studio2K, a lightweight 2K point-of-view camera.

Red's Epic, announced as a 5K camera that would be available in 2009. As with its Red One camera, the Epic news was met with dizzying enthusiasm by some and harsh skepticism by others.

Bravin says he believes rental houses face difficult challenges.

"What customers ask for is constantly changing, and it is very difficult to keep up with the demand," he says. "The biggest issue with some of these systems is (that) the price and performance are very good, but it is difficult to see the return on investment. It requires a different type of business model.

"I think camera makers are going to have to figure out a way to make improvements, instead of huge jumps in technology, as incremental changes," Bravin says. "Then people can afford to buy into the main system and incrementally upgrade the system, so they spread the investment over a longer period of time."

Otherwise, he fears that there might be a move to stop making new cameras. "That would be bad, because if the electronics wizards come up with (better features), they should offer them."

One thing is certain: The industry needs to brace itself for more sweeping change in terms of technological advances as well as new cost structures and business models.

Concludes Bravin, "The digital part of our industry is becoming more mature, so the chaos is an indication that there is a bigger change coming."