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Show Stoppers

The 2011 DV Black Diamond Awards highlight the best new products from the NAB Show.

The NAB Show, held annually in Las Vegas, is the biggest showcase for new products and services for multimedia creation and distribution, so if you’ve ever experienced NAB first-hand, you know that the sheer enormity of it almost makes it impossible to see all that’s on display in the Las Vegas Convention Center. Fortunately, DV magazine had a team of media makers, experts and journalists searching the cavernous halls for the best new products and services at the show, in the form of the DV Black Diamond Award committee.

In short, they were seeking new tools that would specifically be of service to the DV readership, so, while there were many more amazing items being exhibited, the judges felt this year’s Black Diamond honorees were of particular interest to independent professionals.

What follows are their picks for the 2011 NAB Show.

Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve Lite
When the DaVinci Resolve was introduced in 2004, it was, like all of DaVinci Systems’ products, something you’d find only in top-notch motion picture and television post facilities. Since the company’s purchase by Blackmagic Design, the market has seen the release of comparable priced-to-own color correction suites, such as Red Giant’s Colorista and Apple Color. In 2011 Blackmagic Design will release a free — yes, as in “free of charge” — “lite” version of DaVinci Resolve for Mac and Linux machines in the wake of its new consumer-priced Resolve 8 software and hardware packages.

DaVinci Resolve Lite includes the same image processing capabilities as the full DaVinci Resolve; however, it limits projects to SD and HD resolutions, two color-correction nodes, a single processing GPU and a single RED Rocket card. Stereoscopic 3D features, 2K, noise reduction, power mastering, remote grading and sharing projects with an external database server are features offered only in the full DaVinci Resolve.

From the Judges: “Grant Petty does it again by putting advanced tools in the hands of the masses — in this case, free of charge. And given Apple’s possible removal of Color from the Final Cut X toolset, this is a major boost for FCP users.”

Edelkrone DSLR Rig
On the surface, the Edelkrone DSLR rig looks like your basic modular shoulder-mounted camera rig, but in practice, it’s more like a Transformer in disguise.

The Double Shoulder setup is particularly impressive: A solid, machined-aluminum construction that works as a balanced single-shoulder camera rig that flips open to wrap around the neck, thereby distributing the rig’s payload across the operator’s full shoulders and bringing the setup’s center of gravity closer to the user’s spine. The rig is also more stable.

The Edelkrone follow-focus system is also unique in that it employs a belt system instead of direct drive gears. This allows the focus knob to be positioned in a variety of different angles. Pop the knob off and a quick turn forward 180 degrees changes the system from Canon focus support to Nikon.

The built-in battery mount/counterweight/shoulder brace conveniently rotates 180 degrees to rest on the front of the shoulder, allowing the operator to get into tight spaces. If you’re using a larger camera, you can operate the Edelkrone with rails just as easily as without.

From the Judges: “There are dozens of DSLR supports on the market, but this small Turkish company has reinvented the wheel with its compact, simple systems.”

Genus Hurricane 3D Camera Rig
You want to capture stereoscopic video, but you know that the most effective stereo 3D images are usually those created using a very small interaxial distance — something possible only with a mirrored camera rig — and you don’t have a lot of money to spend. Enter the Genus Hurricane 3D camera mount, one of the many consumer-targeted stereo 3D-related camera accessories to enter the market recently.

Your typical professional mirrored stereo 3D rig will set you back at least $40K, but the Hurricane Rig comes in at a price point possible only through an efficient, stripped-down form factor, sans the fancy electronic controls found on more expensive 3D rigs. Instead, the Hurricane features simple, easy-to-use manual control of camera alignment and camera adjustment.

The rig adjusts to accept a broad range of cameras, from small camcorders to HDSLRs to the Sony XDCAM EX and even the SI-2K mini. (Maximum payload is about 9 lb. per camera.) Weighing in at a little over 13 lb. — plus payload — its lightweight, no-frills construction allows mounting to most light-duty pro video tripods.

From the Judges: “Offering a combo side-by-side and mirror 3D rig at this price is a small technological miracle.”

GoPro 3D HERO System
Chances are, if you’ve watched some kind of extreme sports program, an HD broadcast of a stock car race or pretty much any reality TV show in the past year, you’ve seen what the GoPro HD HERO camera can do. Small (literally fitting into the palm of your hand), wearable (mount it to your helmet, wrist, dashboard, bicycle, etc.) and powerful (capable of 1080p/960p/720p HD resolutions at 30 and 60fps), the GoPro has become the go-to camera for getting big images in a small form factor.

The new 3D HERO System allows users to combine two 1080p HD HERO cameras into a single housing to record 3D video and photos while simultaneously recording in 2D. A sync cable plugs into the rear HERO Port on both cameras, enabling them to record video and photos in perfect synchronization.

The kit includes its own 3D editing software — GoPro CineForm Studio — for converting footage into viewable 3D files for your computer, video hosting sites, or your 2D or 3D HDTV.

From the Judges: “This impossibly affordable, compact and capable system offers new opportunities for stereo shooting that would have been unthinkable just last year.”

Ikonoskop A-cam dII
Ikonoskop — makers of the pint-sized A-cam SP-16 Super 16 film camera — now offers the A-cam dII, a lightweight (about 3 lb.), low-profile HD camera capable of delivering impressive, professional-quality high-resolution images. Like the SP-16, the A-cam dII was designed along the lines of a professional motion picture camera with the bare essentials in mind, so what you’re getting is a machine built to capture high-quality images and little else. (From the Ikonoskop Web site: “To us, function has to team up with design to even be considered.”)

The A-cam dII’s 16mm-sized CCD sensor affords the cinematographer a wide array of lens choices, with PL, IMS, C-mount and Leica M-mounts available. Images are captured at 1-30fps in 12-bit 1920×1080 uncompressed RAW format (CinemaDNG) at 240 MB/s to a 160 GB memory cartridge developed specially for the camera by Ikonoskop. (One 160 GB Ikonoskop Memory Cartridge has a capacity of 32 minutes of footage, audio and metadata.)

Additional features include two-channel 16-bit line-in sound at 48 kHz (via Lemo to XLR), 1:1 pixel zoom in viewfinder, histogram, and preview OLED monitor.

From the Judges: “This camera’s amazingly cool, low-profile design is upstaged only by its exceptional technical specs.”

Innovision Optics Spintec Rain Deflector
One of the stories I hear the most about the production of Jaws in 1975 is how cinematographer Bill Butler, ASC, used a big spinning glass filter on the front of his camera to deflect sprays of water while shooting on the high sea. It was a relatively new bit of technology back then, and what used to be considered heavy gear has become the norm for many pro videographers.

Enter the Spintec RD. Mounted to your camcorder’s lens, its specially produced Tiffen glass filter spins at roughly 3,000 rpm to deflect rain and snow. The spinning motion creates a centrifugal effect that removes rain drops (and even water splashes) and a vacuum effect that removes any snowflakes that may not have been removed by the centrifugal action.

The unit mounts to internal focus lenses and external focus lenses with external diameters of 75-105mm. (For internal focus lenses, the Spintec RD simply snaps on; for external focus lenses, special bracketry mounts to standard 15mm rods.)

From the Judges: “This reimagining of a tried-and-true approach will be an affordable blessing for every shooter cursed with weather that would have otherwise stopped production.”

K-Tek Norbert
The discerning videographer has a lot of choices when it comes to HDSLR rigs, and many existing systems are modular, which allows for even greater flexibility. With all the choices out there, finding the right system can be more trouble than it’s worth, which is why it’s worth taking notice of the people who make it easier to make the right choice. K-Tek’s Norbert Camera Mounting System for video-capable DSLRs and compact high-definition video cameras fits this bill.

The core of the Norbert system is a machined-aluminum base frame with mounting options for both tripod and handheld use. Norbert can be used to mount a variety of production tools, including external viewfinders and monitors, flashes and continuous light sources, and audio accessories.

Build your own rig or choose from two preconfigured designs: the versatile Filmmaker Kit, and the Black Diamond Award-winning Norbert Sport. The latter is a simply designed handheld rig featuring foam-covered extendable graphite handles on the side of the frame as well as a handle that mounts on the top for easy transition from an upper handheld perspective to a lower-to-the-ground perspective.

From the Judges: “A simple design that can be easily upgraded into an incredibly versatile yet still affordable DSLR support system.”

Matrox Thunderbolt Adapters for MXO2 Devices
Earlier this year, when Thunderbolt was unveiled in the 2011 line of Apple MacBook Pro laptops, it was, like so much Apple-related news, announced with much fanfare. Co-developed with Intel and based on PCI Express and DisplayPort technology, Thunderbolt is a new high-bandwidth peripheral connection for data and power over a single cable. The only problem is that there aren’t yet many of peripherals that take advantage of the technology’s 10GB/s data transfer speeds. Matrox’s MXO2 devices are some of the first to do so, with built-in connections and also with the aid of Thunderbolt adapters.

The decision to develop Thunderbolt-capable versions of the MXO2 devices and adapters for Matrox’s existing HD/SD audio and video I/O products was a matter of “future proofing,” says Matrox. One of the key advantages of Thunderbolt technology, particularly where laptops are concerned, is allowing incredible amounts of data — in particular, real-time video — to be processed using external hardware modules like those found in the MXO2 line.

From the Judges: “Matrox takes the lead by allowing users to plan for the future without having to scrap current gear. That’s smart business.”

Matthews Studio Equipment Floatcam DC-Slider
Floatcam’s DC-Slider is a brilliant hunk of metal, and Matthews Studio Equipment made a smart move by snapping up exclusive distribution rights for the Americas. The DC-Slider combines a long, variable-angle camera slider with mini-jib functionality, as well as the ability to transform into a vertical 6′ tower.

A simple locking adjustment feature allows for camera placement at the exact vertical or off-axis position. (Minimum and maximum heights are dependent on the height of the tripod.) In jib mode, the DC-Slider has a working diameter of 63″ (160 cm) on the horizontal. The counterbalance system can be locked to ensure unvarying movements through the full range of the jib arm’s reach. With the simple removal and repositioning of two handles, the DC-Slider allows for exact vertical camera moves through the full range of the track. Finally, the DC-Slider can be mounted on a single tripod or a flat surface in its horizontal slider configuration.

From the Judges: “This innovative counterbalanced system takes the camera slider to new heights with incredible precision and performance.”

OConnor O-Box WM Mattebox System
Camera support accessories never seem to depreciate in value. Cameras will come and go, but with the proper care, a good tripod, follow focus, shoulder mount and mattebox will last a lifetime.

Then there’s OConnor’s O-Box WM mattebox system, which threatens the relationship between digital cameramen and their existing inventory. The advantage is in the O-Box WM’s two-stage construction, based around the 16:9 format full-size sensor. The wide-angle design accommodates lenses as wide as 18mm and accepts up to three filters: two in top-loading filter frames (two 4″x4″ and two 4″x5.65″ frames are included) and a third 138mm round filter that fits into the optional bellows ring.

A particularly interesting evolution is the integrated handgrip mounts on the left, right or bottom center of the sun shade. (Some operators tend to use the sun shade as a handle.)

Optional items include side flags, retaining brackets, a bottom bracket and flag, a universal mask set that snaps into the inside of the sun shade, and an 80mm bellows step-down ring.

From the Judges: “A fraction of the price of comparable systems, the O-Box WM is not only a capable pro-level tool, but it’s also virtually indestructible.”

Red Giant Software Colorista II
From the same folks that brought you Magic Bullet Looks, Grinder and Frames came Colorista, one of the first software toolkits to put the power of high-end color-correction systems in the hands of the desktop professional. Colorista differs from suites like Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve or Apple Color in that it’s more like a plug-in (for Apple Final Cut Pro, and Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects) than a standalone node in your workflow. The updated Colorista II features standard three-way wheels for easy adjustment of balance and luminance, matched with new keyer feature for adjusting individual colors or ranges of colors, and Power Masks for working in isolated areas of the frame.

Colorista II operates on a three-stage system: Stage 1 handles white balance, exposure and eight-channel HSL correction. Stage 2 is for fine-tuning specific tones. Stage 3 is your mastering stage. Colorista II is a powerful system with infinite opportunities for creative effects. Additional features include highlight recovery (for rebuilding blown out details), pop slider (image enhancement), RGB curves and auto-balance.

From the Judges: “Almost as complete a color-correction and grading system as Apple Color. Colorista II includes many of the grading functionalities of Color, including vignettes, tracking and other secondary grading tools.”

SmartSound Software Quicktracks
SmartSound’s Sonicfire has become popular with filmmakers looking for a catch-all royalty-free music solution; SmartSound now brings its soundtrack creation software to the Cloud with Quicktracks. Accessible through the SmartSound Web site, Quicktracks is little more than an interface in three steps that allows users to create customized soundtracks for download in various file formats.

Using the Web-based interface, set the desired scene length, then select the musical arrangement from SmartSound’s entire online library; set the instrument mix (background, dialogue, full, etc.) and then choose the file download type (MP3, WAV, AIFF, OGG). What you get is a custom track of the specified length that’s mixed to the appropriate sound levels for your scene. Individual tracks may be purchased as needed, or you can just use any of the tracks and albums you may have already purchased for Sonicfire.

From the Judges: “While there’s no replacement for a talented pro composer who can hit your every cue to the frame, this comes close.”

Sony Electronics NEX-FS100U NXCAM
It’s safe to say that Sony is on a roll with the introduction of the NEX-FS100U Super 35mm-size camcorder. Designed for professionals in the motion picture industry, the FS100U utilizes a Super 35mm-sized CMOS sensor. Not only is the sensor bigger, but the pixels themselves are four times larger than those found in DSLRs, resulting in shallower depth of field (DOF), finer details and greater light sensitivity.

The FS100U also features Sony’s proprietary E-mount lens system. According to the Sony Web site, the E-mount accepts a wide variety of lenses from Zeiss, Tamron, Sigma and Cosina, while its shallow flange focal distance also permits 35mm PL lenses to be mounted via third-party adapters. The kit lens (E18-200mm f/3.5-6.3) features Optical SteadyShot image stabilization, and the built-in GPS feature makes it possible to tag locations in shot metadata.

The NEX-FS100U is capable of a maximum frame rate of 1920×1080/60p (at 28 Mb/s), over- and under-cranking at full resolution. It records in AVCHD to Memory Stick Pro Duo media, SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards, and can be used with the optional HXR-FMU128 Flash memory unit for extended continuous recording or instant backup. (Simultaneous recording is supported across all memory formats.)

From the Judges: “Sony responded to the needs of the marketplace not just with a new camera but with a new way of thinking about cameras. In form and function, this is an impressive, imaginative offering.”

Sound Devices PIX 240
The Sound Devices PIX 240 video recorder does double duty by capturing not only 10-bit 1080p HD video to affordable and reliable CompactFlash media (as well as proprietary removable 2.5″ solid-state HDDs); it also offers Apple ProRes and Avid DNxHD transcoding and a built-in timecode generator with genlock output for users working with DSLRs (which lack TC support). The PIX 240 connects to any HDMI- or HD-SDI-equipped HD video camera.

Coming from a company with a reputation for high-quality sound devices, it’s no surprise that the PIX 240 is stacked in that department as well: in addition to its analog audio inputs, the PIX 240 accepts AES3 digital audio, and up to four digital audio inputs on two XLR connectors. Additional features include a 5″ 800×480-pixel display and an external eSATAp connector for direct, powered connection to SATA storage devices.

From the Judges: “It’s no surprise that a great solution for the DSLR audio issue came from Sound Devices, but its coming in the form of a pro-level video recorder was a shock.”

The Foundry STORM
Developed in-house by The Foundry specifically for RED digital cinema production workflows, STORM is makes it possible for filmmakers and DITs to check exposure, focus, color, audio and editorial content on set as soon as the footage comes off the camera, or, if you’re in post, as soon as it comes in from the field. STORM provides a number of useful tools for inspecting your media, including loupe, histogram, still store, vectorscope and RGB parades. Shot metadata is also accessible and editable within STORM.

Working in real time exclusively with the original full-res RAW image output, STORM makes it possible to design and apply custom looks or merge them with the camera’s settings. Users can trim shots, add labels and organize bins by metadata value. If you’re looking for a digital dailies solution, you can even synchronize external audio files and edit on set using the software’s multi-track timeline. (STORM outputs FCP XMLs with convenient QuickTime selects and R3D files.)

From the Judges: “A great tool to help users simplify the RED workflow. We look forward to the planned upcoming iteration for DSLR shooting.”

Vinten Vision blue Pan and Tilt Head Bundle
There’s no downside to investing in solid camera support. (Take care of your mattebox and tripod and they will take care of you.) While there’s certainly more versatile and “fun” equipment to be found (such as the DC-Slider), no one piece of camera support equipment can top a reliable tripod. The only problem is finding a good tripod that’s also affordable, which is why the Vinten Vision blue is on this list.

Designed for the experienced camera operator, and keeping in mind the proliferation of smaller camcorders and DSLRs, the Vinten blue incorporates two proprietary features previously unavailable on Vinten’s lightweight tripods: Vinten Perfect Balance technology, capable of balancing payloads between 4.6 and 11 lb. with a low center of gravity of about 55mm, and Vision LF drag technology for smooth movement and framing.

From the Judges: “This great offering presents plenty of pro features from Vinten’s much more expensive heads at an affordable price.”

Zacuto EVF Flip
Anyone who’s operated a DSLR without a viewfinder knows that trying to focus by the tiny LCD screen isn’t impossible, but it can be frustratingly difficult. With the introduction of the Z-Finder and, more recently, the electronic viewfinder (EVF), Zacuto has had great success in changing how people operate DSLRs.

The Zacuto EVF is a 3.2″ high-resolution monitor used in conjunction with all Z-Finder models. The monitor is compatible with all cameras equipped with an HDMI output (including DSLRs, Panasonic AG-AF100, Sony NEX-FS100, Sony F3 and RED One).

There are two variations on the Zacuto EVF: EVF Snap (EVF monitor with a static Z-Finder mount) and EVF Flip, which allows the user to flip the Z-Finder out of the way should anyone other than the operator desire to see the shot. The EVF Flip also features a rechargeable battery and a hotshoe mount. Tools like the EVF Flip allow filmmakers and videographers the flexibility to orient their cameras in a wide variety of comfortable configurations.

From the Judges: “This is far more than just another finder. It’s a versatile, adaptable interface that brings a DSLR’s image directly to the user’s eye.”