I’m a bit late in writing this, but there are some NAB wonders that I want to blog about. I had all of one day to see the show, but I did see some pretty cool things. How can you not at NAB?
I spent Sunday through Tuesday working in the Element Labs (elementlabs.com) booth. I’ve been consulting on their lights for a little over a year now, helping them develop a broad-spectrum LED light for the motion picture industry. Most LED lights are made of single LEDs that appear to be white (although many skew slightly green) but if you look at the spectrum you’ll see a very sharp spike: they don’t emit much of the color spectrum. As you only get accurate color reproduction if you hit an object with light containing its color, you won’t get very accurate color from a narrow band light source.
Element Labs uses six LED (three each in two packages, alternating across the fixture) to create broad spectrum light. The mixture of LED colors provides for more accurate color response, and it also allows the fixture to change color temperature. The current spec allows for 2200k to 6500k, and it’s a very pretty quality of light.
Last year I worked with Element Labs to create a process shot in the booth. Their original product line consisted of large video wall displays, and several DP’s have used those video wall products to create traveling light for process shots. The idea is that you can hang the panels above a car on a green screen stage, and then play your background plate back across the video wall to create interactive lighting between the plate, which will be added in post, and the actors on the set. Last year we did exactly that, by creating a video wall that reflected in a Shelby Cobra that was parked in the booth. The model in the car was lit with earlier versions of the LED light that we’ve been developing, and the display was a huge hit. This year we scaled down to a motorcycle without a model, so the display was a bit less dramatic but it was still fairly pretty.
The great thing about working a booth for several days is that people come find you. I got visits from a lot of people I know through CML (cinematography.net) as well as a Panavision rep and the president of my IA local.
My free day was reasonably well planned out. My first stop was over at Schneider Optics, to visit Bob Zupka and see their new IR cut filter for the RED. We had a long talk about the complexities of filtering, which once again proved to me that I frequently have no idea how much I don’t know, and then he gave me a prototype of the IR filter for testing. Bob has a theory that IR reduction in the RED may improve the overall MTF of the system, increasing resolution noticeably. Adam Wilt and I are going to do that test on Thursday.
I then visited a local producer, Luke Seerveld (seerveldmedia.com) who was working a booth for a company called Prompter People (www.prompterpeople.com/). They specialize in making cheap but useable gear for the production industry. Is a $500 tripod a good buy? In this case, yes–it’s not an O’Connor or a Sachtler but it was darned good for a cheap tripod. They make LED lighting units that are decent–not great, they’re a bit green and spiky, but decent–for very little money. Add 1/4 minus green and your good to go for most purposes. They’re probably not great on color rendition but they’ll work for a number of less critical applications.
I stopped off at a couple of other locations before making my way to Tiffen to see their IR filter. I spoke with one person who was in sales and didn’t know much about the IR filter, but she pointed out the gentleman I should talk to and I waited patiently while he helped someone who was obviously new to the business understand the basics of filters. He recognized my name from an article draft I’d recently sent over (I wrote an article on HD filtration for a future issue of HD Video Pro that I sent over to Tiffen for vetting) but continued to spend a lot of time demonstrating consumer camera support tools to the person ahead of me. After waiting 20-30 minutes I gave up and left.
I met up with fellow DP and rental house owner John Chater (chatercamera.com) at the Tiffen booth and we walked over to BandPro (http://www.bandprodigital.com) to see the Sony F35. I really like the external design of the camera, and I was amazed at the latitude I saw in the image. Looking across the aisle into the Sony booth I was able to see deeper into shadows than I could by eye.
I’ve learned that a good way to analyze a camera’s limitations is to look at highlights, as well as bokeh, to see what happens when the sensor and optics are pushed to their limits. In this case I noticed two things:
(1) Highlights flare vertically, much like an IT chip would, but much softer. It’s not a nasty streak, but a soft and visible flare–almost like anamorphic flare, only not predominantly blue and not horizontal. The design of the chip is rather interesting: instead of a Bayer pattern or three chips around a prism, the pixels are laid out in stripes: two stripes of red, of green, and of blue, repeating left-to-right across the sensor. In post the pixel strips are shifted over on top of each other for full color. When I first heard of this scheme I was worried that horizontal resolution would be compromised, but it’s not–apparently the chip is over-populated with pixels by something like 40% more than it needs.