This year's NAB really brought home one truth about the industry — affordable gear has never been more powerful. As desktop computing speed increases and the cost of formerly high-end imaging components like CMOS sensors and signal-processing chips drops, there's new pressure on manufacturers to hit a sweet spot that combines usability, capability, and affordability. With Moore's Law continuing apace, the real bottleneck in this industry is starting to look like glass. No matter how cheap the electronic components of a 4K camera might eventually become, you still have to shell out some serious dough to get a lens that can resolve that kind of detail. But there are great deals to be had in most every other corner of the industry. Here are some products from this year's NAB that struck me as being exceptionally well priced for users — cool gear you can buy without consulting your accountant about the purchase.
The most expensive product on this list was once one of the most rarefied products in the industry — a heavy-duty online editing and compositing workhorse. Autodesk came out swinging at NAB this year, with a rethought version of Smoke that aims at editors who have grown comfortable using Final Cut Pro and Avid Media Composer, offering them a rich editing-and-compositing environment at the same price as 3ds Max and Maya. By embracing the conventions of the most widely used NLEs without muffling its VFX firepower, Autodesk expects to find an expanded desktop audience for what was once a heavy-iron tool. You'll be able to get your hands on it later this year, when a pre-release trial version becomes available for three months prior to a scheduled fall release. At $3499, down from $14,999 before the show, you might not want to give it up.
Blackmagic Cinema Camera
For its latest trick, the company that made DaVinci resolve and Teranex boxes affordable surprised NAB with a $3,000 HD digital cinema camera that records CinemaDNG (raw), DNxHD, and ProRes HD out of a 2.5K sensor. Blackmagic is claiming 13 stops of dynamic range, and the camera's show reel is very pretty. Sure, there's a catch — you have to shell out to buy your own SSD devices for on-board recording, and the smallish Micro 4/3" sensor size combined with EF lenses may make wide-angle photography challenging, due to what's colloquially known as the "crop factor." There was some griping about this camera, but nobody could complain about the price. (Did we mention that it comes with a $1000 Resolve license as part of the deal?)
Sachtler Ace system
Designed for DSLR shooters, the new Ace tripod system was designed to give lightweight equipment a high-end feel. The Ace holds up to 8.8 lbs of camera and gear, and its new SA-drag system provides three steps both horizontally and vertically to let you dial in a good motion style for a given shot. In addition, Sachtler has built in a five-step counterbalance. The result just feels right. It's not as flexible or as sturdy as Sachtler's high-end product but, coming in at a price point below $600, it doesn't have to be.
AJA's Ki Pro Quad was the marquee item, but the new T-TAP is a nifty little Thunderbolt-to-SDI-and-HDMI adapter that happens to be stereo-3D capable. Stick in a Thunderbolt cable, send a signal over it, and get 10-bit SD, HD, or 2K output. The box is about as simple as it could be — a Thunderbolt jack on one end, and one HDMI and one SDI output jack on the other end — and it's bus-powered over the Thunderbolt connection. AJA calls it "a mini output-only Io XT," but while the Io XT will run you about $1500, the T-TAP is $249. Nice.
MTI Film Cortex Capture
MTI Film overhauled its family of post-production products with a new simple, intuitive interface designed to make complex tasks easy to manage. Of the new Cortex products, Cortex Capture is the baby brother — a baseline playback system designed for copying and verifying data on set. It supports playback from multiple camera formats (including Sony SRMaster and F65, Red, ARRIRAW, DNxHD, and ProRes), and incorporates LUTs and the ASC CDL for setting looks. It's designed to play well with Cortex Convey and Cortex Control Dailies, which add a variety of new options to the mix, but it also works as standalone digital-lab software for DITs and data wranglers. Not bad for $95.
We saw a lot at this year's NAB, but we certainly didn't see everything. What did you think was a really good value at the show?