Canon's EOS 7D DSLR

The folks at All Mobile Video may have been promoting Sony’s recession-themed “Cash for VTR Clunkers” trade-in program to boost sales of the SRW5500 and SRW5800 HDCAM SR decks, but if the mood at yesterday’s Createasphere HD Expo September exhibit can be considered any kind of harbinger for the larger economy, it’s possible that we really are on our way out of the woods. The trade show, held in a couple of modest ballrooms at Manhattan’s New Yorker Hotel, was a busy, vibrant affair with lots of appealing technology on hand to help define new workflows for the DPs, producers, and various video geeks who were making their way from booth to booth. Canon’s new EOS 7D Digital SLR camera, which shoots 1920×1080 video at 24p, was a highlight, but there was lots of cutting-edge tech and workhorse gear to take a look at. Here’s a sample.

Sony PDW-F800Asked which items are getting the most attention from customers, representatives at both Abel Cinetech and Band Pro cited Sony’s new PDW-F800 XDCAM as a camera that’s generating a lot of heat. Early allocations of the F800 are apparently being reserved for Winter Olympics duty, making it harder to find in the wild, but HD Expo attendees got a sneak peek at the camera. Both companies also cited Sony’s XDCAM EX line-up of cameras, with their NLE-ready file-based workflow options, as hot items. Band Pro also named Sony’s F35 as a well-liked entrant in the camera sweepstakes, with its host of recording options including systems from S.two and Codex Digital, while Abel cited Panasonic’s P2 line-up as a strong performer, and said that AJA’s new Ki Pro box, which converts HD-SDI camera output to the Final Cut-ready Apple ProRes editing format, was helping a lot of users simplify and wrap their heads around tapeless workflow.

But Abel noted that the new breed of DSLR cameras that can do double duty in both stills and video footage — like Canon‘s nicely notorious 5D Mark II and the just-announced, 24p-capable 7D — were the darlings of the show. Indeed, those cameras dominated conversation over at Canon’s booth, where representatives detailed the differences between the models. In a nutshell: the 5D, which sells for $2600, has a very large sensor that allows dramatic shallow-depth-of-field effects to be easily achieved, while the new 7D, which will sell for around $1800 when it ships near the end of September, has a significantly smaller sensor that yields a more deep-focus look. Still, “deep focus” is relative — with a sensor size comparable to that of the Red camera, the 7D should allow users to generate some of those pleasingly out-of-focus backgrounds that help define the cinema look. And because it uses a smaller chip, it will work with a wider array of existing lenses. Canon has announced an inexpensive wireless transmitter, the WFT-E5A ($699.99 estimated retail price), will be available for the 7D.

The original design of the 5D was geared toward photojournalists working for Reuters and the Associated Press, who needed to quickly generate video for posting on the Web as well as their usual regimen of still photos, Smith noted. But he also observed that cinematographers who get hold of it generally use it exclusively for video, rather than shooting their own stills. Rodney Charters has famously used the 5D to capture some footage for 24, and Smith said CBS-TV’s Ghost Whisperer has been mixing a few 5D shots with film footage. Eager users were checking out DSLR rigs at the booth for Redrock Micro, which recently lightened them up by switching to carbon-fiber rods that it says can reduce the weight of a rig by 66 percent. (Of course, a decent DSLR rig can easily cost more than the camera it supports!)

Zeiss Compact Primes

For Zeiss, the burgeoning market for these DSLR video hybrids has influenced an approach to cinema products. Zeiss launched a line of lenses aimed at Nikon DSLR still cameras back in 2007. This week, they followed suit by introducing an 18mm lens for Canon’s DSLRs. But placing that same glass from still-camera lenses into a lens barrel designed for cinematography has yielded the company’s new line of cinema-style PL-Mount Compact Prime Lenses, available in focal lengths ranging from 18mm to 85mm and at price points between $3800 and $4600. (If you buy a set of four lenses or seven lenses, you get a price break that brings the price of each lens below $4000.) All of the Compact Primes are shipping now. Full specs are at the Zeiss web site.

Fujinon PL-mount zoom

On the subject of lenses, Fujinon was showing its new 18-85mm T2.0 PL-mount lens, an $83,000 item targeted squarely at Red-style cinematography. Fujinon HD Technology Manager Chuck Lee said the company found that there are plenty of prime lenses available for digital cinematography, but relatively few high-end zoom lenses, and it hopes to fill that gap. The idea is that, if a zoom lens is of sufficiently high quality, filmmakers can reduce their overall number of camera set-ups by keeping the zoom on the camera instead of switching to primes, helping justify the cost. The lens is the first of four lenses in the motion-picture line-up; the other three are expected to be available by year’s end.

JVC Blu-ray Disc and HDD Recorder

And JVC was touting its GY-HM700 but also brought some new gear to the show — two Blu-ray recorders that were introduced last week at Cedia. These aren’t consumer products because they don’t include tuners, and of course they won’t let you duplicate encrypted Blu-ray titles from Hollywood. But if you’re making one-off Blu-rays and would like the ability to easily turn those single discs into multiple copies of the same program, these boxes will let you do that easily. Both units support advanced MPEG-2 and H.264 MPEG-4 encoding, and a downconverter is built-in for scaling HD content to DVD resolution. They burn to BD-R and BD-RE media. Inputs include USB, IEEE-1395, and SDHC card. The SR-HD1250 ($1995) has a 250 GB hard disk for temporary storage of content before burning to multiple Blu-ray blanks. The SR-HD1500 ($2550) features a 500 GB hard disk plus RS-232 connectivity and .MOV file support which makes it compatible with footage from JVC’s GY-HM700 and -HM100 ProHD camcorders — plug in that SDHC card and off you go.

Panasonic had a strong presence at the show with a miniature theater set up to dispense information about the HPX300, including editorial workflows for AVC-Intra footage. The company also provided plenty of information about the new AJ-HPX3700 P2 VariCam — including a presentation by DP Mark Doering-Powell on the camera’s performance in a series of tests by the Producers Guild of America and American Society of Cinematographers.

Finally, anyone walking the floor might have been surprised to see famed reseller B&H prominently showing a Scratch Assimilate workflow. Well, it turns out B&H is now the authorized reseller for Scratch in the Northeastern U.S. What’s new at B&H is The Studio, a professional showroom equipped with high-end production and post hardware from Boxx, Globalstor, HP, Tangent Devices, Sony, and many others, so New Yorkers now have another reputable resource for learning about the whys and wherefores of digital workflows. For more info, check out the Web site.

Here’s one last bit of news — don’t look for the show to be called “HD Expo” next year. Starting in 2010, the old branding is going to be dropped in favor of more inclusive nomenclature under the Createasphere banner, according to company President Kristin Petrovich. More on that later.