Under the Covers, Signs of Enormous Change at NAB 2015 – HUGE NAB wrap-up

by Hugh Brownstone1 Comment

In an oasis of incredible gear set in the middle of the Nevada desert, the irony is that NAB 2015 was really about people.

Proof point? I shot all our interviews on a freaking iPhone 6 with nothing but the on-board mic, proving once again that the best camera is the one you have on you. Could the footage and audio have been better? Sure. Did it matter? Not really: the people, their enthusiasm, passion, creativity, and discipline shone through.

But yeah, OK: it was gear porn heaven, too.

And NAB was the place where I developed a strategic understanding which I share at the very end of this piece.

The Very Bottom Line

It was a privilege to attend NAB.

I was able to catch up with some people I’d only ever met by email, phone or Skype; re-connect with a dear friend; make new friends; and get a sense of the industry not possible any other way.

The one common element?

The people were amazing — talented, driven, and (for the most part) just plain nice.

Ironic that in a sea of gobsmackingly good products, humanity shone most brightly.

How big a sea?

Try this on for size: NAB 2015 was 1,015,000 net square feet of exhibit space. 1,789 companies. 103,042 attendees from 164 countries.

Oh – and 1,614 news media attendees, including yours truly.

Hats off to the NAB Show and folks like Dan Lemie, who made the show what can only be called a great success.

Last Week Today: NAB 2015 Highlights

planet5d writer Hugh Brownstone spent two days at NAB 2015 in Las Vegas, and after time to ruminate, offers his thoughts and highlights.

It was less about cameras than gimbals, lighting, and other accessories — but in the end what shone through most brightly were…the people.

Of course.

Oh — and just for grins, all interviews were shot on a hand-held iPhone 6 with no post other than edits.

00:53 – Freefly Systems: Mimic Remote Gimbal Controller (Beta)
01:55 – Gear Porn #1: ARRI camera with Leica lens mounted on MoVI mated to a drone
02:13 – DEFY G2X 3-axis gimbal with CEO Drew Janes
05:55 – YUNEEC Steady Grip Pro Action with Tornado Drone
08:35 – DJI Phantom 3 [B&H | Amazon] and Ronin-M
11:20 – Canon XC10, C100 Mark II
12:05 – Gear Porn #2: Canon 50-1000 Cine Zoom attached to RED Dragon
12:22 – Manfrotto Sympla Slider
13:32 – Manfrotto Digital Director
19:17 – Benro Slider
19:36 – CAME-TV Latest gimbals
22:04 – Gudsen Technologies MOZA gimbals (prototypes)
23:52 – Syrp Genie Mini with Director Ben Ryan
26:05 – Gear Porn #3: ARRI on a Helix gimbal with Easy Rig
26:20 – Aputure LED panels, VS-5 monitor, DEC adapter, Array Trans
36:10 – Democratic People’s Republic of Korea biomorphic autonomous drone prototype
36:28 – 3D Robotics Solo Smart Drone
38:18 – Sony a7 Mk II
38:35 – Gear Porn #4: Virtual Vegas Dealer
38:41 – Tuesday night, end of first day at NAB
38:54 – Wednesday, last day at NAB
39:09 – Movidiam: Catching up with CEO George Olver
40:09 – ARRI Sky Panel
44:12 – Teradek Live:Air, VidiuPro
48:25 – Blackmagic Design URSA Mini, Micro Cinema, Micro Studio 4K, Video Assist with Dan May, President, Americas, Blackmagic Design
50:44 – SmallHD 502 monitor and SideFinder with CEO Wes Phillips
53:49 – Zacuto “Eye”
55:02 – Letus Helix gimbal with owner of LetusDirect, Aaron Pinto
56:03 – LitePanels Astra, Caliber
59:34 – Leaving Las Vegas

The Gear

As I look back at the 30 or so interviews I conducted over two days, I realized that the one category of gear that I spent the least time on was…cameras.

Don’t get me wrong: the Canon XC10 is a camera as interesting for its flaws as its pretty darned interesting form factor, and Blackmagic blew me away with their URSA Mini, Micro Cinema and Micro Studio 4K cameras (more on all of these in a bit).

But the industry momentum for folks like us at planet5D was elsewhere, especially camera movement (gimbals, sliders, drones), lighting, wireless – and integration with smartphones and tablets.


NAB 2015 Recap - Defy G2X Gimbal image 1



Holy crap, how things have evolved over the last 12 months. In addition to speaking with the guys who started it all – Freefly with their MoVI – I got to play with gimbals from six other companies:

· CAME-TV (we already like their 7800, but they’ve shrunken it down and streamlined it further with their MINI and MINI 2 at just over $1,000)
· Defy (their G2x is a very clean, American-designed and manufactured 3-axis gimbal with a price just under $2,000)
· DJI (their new Ronin-M is half the weight of the original Ronin (B&H; Amazon); disassembles in seconds; has a bluetooth-based iPhone app; and likely priced much more aggressively – we’re working to get our hands on one for evaluation)

· Gudsen Technologies (we saw prototypes of their MOZA Lite and MOZA Pro and will be learning more in the coming months)
· Letus (their stabilizers run the gamut from a single axis GoPro stabilizer for $299 all the way up to a monster called the Double-Helix for almost $12,000 that will handle cameras so heavy that you really can’t think about using them without something like the Easy Rig (B&H; Amazon). I must write that I have not seen another 3 axis gimbal that moved so seamlessly from underslung to upright to briefcase as their Helix Jr. ($2,899)
· Yuneec (new to me) positions itself as an electric aerial vehicles company first, but they were showing a very clean looking, modular gimbal that can go from drone to hand-held with the twist of a lever or two.

There were four things that struck me:

· Soon all gimbals will be tool-less.
· The Chinese are upping their game and adding players very quickly – their newest models give the MoVI M5 (B&H; Amazon) a run for its money irrespective of price (wireless controllers, strong motors, clean implementations).
· The Americans are simultaneously upping their game and bringing down the price (from Freefly’s Tom-Cruise sci-fi-flick-style Mimic wireless remote camera controller (in beta) to Defy’s G2X with its light weight and light price).
· With both price and quality heading toward parity, I suspect we are coming to the point when the determining factor for plunking down your hard-earned cash will soon be customer service. Can you talk to someone at the other end of the line? Can you get tips and tricks? Strong warranties? In the end, who do you want to buy from will become as or more important than the product itself.


“Intelligent,” “autonomous” and “smart” were the watchwords for drones this year.

A little creepy, if you ask me. Still: great for novices or experienced pilots interested more in the shots than the flying.

· DJI had a pretty big presence and was showing off their new Phantom 3 [B&H | Amazon], available in 4K or 1080p. The primary differences between this and the 2 are the addition of active vision, allowing the 3 to fly indoors without GPS; and the DJI Pilot app [NB: I’ve operated the camera on a Phantom 2+ precisely once (I got the hang of it quickly), but other than that I’ve had no first-hand experience with drones]. Oh — and now they're connecting to Russian satellites as well.

· Directly behind DJI (chance? on purpose?), Chinese company Yuneec was showing off their Typhoon (B&H; Amazon) and Tornado drones. They looked the business, but we'll need to learn more about them.
· A bit further away, 3D Robotics was demoing their Solo to a pretty packed crowd. Designed to work specifically with GoPro, what made the Solo most interesting was their preprogrammed flight paths: cable cam (“A virtual cable for the automatic perfect shot.”); orbit (“Circle an object for an iconic ‘wrap-around’ shot.”); selfie (“Put yourself in the center of a scenic aerial pull-out.”); and follow (“Don’t want to fly? Go completely hands-free.”). Like DJI, it has what looks like a pretty powerful app which among others things allows streaming. Really, you have to love any company which quotes Arthur C. Clarke on its home page: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”


I visited with ARRI, LitePanels and Aputure (I learned only after the fact that Rotolight had been there – darn). I saw rapid developments around LED lighting – and prices often accessible to indies and enthusiasts alike.

· ARRI’s new SkyPanel has a really effective diffuser panel (you truly cannot see the individual LED’s shining through) and correspondingly high output to get through it – though their price ($6,250, pre-order at B&H for the S60-C) puts them out of reach for most non-studio pros. Nice touch: green/magenta tuning, with power up to the equivalent of a 2K soft light.
· LitePanels’ next generation Astra 1X1s (B&H; Amazon) look like they’ve leapt two or three generations – very nice, and within reach for many of us — but what was also interesting to me was their new Caliber LED Fresnel 3 light kit for under $1,000.
· Aputure – a company we’re watching closely – had new LED panels dramatically brighter and more robust than the last unit we tested – their highly recommended HR672C. We’ll try to get our hands on some to test.


While visiting with the Aputure guys, I also saw what I’ll call their near-zero latency wireless system for remote monitoring (called the Trans Array, it is not yet available). While I noticed a slight delay, it was indeed slight – but it also looked like it had no problem keeping up with 24 or 30 fps, unlike CamRanger (another product I like which I think of as the poor man’s Teradek at $249, which really doesn’t pump out a high enough refresh rate for critical focus pulling). The stunner? Aputure is aiming to price this thing at around $500. For uncompressed video!

The other wireless guys who were absolutely fascinating to me are Teradek and Paralinx, united under the Vitec corporate umbrella. In particular, Teradek’s VidiuPro (priced at $999, though I don’t know availability yet) allows you to combine the bandwidth of up to four smartphones – don’t ask me precisely how this works because I do not yet know – to get much faster throughput at remote locations without WiFi. Color me intrigued.

Smartphone and Tablet Integration

Call it a growing trickle which I believe will become a torrent by this time next year: the integration of iPhones, iPads and Android devices as controller devices for everything from wireless monitors to dialing in lights, remote control of cameras and more.

Top of the mark probably have to be DJI and 3DR with their use of apps to pilot their drones.

Manfrotto – another Vitec portfolio company – introduced their Digital Director. This is a combination cradle/electronics package which for the first time allows iPads to be used as wired monitors (price: $599). It has to be said that one can acquire a very nice monitor for that price, but it’s not going to be as big, bright or sharp as a retina iPad.

Teradek’s Vidiu Mini ($499) and their Live:Air app (pronounced live – as in Saturday Night Live — to air) turn your iPad or iPad mini into a live streaming broadcast console capable of controlling up to four cameras (one Vidiu Mini per camera, OR: you can use iPhones natively as well).

Teradek VidiU mini

Teradek VidiU mini [B&H | Amazon]

Ben Ryan and the guys over at Syrp – a Kiwi firm we really like – showed off their Genie Mini (baby brother of the original Genie, B&H; Amazon) with iPhone controller. I’m looking forward to the day they come out with their Genie implementation as well.

While none of these are going to bowl over working pros, for indie filmmakers, small shops and enthusiasts, embracing smartphones makes perfect sense – we already have ‘em, and we therefore don’t have to pay for unique hardware controllers. It’s a win for everyone.

Other Accessories


We also like the guys over at smallHD (hmm…yet another Vitec acquisition…more to say about that in a bit), and their CEO Wes Phillips took us through their new 502 monitor/SideFinder attachable viewfinder. I especially liked the new interface they’ve introduced on the 502 called Pages. You can see a bit more of that in our quick interview with him.

Zacuto was showing off their son-of-Gratical finder [B&H | Amazon] which they call, simply, the “Eye”. They’re hoping to have it available this fall (around IBC), with a price point around $1,500, half the price of the Gratical ($3,100) [B&H | Amazon]. The key to being able to offer the identical Micro OLED finder as its big brother is to make it only a finder – all of the assists have been pulled out, requiring you to rely on what your camera provides.

Zacuto Gratical HD Micro OLED EVF [B&H | Amazon]

Zacuto Gratical HD Micro OLED EVF [B&H | Amazon]

I want to come back to Blackmagic for a moment before discussing their cameras to include here their new monitor/recorder, the Video Assist. A five inch LCD touch screen with true 1920 x 1080 monitor, it also records 10-bit 4:2:2 HD ProRes and DNxHD recording. Designed as a companion to their new micro series cameras, it is a very aggressively priced bit of gear. It only takes SD cards, so I do wonder about bottlenecking, but this is yet another piece of kit we’ll want to get our hands on directly.

Atomos had a very large presence at the show, but the most interesting announcement to me was about their “Bare Bones” models in a bid to speed up 4K adoption. Their bare bones Shogun can now be had for $300 less than the original Shogun (B&H; Amazon), which they achieve by removing all accessories except for an SSD media case, AC adapter and soft carry case.

Of course, many of you know about my continuing search for the holy grail of sliders, and Benro was showing off a nice flywheel slider. I like Benro gear enough to have bought their video monopod with my own hard cash. They’re another company to watch

Finally, I was surprised to find the new Sympla slider at Manfrotto. I don’t know when it becomes available, but the thing was ROCK solid yet light weight. Pretty darned interesting.


Mea culpa: I didn’t spend time in audio, because at this point I’m pretty well set with everything from the TASCAM DR70D [B&H | Amazon] and AudioTechnica powered lavs to RØDE NTG-2, NTG-4+ [B&H | Amazon] and smartLavs (I use the smartLavs [B&H; Amazon] for my reviews these days because they are SO simple to use with the RØDE app on my iPhone). I do need to check out a stereo mic, but truth be told I’m likely to stick with what I know and go RØDE for that, too (I want to see their new wireless kit, but RØDE wasn’t at the show).

Yes, they do advertise on planet5D – but I was a RØDE fan plunking down my own money long before my affiliation with planet5D.


Of course, the gigundo exhibits were put on by Canon and Sony (they both created multiple sets lit perfectly with live actors to best show off their gear) but Blackmagic was not far behind – nor was Teradek. When you add the other companies that are part of the Vitec group, I think Vitec took up more exhibition space than either Panasonic or JVC.

Interesting, yes?

Canon and Sony are heavily into broadcast – and this was NAB, after all — so their DSLR and mirrorless ILC’s of greatest interest to planet5D readers (the 5D Mk III [B&H | Amazon] and Sony A7 series [B&H; Amazon]) represented a pretty small section of their exhibitions.

While Canon had a pile of C300 Mark II’s, a couple of C100 Mark II’s, and a bunch of C500’s, there were only two XC10’s on display (I got to fondle one of the XC10’s, and have to admit the form factor is intriguing).

The Company That Blew Me Away: Blackmagic

Blackmagic URSA mini angle

Blackmagic Design URSA mini


But the real stunner among the camera manufacturers – the real stunner in the whole show — was Blackmagic.

The URSA Mini is a dramatically smaller version of the original URSA – same innards, but without the huge displays. An ergonomic mash-up of the Sony FS7 [B&H | Amazon] and the Canon C300 Mark II, it’s not going to win industrial design awards any time soon, but holy smokes – the specs and price point are staggering.

Read this closely: the URSA Mini is a Super-35mm sensor camera capable of delivering 15 stops of dynamic range via its software-switchable global shutter (up to 30fps) or rolling shutter (up to 60fps), with 4K (UHD) ProRes 4:4:4.

Oh — and by the way — can shoot up to 120fps with its rolling shutter in HD.

With an EF mount, it will sell for $2,995.

Yes: two thousand nine hundred ninety five. Heck, call it an even $3K. This is less than half the price of the Sony FS7 [B&H | Amazon] (the FS7 does have higher frame rates) and less than one-sixth the price of the just announced Canon Cinema EOS C300 Mark II (the Canon does look to have better ergos, TBD).

And OK: the URSA mini is still likely to come in heavier than the Sony or Canon.

Gezunta baby.

But crikey, it’s only $500 more than the street price of the Canon 5D Mark III [B&H | Amazon] or Sony A7s [B&H | Amazon].

Or, more to the point: only $500 more than the fixed-lens Canon XC10 (expected availability June, priced at $2,499 – though the XC10 is much lighter).

If you want full cinema 4K, you’re talking the Mini 4.6K in EF mount for $4,995. If you want the PL mount version, it will cost you $500 more. That’s the price of the non-4K Canon Cinema EOS C100 Mark II.

This is nuts. In a good way.

How will the URSA Mini perform in real life? What non-obvious trade-offs have they made that might infuriate some of us? What bugs need to be ironed out? We’ll find out later this summer. What we can say right now is that for these prices, you don't get a viewfinder (it's an option); you don't get an internal ND, grip, or shoulder pad; and we don't know how it will perform in low light.

But what’s even MORE nuts is the pair of Blackmagic micro twins, the Micro Cinema Camera and the Micro Studio Camera 4K, selling for $995 and $1,295 respectively (expected availability, July).

With an active micro four-thirds mount, there are now great lenses available for these cameras, including the lovely Voigtländer Noktons [B&H | Amazon] — my favorites.

The studio 4K outputs 10 bit 4:2:2 (shooting up to 30p in UHD, 60fps in 1080p). I’m not certain what sensor it uses, but apparently it does NOT use the same sensor as Blackmagic’s Production Camera 4K [B&H; Amazon]. Blackmagic tells me it uses a smaller version of the sensor found in their Studio Camera 4K [B&H;Amazon].

The Micro Cinema is essentially a shrunken Pocket Cinema Camera [B&H; Amazon], with a Super-16 sized image sensor, 13 stops of dynamic range, that outputs in CinemaDNG Raw or Apple ProRes 422 at 220 Mbps.

Both cameras have physical buttons!

I wonder about Blackmagic positioning this as an uber-GoPro. These things are tiny, but nowhere near GoPro tiny (almost 23 cubic inches vs. a GoPro Hero3+’s 2.5 cubic inches [B&H | Amazon]. And 10.65 ounces without lens vs. I’m guessing about 3 ounces for the GoPro with fixed lens).

Frankly, I think these two cameras are going to attract a huge new group of indie filmmakers who’d use them as their A cams, let alone B cams, drone cams, crash cams, or throw-aways.

In either case, Blackmagic was smart. They didn’t bother putting a monitor on the micros (and in the case of the Micro Studio 4K, no internal recording, either, though the Micro Cinema Camera does record internally to an SD card). Why? Because they figured most DPs would be using them with a separate field monitor anyway (wireless transmission to the ground), and the market has been trained by Sony’s A7s [B&H | Amazon] and Atomos to think “separate recorder” for 4K. Their Video Assist looks like a great piece of kit which addresses both, but the really fascinating thought is that with their next iteration, Blackmagic may become for video what Hasselblad was for still photography (without charging that company’s premium prices): the ultimate modular system.


Although Zeiss has just announced their Batis line – and it is very interesting to me — I’d really hoped to see the Sigma Art lenses [B&H; Amazon] in the metal and glass. I was surprised that I couldn’t find Sigma at the show.

Really, I think the issue is this: how quickly Sony fills out its e-mount line vs. how quickly Canon refreshes its lens line with STM across the board vs. how quickly Zeiss brings its prices down from the stratosphere.


I didn’t spend much time with software even though digital video is every bit as much about software as hardware, only because I’m pretty well set in my current choices. But with this written, Frame.io is pretty interesting, and I’m currently testing it out with a client.

Forthwith, a List of Especially Noteworthy Items (because everyone likes lists)

1. Biggest Item on My Wish List: Bigger Viewfinders

I peered through the much-improved viewfinder of the Canon Cinema EOS C100 Mark II and thought “I want it bigger.” Ditto with the Canon Cinema EOS C300 Mark II. And the Zacuto Eye. And the SmallHD Sidefinder.

I like the finder on my Sony a6000 [B&H | Amazon] better than all of them (for size or eye relief, anyway), but really: have you ever looked through the viewfinder of a Contax 645? Nirvana.

2. Biggest Fantasy Product Announcement That Hasn’t Come Yet But I’m Still Hopeful: Sony a6000s

Imagine the Sony a6000s as an 8 megapixel update of the a6000 [B&H | Amazon] which makes no pretense that you will ever print murals and in fact will use your hybrid primarily for indie filmmaking. If Sony can deliver stunning high ISO footage and pretty good dynamic range with 12 mp on a full frame sensor, why can’t they do the same for an APS-C sized sensor with 8 mp? I’d even be willing to forego 4K.

3. Most Interesting Company: Vitec

Vitec continues to build an incredible stable of brands through acquisition, and much to its credit is apparently not engaging in asphyxiation-level funding: from Manfrotto to smallHD, Teradek, LitePanels and beyond, they’re showing new and interesting products. Their exhibits were manned by people both young and old, all of whom I found to be genuinely knowledgeable, enthusiastic…and nice.

4. Company Most Acclimated to Vegas: Atomos

You had to be there. Let’s just say it involved samurai swords and body paint.

5. Most Disappointing Missing-in-Action Company: Sigma

With their Art series lenses, Sigma is challenging the supremacy of the two 800 pound lens gorillas in the room: Canon and Zeiss. I was disappointed that Sigma wasn’t there.

6. Company I'm Most Disappointed I Didn't Find Even Though It Was There: Rotolight

Their NEO is very interesting to me, and I absolutely wanted to fondle one in the plastic. Maybe some time soon via another venue.

Rotolight Neo

Rotolight Neo

7. Most Perplexing Question I Meant To Ask Someone But Didn't: Where is 4K Really Usable Most of the Time?

If we already have bandwidth problems and horrible compression artifacts watching HD via the Internet, how the heck is 4K going to look any better if all the pipes are the same as they are today? Related question: if I have Verizon FIOS 75/75, why are my actual speeds as measured by Ookla so variable and too often down to under 10mbps?

8. Most “Wait a Minute, Company I Need to Take Another Look At:” Blackmagic Design

I remember when everyone first raved about the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, but frankly I cringed at the workflow, CPU and hardware power requirements – along with the thought of having to learn another “manual of arms” – so I avoided it. And while the original URSA was interesting, it simply looked too big. With the URSA mini and the micro twins, I really need to rethink this. It's the first time I truly want to invest the time to go hands-on.

9. Most iOS Aware Product (TIE): Manfrotto’s Digital Director; DJI’s and 3DR’s Drone Apps; Teradek’s Live:Air App

These are the guys who get the power of smartphones and tablets and are doing the most with them. Honorable mention: Syrp, for its control of the new Genie mini. All motion control should be handled this way, full stop.

10. Most Interesting Wireless Products (TIE): VidiuPro (Teradek); Trans Array (Aputure)

As I wrote above, I don’t fully understand how the Teradek VidiuPro “bonds” up to four smartphones to essentially parallelize bandwidth for streaming, and I don’t know if the gains in throughput are linear – or sufficient for true zero-delay wireless monitoring. But with this written, it is a fascinating notion to leverage the smartphones present at just about every location shoot to get there.

The Trans Array that Aputure showed me is not yet shipping, but it seems to represent a quantum leap in throughput at a price point ($500) reserved for much lower-performing gear. The proof will be in the final shipping product, but the demo was very impressive.

11. Most Coulda-Been-a-Contenda: Canon XC10

The Canon XC-10 has a non-interchangeable zoom lens and it costs $2,499, but it also records 4K, has an interesting form factor, is lightweight – and is backed by Canon. It’s unclear that there is a compelling market appetite for it, but more critically there are other aggressively priced, less compromised options out there. Then again, maybe Canon sees something I don’t.

12. The Person (and Company) Most Focused on People: George Olver of Movidiam

George didn’t have a booth at the show, and Movidiam is still operating a bit below the radar floor, but we connected on the floor at NAB. He brought me up to date on Movidiam, a mash-up of Linkedin and Facebook designed solely for filmmaking creatives to connect. I really like it.

13. Nicest Guys from the Most Unexpected Place: Darrin & Yosef of B&H

Yes, planet5D is an affiliate of B&H (but truly: no one's putting his kid through college on affiliate sales here).

But I'd never met nor spoken with Darrin and Yosef  until the show.

Within minutes we were chatting for what seemed like an hour across many subjects. I really, really liked them both.

14. Best Odd Couple (and I mean that in a good way): Ted and Ray, Aputure

Ted is the marketing guy at Aputure and Ray is the company’s product manager. Where Ted is a force of nature — smart, enthusiastic, personable, funny — Ray is very reserved  until you get him on a Skype video call a few days after the conference, when he becomes very animated about the company’s mission, target audience, and product pipeline. He is a very smart man.  Interestingly, Aputure was the only company who asked for feedback on their products.

As I said when I first reviewed Aputure’s LED panel: keep an eye on this company.

15. Best Sport: Dan May, President, Americas, Blackmagic Design

Dan was fantastic. He couldn't have been nicer, and frankly his willingness to put up with an (almost!) nonsensical request to cover his three new cameras in 15 seconds each — and nail it — was outstanding. Dan, you are the man!

On the other hand…

16. Guys Who Pissed Me Off the Most: Two Elegantly Dressed Guys from a Revered Company which Shall Remain Nameless

They conducted competitive research at the Canon pavilion by poring over the one available XC10. They ran through all of the menus and — unlike most people I saw — clearly had no concept of nor interest in the fact that there were other people who wanted to get a sense of Canon's XC10. They certainly could have afforded to buy one. Or a hundred.

17. Greatest Irony

With all of the incredible gear I saw, it is a fact that I chose to shoot all 30 interviews over the course of two days using nothing more than an iPhone 6 and my own right arm as a selfie stick. Of COURSE audio and video could have been better — but they were good enough, proving once again that the best camera is the one you have on you.

And, finally…

18. Loneliest Booth at NAB That Shouldn’t Have Been: Celtx

Celtx is a recent entrant in the screenwriting software/pre-production space, a cloud-based alternative to the industry standard Final Draft and – to a lesser extent – Movie Magic Screenwriter.

Celtx has identified real needs that these two do not meet, so I went over there to check it out. Their booth was at the outer fringe of the exhibitors, and you could almost hear the crickets chirp that far away.

I think they’d do well to create a truly seamless import of Final Draft and Screenwriter formats which intelligently retains all the formatting – just the way Microsoft made it easy from people to migrate from Lotus 1-2-3 to Excel. Failing that, I think they have a tough row to hoe.

But insofar as most films and broadcasts begin with a script — hey, it's always about the story! — I’d have hoped they’d had greater foot traffic.

Oh well.

A Pair of Strategic Revelations

1. Smart de-contenting and modularizing at the industry level presages the return of  Hasselblad, Rollie 6008 and Contax 645-style truly modular systems.

Blackmagic was able to show an incredible set of price points for two reasons:

  1. They weren't afraid to obsolete their own products.
  2. They understood that they could (and should) unbundle functionality. The URSA Mini's entry price is without a viewfinder or shoulder pad, but hey — many of us already have one or both — or are happy to pick up a Zacuto Eye when it ships for about $1,500; Blackmagic's own URSA viewfinder for $1,495; or SmallHD's SideFinder for $1,499 coming out this summer. Neither the Micro Cinema nor Micro Studio 4K camera has a viewfinder, LED, or internal recording, but hey — many of us already have monitors, recorders, or combo units — or are happy to pick up an Atomos Ninja Star for $295; a Blade for $995; maybe an Aputure VS-3 for $380; or Blackmagic's own Video Assist for $495.

Blackmagic isn't completely there yet, but at the moment they are best positioned to go full Hassy — and create an ecosystem around it. The key will be to remember where Hassy went wrong and avoid that same mistake. I'm betting on Blackmagic.

On a smaller scale, Zacuto's Eye is set to be priced at half of a Gratical [B&H | Amazon] while using the identical screen by eliminating assists and instead relying on in-camera capabilities.  This is a better idea.  I bet they sell way more Eyes than Graticals — and make more profit doing so.

On the flip side, Canon could have hit a home-run with a modularized XC10, but they weren't willing to obsolete their own products.  I understand.  It's a hard thing to do, and no one wants to see people lose their jobs.  But that is the challenge of corporate leadership, isn't it? True leadership means investing in one's own people and taking them in strategically sound directions, rather than squeezing the last possible drop of profit from lines that are getting long in the tooth and then laying off people who no longer have relevant skills. That's how people keep their jobs; how companies grow more jobs; and both — along with customers — have higher satisfaction. Just ask what's left of Kodak — or the coal industry.

2. The era of hardware controllers is ending because software has much less inertial drag; can have one common interface; and is dramatically cheaper.

Sure, at this NAB Apple was officially nowhere to be found. But from drones (DJI, 3DR) to motion control (Syrp), camera control (Manfrotto Digital Director), lighting control (even ARRI was showing off a Bluetooth Module on its new Sky Panel, and I was told LitePanel was testing with Bluetooth via iOS as well), and live broadcasting (Teradek's Live:Air app for $99), iPhones and iPads were everywhere.

A corollary of modularization, it simply makes sense that components play nicely together — and Bluetooth apps in iOS and Android are the way forward.

I don't think this is just for enthusiasts, amateurs, small production companies, and indies, either — I see this as becoming ubiquitous even in the work-a-day professional filmmaking community.  Why? Because a good iPhone or Android app — if it isn't already as good — will rapidly catch up to and pull past in-camera, in-motion control, in-lighting and other manufacturer-specifc software wedded to their hardware.

Magic Lantern was an early proof point, but for-profit apps can move the industry faster.

And this is true because companies manufacturing cameras, motion control, lighting, and other hardware don't have — can't have — the same critical mass of competence of software development in-house that pure software developers do.

Well, at least I think so.

YMMV (your mileage may vary).

A Thank You

Thanks to everyone who took the time to chat with me; NAB for putting on a great show; and to my dear friend Mark, who was really the one who convinced me to make the trip. It was an honor as well as a privilege.

(cover photo credit: snap from the video)


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