SMPTE, Australia’s prime and only film and television industry trade show is a biennial event and was staged at a venue a stone’s throne from Fox Studios. The event was plagued by cold, grey skies and constant rain that often made its way inside creaky heritage-listed buildings. There was plenty to see and knowledge to be gained nonetheless.
Trade shows and industry events that used to default to Sydney’s Darling Harbour-based Convention and Exhibition Centre have had to think different during the long rebuilding process due for completion late 2016. Alternative venues throughout the city and suburbs have been pressed into service, not always 100-percent successfully.
SMPTE2015, located this year at the old Hordern Pavilion and Royal Hall of Industries in Moore Park south of the city CBD is a case in point. Those two buildings may have been state of the art once, but they have long been relegated to backwater status for good reasons – partially open to the weather, under-insulated and under-heated, they are less than amazing places to stage technology shows.
Especially during one of Sydney’s many rainy spells. I felt for the company staffers who were forced to endure bitter cold and thrashing rain while manning small temporary marquees – one was cooking sausages on an outdoor BBQ throughout the day and I am sure the food he was preparing was as sodden as he was.
The rain also meant a no-show for the drones featured in the Australian Drone Expo. My drone knowledge is slim to none at best and I was saddened to lose such a rare opportunity to observe and learn.
SMPTE stands for Society of Motion Picture & Television Engineers and true to the society’s name the SMPTE conference and exhibition is heavy on the engineering back-end side of things. It is definitely the place to go for the big electronics and big iron that drives film and TV production and post-production from behind the scenes, not quite the complete solution for independent and mainstream cinematographers, directors and producers wanting a complete, in-depth overview of current acquisition and editing hardware and software. For that we must look to foreign trade shows like NAB and IBC amongst many.
SMPTE2015 had its high points for me and potentially more of them than I had time to take in. If you want to take everything in then two days are necessary – I had just one due to family commitments and illnesses.
I may be atypical – I see these events as an in-depth education opportunity and that involves working through each stand, finding the experts there, getting my hands dirty with a hands-on and really understanding what I am looking at.
To do it right, one day is never enough and so I had to skip a few exhibitors I had on my to-do list. Pity. We don’t have a B&H-style emporium where we can touch and try everything we have ever dreamed of and more besides. If you miss it at a trade show then there goes what may often be your best chance.
Some SMPTE2015 High Points
I had a few brands and items at the top of my to-do list. An important one for me was Rotolight, at the C.R. Kennedy stand. CRK imports and distributes a range of stills and video hardware and software and I am told their video list is growing slowly but surely. Their most attractive brands from a movie point of view include Schneider, Sigma, Tokina and Zeiss, as well as DJI and Movcam.
Rotolight is C.R. Kennedy’s most recent addition. There was plenty of interest in the more established Rotolight RL48-B portable LED ring light kits and the larger Anova LED floodlights caught my eye. I have written about the Rotolight Neo 3 Light Kit I bought recently – I have yet to really scratch the surface of what the Neo can do.
The Rotolight NEO portable LED Light
Imagine Neo as a cross between the Anova and the RL48-B with the amazing color accuracy of the first and the portability of the second. I put Neo’s portability to the test by attaching one to a Motion9 cage containing my Panasonic GH4 and my go-everywhere zoom lens, the Olympus M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro. I shot stills only throughout the day, to illustrate this article, and found no weight nor bulk disadvantage.
The biggest advantage to using a Neo with a subtle diffuser attached like this? Soft, somewhat frontal light to better show up the black-on-black details of equipment on display against dark backgrounds and often lit in pools of hard light in front of deep shadow.
If I had an assistant then I would consider having them handhold a second Neo or a third joined together for even more spread and output, or one Neo fore and one Neo aft to really separate object from background. One Neo did a pretty good job though, as the illustrations here attest.
The Panasonic AG-DVX200 4K Camcorder
Mirrorless cameras are not the universal panacea to all moviemaking needs. Like anything they have their strengths and weaknesses and one of the latter is the need to bolt all sorts of third-party stuff to the camera to get the best out of it.
A camcorder like the DVX200 is entirely self-contained with everything from built-in ND filters through to XLR audio inputs. One possible downside expressed by some is its lack of interchangeable lenses. For me, the DVX200’s Leica Dicomar f/2.8 zoom lens is an advantage. Although the model at the show was an engineering prototype and not a shipping version, it felt solid, well-built and lightweight and I would be happy toting it around all day. Just so long as I added an on-the-shoulder rig like Zacuto’s new generation Recoil.
The other advantage lies in color. The DVX200 will come with Panasonic’s flat, logarithmic V-Log L picture profile, related to the full V-Log profile in its high-end Varicam movie cameras. I suspect that the L stands for “lite” given the Varicams also come with the V-Gamut color space whereas there is sign of V-Gamut coming to the GH4.
Imagine the time and effort savings of shooting and editing together of V-Log L footage from both cameras. Multi-camera shoots are becoming more popular even amongst one-person production teams – I am certainly contemplating two-camera set-ups to enrich documentaries and short movies nowadays.
Two news items which may not be much of a surprise – the DVX200 will be released late October and V-Log L for the GH4 is definitely on its way and should be a paid-for optional extra at US$100, I was unofficially informed.
The Atomos Shogun Monitor/Recorder & Related Products
Atomos gets a stack of gold stars from me for best stand, best product selection, best presenters and best manner of displaying and operating it all. Their stand-out presenter was Vincent LaForet who showed off a selection of night-time aerial shots of cities from his globetrotting AIR project.
There was no shortage of knowledgable Atomos staff members and Jeremy Young, CEO and founder, was in evidence darting about showing off products and ensuring his staff had what they needed. I was impressed by the wide arc of current popular movie camcorders and hybrid cameras set up around the podium, from the GH4 through to the CION and more, equipped with Shoguns and other Atomos digital recorders and monitors.
I was there for the Shogun more than any other of their devices and received a good run-through of its features. With another day at the show I would have set aside time for a hands-on demo.
Mr LaForet made an intriguing revelation – he often uses the Ninja Blade as an off-camera post-shoot director’s monitor for tagging footage as well as assembling rough cuts, after it has served onset as a second on-camera recorder. Sounds like a great way of getting the job done with a device you can fit into a jacket pocket.
There were a couple let-downs that were the result of SMPTE’s focus as a professional organization. Neither Sony nor Panasonic were showing their mirrorless cameras alongside their professional division high-end camcorders and movie cameras.
That division between professional and enthusiast – I dislike the somewhat patronising flavor of that word especially when applied to digital imaging – does not exist in the real world as it appears to in the minds of company management. Mirrorless 4K hybrid cameras like the Panasonic GH4 and Sony A7s have created a second digital movie revolution and I would never dismiss their professional users as mere enthusiasts.
Likewise many moviemakers are using these two cameras alongside their larger siblings as second or third or b-roll cameras with many of the same traits or features that surpass their bigger brothers and sisters. We need to have access to staff who are as familiar with products from both divisions and not be faced with “Sorry, I don’t anything about those cameras”. Corporate structures need to smash down the silos and reflect user reality.
Other disappointments lay in vendors not following the excellent lead set by Atomos. I had hoped to see and try SmallHD’s new 5-inch monitors and Sidefinder kit as well as check out their other reportedly excellent products, but none were connected to cameras of any description. Bending down and staring at the outside of a product meant to be seen through and operated does not inform nor sell.
Likewise Zacuto’s Next Gen Recoil rigs and Gratical EVFs which I am seriously considering investing in for a possible coming documentary feature. There is nothing like trying before you buy or at least before adding it to your budget.
Blackmagic Design’s stand and employees seemed to have been suffering from third-day burnout – I had intended to be there on the opening day and one other but family commitments mitigated against that so attended just on the Thursday. Or perhaps the cause was the engineering focus of the show.
Blackmagic caters for all aspects of the moviemaking and television production spectrum and the big potential buyers were back-end rather than acquisition and post so staff seemed to be concentrating on that.
There was a line-up of current and new Blackmagic cameras attached to tripods and anchored down low as well as a couple of PCs running DaVinci Resolve 12 but that part of their stand was unattended each time I came by. I was there specifically for the cameras and Resolve and I had to leave with questions unanswered.
An Outstanding Issue
There was last thing that rankled throughout a very full and far too short 7-hour day at SMPTE2015, something other female film and TV trade show-goers elsewhere comment upon too. The tendency for trade show booth staff to ignore female attendees.
I can't paint all booth staff with the same brush – there were some terrific, helpful and attentive ones at SMPTE this year. But generally speaking I often felt like the eternal outsider at many booths and tired of having to explain myself and communicate my right to see, try and know.
When, that is, one of the staffers in question approached to help. Too often I wondered if I were invisible. Plenty of work remains to be done before unconscious sexism is erased from all aspects of the Australian film and television industries, especially at its more techie end.SMPTE2015 trade show in Sydney: high points, promise, disappointments & rain, rain, rain. Click To Tweet
About SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers)
The Oscar® and Emmy® Award-winning Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers® (SMPTE®), a professional membership association, is one of the leaders in the advancement of the art, science, and craft of the image, sound, and metadata ecosystem, worldwide. An internationally recognized and accredited organization, SMPTE advances moving-imagery education and engineering across the communications, technology, media, and entertainment industries. Since its founding in 1916, SMPTE has published the SMPTE Motion Imaging Journal and developed more than 800 standards, recommended practices, and engineering guidelines.
More than 6,000 members — motion-imaging executives, engineers, creative and technology professionals, researchers, scientists, educators, and students — who meet in Sections throughout the world sustain the Society. Through the Society’s partnership with the Hollywood Professional Alliance® (HPA®), this membership is complemented by the professional community of businesses and individuals who provide the expertise, support, tools, and infrastructure for the creation and finishing of motion pictures, television programs, commercials, digital media, and other dynamic media content. Information on joining SMPTE is available at www.smpte.org/join.
Learn more about SMPTE Here.
(cover photo credit: snap from SMPTE)