Sure, you can shoot in HD – if you’re willing to settle for lower quality. This past NAB featured a line-up of 2K and 4K cameras with sexy names like Red One, Evolution and Phantom65. Granted, this wasn’t the first year such cameras were showcased. Dalsa (Digital Cinema) introduced Origin, a 4K digital cine camera, several years ago, but its size, cost and dependence on bulky recorders made it impractical for all but the most fanatic pioneers with deep pockets.
That is partly why a nine-pound 4K camera like Red One, by Red Digital Cinema, generated so much buzz. The prospect of being able to use, and even own a 4K digital camera, which also captures 2K and 1080p HD, all in a standard-sized pro camcorder package at mid-range HD prices, seemed too good to be true. That is why so many waited in hour-long lines at NAB to see Crossing the Line, the 12-minute Red One demo produced by A-list director Peter Jackson. Mandalay Media Arts’ co-chairman Barry Clark noted of the demo, ‘Even though it was edited in Red Raw, a compressed (12:1) codec, it still looked remarkably like 35mm film… Red could revolutionize the industry, like dv did a decade ago.’
While Red Digital will offer a set of primes and zooms among many accessories for Red One, Jackson used his own preferred PL mount lenses. Red One purchasers lacking a stable of 35mm film lenses will have the option to buy modestly priced primes and a wide zoom from Red Digital, or adapt Nikon 35mm SLR lenses, or use B4 mount (2/3′) hd lenses.
Red sucked up so much oxygen at NAB that non-fanatics of digi-cine cameras easily overlooked other new or improved 2K and 4K cameras. These included Dalsa’s Evolution – a downsized Origin (4046 × 2048) with a dynamic range of 12-plus stops, plus an optical viewfinder option. New this year was ‘flash mag,’ an onboard flash drive which stores up to 40 minutes of raw 4K.
At US$23,000, Silicon Imaging’s SI-2K is a fraction of the price of a Dalsa. It is unique in its class thanks to a detachable camera head which enables operation at up to 100 meters from the recorder (or laptop, with the appropriate software). Although it is a 2K camera, with a single 16mm frame-sized CMOS sensor, it meets current specs for digital cinema apps and records directly to disk.
Also on display was Vision Research’s Phantom65, the world’s first 65mm digi-cine camera with selectable aspect ratios (70mm, super 35mm, 16:9 hd, etc.) At 4K it records at up to 120fps, while the 2K version, the PhantomHD, records up to 1000fps.
Unfortunately, many of these innovations won’t be available until the second half of the year. ‘Lots of folks are waiting to see how Red performs in the real world before buying new cameras,’ observes Clark. ‘If it does well I think you’ll see them used widely on features and in non-fiction. Right now, there’s a lot of evaluating going on, and 2008 could be the year that 4K digital really gets rolling. For now, it might be best to rent, rather than buy an HD or 4K camera, until this all shakes out.’