NAB report: 4K takes center stage

4K technology was the talk of the town at the 2014 NAB conference in Las Vegas, realscreen contributor Carl Mrozek reports, while 3D is all but a distant memory for most manufacturers. (Pictured: the Blackmagic URSA Hero 1)
April 22, 2014

4K technology was the talk of the town at the 2014 NAB conference in Las Vegas, realscreen contributor Carl Mrozek reports, while 3D is all but a distant memory for most manufacturers.

NAB 2014 left little doubt that 4K is the next big thing in TV as well as in cinema.

With the angst over how much R&D to devote to 3D behind them, manufacturers are now all-in for 4K production, and are busy fleshing out the requisite toolkits. This year’s Las Vegas conference saw not only more 4k cameras, but more complete acquisition systems in both 4K and 2K.

While more than a handful of 4K cameras were announced at NAB last year, only a fraction of those were actually available for use. This year, those cameras are finally operational, and some have already had firmware upgrades, like the Phantom Flex 4K, by Vision Research. While still the fastest production camera family on the market, the Flex 4K at 1000 fps no longer monopolizes the high-speed space, with various cameras exceeding 200 fps at 2K and 120 fps in 4K, including a newcomer to ultra HD cameras.

AJA – which is renowned for capture cards, field recorders and convertors, including its KiPro 4K – debuted its first 4K camera. CION has a 4K APS-C (CMOS) sensor and mechanical back focus, and it records 4K and 2K in Apple Pro Res 444 and 422 (plus proxies) at frame rates up to 60p, to its own ‘Pack Storage’ SSDs and higher with Ki Pro Quad. Its native PL mount can be swapped out for other standard mounts, and has a shoulder mount for handheld shooting. Starting at under $10,000 (without viewfinder) CION may fill the gap between the $5,000 and $15,000 4K cameras: ideal for news, docs and unscripted work.

Blackmagic Design introduced an even more affordable 4K solution, by half, with Ursa, which includes a large 10″ fold-out monitor, and an interchangeable S35 4K sensor which can be swapped for M4/3″ and even 2/3″sensors on a project basis, to make use of particular lenses and to optimize workflows and outputs (the Blackmagic URSA Hero 1 is pictured above). Ursa packages range from US$4,400-$6,400 including DaVinci Resolve.

Blackmagic also dropped the price on its 4K Cine Camera to only $3,000, after a half year’s shipping delay. It features a Super 35 sensor, global shutter and captures 4K to ProRes 422HQ SSDs, plus an uncompressed audio recorder. It also showcased its ultra compact Pocket Cine Camera with a Super16 sensor, 13 stops of dynamic range, but only 1080p capture (for only $1,000).

Elsewhere, Arri introduced Amira, its first new camera in several years, which uses Alexa sensors with 14 stops of latitude to capture 2K at up to 200 fps with Pro Res 444 and 422. It is ergonomically designed for over-the-shoulder shooting of docs and news, and boasts 14 stops of latitude with low noise. Like the Alexa, it is available with various licensing options depending on the codecs, color grading and frame rates needed.

While Canon had no new 2K or 4K camera releases on hand, it showcased film clips from the blockbuster action film The Need for Speed featuring its increasingly battle-tested EOS C500 used in 80% of the shooting, including one which went up in a blaze of glory during a spectacular car crash gone awry. Speed-wise, C500s currently max out at 120 fps, but boast an ISO of 80K+.

Canon also unveiled new 4K lenses: a Cine-Servo 17-120mm and a series of primes from 14-135mm. Canon showcased color management within the entire visible spectrum with its new V3010 4k studio monitors working in synch with Barco’s DP4K- P4K projector.

In addition, JVC unveiled a few new cameras to its 4K camera series, including a full-sized production camera which captures 4K at up to 60 fps, and HD and 2K at 200+ fps. However, you’ll have to wait until Q3 and Q4 for most of them. JVC also introduced two large (50″-60″+) studio 4k monitors.

Panasonic finally unveiled its long anticipated 4K Varicam with a super 35 sensor, 14 stops of latitude, in camera color grading, up to 120 fps in 4K, and a new codec:  AVC Intra 4K with simultaneous HD or proxy recording and wireless RAW recording to a Codex raw recorder. An HD variation, the Varicam HS (High Speed), has 2/3″ CMOS sensors, captures virtually lossless AVC Intra 200 at 1-240 fps and features dual recording to Express and micro-P2 cards. Its new Lumix GH4 also captures 4K for a fraction of the cost.

Perhaps the biggest news from Sony for non-fiction shooters is that now you can upgrade your F5 to a full-fledged F55 for the difference in its list price. But now that the F5 exactly mirrors the F55′s frame rates (240fps+), some may choose to forego the $9,000-10,000 on a smaller B camera, like the Z100 camcorder ($5,500) which captures 4K at up to 60p and HD at up to 120p.

Sony’s big new 4K camera this year was its ultra-compact Alpha 7s with a full frame 35mm sensor and a mirrorless shutter that captures Pro Res 444 internally and RAW externally as with Shogun, a new 4k RAW recorder by Atomos. With a max ISO of 408k, Alpha 7s can actually focus in the dark.

Finally, this year RED’s 6K Dragon sensor evolved into its latest, greatest Epic model, the Epic Dragon, boasting 19 megapixel frame grabs. Ultra high-res glossy movie poster-sized prints of a fashion shoot projected in 4K, via Red Ray, demonstrated the new dual-functionality. RED now offers the Dragon 6K sensor with its Scarlet cameras, creating a buyer’s dilemma for the under $20,000 camera budget: higher res or higher frame rates?

About The Author