JHWFF ’15: The 4K and VR tech round-up

Camera and lens makers demonstrated their latest 4K products at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, while new players in virtual reality established a foothold at the Wyoming event for the first time.
October 16, 2015

Technologically speaking, 4K was the elephant in the room at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival with camera and lens makers demonstrating their latest 4K products, but for the first time, new players in virtual reality established a clear foothold at the Wyoming event.

The rise of VR was best exemplified in the multiple panels and floor of demos by such familiar and unfamiliar players as 360 Heros, Atlantic Productions, Condition One, Discovery, Dolby, Pixel Corps, Next VR and Nokia. The latter also debuted a streamlined VR camera that was slightly smaller than a volleyball, but much heavier.

If the extensive VR presence suggested a gathering windfall, it was all but confirmed during a “Business of Virtual Reality” panel, though the booming tech still comes with its own set of challenges.

“Billions will be invested in VR in the next few years, but our biggest challenge will be getting the public to put the headsets on, much as with 3D,” said Mark Dragun, director of business development and emerging media at Dolby Digital, who added that more accessible subject matter should also be on the agenda.

“For wildlife filmmakers, the bigger challenge may be putting away the long lenses and switching to subjects willing to nuzzle versus flee the camera,” he added.

On the 4K tip, Canon’s new CN 20×50 4K caliber lens and C300 Mark II 4K camera provided compelling close-ups, while their brand new US$2,500 XC10 wi.10X lens kept the viewer at a more respectful distance. The company’s $1 million ISO HD camera, the ME20F, easily captured the action in the moonlight.

Red Digital demonstrated its latest UHD weapon, aptly named ‘Weapon’ with a 6K sensor, soon to be upgraded to an 8K sensor. Red also tantalized smaller indies with a new 4K camera priced at around $10,000 for a full-fledged unit – including on-board monitor – set to land in early 2016.

Elsewhere, Panasonic demonstrated several 4K cameras including its modular Varicam S35 which captures up to 120 fps at 4-4-4 internally and its $4,000 4K camera, the AG DVX, which does the same, albeit not at 4-4-4.

Arri demonstrated their 4K Alexa Mini – which detaches from the recorder much like the Varicam S35 does, but more compactly – in addition to the doc-friendly Amira 4K.

Sony’s 4K camera line-up included the company’s esteemed and well-established F65, F55 and FS7 4K cameras, plus their forthcoming FS5, which emulates the FS7 but with fewer 4K recording options, though it features a continuously adjustable ND filter.

Meanwhile, Fujinon demonstrated the superior optics of their HK 4K Premier+ zoom lenses, including the largest – a 75-400 mm lens priced at $100,000. The company also hinted at forthcoming products that cost even less than their economical Cabrio lens line.

While some broadcasters encouraged producers to capture in 4K whenever possible, only two – NHK and Discovery – signaled their interest in 4K content in the short-term. Both have 4K channels set to launch in early 2016.

A tip for those planning to deliver 4K programs to Discovery is that the network has adopted 60 fps vs. 30 fps as their default frame rate for the 4K channel, in order to “enhance viewing.” As such, all of those new 4K cameras touting 4x slow-mo capability at 120 fps will now be reduced to 2x, particularly if other broadcasters follow Discovery’s lead.

One caveat for 4K shooters contemplating 4K delivery, however, is that no broadcaster seemed willing to make up the 33% cost differential for 4K acquisition, data management and delivery, which was similarly the case during the transition to HD.

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