Today I got the chance for to walk around the annual BSC gear show. This is a highlight of the cinematography year for me as I get to geek out over the latest gear. It’s also a chance for me to gauge my place in the industry as I slowly settle into shooting more in the UK. This year more people knew who I was (and I knew who they were) and shook my hand, a very welcoming sign indeed.
The 2012 show held in the George Lucas stage at Elstree Studios was even better than my last one in 2010 as it was obvious a fire had been lit under manufacturers with the new wave of smaller digital cameras bringing a surge of 3rd party lenses, mounts and solutions.
3D didn’t play such a big role, but was more integrated as “just another tool” with the Epic and Alexa camera rigs taking up very little visual room. These rigs are no bigger than normal sync 35mm cameras now.
Stepping through the door to the very high soundstage (they have them here but I would never shoot in anything other than draughty old warehouses, it’s in my contract) I first chatted to the affable gentleman from Ronford-Baker maker of lovely pan and tilt heads and sliders. I’m not a great fan of their Atlas head and prefer Oconnor’s 5275c mainly because I unusually have my fluid friction set very lightly, but the rep let me know that they’re happy to sell me a head with custom viscosity. What they did have which was extraordinary was their Atlas 7 replacement for the clunky old F7 head. This thing rocked and is no tools and ultra configurable and had proper fluid damping.
Next up I had a chat to the guys from Tiffen about their streak effect filters that come in many flavours and colours and give you that anamorphic horizontal bleed and flare without the expense of actual anamorphic lenses. I think I will use these here and there (great for hiding a dodgy prop on a magical genre show I know) but they only rent these as they’re way too pricey to buy.
Tiffen were also showing off their cheaper Phantom Steadicam® rig which I’ve used and think is great. It has less bells and whistles but is cheaper and works like a dream for 99% of the shots a steadicam operator would require. Interestingly Tiffen have finally caved and realised they aren’t a monitor maker and now sell all big rigs with Transvideo flat panel HD monitors.
Stepping across to the Arri booth I had a chat to the reps there about the new Alexa M and Studio cameras. The Studio camera was there in prototype form and having currently shot my last show on the Alexa Plus I had a few questions for them. My main one was to find out what they would do for the poor operator trying to use the optical finder while squinting through the 1.5ND filters that are often in the 800ASA camera. it’s not a problem with the EVF on the Plus model, but tricky out in the sun for a normal film camera let alone one with such a high sensitivity. The answer (which was requested from DPs) was to place a single sealed ND filter in front of the LPF and behind the spinning mirror. Just the one and they said it was ND1.4 which I think was a little weird. I think it’ll either be 1.2 or 1.5 to save DPs having to learn any new fractions (I only think in 1/3rds now, it’s tricky at the bank). Shame they couldn’t adopt a nice Betacam style ND wheel. Something Sony had so right in the past. Speaking of which, the F65 was there, but for me I’ll wait to play with that on a job. I’m sure the pictures it produces are great but I’m sick of operating cameras the size of microwave ovens.
It was nice to see the Alexa Studio dressed up with a Vantage anamorphic lens to show off the 4×3 sensor. Next door to it was the Alexa M body, but I’m personally not that interested in that so I moved on to the LED lights from Arri.
The LP7-C light was there, a fresnel with an LED light engine capable of dimming from low tungsten through to high daylight colour temperature and also any hue and saturation all on board without DMX needing to be plugged in. It’s very nice and looks sturdily made. This along with the terrific Caster LED lights show how far these LED lights have come in 2 years. There were also great showings from Kino, Dedo and Gekko lighting at the event.
It was very noticeable at the show that digital high speed photography has also, like 3D, reached a comfort level from pervious years. There were loads of HS cameras and most major rental houses now stock Weisscams or Phantom Golds and Flex cameras. There was a great display showing two cameras recording a water drop landing on a hotplate and dancing around at 2000FPS.
Perhaps the highlight of the show fro me was the chance to chat to Olaf Michalke from Movie Intercom Lighting FX Tools, designer and mad scientist behind the LFXHub lighting FX generator. This was exactly what I was looking for, a relatively cheap brain to control lights via DMX for paparazzi flashes, fire and candle flickers, television set glows and even as a lightning strikes replacement. Olaf clocked that I got the idea behind the machine quickly and then gave me a great presentation with his box of tricks making LED and tungsten lamps look like fires, candles and flash bulbs. The LFXHub controls up to 3 channels of DMX while also having a built in powered channel to connect directly to a single source. Even better you could add modular sensors and we had a lot of fun pointing the sensor at a lighter and as he struck the lighter it remotely controlled the dimming of a key light to match. No more relying on the cockney best boy to watch the actor to queue the light. He also had an in line sensor that could tell when the circuit was changed. Switch a practical light on and the sensor switches your key light on perfectly. Point the visual sensor at a real candle and it dims a lamp in a lovely realistic way to match.
Olaf’s big surprise for me was the lighting setups for lightning. He had a great video showing DMX control of 3x 6K PAR HMIs with mechanical shutters slaved to his box for nicely timed and non power-hungry lightning. No more hire-ins of lightning strikes and taxing use of the generator. I’m pretty sure I’ll be getting one of these boxes myself it would come in so handy and at under £3000 it’s a pretty decent tool.
There was a lot more to see and comment on, but it’s easy to overload on all the gear and I had a very sunny day calling me back outside to motorcycle back into London through the woods of Hertfordshire, but lastly I have to comment that one of my favourite people at the BSC show (after lovely ex Kodak rep Karen Laguilles) was the friendly gentleman from www.boomrental.co.uk who has a thriving business renting out old fisher studio booms. You know the ones still used on Shortland Street to swing the mic over the set? Well he’s modified them (as he had 3) to carry springballs and china lanterns. Apparently on Tim Burton’s latest film they had long running takes and a lighting tech could swing the lantern around the set following actors around smoothly with no bouncing or tired/grumpy gaffers. Genius.