Friday, April 27, 2007

7 Hot Products for Guerrillas at NAB 2007

I recently returned from the annual NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) Show in Las Vegas. If you're not familiar with the NAB show, it's the world's largest electronics show where all the camera, sound, light and software manufacturers show off all their newest and hottest gear.

NAB is definitely worth making a pilgrimage to sometime, especially if you are a gearhead or techie. Not only c
an you check all the latest in film and video tools, but you can talk to the people who make and represent the products... all side-by-side. The show floor is so big that you can not take it all in in a day.

Below is my report on some the most exciting new and recent products for guerrillas that I saw at NAB. Keep in mind, these are my favorite picks for products that I believe would be useful for us low-budget guerrillas, so I'm not covering all the coolest gadgets I saw, just the ones that are practical and reasonably affordable for the low-budget crowd. By the way, you can click to enlarge most of the pix below. Please feel free to share a comment if you have info or links to add about these products. Here's my take:

1. The Rosco LitePad

Rosco, best known for their gels, has made a new venture in the world of lighting with their new LitePad. Rosco's LitePads are ultraslim light units that resemble two panes of plexiglass sandwiched together. They consume very little power (12volts). They are lightweight and generate very little heat. Rosco's website suggests using them as prop lights (as in the light source from a tv or computer) or to squeeze into tight sets for supplementary lighting. It was too bright on the showfloor to tell, but I would venture to say that these units could also be employed as onboard camera lights for ENG and doc shooting- essentially, a poor man's LitePanel. They come in various shapes and sizes from 3x3 up to 12x12. Best of all they are affordably priced. I believe the rep quoted the price on the 3"x12" unit at just under $200.00 . For some reason exact pricing on these units is still pretty elusive, but I know they are way cheaper than the popular, but pricey, LED LitePanels. If anyone has actualy used these units in the field, pleae enlighten us more with a comment below.

2. Sony's XDCam EX

Sony has jumped onto the solid state bandwagon with it's new prosumer entry, the XDCam-EX, which is basically Sony's answer to Panasonic's HVX-200. (Check out Camcorder Info's video clip about the XD-Cam EX.) Scheduled to drop somewhere around the end of this year, the XDCam EX will be priced comparably to the HVX-200 at around $8000. Most notably, the XDCam EX will feature three 1/2" image chips and capture 1080i, 720P and 1080P HD footage to Express PC cards which fit neatly into a little slot on Apple's MacBook Pro and other PC computers for instant editing. It has variable frame rates, so you can under or overcrank the camera to get fast or slow motion effects. Sony's Express PC cards are called "SxS Cards" (pronounced "S by S"). The SxS Express Cards are smaller and transfer data faster than Panasonic's P2 cards. According to Sony a 16GB SxS card will hold about an hour of HD footage. The camera has 2 SxS card slots, so you could shoot a total of 2 hours if you had two cards. It' smaller than the HVX and I think even smaller than Sony's HDV line. Canon...the tapeless aquisition ball's in your court. Man up!

3. Digitronics Spycopter

Digitronics apparently makes little flash card cameras and RC helicopters seperately and eventually got the bright idea to put the two together and the result is a Down and Dirty news chopper. Okay, maybe that's a stretch, but the ability to get controled aerial video shots for under $1000 is still quite notable. I wasn't very impressed with the imagery of the Digitronics flash memory video camera, but it could probably pass muster for online videos, quick crowd shots, bird or insect point-of-view shots, and anything quick. I also imagine you could also get away with some sort of special FX treatment in post like posterization, heavy grain, black and white, etc. I honestly have no practical filmmaking use for it at the moment, but I'm sure if I think on it a little longer on it I'll come up with a good reason to get one, (or at least a reason that will convince my wife).

4. Tiffen DFX Digital Filter Suite

Tiffen, the king of filters, has come up with a very intriguing new product with their new DFX Digital Filter Suite software hitting the market any day now. It’s sort of their version of Magic Bullet software. Only instead of just film looks, Tiffen’s software also simulates hundreds of different Tiffen filters such as graduated sky filters, Soft FX, star filters, on and on, all for about $300. I’m still a little skeptical for reasons I‘ll get to in a moment, but two things really impressed me about this software: 1) It has a clean simple user-friendly interface similar to Apple’s software products (iFilter?), but also integrates into Final Cut Pro and Avid and 2) It packs in a wide-variety of preset looks and Filter FX that can also be customized and tweaked further. The only reason I’m skeptical, is that in the demo that Tiffen gave on the show floor, they only used still photos. All the images looked great with the filters applied and it only took a few minutes to create mattes and completely change the image to a variety of different looks. Which certainly leaves one to question whether the product is considerably slower with video FX and whether the video FX will look as good as the stills. (Otherwise, why would you only demo still photos to a moving video crowd?) So I’m skeptical, but if this product performs as claimed and as I saw demo’ed, I think it would be a powerful addition to any videographers arsenal allowing us greater flexibility and ease with manipulating our images- after the fact. The most obvious application to me was for music videos. They have free demos, but I haven’t had a chance to install it and put it through the paces. To get a free demo, click here then fill out the form on and make sure you put "DFX" in the Feedback box. In my experience, Tiffen’s always put out quality stuff, so I suspect that even if this first software offering does have quirks and issues, it will probably improve with time. When I get around to doing a full demo, I’ll try to put something online. No promises though.

5. Toon Boom Storyboard Pro

Storyboarding software has been around for awhile now, but Toon Boom takes it to the next level with the addition of animatics in Storyboard Pro. Unlike some other storyboarding programs that give you bare bones starter images, Storyboard Pro comes fully loaded with plenty of characters, props, and settings. Moreover, it can be used with a Wacom tablet, so you can sketch your own storyboards directly into the program. Coloring in and resizing characters and props takes just seconds. However, where Storyboard Pro really shines is in it's ability to animate the completed storyboards to replicate dolly shots, crane shots, zooms, etc. in a matter of minutes. Again, it's easy, fast, and effective... all synonymous with Down and Dirty filmmaking. Unfortunately at $900.00 it ain't cheap. However, if you shoot action features or do animation, this tool could go a long way to saving time experimenting with shots that don't work and let you fully visualize your film before a single frame is even shot.

6. Hoodman Wrist Support

If you're shooting Down and Dirty-style chances are you do a lot of handheld, and if you're skinny like me, chances are your wrist hurts like hell after a long day of shooting. Take the Ben-Gay out of your camera bag and try replacing it with one of these babies from Hoodman, the maker of popular LCD screen hoods. I tried this out for a few minutes on the show floor and really liked the feel. It's not a steadying device, although it definitely helps. Rather, this is a rigid padded wrist support that kinda resembles the wrist pads used for rollerblading with two hard splints on either side and a mounting bracket for the camera similar to that on a tripod. It distributes the camera weight more evenly over the forearm which takes a considerable amount of strain off your wrist and the velcro fasteners keep it snug and comfortable. With this little gadget, you can actually drop your hand and completely let go of the camera and it will still stay snug. It actually feels more like the camera is some type of cyborg extension of your arm. You don't hold it as much as it becomes another part of you...very cool. At around $200.00 (if I recall correctly) it's definitely within a guerrilla budget and well-worth it for people who do a lot of handheld camerawork. At last check, they didn't have it up on their website yet, but I'm sure it will materialize soon. (photo from

7. The Losmandy Spider Dolly

I wrote about this one in a previous post, so I'm just gonna link to it. I'm listing it here again, because I'm still surprised that more people don't know about this innovative little dolly by the good people at Losmandy. It's easier to use, more flexible, and less expensive than many dollies on the market and the whole thing folds up into a little suitcase. I played with it for about an hour on the show floor and remain a huge fan. Anyway, click here for the previous post.

Wrap Up

So that's about it for my top picks. There were plenty of hot products at NAB this year, but these are just the top five that immediately caught my imagination as effective tools for digital filmmakers on a budget.

Now I'm sure many of you may be wondering what about the amazing incredible mythical legendary
Red One 4K camera and why it's not on this list. The truth is it was the biggest buzz of the show and I was so impressed that I want to give it it's own entry apart from this round up, so I'll be dropping a video podcast on it as well... very very exciting stuff happening there. Stay tuned peeps. Til next time...

Peace, Love and Video, Baby. I'm out.