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NAB Day 3: Recap

And that’s a wrap. Fox Frame’s first trip to NAB is over and we’re headed back to Indiana to finish shooting One Day in April (well theoretically at least). I think the biggest take away from this week is that while the industry might be pushing 4K or RAW, the average shooter is still focused on HD. I saw more FS100s, C100s, and DSLRs on the floor, than I did 4K or RAW shooting cameras. Sure, those cameras are more expensive, they’re newer, but nobody uses RAW for web or needs 4K for interviews. To me, that explains why a product like the Atomos Ninja is so popular and why it’s not really time for the every day shooter to worry about RAW or 4K. The average videographer isn’t shooting high-end commercials or feature films. We’re making our living shooting web docs, interview pieces, and smaller commercials for local business. The Atomos products give real value right now. Your C100? Broadcast approved. That’s the whole selling point of the C300 and it’s 3x the price of the C100 with a Ninja.

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Right now I think, and this is definitely true of Fox Frame, we don’t want to spend a ton of money to be bleeding edge or future proof. We want products that work with our existing products and workflow that help us generate more revenue. Broadcast approved codecs do that. RAW and 4K may give you more flexibility to finish, but nobody has time for that. Do your clients want to pay you an extra day rate for a nearly imperceptible difference in quality?

Not to turn this into a business school seminar, but as a small business you want to have the shortest amount of time from sending your invoice off to cashing your check. The best retail companies in the world have spent millions of dollars and countless man-hours figuring out how to only have as much product on hand as they need to sell immediately. The longer you hold on to a product the less new revenue you’re bringing in and the longer its taking you to get the cash you’ve already invoiced. Not only from a profit stand point, but also from a cash flow stand point, spending more time on the edit than is really necessary is hurting your spending power. That nonprofit gig that you shot on RAW with a BMCC when a C100 with a Ninja would have been fine? Not only is quality difference going to be lost in translation, your slowing yourself down and hurting your bottom line.

Obviously, people were excited about the new A7s and the Black Magic Ursa, but the majority of products were all about improving the workflows we’re already using. Rigs, sliders, jibs, wireless transmitters, gimbals (soooooo many gimbals), all of these tools that used to be reserved for Hollywood are dropping in price and opening up a ton of production value for users on a budget. Some of this stuff isn’t super innovative, but I do think that the trend toward giving more people the tools to make really good looking stuff is a good one.

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A few companies really stood out to me: Defy, Pivothead, Novacut, Atomos, and Teradek. I really think Defy have positioned themselves in a good spot. They’re products are very affordable, well made, and they have a great corporate culture that seems to really connect with smaller productions. I got to chat with Drew from Defy and you can really tell just how jazzed they are about building this gimbals. The other huge factor here is that Movi’s are too expensive. 5,000 dollars to hold 5 pounds is crazy. I’m sure it’s a great product. I’m sure it’s well made, but I’m going to buy a Defy because I can get a very similar product, fully spec’d with a bunch of additional kit (that joy stick deal is sweet) for well under 5 grand. The G5 is 3800 base. The lower weight unit, which I maybe find more appealing because I only lift 3 times a week, is even less. There are a number of gimbal companies out right now; most of them will fail but a few will survive and I think Defy is going to be the brand regular shooters trust. The price point is right and their doing a great job of responding to customer feature requests. But this NAB really showed the explosion of gimbal companies, so the culling is probably a few years off. I’d keep that in mind before I bought a gimbal – some of these companies aren’t going to be servicing products or responding to customer service requests in the same way. Speaking of bad customer service, DJI just got into the gimbal game. We waited at their booth to try out the Ronin and after the guy we talked to about using it looked us in the face, nodded “yes”, and then 5 minutes later proceeded to hand off the only display model to another dude right in front of us, we bailed. That pretty much sums all of my interactions with DJI customer service with my Phantom as well.

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I mentioned Pivothead earlier, they make glasses that shoot HD video. They have a great form factor and while the initial models only supported 30p, they’re rolling out a new version that’s got 24p and some cool wireless features. The action camera space now is where gimbals are going to be in 2 years. GoPro has pretty much eradicated all of their competition. They only new action cams I saw came from companies like Sony, JVC, and Panasonic. All the smaller companies? Totally gone.

I think Pivothead can compete. The glasses form factor is a big deal. I know for One Day in April, Pivtothead glasses can go places GoPro’s simply cant. No rider will let us weigh down their bike or screw up their aerodynamics with a GoPro, but they all wear sunglasses. It’s like their not wearing anything. That’s a feature GoPro can’t compete against with their current form factor and I think there’s a spot for a company like Pivothead to fill. They need some stronger marketing, but as long as GoPro doesn’t launch a set of glasses I think Pivothead is a company to keep your eyes on.

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It’s not gear, but I found the Novacut software to be a really interesting concept. The reps were super eager to chat and very upfront about the software. It’s not a fully featured NLE, but it will allow teams of folks all around the world to work on assembly cuts. I can’t imagine using this for quick turn around projects, but for something like One Day in April, where we had hundreds of hours of footage to cut into something through a process of whittling down selects a collaborative assembly editing process would have been a total God send. We haven’t tried it yet, but I’m eagerly looking for a project to try it out on.

As for the announcements, I’m cautiously interested in the Ursa. Not into C Fast, but so far, it’s the Black Magic camera that appeals to me the most. And honestly, I hate that they’ve had such a struggle with shipping but I love that they’re out there pushing the ball forward on the specs. You don’t need them, but somebody needs to force Canon to actually try. I was pretty underwhelmed by the XF200 announcement, but after playing with one (they are sooooo small for what they offer) it’s actually on my list for my next doc. Form factors great and I’m sure it would make an excellent pair for the C100. As of late I’ve been underwelhemed by Canon’s announcements, but there’s really no denying that they make great products. Over priced and under spec’d, but great at what they do.

This wasn’t a game changer year and for most of us the really bleeding edge stuff isn’t necessary yet. I think the best stuff to investigate is the products that are going to really improve your production value and your HD work flow.

We had blast hanging out with our brothers in Hardpin and they’re going to be rolling out the video interviews we collaborated on over the next few weeks. We had great chats with the folks at Atomos, Teradek, Black Magic, Pelican, Defy and a few others.

So now when do we start speculating about the C200 again?