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Shari Belafonte's NAB Report

DP Shari Belafonte checks out the upcoming HD cameras at NAB By Shari Belafonte

OK, So, this wasnt the first time I went to the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) Convention in Las Vegas, and I guarantee it wont be the last. But JEEZ, it was just so overpoweringly exciting (in a good way), when we first arrived on the convention floor. Everyone, I mean EVERYONE who has anything to do with the technical side of ?the BIZ? and their baby brothers? had booths.  Some, as small as an airline WC and some, bigger than my dads apartment (well, maybe not that big). And, it was as jam-packed as a South African ant colony, especially if you arrived (as Sam and I did) after 11am on the second day.  OK, enough obtuse analogies.

First up, Sam, my partner in crime and husband, and I got all of our credentials in one area, then we had to schlep to another area to get the ever important map which took a moment to figure out, but gave us ?the lay of the land.  Brain dead as I so often am, when I first looked at the map, I thought ?Im never going to find anything, for it was laid out in a way I found almost impossible to decipher and took up the North Hall, the Central Hall, the Upper and the Lower South Convention Halls. But, once I found a few key booths, you know, the BIG boys -- (Panasonic, Sony, Avid, and Apple, etc?) I eventually charted it out. 

As much as we wanted to see everything, we knew we couldnt do it all in one day.  Luckily, we had three of the four days the show was offering, so we planned accordingly. The most important thing on my list was to see the new, less expensive HD cameras, especially the ones that are small enough for me to hand hold, and that you wouldnt necessarily have to take a second mortgage out to pay for. Being very familiar with the Panasonic DVX100A, needless to say, I was most excited to see their new AG-HVX200 HD. Cathy Plushner from Panasonic had emailed me about it shortly before the show and even though it was still a prototype, I was (and still am) jazzed about it and cant wait until its intended November 2005 release.  Comparatively, there is Sonys HDR-FX1 and HVR-Z1U.  Now, we did a quick test on the HDR-FX1 a few weeks back.  What I experienced with the Sony was a brilliant picture? as long as I didnt move the camera. As soon as I panned it -- even slowly -- there was intermittent digital breakup. For the record, I dont know if it was the software, or because it was a rental that may have had some mileage on it (we didnt have a lot of time to troubleshoot), but I subsequently have heard from a couple of other ?professional cameramen and directors that this is a concern.  JVCs GY-HD100U is a new addition to the mix, and because it offers interchangeable lenses, well have to give another look at, but from what I can surmise the Panasonic HVX200 HD, even with its fixed lens, will be worth the wait.  First of all its a full blown full HD DVCPRO 100 camera which will record DVCPRO HD/DVCPRO 50/ DVCPRO/DV multi codec; 24p/30p - shooting in all 1080i, 720 and 480 formats; Its the first variable frame rate handheld camera recorder which allows slow motion and fast motion recording; its Panasonics ?P2 solid state technology and has two slots for two of the P2 cards which are hot-swappable.  You can literally take one of the cards out of the camera and stick it in your laptop and start editing on the fly, while youre still shooting with the other card. The cards are only 8GB at the moment, and they hope to get them up to 16GB by the time theyre ready for mass production. But, with the two cards you can still get 16 minutes of seamless High Def.  So far, with my limited understanding, the longest conventional film magazines are only 22 minutes of film, so thats not so bad when you think of it in those terms.  And, if you need longer takes (God knows why but, Im sure it happens), I think you will be able to shoot right into a portable hard drive, or Firewire or USB this puppy. Theyre still fine tuning all of that.  And, if you work on Avid (like we do), Avid Xpress Pro and Apples Final Cut Pro are already compatible with DVCPRO50 and DVCPROHD.  The only thing I would suggest they add (Panasonic, are you listening?) is a barn-door type lens cap, similar to what the Sony has. Lens cap loss seems to be my specialty.

Now, the price on this baby is supposed to be somewhere around $6,000.  The P2 cards (a little pricey) are around $2,000 a piece and all in all, I think the package with the portable hard drive will cost under $15,000, which is more than you may want to spend for ?home movies but keep in mind, this is full broadcast quality HD.  The next in line high quality HD cameras start around $35,000-$50,000 and thats just for the bodies with no lenses or accoutrements. The Panasonic AG-HVX200 looks like the one to beat.  No second mortgage necessary. Just a little dipping into the savings account, with a couple of garage and bake sales, should hopefully do the trick.   

Now, if you do want to take out that second mortgage, might I suggest the ARRI 235? Of course, youll have to stand in line for that one. But, more on that later. 


Shari Belafonte aka ?Pooch Behrens, DP.

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