29 Feb 2016

London's BVE 2016: a moment of calm between the hype cycles

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Phil Rhodes reports back from the UK's major indigenous tradeshow of the year, BVE 2016.

If you'll excuse the two-bit psychoanalysis, there's a certain philosophy required when approaching trade shows that becomes more and more important as more and more of them go by. IBC leads to BSC leads to BVE leads NAB and CineGear, then we're back in Amsterdam again, with only a Photokina every other year to break up the pattern. Is it too desperately cynical to complain that the differences we see between shows are minimised by their frequency?

Perhaps Blackmagic might lean toward that point of view, being present in some force on the Holdan booth at this year's BVE but not exhibiting individually. Those waiting still for the 4.6K mini Ursa might have hoped for some sort of release announcement, but it wasn't to be. The fact that Sony's fixes for the FS5 were announced quite literally during the show reinforce the idea that unless Blackmagic can get their improved sensor to market very soon indeed, they might reasonably be seen as falling behind the times a little. The 4K Ursa Mini is very lovely, but there's no controversy in the statement that the sensor could definitely do with the update we've been promised.

One of the best things about the commercial side of film and television is that it's often serviced by small companies with just a few employees, making it possible to get much closer to the real work that's being done than in other circumstances. Naturally, the enormous corporations are still in attendance, but BVE is perhaps most like wandering down to the back of the south halls at NAB, away from the city-sized booths and into the area occupied by the modest but essential outfits. The well-known and terribly high failure rate of small businesses with unusual new ideas – the inflatable dartboard vendors of the world – never seems to prevent there being plenty of outfits employing just a few people – or one-man bands with nobody at all on the books - at shows like BVE.

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Cintek distributes the new Celere lens range. There are currently four, at 25, 36, 50 and 85mm

It's not clear how large a company Cintek is, for instance, but the four-lens Celere range of cinema primes they're distributing are certainly interesting. It's another new range of moderately low-cost lenses for conventional moviemaking, sure, and at a few thousand units of currency each they slide into the market along the likes of Xeen and TLS's rehousing projects, but there's no sign at all of the market being saturated quite yet. The price is reasonable for something that opens up to a T1.5 and offers consistent size and weight across the range. In the unlikely event of a couple of companies starting to mass-produce cine lenses in the same way that stills glass is made by Canon and Nikon, saturation might be a risk, but until then there's plenty of room for more. Cintek is cagey about the exact taxonomy of the Celere lenses, stating that they're not rehoused but cautious about discussing exactly where the glass does come from. This suggests that they may be a combination of parts from many sources, but it hardly matters so long as they work, which we'll be able to find out in due course.

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Box companies matter. These are Coax's new BNC connectors specially designed for high-bitrate SDI, which is... quite important if you think about it.

Many of the exhibitors at a show like BVE are manufacturers of – well – boxes. Modern television broadcasting, particularly where it involves outside broadcast and remote links, involves an enormous amount of infrastructure. The purpose of this paragraph, then, is to give an honourable mention to companies like Amagi and Sat-Comm who make boxes with an on switch and one LED which are easy to walk past on the show floor but crucial to the existence of film and television as a commercial artform. Most camera people aren't ever likely to become a direct customer of, say, Silentair, who make low-noise air conditioning, but life is likely to be made a lot easier because of their existence. Next time you're at a trade show, go and say hello to box companies. They're often very bored, because Media and Facilities Management Enterprise Solutions Engagement Services are not all that exciting in comparison to, say, Cooke's new anamorphic zoom, but they're often lovely people and will sometimes give you a chocolate.

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Tokina's cine zooms are another player in the lenses-for-drama world

Happily, drones seem to have calmed down a bit. As with all technologies, remotely operated vehicles burst onto the scene with an enormous amount of – well – hype in the worst possible sense of the term, meaning fake excitement encouraged by people with a financial interest in it. Ranging from excellent through incompetent to downright dangerous, the heavy hand of regulation has probably been instrumental in forcing the market toward professionalism and reliability. Thus there was no acre of startups with whizzing, whirring camera platforms capable of carrying a slimmed-down GoPro; there were, instead, a couple of established players. This has made remotely operated flying cameras expensive, of course, possibly too expensive to fulfil their early promise. But then again, that early promise was probably hype.

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Varicam LT is an interesting new option in the space currently occupied by Red, Arri and Sony

If this article seems lacking in specificity, that's intentional. BVE 2016 was, if anything, representative of a calm between outbursts of explosive hype, and that's a conclusion based not so much on the exhibits on show as the things not on show, and the conversations to be had. LED lighting is an increasingly established and reliable technology. Drones are moving the same way. The last bubbles of stereoscopy's gurgling descent into the watery depths of ignominious obscurity have long since burst (three cheers!). It's easy to shoot HDR, inasmuch as any camera capable of log origination is theoretically suitable, but distribution is nowhere near ready yet, and few people are talking about imminent products. There was Cooke's new anamorphic zoom, and a sight of the new Varicam LT from Panasonic. Both are of existing things are great, but they aren't pretending to be a totally new paradigm in filmmaking.

Right now, camerawork seems to be, well, camerawork. That's a rare treat, and one to be enjoyed like a long, slow drink on a warm summer evening. Here's hoping NAB doesn't bring any unnecessary rainclouds.


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Phil Rhodes

Phil Rhodes is a Cinematographer, Technologist, Writer and above all Communicator. Never afraid to speak his mind, and always worth listening to, he's a frequent contributor to RedShark.

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