No lights – no camera – and action!

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A NEW ERA: Lytro camera in a studio

The technology used in modern day cameras is a far cry from that of the early tube cameras from years gone by. Every year we get more pixels and bits, higher frame rates, less noise, lower light and camera bodies get smaller…well usually. So far this year we have seen some amazing technical developments but some of the cameras that aren’t really cameras are getting bigger and bigger!

Technology is great! Previously when a manufacturer like Sony developed new designs for cameras, a new model was released rendering the previous one obsolete. Nowdays a simple firmware upgrade transforms your already great piece of kit into an even better one at the press of a button.

So far 2016 has seen the birth of some incredible, almost science fiction type, development on the camera front. We have, for the first time ever, also seen collaborative system integration between manufacturers and third party vendors allowing camera owners to use non-priority products, such as external recorders, using priority formats and codecs.

This year, new camera releases have left many a DOP salivating. Sony’s new HDC-4800, a Super 35mm camera that can shoot up to 480fps in 4K is one of those. New sensor development on Sony’s UMC-S3C now offer users extreme low light capabilities of 409600 ISO – in 4K and Sony have also released the all new PXW-Z150, a UHD camcorder that can shoot 4K and HD up to 120fps. The company also announced firmware updates for the Sony FS5 and FS7 offering RAW outputs (to record RAW files on external recorders) automated spot focus and a true 24fps frame rate. Panasonic, not to be outdone, introduced two new midrange 4K UX camcorders. The AG-UX180 and the AG-UX90 are the first successors to the old HD AVCCAM line. They boast a 1-inch (effective size) MOS sensor, optical 20x zoom and UHD 60p recording capability.

Fancy shooting in the dark? Canon’s new cube-like ME20F-SH Multi-Purpose Camera features a newly designed high sensitivity CMOS sensor helping users shoot crisp, clean high definition full-colour video in extreme low light conditions. The camera’s versatile, rugged, modular design, combined with a 35mm full frame CMOS sensor with an equivalent sensitivity in excess of 4 000 000 ISO, make it ideal for a wide variety of markets. A remarkable example of Canon’s innovative engineering and although limited to HD only, the camera is an incredible tool, although probably out of most people’s price range. You gotta pay for technology sometimes!

Panasonic’s new VariCam LT 4K cine camcorder, capable of handling 4K, UHD, 2K and HD, as well as high dynamic range (HDR) is already selling like hotcakes particularly in the Indie film market. Speaking of Indies, popular manufacturer RED is titillating many with the RED Weapon 8K .The sensor’s 40.96 x 21.60mm size actually measures wider than Full Frame while also being tall, a combination allowing for beautiful imagery capture on its 8,192 x 4,320 pixel (8K) sensor. As if the 8K format isn’t big enough, 2016 has seen the introduction of exciting new BIG technology that is difficult to comprehend.

Enter the revolutionary new Cinema Camera by the name of LYTRO. This 755 mega pixel (40K, yes 40K) camera ushers in an era of ‘computational cinematography’ where the camera captures information, not pictures.

In fact, the Lytro isn’t a camera the way most people understand the word. It’s a light field device (LFD), which means it doesn’t capture images, it captures a holographic digital model of the scene, at a sample rate of 300 times per second. Simply put it captures light ‘rays’ instead of 2D pixels. These light rays have millions of ‘data points’ and each data point has a colour, position and direction. In post, the director and DP can choose a plethora of settings to ‘film’ the scene with, such as frame rate, aperture, and lens. Because the ‘lens’ is virtual it can have properties of lenses that would be impossible to manufacture in real life. This gives the director or DOP some powerful new tools, including some previously reserved for computer animation. The position of the camera can be changed, as can focus and depth of field. Because the data includes the depth of everything in the scene, creatives can choose to simply ignore everything past a certain distance from the camera – in effect, doing greenscreen without greenscreens.

Moreover, since the digital model it creates is akin to the three-dimensional digital data created by visual effects and animation studios, it’s actually easier to combine effects and photography.

Currently, the biggest limitation is that the Lytro Cinema Camera and capture system are the size of a small truck. However, Lytro has already said that it is working hard to miniaturise the technology and say it will happen ‘sooner than you think.’ Roll on Lytro!

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