Reviews

IN THE PALM OF YOUR HAND

Two new cameras, both due out in the spring of 2000, will undoubtedly raise the bar in the ongoing debate between the merits of film’s superior image quality and video’s cost-effective convenience.

A new Super 16 camera, the A-Minima, due for release by French camera manufacturer Aaton, combines the lightweight portability of the camcorder with the sturdy metal housing of a film camera. The revolutionary Minima’s size (4 1/4" wide x 9 1/2" long) belies its versatility and other benefits. The camera is lighter (less than five pounds with battery pack and 200′ film roll, sans lens), quieter (about 26 dB), and less expensive (approximately $15,000) than its Super 16 predecessors. The camera also includes improvements on many of Aaton’s past innovations, like a new ultra accurate AatonCode II (accurate to 1/4 frame) and the DistantEye viewfinder which prevents fogging of running film when the eye is not held against the eyecup. Consistent with all Aatons, the A-Minima won’t use a registration pin, though this doesn’t adversely affect its image steadiness (1/2000 of image dimensions).

In conjunction with the camera’s release, Kodak has designed a special flexible flange daylight spool B-wind load for use with the A-Minima’s coaxial magazine. The camera’s design moves the film via a roller rather than with a torque motor, which helps to keep both the weight and noise minimal.

The A-Minima has undergone months of field testing since its first public viewing at docfest this year, spending time in the hands of filmmakers who have consistently made Super 16 their format of choice. Filmmakers including Victor Nuñez, who shot Ulee’s Gold and Ruby in Paradise on Super 16, Chuck Levy of Woodstock fame, and others took prototypes into the field for evaluation. Suggestions made by the filmmakers after the tests were considered by Aaton when making adjustments to improve the overall quality of the camera.
The camera is intended as both a second unit camera for larger productions and the sole camera for independent productions. Aaton’s mission statement touts the camera as "the economic way to record high definition material and conserve it for the unforseeable future in a world dominated by video." Aaton hopes to get the camera into the hands of rental houses and film schools, making it available to both current and upcoming generations of filmmakers. Film schools are "looking for an impetus to keep film in their curriculum," according to Aaton’s Jason Martin, who hopes that pressure from students combined with the advent of the Minima will provide the encouragement needed. "It provides students with the opportunity to learn about the use of light as opposed to merely framing," says Martin.


The Swiss Army Knife of Video

From the other side of the fence, the Sony HDWF 700 is a marvel: a HDTV camera with the capability to shoot domestic and international film speeds as well as standard video capture rates. Working in conjunction with both Panavision and Lucasfilm, Sony’s new camcorder could revolutionize video production with the flick of a switch. The camera’s most notable innovation is a setting which allows shooting at five different capture rates: 24, 25, and 30 frames per second, and at 50 or 60 interlace. This international standardization in one camera enables broadcast anywhere in the world through a single lens. "A product that can be used worldwide is a first," touts Sony’s Vice President of Marketing Larry Thorpe.

The HDWF 700’s accompanying lenses have been specially designed for the camera by Panavision: the finished product will also take traditional 35mm lenses with optical adapters. Physically similar to Sony’s digital Betacam, the HDWF 700 weighs about 15-16 pounds depending on your lens choice.

In common with recent Sony camcorders, the HDWF 700 shares the ‘memory stick’ feature, which gives it up to 64 MB for storage of files of specific adjustments to the camera’s lens or settings to the camera for specific lighting conditions. The touch of a button returns the camera to the desired readiness. The camera’s digitally achieved white balance can also be memorized and recalled, with the camera’s color correction capability ranging from 200 K to 6500K.

The new 700 promises to be a valuable, versatile tool for the digital filmmaker—able to take still images, record footage frame-by-frame or in time lapse. It can also record two channels of 20 bit digital audio sync sound, and with an adapter can record four channels.

However, the digicam is priced at $100,000 for the studio and portable versions and $90,000 for the camcorder model. As a result, the technology will only be a rental option for most independent mediamakers.

It is important to keep in mind that both cameras are still in the prototype phase at press time and further alterations and adjustments are possible before they hit the market. But there is no question that the concurrent debuts of these revolutionary cameras promise to alter the media landscape forever. By providing film purists with affordable portability and videomakers with numerous broadcast options, opportunities for disparate format collaborations abound.

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