Lost Wages: Everything Looks Great at NAB

In my mind, I’m Danny McCoy, deftly easing my washboard abs into my 69 Camaro ragtop, trolling confidently up and down the Strip, the wind ruffling my hair as I head for a liaison with my all-grown-up childhood pal Mary Connell, or a dalliance with Delinda Deline, the boss’s daughter.

In RL (gamer parlance for Real Life), I’m a middle-aged guy with grey hair, a little too full of sushi and sake, ambling and people-watching from Luxor to New York, New York, trying to take a few interesting photos on the Strip before collapsing into bed after a long day walking the floor at NAB.

Obviously I’ve watched too many episodes of “Las Vegas!” Like the Josh Duhamel character in the Camaro in that now-defunct series, I use a lot of cameras. Unlike him, I’m a freelance DP, not a casino surveillance and security expert.

I’m often asked about how some camera or other looked at the annual NAB Show in Lost Wages. My answer is usually the same: “It looked great.”

The truth is, nearly everything looks great at NAB. The manufacturers show off their cameras in shooting galleries in their booths. Every camera they make is lined up and pointed at a colorful, flatly lit set, populated by a strange race of young people with gleaming teeth, perfect bodies, and flawless skin. Back in the day, the models were all women in some form of flimsy beach attire. Now the galleries hold attractive folks of both genders, dressed more for an indoor checkers match than a sensual, seaside romp.

It’s often difficult to tell which cameras are new at this year’s show and which have been around for a couple of years (an eternity in the current frenetic life cycle of digital cinema equipment). Few manufacturers print brochures anymore. If I let them swipe my badge, they’ll send me information on their products, but I can already get that stuff on the Web. Sometimes a prototype camera will only be shown under glass, which usually means it doesn’t work at all.

The shooting gallery sets are colorful and bright, inspiring confidence and homeyness with their warm cheer and saturated, primary colors. But this tells me little about how the camera will look if subjected to the demands of a gritty night shoot, contrasty concert lighting, a medical procedure, or a jetlagged operator. To get an idea, we resort to the inevitable geekfest of comparing specs, and we’re forced to babble about compression algorithms, workflow paths, signal-to-noise ratios, and exposure latitude.

It can be difficult to see the subtleties that distinguish one camera from another. Placing a manufacturer’s latest, simple $8000 camera next to their own, top-of-the-line $60,000 camera yields a surprisingly small amount of obvious, observable difference in image quality. This is especially true when the only viewing device is a built-in electronic viewfinder or small, attached monitor. The largest monitors you see in shooting galleries are often 17″ LCDs on racks above the cameras. Sometimes the differences in systems are more about features and controls, sometimes about lenses, accessories and flexibility.

Camera design has moved lightyears away from the traditional professional form factor, where the camera sits on your right shoulder and is steered by your right hand. Cameras seem to be getting bigger, with all the large 4K sensors dictating short, squat, boxy body designs. These boxes spawn awkward rigs for handheld shots that attach camera body, EVF or monitor, recording device(s), power supply, handgrips, and follow focus controls on a pipe or breadboard-type frame.

Self-portrait of the author walking the floor: NOT Danny McCoy

Cameras are also getting smaller, with several ridiculously minuscule camera systems expanding their reach.

They’re all at NAB, either with a primary-color meat puppet shooting gallery or an impressive demo they shot elsewhere. Or both.

All this against the background of a town that exploits appearance and excess, reveres beauty and trashiness, winks at gambling and sin, and boasts its own pyramid, volcano, Eiffel Tower, roller coaster, and Manhattan skyscrapers. Vegas even has its own, half-sized Statue of Liberty.

For a recent postage stamp design, the U. S. Postal Service used “a close-up of Vegas Liberty’s face, because it looks good,” reported the New York Times.

“An up-close visit on Friday confirmed this. Compared with the original, it appears, in fact, a lot less weather-beaten, much pout-ier, and, if such a description were ever appropriate for a national monument, far more sultry, and, frankly, sexy.”

So, in this town where appearance is everything — where even the Statue of Liberty is sexy — about that new XLNC666 that Flemtech showed in their booth at NAB: how did it look?

It looked great.

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