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NAB 2011: Back to Vegas

The first time I went to the NAB Show, I wore camouflage fatigues and marched through hippies.

I was working the show for Ampex, the television equipment company that had invented videotape. During the 80s, they were buying Sony professional video camera parts, assembling them in Ampex factories, and branding and marketing them as their own. One of their promotions at that time showed a photo of their new, integrated camcorders with a camouflage paint job and the caption “Guerrillacam.”

These Ampex products, based on the Sony 200 and 300 Betacam camcorders, represented a huge improvement in portability. Before this time, most professional video shooting was done either in a two-piece configuration (with camera connected to a separate recorder) or with a “dockable” record deck mounted on the back of a camera. This older dockable rig was pretty heavy, because it mated two units that each could function independently, each with its own rugged case and power supply.

The new Ampex (and Sony) camcorders provided the basic form factor for most professional camcorders for years to come, a sleeker and lighter alternative to the dockable systems. The marketing push was directed at news shooters, especially those navigating the urban jungles. Hence, Guerrillacam.

So Ampex hired me and another cameraman named Dan Cascino to help man their booth at the National Association of Broadcasters annual trade show, oddly held that year in Atlanta. We wore jungle camouflage fatigues on the floor of the show, with camo military caps that said “Ampex Guerrillacam.” I met people from all over the world, many wanting to buy the camera with the camouflage paint job. Though we were dressed in fatigues and had two camouflage cameras in the booth with us, Ampex had no plans to sell the camera that way.

At the end of each day, Dan and I would file out of the Georgia World Congress Center in our fatigues and funny hats, surrounded by the NAB crowd, mostly guys in suits. As we flooded into the streets of downtown Atlanta, we were engulfed by throngs of young people heading in the opposite direction, in tie-dye and rainbow colors, reeking of pot and patchouli, flooding into the Omni arena next door for a three-night concert run by the Grateful Dead.  A long-time Deadhead, I related to their hippiedom, culturally speaking, but for marketing purposes, I was dressed as a pseudo-military camera jockey, surrounded by sales guys and engineers with pocket protectors.

The next year NAB went back to Las Vegas, because “people missed the glamor … and the gambling,” a manufacturer’s rep told me) and Ampex brought Dan and me, again, to chat with visitors and show off their cameras. Most booths for camera companies at that time had bouncy young women in abbreviated forms of beachwear, occupying a well-lit set. The company’s cameras were arrayed around the set in a shooting gallery format, so visitors could point the cameras at the set and its occupants, then pan, tilt, focus, and zoom, and admire the results on video monitors. Similarly, in the casinos, Vegas cocktail waitresses were famous for flashing flesh in new and unusual ways.

That wasn’t my first time in Vegas. Twice before, I had driven into town on my way to somewhere else, spent a few hours, then driven out of town without spending the night. Vegas has always seemed more tawdry to me than glamorous. I don’t gamble, drink little, don’t seek out strippers and lap dances, and don’t carouse on the road to escape a miserable existence at home (ie, I’m not a partier). I’m not offended by any of this, but I just don’t see the point.

Admittedly, Las Vegas offers a variety of entertainment options. One evening, our Ampex client, Kevin Dauphinee, snuck us in with a company group to see David Copperfield perform his amazing magic tricks. Everything from sleight-of-hand card tricks and clever palmings (in closeup on a large screen), to disappearing animals on stage, to watching how he vanished the Statue of Liberty! And one time I saw the road show of “Hair” in a Vegas hotel theater. But the shows are quite expensive. Tickets for Copperfield’s current show at the MGM Grand are selling for over $230 per pair. And I’m sure Sin City’s less refined attractions can get costly too.

I headed back to Vegas this past week for the NAB Show, and somehow the town felt different to me. On the show floor, the girls in bikinis in the shooting galleries have been replaced by fully clothed models, and there are often guys with them.

After a long day of travel and tromping around the floor of the Show, I took a short walk after dinner, around the casino of my hotel and on the Strip outside. To me, the cocktail waitresses looked middle-aged, not young and buxom, the gamblers looked tubby and mid-Western, not exotic or jet-setter gorgeous. In one hotel tribute bar named for a country singer, the bartenders and dealers were young, attractive women who wore four-inch heels … with Western shirts and jeans.

Nowhere did I see glamorously dressed casino hosts and hotel personnel toadying to mega-gambling “whales,” or anyone, for that matter. Have I been watching too many episodes of the late NBC series “Las Vegas” … or is Vegas getting less sleazy? I can’t imagine the sleaze is ebbing, so I’ll chalk it up to a false impression based on small sample size.

*    *    *

NAB is a huge show and it’s impossible cover a fraction of what’s offered. With limited time available, I decided to concentrate on cameras and a bit about lighting this year. I’ll be posting several times in the next few days, with reports and photos about:

  • Several of the new cameras and systems shown at NAB this week from Sony, Red, Panasonic, Arri, and JVC, and some new lenses from Canon.
  • A fascinating shootout I saw from Image Quality Geeks, which involved 12 cameras in side-by-side comparisons.
  • New LED-based Fresnel lighting fixtures from Arri, Lite Panels, and DeSisti.
  • Closeups on Garrett Brown and Innovision Optics.

Some rumors I mentioned in my NAB Preview turned out not to be true:

More to come.

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1 comment to NAB 2011: Back to Vegas

  • Nathie Tieman

    I can relate to this article in the sense that I lived in Atlanta when The Grateful Dead performed although I did not attend their concert. I can also relate because I took my two oldest grandchildren to see David Copperfield at the Fox Theater in Atlanta and we all enjoyed it a lot. In terms of the equipment mentioned in the article, they are all out of my league as I still don’t own even a video camera. However, I enjoyed the article a lot and loved the pictures. You are an excellent writer and photographer.

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