Audio field recorders in 2021? My Predictions (“wild guesses”).

I’ll give my personal thoughts on each brand, one by one:

Zaxcom:
The Nova is a very new product, I see almost no chance of a “Nova 2.0” coming out this year. 
Deva 24 is a little older than Nova, but also their highest end product which thus has a longer life cycle, I see it as unlikely there will be a Deva release in 2021. 
Could Zaxcom release a product which is between Nova & Deva 24, or below Nova? I doubt it. 

Sound Devices:
The 8 Series is their latest range, I don’t see any chance whatsoever they’ll be ending the 8 Series in 2021 and replacing it with something newer. No chance at all. 
Could the 8 Series be added to??? Is there space to squeeze in a product in between an 833/888/Scorpio? Nope, I don’t think so. (but then again, I’ve been surprised before, when the 888 came out in between the 833 & Scorpio)
Could an 8 Series recorder come out below an 833 or above a Scorpio?? Seems unlikely. Scorpio is already their most expensive ever product, and if they released a product below the 833 that might put it too close in price to a MixPre10 underneath it? (but hey, perhaps I might be wrong, and a “Sound Devices 811” will come out? A mini sized 833, with 1x XLR + 3x TA3F all for say just US$2.5K??  I doubt it, but that’s an example of how an odd ball product which might come out and surprise us) 

Now as for the MixPre series, all bets are off here, as Sound Devices has been putting out new updates and variants to this at a furious pace in recent years. As while I “guess” they will not bring out any new MixPres in 2021, I’d also not be surprised either if one (or more!) gets announced. 

Sonosax:
Their SX-R4+ has been around for a while, time for an update? But then again,  Sonosax is an extremely small company, and it is to be expected their products will have long life cycles between updates. (will give a quick mention to the Sonosax SX-M2D2 which came out more recently in 2019, but that’s a mini portable preamp and not the type of field recorders for production sound that we’re discussing here)

Aaton:
Cantar X3 came out in 2014 (and the Cantar Mini in 2017). You’d think that after 7 years that perhaps an update is coming? But not necessarily, the X3 still seems to be very popular, you never hear of anybody leaving X3 for something “better/newer” and the X3 is still attracting new users to the platform. Plus as a high end premium product (it is after all the most expensive field recorder there is) we can expect that it will have long life for its product cycle. Perhaps next year we might get a hint from Aaton that the “X4” is under development?? Maybe. But I’m not expecting a new field recorder to be released by Aaton this year. 

Nagra:
Nagra Seven came out waaaay back in 2013, surely it is time for an update? Nagra VI is even older from 2008!
But no, won’t expect an update to these in 2021. Nagra has more or less abandoned the film market, as they’re focused instead now on the high-end audiophile market. Verdict: Nagra is AWOL.

Tascam:
The DR680mk2 & DR701D are now both looking totally outclassed in the budget end of the market once the Zoom F8 came out. 
And the Tascam HS-P82 is from 2009! Was a nice machine, but looooong overdue for an update. 
While I’d like to dream that Tascam will bring out a product in the mid range as an update to the HS-P82, and new low end product which is competitive in the new “Zoom F8 Era”, I don’t see any sign of life from Tascam that they’ll do that. In 2021 I expect Tascam to be AWOL. 

Roland:
Take everything I just said about Tascam, and appeal an extra heavy dose of skepticism and pessimism. 
As nope, I do not at all expect an update from Roland to their R4 Pro or R44. 
Am definitely expecting Roland to be AWOL in 2021. 

Fostex:
Take everything I just said about Roland, and times it by ten. 
Fostex will be AWOL in 2021. 

Marantz:
Charitably we could call Marantz a “Tascam clone”. (except for when they’re not pretending to be a “RØDE clone”…) Mostly Marantz has been AWOL, but they did in late 2017 (almost 2018! Practically speaking) release the Marantz PMD-706. Which was arguably a “clone of the Tascam DR70D” but with a couple more channels. But also the Marantz PMD-706 had a few teething issues it seemed with early adopters. However, the mere existence of the PMD-706 and also the Marantz PMD-750 wireless (“a clone of the RØDE RodeLink”) as well indicates that perhaps Marantz has a desire to target the low budget indie filmmaker? Perhaps that means there is a slim chance they might try their hand at a “Zoom F8 clone”?? But based on the recent track record from Marantz, I wouldn’t be eagerly looking forward to this.

Zoom:
The Zoom F8n came out in 2018, but that’s wasn’t a major revolutionary update to the F8 but rather a half step refresh midway through the F8’s life cycle. 

The Zoom F6 came out in 2019. 

2020 didn’t see anything from Zoom in the F Series (unless you count their mini bodypack Zoom F2-BT recorders as part of their “F Series”, which technically they are), thus could we see a new product in 2021? I think perhaps so. As these are products which could see a faster refresh cycle, there won’t be an F6n in 2021 (as the F6 is the newest), but more likely a replacement to the F8 series…. a “Zoom F9”?? As the F8 is the oldest, and the F8n was a minor refresh. Personally I’d love to at least see a Zoom F4n, an F4 with a few tweaks (such as pro line level outputs, ditching EXH-6 for inputs 5 & 6 instead using 2x TA3F, further UI tweaks, adding bluetooth, USB keyboard without needing FRC-8, etc). But it seems Zoom believes the F6 is the true replacement for the F4 (which is not true at all!), thus I’m not counting on an “F4n” arriving. But something like a “Zoom F8n Pro / F9 / F10 / etc” seems reasonably likely in 2021


RØDE/Deity/Saramonic/BlackmagicDesign/AJA/Behringer/Lectrosonics/Tentacle/”Unknown”/Etc:
This heading is for all of those wild card unknowns from companies which have never before made a field recorder for the film industry.
Such as, could 2021 be the year we see a “Chinese F8” field recorder? A low low priced field recorder like the F8, but from a Chinese brand. I doubt it, but we’ve already seen a couple of Chinese companies dip the edges of their toe into the water with Saramonic (their Saramonic SR-VRM1 & SR-Q2M) & Deity (with their Deity BP-TRX & HD-TX) making mini recorders, thus is a bigger field recorder next? Again, I doubt it, but this is an example of the kind of “surprise” we might see in 2021. Likewise, Blackmagic Design already makes video recorders (with their range of Blackmagic Video Assist recorders), is an audio recorder next? I doubt it, but who knows. Likewise with that other Australian company: RØDE. What might RØDE have planned? They’re an audio focused company, will they surprise us with an audio recorder? And while on the topic of BMD, what about their competitor AJA? They’ve build video recorders too, might AJA surprise us? I doubt it, who knows though. 

Behringer is another company like RØDE which is focused on the audio market, they’ve already got good products like their X32 Series. Imagine if Behringer released an X32 Rack with timecode I/O, improved UI with metadata entry, dual SD cards, & is DC powered? (and a DC powered Behringer X-Touch control surface too) I’d absolutely be down for one of those!

Mentioned Lectrosonics as one of those crazy oddball surprises which isn’t totally bonkers to dream of happening (just “mostly bonkers”). Lectrosonics’ biggest competitor is Zaxcom, and the Zaxcom Nova shows the power of being able to integrate your own wireless and field recorder together into one unit. Perhaps that is why Sound Devices recently purchased Audio Ltd (their A10 wireless have built in recorders too), as a long term strategic move to tightly integrate them together & reap the benefits. Such a move would serve as a double threat to Lectrosonics from both Zaxcom and Sound Devices / Audio Ltd!! Perhaps Lectrosonics needs to make a defensive move and develop their own field recorder? I highly doubt such a product will come as soon as 2021 from Lectrosonics. But they might be making the first small tentative steps in that direction, with the Lectrosonics DCR822/PDR/MTCR/SPDR/DPR/SMWB/SMDWB all have MicroSD card recorders built into them.

Tentacle just brought out their first ever recorder, the miniature Tentacle Syc Track E recorder. Could they bring out a bigger field recorder in the future? Who knows, it would surprise me, and definitely can’t see it happening in 2021 so soon after their first ever recorder.

But I bet 2021 will have “somewhere” a surprise for us, most likely from some unknown left field company which I haven’t even mentioned yet. But of those that I mentioned, perhaps most likely (or rather “least unlikely” is a better way to describe it) would be Rode or Saramonic in my wild guess of an opinion? But if Rode did this, it would be a product unashamedly aimed at the YouTubers/videographers. And the Saranomic field recorder would be dirt cheap yet surely also be a huge steaming heap of sh*t (but perhaps after a few generations would evolve into a “not terrible” product). 


Thus in brief summary, I’m not expecting many major field recorder announcements in 2021, aside from “a Zoom F10” (might even be so bold as to call this “likely“) plus maaaaaaybe a MixPre and quite likely some kind of left field announcement none of us are even expecting (could even be from one of those brands I wrote off as AWOL, that’s exactly why it would be an unexpected surprise! ha). 

Perhaps 2021 might be a relatively quiet year for us? Especially with the impacts felt from the AKM Factory fire causing shortages, and COVID19 in general causing economic stresses which would be dampening demand for equipment upgrades.

What we may see from the big pro brands, is a focus this year in 2021 to be bringing out more accessories to support and develop their existing range of recorders, rather than releasing brand new recorders. For instance 2021 is when we’ll see Sonosax’s SX-RX8+ (the Sonosax SX-RX8+ brings Superslot Wireless integration to the Sonosax SX-R4+ recorder). And 2021 will also likely be when we see a “Sound Devices SL4” (a bigger version of their Sound Devices SL2 for Superslot wireless), or maybe (here is my hope! Fingers crossed) a “Sound Devices CL6” (a smaller & cheaper version of their Sound Devices CL16 control surface). And Zaxcom might bring out a similar new control surface for their Zaxcom Nova as well?

The first two recorders from the Zoom F Series: F8 & F4, the smart bets are on this line up getting the first new release for 2021? (credit to Transom.org for the pic)
Not expecting any updates this year or next from Nagra! The Nagra Seven might be their last ever. But the 633 got a nifty update with the Sound Devices 833, which is what I use personally myself.

Lens Options for 360 Degree Virtual Reality Camera Rigs? And other thoughts on cameras.

Sony 360 Degree Virtual Reality Camera Rig

I’m a long way from upgrading my multiple (from six to a dozen cameras at once!) action cameras 360 Degree Virtual Reality Rig (thus I don’t need to worry about interchangeable lens options on this rig), but when I do I am thinking to go with Blackmagic Micro Cinema Camera. Even though high resolution is very important for 360VR.

If you do go with 4K cameras then the Panasonic GH4 is a very popular 4K option (such as these guys using GH4 cameras for 360VR: http://shinichi-works.info/project_gh4.html). Also there is the Sony a7R mk2 / a7S mk2 options (but costs skyrocket, after all you’re not buying just one camera but many!) or Sony A6300 (which has overheating issues, an especially troubling issue if you have six of these operating all cramped up close together to each other! As then they’ll overheat even faster). Also Blackmagic Design has their Micro Studio Camera, but that requires an external 4K recorder, which introduces significant size/power/cost issues. Samsung NX1 is also very much worth a look (& NX500, but in 4K it has a harsh crop factor), but it is a dying system and ever since the NX1 hack came out the secondhand prices of the NX1 have been staying high.

Thus in the end I’d prefer the BlackMagic Micro Cinema Camera (BMMCC), because I’d prefer the dynamic range, bit depth, and color space of the BMMCC. And while the Panasonic GH4 / G7 does a max of 30p @ 4K, you are gaining resolution but giving up frame rate and I’d rather keep it at 60fps (as arguably high frame rates are nearly just as important for Virtual Reality as resolution is. Least you give the viewer motion sickness. And you can get higher resolution by using more cameras!). Presumably the GH5 will give 4K 60fps, but that will probably cost US$2K or more per camera (and you need many multiple ones of them of course for complete 360 degree coverage!), and it hasn’t even been announced yet so who knows.

Though given the likely length of time until I’ll be upgrading, we’ll surely see a Panasonic G7 sale by then which might make that option too cheap to resist vs going with BlackMagic Micro Cinema Cameras.

Anyway, I have still been putting a lot of thought & research this year into the various options for the future, and I decided I’d at last put the metaphorical pen to paper and share a few of my thoughts on this particular aspect of lens choices. We can broadly speaking split it into three groups:

  • a) native mount (i.e. MFT lens, or E mount lenses if a person was using A6300/A7 series instead), but then this can severely limit a person a couple of years down the track if they change bodies. It would be a lot smoother / cheaper if only the bodies need to be swapped out and not lenses as well. I’d like to have some degree of versatility with this rig.
  • b) full frame UWA lenses (in Nikon F mount of course, as I’ve explained in other blog posts), but not an option as you can’t then go truly wide if using them on APS-C or smaller bodies. And A7r mk2 / A7s mk2 are the only truly interesting options to consider here for use that are full frame. Maybe with the one exception of the Rokinon 14mm f2.8 lens, which does almost hit the sweet spot for price & focal length even when used on APS-C. Or the Rokinon 12mm F2.8, but then you have to deal with fisheye distortion.
  • c) APS-C UWA lens, this appears to hit the sweet spot of maximum versatility plus maximum FoV.

 

    APS-C lens options:
  • Sigma 8-16mm f/4.5-5.6, max FoV but I’d be concerned about the slow f-stop, as then you’d start to be losing one of the key gains of ditching GoPros with their poor lowlight ability.
  • Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 (or the newer Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8, but that costs more so no), this is the lens I own myself and is in my eyes the “best” UWA lens for normal filmmaking, but does that mean it is for 360VR too?? Hmm
  • Rokinon 10mm f/2.8, is lighter/cheaper/wider (all 3 keys points for a 360VR rig) than the Tokina but is a fixed focal length (probably not a disadvantage though at all! As you absolutely don’t want that focal length to change once you’ve set it, thus why people will tape down zoom lenses if using them on a 360VR rig). However the Rokinon 10mm f/2.8 isn’t cheaper than Tokina when you consider the older Tokina models can easily be picked up secondhand, but the Rokinon can’t be so easily found at all secondhand as it is a newer lens.
  • Rokinon 16mm f/2, the fastest option but by this point at 16mm it is only barely UWA at all.

Outside these options listed, I can’t think of any good UWA lenses, or am I missing something? Everything else that comes to mind seems that they’d all be a worse compromise somewhere in price/FoV/speed/etc than these four that I listed.

Keen to hear in the comments your views on my thought process and each of the options I reached at!

What if Kinefinity’s KineMount became a universal cinema mount?

Is by any chance KineMount an open mount like say Micro Four Thirds is? I am guessing it is not.

KineMount with OCT-19 adapter

There is a thread over on BMCuser about possible interchangeable mounts for BMD cameras.
http://www.bmcuser.com/showthread.php?16668-Possible-interchangeable-mounts-for-4-6K

Got me thinking that the absolute best result would be if BMD adopted the FZ mount in future cameras. FZ mount is what is used in the Sony F3/F5/F55, which I’ve used and is an absolutely wonderful mount! You can adapt it to anything else, for instance I’ve got a rock solid Nikon F mount on my Sony PMW-F3. So it works, and FZ is an already popular mount used by many.

But Sony will never let BMD use FZ mount. Thus the very nearly almost as good option is to talk with Kinefinity and see if they’d open up KineMount for everybody to use (in many ways KineMount is like Sony FZ mount, and kinda better… as Kinefinity have a focal reducer option! Yay). As if that happened it would be tremendously good news for both companies, and a massive result to help the indy / hobbyist / low / medium budget film industry.

Be great if Kinefinity and BMD could talk together with each other to create a universal mount system which can go onto dominate the film industry in the future. As no longer would consumers have to choose between buying a Canon EF mount model or the PL version (such as happens with the C300, BMPC4K, URSA, and URSA Mini), they can have both!

It would fit very well with BMD’s corporate philosophy of have having an open system rather than a closed ecosystem you’re forced to buy into over and over again (hello RED!).

Like Tim Siddons from Blackmagic Design said 17 minutes into this interview:

So BMD appears to support open systems (such as using SSDs or CFast cards) rather than vendor lock in (like RED does!!). And this would obviously benefit Kinefinity in increasing their awareness, thus it appears to be in everybody’s best interests to make KineMount an open mount.

KineMount already has adapters read to go, and even a focal reducer! (which doesn’t even exist at all for Sony FZ mount. Being able to gain a stop of light with the KineEnhancer, and shoot effectively with a “full frame” camera, certainly helps make KineMount even more attractive over Sony FZ mount) So Blackmagic Design wouldn’t need to make adapters if they don’t want to (plus others, such as AJA and Sony already leave making adapters up to 3rd parties to do that).

I *love* that Blackmagic Design provides lots of camera choice (BMCC is available in *three* different mounts! PL/MFT/EF), but it would be so much better if the buyer didn’t have to choose and could just do all of it with the one camera!

And it means less inventory costs for BMD and the camera stores (because they’ll only need to carry one type of each camera model, & not up to 3 versions of it!), and less design costs for BMD (probably, as doesn’t need to be done 3x over for each camera version).

Obviously to make KineMount a universal mount they’d need to drop the Kinefinity branding (otherwise other brands will find it hard to join in behind it), instead of calling it KineMount perhaps just simply call it “K mount” (although that usually refers to Pentax’s DSLR mount, so “CK Mount” maybe for “Cinema K mount”??).

If this open standard is well documented then you open the door to 3rd parties quickly making active adapters like:

EF Speedbosters
EF with built-in Vari-ND
EF with electronic Vari-ND
EF-Mount active adapters

Plus all the usual “dumb” adapters that enable using vintage photo lenses like Canon FD, Minolta SR-mount, etc…

What a dream world this would be to live in!! With so many choices and possibilities.

Hopefully if these two companies unite on a common open standard then you’d see other smaller manufacturers like Apertus & AJA follow suit with KineMount on their future cameras. And if a big player like Nikon or JVC entered the large sensor cinema market then there would be a universal mount they could consider adapting!

JVC for instance would have no other option, unless they chose EF *or* PL (or created their own sub mount from scratch!). JVC does already have the GY-LS300 with a Micro Four Thirds mount which is kinda a “universal mount”, but the JVC GY-LS300 camera is not aimed at the high end, and Micro Four Thirds with adapters is not rock solid like Sony FZ or KineMount are.

And while Nikon could use their Nikon F mount if they ever entered the cinema market, this would cripple their sales as it wouldn’t be PL for the higher end (unless they make two models like the Canon C300… again, forcing the consumer to choose between the two, rather than giving them flexibility) and at the indy / low budget level many people have unfortunately gone with Canon EF lenses instead and would feel resistance to changing mount to Nikon. But this way Nikon could offer a Nikon F mount cinema camera (with a KineMount underneath) with a PL adapter, which then additionally gives people the freedom of choice to use Canon EF lenses with a 3rd Party adapter or any other lenses their heart so desires.

Hope Kinefinity and Blackmagic Design read this and start talking together about making a joint open standard for cinema camera mounts!

Look at how quickly Canon EF mount become popular and an almost “standard” with many low / mid range cinema cameras! (such as Varicam LT / Arri Alexa Mini / BMPC4K / BMCC EF / URSA / URSA Mini / Axiom / etc ). If a rock solid sub mount for cinema usage, such as KineMount, was set up as an open standard and adopted by a few manufacturers then I think it won’t take many years at all before it gets to the common usage level.

Speculation: RED Raven vs URSA Mini 4.6K vs Kinefinity Terra 6K

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RED Raven, Blackmagic Design URSA Mini 4.6K, and Kinefinity Terra 6K (there is also a 5K option, which gives a global shutter):

They all offer higher than 4K resolution in raw with a S35 sized sensor (although…. RED Raven barely barely squeaks in here as an option, because its max 4.5K option is only possible when shooting wide. Doing standard 16:9 and it drops down to “merely” 4K resolution, and its crop factor then ends up being closer to a Panasonic GH2 than a S35 camera! But you’re stuck with the awkward Canon EF mount with no way to speedbooster it to get a wider field of view from your lenses).

RED’s Raven and Blackmagic Design’s URSA Mini are no strangers to us if you’re followers of camera news, but Kinefinity unfortunately is unknown to many even though they’ve released many cameras over the years. And now yesterday they released the Terra 6K and Terra 5K! Here is a list of Kinefinity’s current cameras that they sell (which doesn’t include in this list their oldest models):

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The Kinefinity Terra 6K has an impressive listing of specs, putting its features at near to RED Scarlet-W territory. And uses the proven Kinefinity 6K sensor which we’ve seen before with the KineMAX 6K can produce nice imagery, so hopes are high with the Terra 6K (the cheaper Terra 5K however uses a new 5K sensor which we’ve never seen anything from before).

So which of the top 3 low budget cameras with higher than 4K raw options would I likely prefer?

If you don’t factor in the price / support / brand name cred, then I’d go for a Kinefinity Terra 6K over URSA Mini 4.6K or RED Raven any day of the week.

However… in the real world those are factors to consider, thus here I go:

For brand name recognition it would rank: 1st) RED 2nd) BMD 3rd) KineFinity (“who??” Unfortunately would be a common reaction)

Customer support: 1st) RED 2nd) Blackmagic Design 3rd) Kinefinity (though the gap back to 3rd would be smaller if you’ve got a Chinese speaking partner to help smooth out the language barriers and provide a connection in China, which I do)

Price: URSA Mini 4.6K, then a Terra 6K would be roughly the same price or maybe a little more (or maybe even less, as the Terra 6K starts out more expensive but has radically cheaper media than a UM46, which would claw back the cost gap. So it depends on your personal configuration), and then finally last would be a complete RED Raven package which is about double the price of a similar UM46 kit (or even nearly 3x time the cost, once RED’s higher accessories costs are factored in). Which then simply rules out the RED Raven for me. (however, if you work in an environment where specifically RED is being requested by your clients over and over again, then swallowing the multiple times higher cost for a RED simply becomes the smart business decision to go for. Rather than buying a camera package which won’t get picked up and used)

And so I’d be left with a tight contest between UM46 or Terra 6K (cost is basically the same more or less, and arguably the support with Kinefinity isn’t “too much” worse than BMD?? Depends on your location in the world, and how much of a language barrier you’d experience personally with Chinese).

Do you go for the well known, and a bit better supported, URSA Mini? Or take a punt on the Terra 6K with its better features? (smaller size / higher frame rates / higher resolution / more mount options / focal reducer option / WiFi / radically lower power consumption / cheaper media / more input & output options / 3D sync / claimed higher dynamic range / likely better low light / etc)

I’m feeling like leaning towards the Kinefinity Terra 6K!

A video shot with the Kinefinity KineMAX 6K (same sensor as is in the new Terra 6K):

Colours of Culture Bali (by KineMAX) from Kinefinity on Vimeo.

Kinefinity has put up prices now in English (so no more needing to translate Chinese, and convert RMB to NZD/USD):
http://www.kinefinity.com/shop/terra_preorder/?lang=en

Terra 6K Body is: US$5,999
Basic package is: US$6,999
Pro Pack is: US$8,999

Looking at that it would seem either the body only with the KineBACK + KineGRIP (about US$1.5K extra), or the Terra Pro Pack are the most interesting options (as I reckon a KineBACK is pretty close to essential to have as an option for professional shooting, and the KineGRIP is just so nifty to have if you want to slim down the Terra to merely DSLR size). Then kit out the rest of what is needed from your existing gear collection. If you need extra batteries they’re cheap (as the power draw of a Terra is less than half of a RED Raven or UM46, and BP-U batteries or V mount can be sourced cheaply from eBay), and media is cheap too (as you can use off the shelf SSDs if they’re fast enough, you don’t need pricey MINI-MAGs from RED or CFast cards).