When Editshare rolled out its new editing program Lightworks last month in both a free version and a $60 “Pro” version, it entered a market that has changed dramatically in the last few years. FCPX came out at $299, a fifth of the price of FCP7, and the downward price drive is good for everybody.
In the weeks since Lightworks V11 was made available for download, following a beta version that’s been out there for a year, the product has earned its share of likers and dislikers — this thread on the Sony Vegas site is a slice of how people are feeling — but a company spokesman says he’s pleased by the response so far.
“Thousands of people have activated the product in the first week alone,” said David Shapton, the managing editor of Lightworks Publications. “The figures are building very well, and this will increase over the coming weeks, but we still feel we’re only scratching the surface.” Lightworks is only available at the moment for PC, but comes at a time when there’s still discomfort among longtime Final Cut Pro users, many of whom were underwhelmed by the features of Final Cut Pro X.
Add now there is talk that Apple could discontinue production of its Mac Pro towers, which MacRumors notes has been decreasing in popularity. “There’s been a rift in the status quo,” Shapton said. “People have received a bit of a jolt. Where they otherwise might not have been looking for another solution, now they are.”
Lightworks, which had begun its life in the 1990s as a high-end — and high-cost — editing tool, is now attempting to become the tool of the masses, competing with programs that are also dropping in price. Lightworks has been working to promote its pedigree, history and quality, hoping it will gain a solid base of users who opt for the Pro version.
“We don’t want to make a big splash where a million people download it, but then the next day, 99 percent of them have forgotten about it,” Shapton said. “We’re not so interested in huge numbers, we’re interested in realistic numbers. We want to build up our user base. We’re on a par already with the other big hitters in this industry. We want to be there in terms of how many people are actually using Lightworks.”
There are currently around 300,000 registered users, including beta testers, and Shapton says Lightworks is pleased with the proportion of users converting to the Pro Version. He’s optimistic about grabbing hold of the tier of users who have done some editing and are now “getting serious.”
“We think a lot of people are converting to Lightworks because they want to be part of the project, and support this idea of this professional software at a very, very low price,” Shapton said. “They like the way that we are led by the ideas and feedback from the community. What we have is a pyramid of users. The lower end, the largest group, are new, inexperienced users. But what gets really interesting is the next level up, still a large number, people who’ve done some editing but now they’re getting serious.”
For now, Editshare is monitoring the forums (where users are asking “genuinely illuminating questions”) and maintaining a list of bugs. And for editors locked into their Macs, Shapton says there’s good news on the horizon: “We are looking at releasing a Linux version later this year, but we’re not making any firm commitments on a date at this stage. The Mac version would follow after this.”
Has Apple’s shift to Final Cut Pro X last year, and the dissatisfaction of a legion of editors with it, created a market opening for PC-based nonlinear editing systems? PCs are demonstrably less expensive than Macs with the same computing power, and programs such as Premiere, Sony Vegas and Avid have already made their appeal to editors on a budget.
In about a week or so, on May 28, 2012, a new competitor enters the market. And at a price that’s hard to beat. Lightworks for Windows, which will have a free version and a $60 “Pro” version, will be released to great anticipation. Filmmaker Chris Jones noted, “Using it feels very logical, like editing film back in the day. Plus it has all the bells and whistles of many new digital tools. It is a professional tool, not a semi pro or domestic tool that has been dressed up. So expect to invest time in learning how to use it.
Lightworks is not new in itself. It began in 1989 as OLE, then went through a variety of owners before EditShare acquired it in 2009. Lightworks has been used to edit narrative films such as The King’s Speech and Hugo. EditShare’s plans to develop the product as open source did not materialize, but the beta was made free to download. It’s now been downloaded by 250,000 users.
The official release boasts support for AVCHD, H.264, AVC-Intra, ProRes, RED R3D, DPX, XDCam HD 50, XDCam EX, DVD and BluRay. Paired with a 64-bit PC, it creates a perfectly serviceable setup for nearly all the kinds of editing a documentary filmmaker would need. (One disappointment for Mac users is that while EditShare is working on a Mac version of Lightworks, there’s no definitive release in sight.) Features of the system are here
The Pro version will support the DNxHD codec and such features as file sharing, a titling system and stereoscopic editing for 3D filmmaking.
The Pro version also includes the codecs. Lightworks offers a $140 dedicated keyboard, but users can import their FCP or Avid preferences so they don’t have to re-learn their way around the workflow. While the comments out on the web from beta users are favorable, and the program seems to be quite fast on the latest generation of PCs, we’ll know more in the coming months. It seems unlikely anyone who is seriously going to use the program isn’t going to fork out the $60. It’s more than likely that the free download will serve as a proving ground for a lot of editors looking to see what it’s got.
Apple’s Final Cut Pro X was met with a lot of upset when it was launched announced a year ago (and launched in June 2011) at a price point significantly lower than previous Final Cut Pros, and with largely reconstituted features that resembled Apple’s amateur editing program so much it was mocked as “iMovie Pro.”
eBay pricing on sealed packages of Final Cut Pro 7 shot up, as a fine vintage would leap in value. Pro editors cursed Apple and tried to make sense of the new program. Apple responded by doing upgrades that slowly began to restore some features deleted from FCP7.
Now that the dust has settled, where do we stand?
In a post last week on FCPX, Philip Hodgetts noted one possibly-surprising fact: FCPX installs in just these few months have now surpassed those of FCP7. It makes sense in a lot of ways: At $299, more people can make the leap than with the $1,599 price point they had confronted in the past. For newbies, the program builds from their iMovie experience.
Hodgetts notes that according to research, Apple’s share of the “Pro” market has likewise dropped from 55 percent to 52 percent, with users shifting to Avid and other programs. Hodgetts also notes some of the initial FCPX purchasers may have been people simply willing to try it.
First challenge is that they all purchased Final Cut Pro X “to test it out” and no-one’s using it. Well, Apple have already demolished the “no professional is using Final Cut Pro X” canard the week before NAB with the Final Cut Pro in Action stories. But could it be that only one copy was sold to each facility and that gives them 52% of the “pro” market. I don’t find that particularly credible, given that we know that Bunim Murray alone purchased at least 40 or 50 Media Composer seats in that time.
So are professionals warming up to FCPX?
Tor Rolf Johansen of Post Magazine feels FCPX was rolled out prematurely, but has gained back some credibility with its updates. FCP 10.0.4, he says,
…has returned to stake its claim in the pro NLE market. Many of the pro features missing from FCP 7 have been restored and many of those features are actually better and faster now than they ever were in FCP 7. FCP X is lightning fast with get-up-and-go performance. The speed gains (from 64-bit code and multicore support), the two-thirds price cut, and some innovative new edit tools make this update a true contender.
Not all agree.
In the April/May 2012 issue of Streaming Media magazine, Jan Ozer’s “How Apple Took The ‘Pro’ Out Of Final Cut Pro” says that while some features of FCPX are commendable,
Overall, though, I abhor the program. When I run FCPX, my reaction is visceral; I feel the walls pressing in and my blood pressure rising. I adore the clean slate of Adobe Premiere Pro and its doppelganger Final Cut Pro 7. FCPX has so much structure, so many completely foreign concepts, that it feels like my 31″ monitor has shrunk to 17″. With such a supposed focus on simplicity, how could a company run by (Steve) Jobs produce such a program?
Meanwhile, programs such as Adobe Premiere CS6 are gaining some ground. For serious filmmakers balancing cost and performance, the variety of choices for editing is making Final Cut Pro less of the go-to program it was.
For years, Blackmagic Design has been associated with products meant to help connect the camera to the computer — basically unassuming tools that help get the job done. They’re products you don’t see — capture cards hidden inside a Mac or a switcher tucked out of eyeline. So when Blackmagic announced it was introducing a camera at NAB 2012, the crowd was taken by surprise. What isn’t surprising is that it has the look of something built out of a computer rather than out of a traditional film camera.
Blackmagic Cinema Camera, launched Monday, basically looks like an external hard drive with a lens stuck to its side. It has none of the panache of the in-development Digital Bolex I wrote about recently, but it also promises some mighty specs (see below). The camera will go for $2,995 starting in July 2012, but the total “dress-up” package of the camera will be higher when you account for lenses and other accessories. The Blackmagic will accept Canon EF and Zeiss ZF lenses, and it lends itself to aftermarket bits from companies like Zacuto and Cinevate. And because it is devoid of the ergonomics of other cameras, the camera looks eminently droppable — it does not seem suited to handheld work. The dress-up will include handles (Blackmagic Cinema Camera Handles sell them for $195).
It’s either a 1080p or a 2K, depending on whether you output in a codec like ProRes or as RAW footage. In RAW, it produces 12-bit files, meaning more robust footage that lends itself to post-production. The camera promises a 13-stop dynamic range, meaning it will reach deep into the blacks while also capturing usable detail high into the whites.
Blackmagic’s announcement signals a change in the industry: The making of cameras is no longer the provenance of traditional film-camera and tape-based camcorder manufacturers. The quality of any camera has become more about the processing abilities of the device, so it isn’t a surprise that a company well-versed in moving footage from one place to another could jump in. The ability of filmmakers to get their hands on equipment that rivals the high-end stuff is getting better and better…
Here are the tech specs from the manufacturer:
- High resolution 2.5K sensor allows improved anti aliasing and reframing shots.
- Super wide 13 stops of dynamic range allows capture of increased details for feature film look.
- Built in SSD allows high bandwidth recording of RAW video and long duration compressed video.
- Open file formats compatible with popular NLE software such as CinemaDNG 12 bit RAW, Apple ProRes and Avid DNxHD. No custom file formats.
- Includes no custom connections. Standard jack mic/line audio in, BNC 3 Gb/s SDI out, headphone, high-speed Thunderbolt I/O technology, LANC remote control and standard DC 12-30V power connection.
- Capacitive touch screen LCD for camera settings and slate metadata entry.
- Compatible with extremely high quality Canon EF and Zeiss ZF lenses.
- Supports 2.5K and 1080HD resolution capture in 24, 25, 29.97 and 30 fps.
- Thunderbolt connection allows direct camera capture via included Media Express software and supports live waveform monitoring via the included Blackmagic UltraScope software.
- Includes a full copy of DaVinci Resolve 9.0 color grading software.
The release of the new Canon EOS 5D Mark III has HDSLR filmmakers poring over specs, trying to decide if this release is something incredible, or something disappointing. For $3,500, is it worth the leap from the Mark II? (It should be noted that the Mark II remains in the Canon line and the price of a body has dropped to about $2,000.)
It harkens back to a piece I saw a while back about the “four-times-better rule.”
In a Creative Planet post, Stefan Sargent argued quite convincingly that in this era of new technology hitting the market almost daily, the wise time to upgrade is when the new piece of equipment is four times better than what it’s replacing. As he emphatically puts it, “An upgrade can’t be just twice as good; it’s got to be four times better.”
One example he gives is the question of whether to replace his Sony V1s with Sony EX1s.
I needed to upgrade from SD to HD. Buying the two HVR-V1s was a no brainer. And yes, they were four times better than the PD150/PDX10 combo.
What happens? After a year, Sony brings out the PMW-EX1. I’m very pissed. At least with Apple, you know that next year there’s going to be a new iPhone, but that it’s not an $8,000 upgrade.
I look at the EX-1 specs. The data rate is up to 35Mb/s compared to my V1s’ 25Mb/s. That’s not four times! The chip is bigger, but not four times bigger. Nowhere is anything four times better. I contact my camera guru, Adam Wilt. He says, “In most real-world situations they’re very hard to tell apart.
One of the primary reasons to exercise caution is the fact that the business of filmmaking is based on two factors: cost and revenue. When it comes to cost, the entry level for documentary filmmaking has been lowering. Does spending more cash on equipment create a commensurate rise in the quality of the film? Then, does that measurable rise in video quality have a measurable effect on your story? Or is the audience really not as worried about that as you?
Who noticed that the Ross Brothers’ breakout success 45365 was made on SD, the Danfung Dennis-directed Academy Award nominee Hell And Back Again used a 5D Mark II, or that the 2010 Oscar nominee Restrepo was HDV?
Back in the day, I worked at newspapers where pros looked at equipment very pragmatically. The best photographers often had cameras seemingly held together with duct tape, while the interns came in with the latest gear. I remember going on an assignment with Bob Jackson, the photographer who won a Pulitzer for his photo of Lee Harvey Oswald being shot, and of asking him what kind of camera he’d used for the picture.
“A Nikon,” he said.
“Where do you keep it?” I said.
“In my camera bag,” he said, as if I was an idiot. It was a 40-year-old Nikon S2 rangefinder. “It still works fine.” To him, it was simply a tool.
Digital technology may not allow for a camera to have the longevity of Bob’s Nikon. Be careful about chasing technological tail unless it’s a substantial improvement over what you already have.
When I watch a documentary these days, it’s usually on TV or on a DVD, and it’s rare that I can tell what kind of camera was used. That’s a good thing. Technology has become so accessible that the cost of your toys doesn’t necessarily matter, and have decidedly taken a back seat to storytelling acumen.
Independent filmmaking has been a struggle between a tiny percentage of well-funded filmmakers using all the wealth at their disposal and the filmmaking 99 percenters using all the credit lines at their disposal. They may have talent and ambition, but little money. They string together projects from thin funding, or self-funding, or they use their documentary work as a loss leader that serves as a calling card for corporate gigs or work in advertising.
But, it seems, every time the masses find a way into the game, the game changes.
The most significant change to documentary filmmaking in the last decade was the rise of programs, such as Apple’s Final Cut, that brought editing work out of the rented post-production facility and onto one’s desktop, then laptop. But right up there were the development of HDV — the so-called “poor man’s HD” — and the sudden arrival of Canon’s EOS 5D Mark II, which put in the hands of people of modest means a camera they could use to make serious films.
Before those products arrived, most people were shooting on Mini-DV cameras like the Canon XL1 and the Panasonic DVX100. Any viewer could tell the difference.
But as we enter 2012, the gap is widening, with the manufacturers themselves ramping back up to more-costly offerings. In the past year, the long-awaited arrival of big-sensor camcorders that would overtake video-shooting DSLRs came at a disappointingly hefty price. The Canon C300 ($20,000), Sony’s PMW-F3 ($14,000), and the new RED Scarlet-X ($18,000) have not created the answer, but rather a carrot-and-stick conundrum: How far you can stretch your budget for definably better results? All of these camcorders deliver better quality, but in my opinion not so much that it’s readily apparent to most viewers. In the end, the HDSLR was not obsoleted in 2011, and so 2012 begins with rumors of what’s next.
The 2012 product season, highlighted by Photokina and NAB, thrills the equipment freaks but leaves many holding their breath. What’s next that will obsolete the equipment you own, and that you’re still paying off? For what it’s worth:
With the Canon EOS 1DX body announced already at $6,800 (and therefore implausible for most), the biggest talk is of a Canon EOS 5D Mark III, which rumors alternately say will and won’t have a huge leap in megapixels, and which will likely have far better audio capabilities and functions that are already in use by people who’ve downloaded the third-party Magic Lantern hack.
The anticipated update to Canon’s EOS 7D is for upgraded megapixels and improved features such as higher ISO. We’ll see.
A 3-D HDSLR? It seems that may be the way things go. And then add into that the new infatuation with using side-by-side cameras to create High Dynamic Range, and it seems those could work somehow.
Sony may announce a full-frame DSLR, according to some sources. Nikon seems, as always, to lag.
Magic Lantern is readying its “Unified Edition” for the Canon 5D, providing the features already in its 550D/T2i, 60D, 600D/T3i, 500D/T1i and 50D models. This free download vastly improves the ability of the camera, and the unified edition stretches it across all models except the apparently impenetrable 7D, which for that reason is falling out of favor with many DSLR filmmakers.
In short, the rumor mills are not looking at anything remarkably different for the lower-budget documentary filmmaker. And that’s good news in that everyone is not going to have to rush out to do an unwanted upgrade just to stay in the game. With HDSLR and even HDV documentaries having found their place in top festivals, broadcast and even Academy Award considerations, lower-budget filmmakers have not yet been priced out of the game.
Kurt Lancaster, who has contributed on DSLR filmmaking on this site, shot the 99 percenters at Occupy Wall Street:
Back in July, I interviewed Canadian documentary filmmakers Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky, who were at work on their documentary Indie Game: The Movie, about independent video-game designers. They had high hopes for their film, and this week, those were realized when they got word the film will premiere at Sundance 2012. Theirs is one of 14 selections in the World Documentaries category, out of an estimated 800 entries.
What is notable about the film is not just its subject matter, but the fact that this is a DSLR film that raised its financing through crowdfunding on Kickstarter, making short demo pieces that would build toward the final film but serve as selling tools for financing.
According to Pajot,
We basically started with the Kickstarter campaign in May 2010, and we just had one piece, and we put out that slice of the film, and we made our goal in 48 hours. We asked for $15,000 and we ended up with $23,000.
As we continued making the film, we just kept building the audience. We’d put out lots of videos while we were shooting — which might be ill-advised. We put out 80 minutes of content while we were shooting, separate pieces and things like that. It was really helpful creatively to help us figure out what we were doing, and show people, and get a response. People would pass around those videos, and that would lead us to new stories, and to gaming sites, and it just kind of grew from there.
As this was happening, we just kept finding out that this doesn’t just apply to people who are interested in indie gaming or making indie games themselves, but to general gaming people, or people that just want to make something themselves.
Their second Kickstarter campaign, which raised more than $71,000 of a $35,000 goal, included a digital copy of the film for people donating $15 or more. For $35 or more, the donors gets a DVD of the film, but for $75 or more, a special-edition DVD, which Swirsky says makes use of the volume of video they shot in the process. Swirsky said,
The neat upside is this: We have two movies, really enough footage for three movies, really. So what we’re going to do is make this special-edition version of the film, which will have that original movie and that original intent kind of deconstructed into a series of 10 or 12 three-to-five-minute pieces. The stuff we shot of everybody else that that didn’t make it into the film is really good stuff. But in order to do justice to the dramatic arcs that really excited us, it needed more time in the film. We wanted to keep the thing under 90 minutes.
Filmmakers usually guard their material carefully. Pajot and Swirsky raised close to $100,000 in donations by being transparent, flouting conventions of filmmaking.
As for equipment, more films are showing the efficacy of light, mobile equipment. Last year’s Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner, Danfung Dennis’ Hell and Back Again was shot with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, but one might expect that for a journalist embedded with infantry and shooting combat footage. But for Indie Game’s sit-down interviews, where there might be a higher bar for quality, the DSLRs were also fine.
Swirsky and Pajot shot the film on two Canon EOS 5D Mark IIs, with a set of lenses including a 70-200mm, 24-105mm and a 24-70mm, with a 50mm f/1.4 as the main interview lens. They traveled with two Cool Lights. “But we really didn’t use the lights all that much,” Swirsky says. “We mostly used them for fill, because most of the places we shot had huge banks of windows.”
For audio, they used a Zoom H4N, with Sennheiser and Electrosonic mics. Everything was shot with tripods for the interviews. When they went off tripods they generally used monopods.
“We had a lot of sliders in there, too,” Swirsky says. “At the time, sliders were the new thing, so I went slider crazy on the first half of shooting this thing. We used a Glidetrack, then got our hands on a Kessler dolly.”
Here’s a video showing them traveling with equipment:
When the RED Scarlet was announced three and a half years ago at NAB 2008, it was gasp-inducing. RED proclaimed it would produce a camera that could shoot “3K” — nearly triple the resolution of the current HD standard — at a price of $3,000.
This was at a time when the standard was a camcorder with a 1/3″ sensor, and 24p was available on only a handful of camcorders. DSLRs with video was new.
At the end of 2009, the Scarlet was still unreleased, and the anticipation was turning into frustration. Wired gave it a Vaporware of the Year award, and then the camera missed its 2010 debut as well.
Today, finally, something like what had been promised has arrived. The RED Scarlet-X is on the market, with 4K video, but with a price three times the original: $9750 for the basic body, or $14,000 for a package that includes a viewfinder, battery and lens mount. Although RED announced December 1 as the expected shipping date, some blogs say cameras went out earlier, around November 18.
These years later, it’s turned out not nearly as revolutionary as it had seemed to be.
In the last three years, manufacturers of cameras have rethought what “video camera” means. The Canon EOS 5D Mark II was the breakthrough camera the Scarlet wasn’t. The Sony PMW-F3K, Sony NEX-FS100, Panasonic AG-AF100 and Canon EOS C300 are now in a marketplace full of cameras that give filmmakers much of what they’d wished of the Scarlet three years ago. And RED’s own EPIC competes in a (higher-priced) high-end digital camera market with Arri’s Alexa and Panavision’s Genesis.
Was the Scarlet the engine that forced big manufacturers to innovate, or was it an overhyped, unrealistic and ultimately compromised promise? Maybe a bit of both.
Earlier this week, I watched Jason Cohn and Bill Jersey’s new Eames: The Architect and the Painter, which speaks to the Eames ideal of making good design accessible to average people. I don’t know what Cohn and Jersey shot their film with, but I’d be no less surprised if it was on a $600 Canon EOS T2i than on a $30,000 RED EPIC, because even the 4K video has to be crunched down into a package our computers or televisions can carry. The days in which the format mattered, in terms of its cost and the quality of the final product, are over. Where once any viewer could tell the difference between amateur/low-budget VHS and professional/expensive 16mm film, now the fact is that with 1080 HD still the viewing standard, the camera, as a film tool, has become transparent. It’s only noticeable when things go wrong. The differences between video quality today are so small that documentary filmmakers have never had so many options.
So the Scarlet is finally shipping, and with people such as Philip Bloom weighing its merits as part of a pack and not as a standard of its own, it underlines the amazing changes in the field in the years since it was announced.