Saturday, October 13, 2007

Report from Panafest 2007

Panafest - This is the first time that Panavision has held this event. Normally they announce new products at Show Biz Expo or the NAB show or similar venues. Panavision stated that they had enough new products ready that they did not want to wait for one of the tradeshows to demonstrate and announce these new products.

Now, admittedly, Panavision products are of little interest to the average low/no budget indie filmmaker. Panavision traditionally appeals to the mainstream studio productions. Panavision provides cameras, lenses and accesories for (mostly) 35mm film productions. That is their bread and butter. And these products are never sold - Only leased to film companies for the duration of their principal photography.

Panavision does have an HD Digital camera called the Genesis, and a number of changes were introduced at the Panafest for this series of products. One of the advantages of Genesis is that the controls and overall handling of the camera are modeled on their film cameras. As such, an operator or AC that is familiar with Panavision's existing film line of products will be at home on the Genesis.

At Panafest, a number of new products were demonstrated such as new prime lenses, new anamorphic lenses, a new 2 perf system and updates to the Genesis line. For this update, we will focus on the Genesis products since the other items are designed for mainstream film. The Genesis is of interest since it more directly competes with products such as the Thomson Viper or the RED.

At Panafest, the screening room was set up to run a number of demos. One of these was a Mazda commercial that was shot both on film and on the Genesis. All footage displayed was presented on a 2K Barco projector. The audience was asked to tell which footage was shot on film and which was shot on the Genesis. Outside of a single tell-tale item, I was unable to tell the difference. And this was true of the audience (comprised mostly of DPs, engineers and camera crew personnel).

Following this was a discussion of the Genesis workflow using their new SSR product (Solid state recorder) that stores 20 minutes of uncompressed HD fotage (the camera also supports a compressed format with 4:2:2 chroma sub-sampling for longer duration shots).
As an aside, the Genesis camera produces a full uncompressed progressive HD image (1920x1080) without chroma sub-sampling (4:4:4 colorspace). The image that is produced by the genesis is in a proprietary format called Panalog 4. Viewing this raw data is reminiscent of the image prodcued by a viper. Desaturated and low contrast. This data contains a full gamma curve and needs to be run through a conversion box that pairs with the Genesis to provide 3D LUTs for look management.

Now, while none of this is new or earth shattering, the new Genesis does provide a way to revert the data back to raw format, removing the changes applied by the LUTs. They have a patent on this little trick and it's a very slick feature. I asked of the solid state recorder could be mounted as a drive to facilitate file copying and they stated that this was not possible. You had to hook it up via HD-SDI and do real-time capture. This is, IMHO a MAJOR flaw in this design.

Following this they ran some test footage from their 2-perf system. Very wide. Very nice looking.

Panavision has a test soundstage at their facility and this was setup with all of their products so that you could go in and see and play with all of the new gear. Outside they had a tent set up with a couple of cranes and a car mount along with open bars and lots of food.

Excuse the crappy pictures - They were taken with my iPhone :).

Opinion time. This is just MY opinion here. Let me preface this with the fact that I have been to the Panavision facilities many times. The people at Panavision are a great group of very talented people who are always willing to go the extra mile to get you what you need. Their products are of the very highest quality. And that is evident in the many thousands of great films that have been created using their gear. They offer free training on all of their gear. If you want to learn how to tear a Panavision XL2 down and re-assemble it they are happy to show you.

That being said, I think that Panavision is in a precarious position. I seriously doubt that they will be able to react quickly enough in the marketplace to continue to hold their dominant position. One of the statements made by the Panavision folks during the show was that Panavision feels that film has a very bright and long future ahead of it. I disagree. Moreover, when I see what they have done with the Genesis, I don't see significant innovation.

As filmed entertainment moves into the digital realm, Panavision is at risk of being left behind in a world where changes occur at breakneck speed and prices plummet. I predict that at some point, Panavision will be best served as a lens supplier. I wish them the best of luck. The challenges that they face are significant. In the past, the speed of change for film cameras was lethargic at best. Panavision will have to completely re-invent themselves in order to survive in the new world of digital cinema.

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