The British Society of Cinematographers’ expo, which took place this past weekend, is not traditionally a place of headline releases and crowds of enthusiastic camera people baying for a sight of the latest toy. Is it a relatively small show. Previously, it’s been confined to a stage or two at either Pinewood or Leavesden, but was ejected this year, presumably by the brisk business going on at U.K. studios, to the Battersea Evolution exhibition facility in central London. Reaching beyond its scale, though, the event has long maintained an audience at the higher end of the U.K.’s somewhat polarised film industry, in which the expensive and the less-expensive are separated by a rather under-represented middle ground.
As such, there has never been any doubt as to who the BSC Expo is aimed at, and one side effect of this is that there is generally no great excitement over the prospect of a previously unheard-of camera because most of the attendees can be counted upon to recognize that while the toys are important, other things are just as much so. Sony, Panasonic and ARRI were all in attendance, and while AJA also took a booth, Blackmagic, perhaps with an eye to their core market, stayed away. These choices represent a microcosm of the show, with Panasonic’s imminent Varicam announcement perhaps the closest thing to a buzz-creator in terms of new equipment (and that based on effectively no information).
But no, in general, if BSC members were in attendance, the show demonstrated that British cinematographers do not buzz. Conversations perhaps best characterized as comfortably low-key abounded around the exhibits of key facilities such as Cinelab who, despite the amateur-centric history of the super-8, seemed happy to promote Kodak‘s upcoming camera. Cinelab were also keen to talk about their in-house scanning facilities, recently expanded to accommodate the format. Aware of the reputation of film among at least some cinematographers as a potentially finicky and time-consuming option, Cinelab has gone out of its way to create a very complete offering, with processing, dailies transfer and scanning all available as a consistent package. It naturally remains the case that their calculations of equivalent cost for film only really apply in the best funded realms, but for most BSC Expo attendees, the numbers will seem perfectly reasonable.
One of the advantages of a small show with a discerning clientele is that the many small firms on whose work the industry so often depends enjoy a comparatively higher profile. Companies such as True Lens Services, the optical engineers, and Photon Beard, a stalwart of British lighting manufacturing, are not lost in the noise of the latest mass-market, pocket-sized helmet-cam. True Lens Services produces both extensively re-engineered lenses for high-end camera departments and more affordable modifications of stills lenses for the less-well-heeled, both of which options seem set for continued importance given the plummeting cost of cameras yet stubbornly high cost of lenses to suit them. Photon Beard was happy to discuss sales of its Platinum Blonde (a traditional Blonde open-faced light fitted with a 1200W HMI) to U.S. customers, representing a sought-after expansion of the company’s involvement in American production.
If any part of the 2016 BSC Expo was somewhat predictable, it was an interest in high dynamic range imaging, which Sony demonstrated at its booth with the BVM-X300 OLED display and which was the subject of three of the show’s seven seminars. The degree of interest in the technique suggests that even the most curmudgeonly practitioners find it difficult to deny how compelling and attractive the HDR image can be, a conclusion reinforced by some highly convincing demonstration footage. MyTherapy‘s Dado Valentic and Ian Lowe, from Dolby, described the HDR workflow used on the second season of Marco Polo, and the show’s second day saw a panel of BSC members and postproduction specialists discuss HDR from the cinematographer’s perspective.
Really, though, these things are asides – trade shows at their best are about personal interaction, and the BSC Expo has always been careful to provide a large, central seating area with considerably better food and drink than most exhibitions. It’s easy to walk around wondering whether some key equipment choice for an upcoming tenant of Pinewood’s massive Bond stage, or some crucial bit of problem-solving for an existing production, is being discussed in a brief interpersonal aside.