The winter exposition mounted by the British Society of Cinematographers is always busy with attendees anxious to banish the new years’ blues or the frigid January weather, but the 2015 event seemed, if anything, identifiably busier than usual. Certainly exhibitors were in bullish mood, with reports of brisk sales and of rental equipment more or less bouncing off the shelves between jobs. As Robert Kulesh of Matthews Studio Equipment suggested, regardless of the potential for economic doldrums to linger in the public consciousness, people still like to be entertained – although perhaps presently-generous government tax arrangements for film production have an influence too.
The BSC show is compact, occupying the Richard Attenborough stage at Pinewood with outdoor exhibits and the seminar theatre on H stage, but much as Cine Gear is to NAB, the event caters to a select crowd. Being sponsored by a society whose ranks are filled with people who have shot feature films and TV series, the BSC show is noticeably – some would say relentlessly – aimed at the best funded parts of the business. Sony‘s booth concentrates almost exclusively on F65 and F55, while Panasonic have put themselves back into competition for big-screen production work with their two brand-new Varicam offerings – the large-sensor 4K VariCam 35, and the high-speed VariCam HS, capable of shooting 240 frames per second with its more traditional three-chip block. Otherwise, the number of Alexas (of every vintage) being used as demo cameras on almost every booth is so large it’d be easy to overlook the fact that there are other options. One such is AJA‘s Cion, now actually in the wild to at least some extent and giving the company a reason to attend a generally camera-oriented show that it might previously have lacked.
Outside cameras, the first and most difficult to miss exhibits were the cranes and vehicles parked up outside the Attenborough stage by Alpha Grip, based at the nearby Shepperton studios. In truth, the U.K. is perhaps best considered as a base for big-budget toys like Alpha’s Louma and MovieBird cranes, with jobs as far afield as Morocco mentioned in conjunction with their pursuit vehicles, but the fact that it’s worth keeping them here as opposed to somewhere else is a tacit vote of confidence in itself.
Scurrying inside, away from the arctic blast of this year’s first snow, we find an industry simultaneously dedicated to both precision and what might be termed artistically-motivated imprecision. Certainly LED lighting appears to slowly be coming of age, with manufacturers now much more likely to hold TLCI data, demonstrating good colour rendition more accurately than the CRI standard. The VersaTile edge-lit 2′ square panel we saw last year is now available in both its traditional daylight and tungsten variations, but also in a dual-colour option with accompanying twin power supply and dimmer. U.K. manufacturer Photon Beard, a company with a convincing claim to being one of the oldest in the industry, is now offering LED redheads (LEDheads, apparently) in both tungsten and daylight with interchangeable remote phosphor panels. Their Platinum Blonde, a 1200W HMI variant of the age-old 2KW Blonde tungsten light, is finally in production.
The glory of imprecision comes from lens and Steadicam specialists Optical Support and their associates who specialize in old or characterful lenses. I say old or characterful because prominent on their list of rental items is the Cooke S4i series, which can hardly be said to be old but are indeed famously characterful. Founder Chris Edwards points out the irony of a situation in which after striving for so long we have, in Alexa, found a camera system which is widely found acceptable, and then almost immediately we begin to strive again for ways to remove what’s perceived as excessive digital sterility from the resulting pictures. For what it’s worth, the fall of stereo 3D seems almost complete. I only saw one rig.
BSC Expo is always a difficult show to sum up, existing as it does in a world where things change rather more slowly than in the less rarefied parts of the business where a DSLR release every three months can hugely change what can be achieved both artistically and economically. The more expensive the camera, the more stable it needs to be, both in the senses of engineering and long-term support. This is hardly inappropriate at a level where tools need to be learned and known and crews need to become highly expert in order to fulfil the requirements of some of the most demanding projects in filmmaking. Alpha Grip, for instance, have the most recent and yet-to-be-released Mission: Impossible installment as a prominent credit – and on 35mm film, to boot. Going by a rough eyeball estimate during the first afternoon of this two-day event, the high end is still well-populated.