Visiting the SMPTE17 Movie and Television Trade Show in Sydney’s Darling Harbour

“It will be a sausage fest,” my best friend warned me when I told her I was planning on rising from my sickbed to visit SMPTE17 earlier this week.

She is an industry trade show veteran, having long worked as one of the most in-demand research and development engineers for famous brand name global corporations before quitting due to overt male bias and male versus female pay differences. 

SMPTE17 is the first movie and television industry trade show to be staged at Sydney’s revamped conventions and exhibitions complex, ICC Sydney, in Darling Harbour. 

In the long years between the previous conference and exhibitions centre being torn down and ICC Sydney kicking into operation late last year, this city has been without the trade shows upon which photographers in particular depend for their all-too-rare hands-ons with new and essential equipment.

Since moviemaking, photography and television went digital, there has been steadily growing overlap between the hardware and software needs in these related industries.

Visual storytelling is their other common component and practiced storytellers have been crossing the borders between since I began learning cinematography and photography the hard way as a kid in the middle of the west of nowhere.

The idea of separating one set of visual storytelling applications from the other two that are increasingly closely related is becoming more absurd as the years go by.

ICC Sydney in Darling Harbour is a more suitable venue than SMPTE15’s windy, soggy, distant Hordern Pavilion in Moore Park and the day I attended this year’s iteration benefited from excellent weather and cold-hued laser-beam sunlight.

With this winter being one of the most challenging for vicious influenza infections and bacterial secondary infections untouched by the annual quadrivalent injection, the usual injunction to keep one’s distance from in-your-face sneezers and coughers carried extra weight, so I was on my feet dodging disease vectors on the trade show floor.

I was travelling light with the benefit of Cosyspeed’s excellent Camslinger Streetomatic+ in black, a waist-mounted camera bag for fast and easy camera egress and ingress.

Two Think Tank Photo Stuff It! organizer belt pouches hung off the Streetomatic+’s waist belt, balancing the load consisting of a Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5, Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 12-60mm f/2.8-4.0 Aspheric Power OIS standard travel zoom lens, spare battery, cellphone and Lenspen DSLR Pro Kit.

The Streetomatic+ more than proved itself and I hope that an Australian importer/distributor will step up to the plate to make Cosyspeed’s camera bags available here.

Being a moviemaker and photographer, my attention was largely focussed on those vendors at SMPTE17 whose products served both fields well.

SMPTE is traditionally aimed at the heavy guns in the movies and TV, as proven by previous iterations of the trade show.

For example, I had attended SMPTE15 hoping to see all relevant products from vendors but the artificial divide between so-called professional and enthusiast product ranges held sway then and only those products deemed “professional” were available.

At SMPTE17, that silliness was not so much in evidence.

Panasonic’s AU-EVA1 fills the gap between Panasonic’s Lumix DC-GH5 and its Varicam line. The EF-mount AU-EVA1 is cause go looking at EF-mount lenses. I am inclined to consider primes and zooms from Sigma’s extensive range given that Canon’s EF L-series lenses are showing their age and the EF 24-105mm f/4L lens shown here suffers from expensive-to-repair problems with its internal circuitry that can suddenly render it unusable. I have one sitting here and am debating whether to save up and repair it or sell it.

This year, brands like Panasonic and Sony acknowledged reality by showing their mirrorless stills/video hybrid cameras alongside their camcorders and cinema cameras.

Panasonic smartly invited Lumix indie mirrorless documentary moviemaking pioneer Griffin Hammond to man the GH5 stand and present workshops and floor talks.

I would have loved to have attended them but remain ill from severe influenza and the last thing I want to do is risk spreading it about.

The overt male bias at SMPTE15 and its predecessors was slightly less in evidence this year thanks to foreign staff manning foreign vendors’ stands or Australian staffers who work the world trade show and special event circuits for their Australian headquartered globally-focussed employers.

The aforementioned sausage fest remained in evidence throughout, though, with blokes dominating hands-on opportunities such as those on the Sony stand stand’s APS-C/Super 35 and 35mm mirrorless cameras and lenses.

I had hoped to try out the Sony α9 camera to see what all the fuss is about but had to go away disappointed after several attempts.

We have a looong way to go before moviemaking and photography approach anything like equal opportunity.

There were other disappointments.

The glass display cabinet containing Movcam’s popular camera cages and other accessories remained locked and unmanned with none of the C. R. Kennedy staffers having possession of the keys.

The Manfrotto display focussed only on a new tripod range and some accessories and bags.

I have long been wanting to see, try and potentially heavily invest in in Manfrotto’s Xume fast-on, fast-off filter system that foreign colleagues insist are absolutely essential.

The staffer there barely knew what I was talking about and it was the same or worse with other brilliant Manfrotto products like the Fig Rig and the Lino Manfrotto professional clothing range. Ah well.

Vitec Group plc’s apparent reluctance to practise the fundamentals of vendor education and good marketing and public relations seems to filter down throughout their distribution chain.

Product distribution and retail has been average to mediocre in this country for some time, leading directly to reliance on online sales going to US-based retail giants like B&H Photo Video.

Things might be different if we had something here approaching the B&H store and I can understand why so many of my photography and video colleagues shop overseas, online or, increasingly in person.

I would love to support local retailers and importers/distributors by buying locally but experiences like the one later the same day when trying to procure some essential hardware items from local retailers mitigate against that.

Listening to every camera and pro store assistant tell me to go online to order from B&H has its effect and it is cumulative and, often, permanent.

I strongly suspect the store assistant chant of “get it from B&H” will turn Amazon’s way when the global supply giant establishes its national warehouse and delivery network throughout Australia.

The phrase “they will eat your lunch” kept coming to mind in every store I visited in a quest that ended in the inevitable online order to B&H as soon as I returned home.

There were some highlights at SMPTE17 such as Rotolight UK’s Barry Grubb attending the C. R. Kennedy stand to show off the brilliant Rotolight Aeos hand-and-stand photography and video LED-plus-flash light system alongside the equally brilliant Rotolight Neo and Rotolight Anova LED lighting systems.

I rely on my Rotolight Neo 3 Light Kit with barndoors and Chimera soft box for stills and video, and have been long hoping for a more powerful, wider-beamed, portable LED light to use in one-light or two-light portrait and interview set-ups on location.

The Aeos appears to be it, and is about to become available as a two-light kit in a backpack with barndoors and soft box to follow. Yay!

The trade show floor was brightly and unevenly lit so it was a stretch to see the full effect of the Aeos’ output – if we ever have a B&H-style superstore here a studio to judge the quality of lights surely would be an essential.

But, even with the room’s ambient light the Aeos showed enough brightness and colour control to add it up high on my movie and photography lighting wishlist.

Other highlights included the SMPTE-first presence of a G-Technology stand showing off the company’s excellent location and editing suite media storage products, some intriguing moviemaking microphones from also SMPTE-first Azden and some great products from established Australian brands Atomos and Blackmagic Design.

SMPTE17 was the best iteration of the trade show I have attended so far despite non-attendances by brands and distributors that I had so hoped would be there.

We are at a critical stage in Australia with the ending of the photography trade shows, a dearth of the travelling hardware show-and-tell events and workshops that go on overseas, the lack of Australian-based brand ambassadors and product demonstrators, and the ever-looming shadow of Amazon.com.

Like winter, Amazon is coming and one has to hope that its imminent presence will radically improve the importing and retailing situation for moviemaking and photography hardware for practitioners at all levels.

That situation will improve radically yet again if Amazon sets up some rumored bricks-and-mortar show, tell, try, buy and educational workshop experiences throughout the country and especially here in Sydney.


To My Readers:

In order to get this article online in a timely manner I have had to skip some content and put off processing some photographs, adding captions and other data and so on.

I will be adding those currently missing bits as soon as I can but I am still seriously ill with this wretched dual virus-plus-bacteria infection that I contracted while in the city to shoot some product review footage weeks ago.

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