Large Sensors, Modest Prices

RELATED: Making the Work Flow Work

TV producers have been finding creative ways in recent years of using new technologies to do more with less. One notable example: the growing popularity of digital single lens reflex cameras (DSLRs) for TV production.

When Nikon and Canon added video capabilities to these still cameras, videographers quickly discovered that their large sensors could produce beautiful cinematic high-definition images for a very limited budget. They have occasionally been used on shows such as NCIS L.A., 24, The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, Saturday Night Live and House.

But like many serendipitous adaptations of technology intended for a different purpose, DSLR models lacked many of the features videographers had come to expect from professional cameras.

Over the last year, however, some manufacturers have been working to overcome those problems with the introduction of a few new cameras, notably the Panasonic AG-AF100 and Sony’s PMW-F3 camcorder, that combine the big sensors of DSLRs with the features of more traditional camcorders.

Jan Crittenden Livingston, product line business manager for Panasonic Solutions Co., notes that the company developed the AF100 after an extensive process of collecting more than 400 opinions from professional users on what they would like to see in a professional camera with a large sensor. “From all that input, we pared things back to fit in a $5,000 package that has proved very successful,” she says.

Sony is also reporting a positive reaction. “We have sold over 1,000 F3s since February when it became available, and we have a back order of about the same size,” says Alec Shapiro, senior VP at Sony Electronics’ Professional Solutions of America.

The demand reflects the fact that these models are much easier to use than DSLRs and fit in with traditional production work flows better, yet are also relatively inexpensive and offer large sensors that produce spectacular HD images.

“Sony’s F3 [Super 35mm] camera has allowed us to get things that we couldn’t get with our other cameras,” notes George Matthews, who was a pioneer in using DSLRs for reality production and is now using the F3 on an upcoming network reality show.

“It is really a game-changer,” adds Zach Zamboni, who is exclusively using the Sony F3 with Panavision PL mount lenses as the series director of photography for The Layover, the new Travel channel series hosted by Anthony Bourdain.

“We have done two episodes without a single light,” while shooting everything handheld, thanks to the low-light sensitivity of the large sensor, Zamboni adds.

George Elder, president of Luminair, notes that his production company used the Panasonic AF100 for the eighth season of long-running PBS series Mexico— One Plate at a Time, as well as a recent shoot in Cannes for Ebert Presents at the Movies.

“It gives us the flexibility and the ease of use of a handheld HD camera with the large sensor of a DSLR that produces really beautiful images,” Elder notes.

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