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Long Shot

When flight restrictions over stadiums were tightened after 9/11, one aspect of sports productions suffered: the overhead blimp shot. Today's blimp coverage is nothing more than pretty shots of the stadiums.

But Panavision's new 300x digital zoom lens will compensate for the distance. It can zoom in and capture the action, up-close. And it will be available for rental exclusively from truck vendor National Mobile Television (NMT).

The current maximum lens magnification is 101 times.

The opportunity to magnify as many as 300 times could potentially shake up sports coverage in the air and on the ground.

"This is like going from pliers to vise grips," says NMT President Jerry Gepner. "It redefines one of the tools [used for sports productions]."

The new lens is Panavision's first entry into the video market. The manufacturer's name is ubiquitous when it comes to film-lens rentals, but the company has only recently entered the video market by supplying something novel to the industry.

Gepner says the lens will be available in September in a rental package that includes the Thomson LDK-6000 camera. Why the LDK-6000? It is the only camera that currently processes the images from the lens. "That's not to say another manufacturer won't do it in the future," he adds.

Renting the system isn't inexpensive, but the capabilities of the lenses may enable elimination of camera positions. That's an important sales plug: Its reach makes it easier to cover events—like golf, road races or skiing—that cover great distances.

"The wide-angle lens will give tremendous perspective and also a close-up of the action," says Gepner. "It offers an economy that is hard to ignore." But does the industry need a 300-times lens?

Video-lens makers Canon and Fujinon believe going well beyond 100-times magnification isn't necessary for the vast majority of events. Gepner agrees but notes that the 300-times capability is about providing new technology. It's up to producers to find ways to use the tool. For now, he says, the lens would probably be used to shoot in the range of 120-250 times.

The deal between Panavision and NMT is for 12 months, with a provision for renewal. The package will be deployable across NMT's fleet of trucks. In a competitive marketplace, the company notes, an extra bell or whistle can help seal a deal.