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New Cameras Ready for Their Close-ups

Complete Coverage: CES 2013

As TV executives join the crowds congregating this week in Las Vegas for the 2013 International CES, a number of technologies from the consumer electronics world continue to have a notable impact on professional cameras, helping to improve image quality while reducing their size and cost.

One notable example is the growing use of CMOS sensors—or complementary metal-oxide semiconductor sensors—that were originally developed for consumer gear.

Alan Keil, VP and director of engineering at Ikegami Electronics USA, an early adopter of CMOS technologies, notes that much of the development work for high-end cameras and lower-cost products now involves CMOS technologies. “I’m not in a rush to say CCD [charge-coupled device] is old and shouldn’t be used because that is clearly not the case, but I’m not sure how many more years it will have,” Keil says.

Theresa Alesso, VP of marketing and product management at the Professional Solutions of America division of Sony Electronics, adds that advances in CMOS technologies enabled Sony to introduce the handheld PMW-160, which has three 1/3-inch Exmor CMOS sensors.

Even though it is a lighter, less expensive camera, listing for $7,995, the PMW-160 is compatible with Sony’s widely used XDCAM workflow. “The 3CMOS sensors offer very high resolution, high light sensitivity, low noise and wide dynamic range in a less costly, small form factor,” Alesso says.

At the high end of the market, cameras using large 35mm CMOS sensors have proved extremely popular for theatrical film and scripted TV production. Bill Russell, VP of camera products at ARRI Group, says ARRI’s Alexa camera, with a 35mm-format CMOS sensor, is now used in many theatrical film productions and in “over 80%” of all major network and cable scripted programs. “In a very short time period, it has become the camera of choice for just about every major rental house,” Russell says.

CMOS vs. CCD Sensors

But CMOS sensors are not likely to displace the CCD sensors that have long been used in higher-quality broadcast cameras. “We still think that the premier quality sensor will be CCD,” says Emilio Aleman, engineering manager at Hitachi Kokusai Electric America.

Aleman also notes that purchasing lenses for the lower-cost, single- CMOS sensor cameras can outweigh any potential savings. “You can end up spending five times the cost of a camera on the lens,” he says. As a result, Hitachi will focus on cameras using 3CMOS sensors for the cameras it plans to introduce at the NAB show in April for “traditional broadcasters looking to keep the optics they have now,” he adds.

Broadcasters are also looking for cameras that will be “future-proof” for newer uses, notes Steve Cooperman, project manager at Panasonic. Its new AG-HPX600 camera, for example, is upgradable to support Panasonic’s new AVC Ultra codec, to be released later in 2013. That codec will be able to handle “very high-quality video at manageable bit rates,” Cooperman says. “We haven’t allowed that kind of upgradability in the past.”

Grass Valley’s new LDX product line using CMOS sensors is designed so users can upgrade their cameras with new software as they adapt to new formats, notes Marcel Koutstaal, senior VP and general manager, Imaging Product Group at Grass Valley.

“It allows our customers to embrace different business models and have more business flexibility with our cameras,” Koutstaal says. “If they are now using 1080i, they can take the current LDX and upgrade it to a higher level of performance three years from now if they want to go to 1080p.”

Camera manufacturers are also continuing to develop features that improve workflows and fit in with existing formats, notes Sony’s Alesso, who sees the PMW-160’s compatibility with XDCAM workflows as a major selling point. The Panasonic AG-HPX600 also helps streamline workflows by allowing users to input metadata wirelessly with an iPhone or an iPad, Cooperman adds.

JVC Professional Products is also focusing on improved workflows. Its new GY-HM650 ProHD camera, which began shipping at the end of 2012 with a list price of $5,995, has built-in FTP and Wi-Fi connectivity, enabling field crews to deliver files back to stations without a microwave or satellite connection, notes Craig Yanagi, manager, marketing and brand strategy at the company.

Crews can use a smartphone or laptop to control the camera and to enter metadata into image files, Yanagi says, adding, “We want to make certain that content can be distributed with minimal roadblocks.”

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