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Picture Perfect

When it comes to field operations, the goal is simple: Acquire top-notch images with top-notch lenses and cameras and ensure that they are transmitted back to the production truck or station without compromising picture and audio quality.

This year, camera makers are responding with cameras that can connect to either fiber or triax cabling, lens makers continue to sharpen their focus on affordable HD lenses, and both are expanding their offerings for remote, point-of-view (POV) applications. One theme: Help users get ready for HD even if they're working in SD. Even with a heavy focus on standard-definition, says Larry Thorpe, national marketing executive for Canon USA's broadcast and communications division, HD lenses are a solid option since the optics improve the picture quality of the SD material.

"Shouldn't we invest in an HD lens even if we have an SD camera, because lenses have such a long life?" he suggests. When the move is made to HD, he says, part of the equipment will already be in place.

And the price premium for HD versus SD lens today is 25%-30%. "It'll give super SD pictures," Thorpe explains, adding, "When a station gets to HD, the lenses will already be there. It gets down to pricing."

But Fujinon Marketing Manager Dave Waddell believes there will be one more buying cycle of SD lenses by TV stations because newsgathering formats are still standard-def: "I just don't see HD news happening for another five or six years."

What percentage of lenses sold are HD vs. SD? Depends on whom you ask. Thorpe says about 65% of the lenses Canon sells are HD lenses. Waddell says HD accounts for about 35% at Fujinon.

Canon is offering two new HD lenses for electronic field production. The 22x, priced about $35,000, replaces the traditional HJ21. The other introduction is a 17x7.7 lens.

For SD demands, a new J series 35-times lens replaces Canon's 33-times lens. It will be available in two versions: The 35x11 has sensitivity of f2 for wide-angle needs; the 35x15 is for telephoto needs (sensitivity takes a hit, down to f2.7). The latter is suited to shooting from a helicopter.

Also new from Canon are four lenses for smaller remote cameras. Three are HD, one SD; all have remote-control capabilities for zoom, iris, and focus. The HD lenses are for 1/2-inch CCD (charge-coupled device) cameras and have zoom rates of 22, 17, and 11 times, respectively.

Thorpe says lenses are beginning to be affected by the metadata craze sweeping the industry. Canon's lens division is now using sensors to provide 16-bit resolution for zoom, iris, and focus functions. "Metadata will eventually reach out to the lens," he says, adding that people are very hungry for all lens data.

Fujinon, too, has a new HD lens for remote robotic applications; the Has18x7.6MD lens is the lowest-priced in Fujinon's HD line. Features include Inner Focus, a servo module with zoom, focus, and iris control. The lens can also be interfaced with Fujinon's studio controls.

Two factors are driving the POV-camera market: the need to bring more atmosphere to sports coverage with cameras mounted high above the field and the need to give commuters a better sense of how much traffic is on the roadways. As always, HD is a factor.

"The growing robotics trend sends a strong message that broadcast and production professionals are putting an emphasis on minimizing overhead costs," says Jack Breitenbucher, Hitachi Denshi America vice president, Broadcast and Professional Products, "but they also recognize the need to invest in HDTV equipment."

Hitachi's latest POV camera is the SK-31 in either a standalone version (SK-31C) or a version with an optical-fiber system for transmission and a two-rack-unit camera-control unit. The camera has native output in both 720-line progressive (720p) and 1080-line interlace (1080i) HD formats so third-party converters aren't required. It has 2/3-inch CCDs for imaging. Breitenbucher says NASA has already expressed interest in the camera for monitoring its launch pads.

At Sony, the HDC-X300 compact high-definition camera has three 1/2-inch 1.5 million-pixel HD CCDs for imaging and provides HD SDI output and downconverted SDI output as an option. The camera, available in June priced less than $20,000, will also weigh less than 3 pounds without lens. It also has latent intelligence functions. Canon's YH16x7 lens, a co-development between the two companies, is included and contains an autofocus system.

Panasonic's POV intros include two cameras for SD demands: the AW-E650 (with 1/2-inch 410,000-pixel CCDs) and the AW-E350 (with 1/3-inch 410,000-pixel CCDs). New accessories include a high-speed pan-tilt head, a pan-tilt controller, a signal-converter box, and an additional card box (adding such features as RGB/component output, improved sensitivity, or SDI output). The AW-E650 will cost $4,600 and ship in June; the AW-E350 will ship in May priced at $3,400.

Ikegami is introducing an HD POV camera. The HDL-40C has three 2.1 million-pixel CMOS sensors and can acquire in 720p, 1080i. and 1080/24p formats. It weighs less than 4 pounds without a lens and also has HD-SDI output, providing strong signal quality.

Fujinon will roll out two 18-times lenses for the POV market, one for HD and the other for SD needs. The HA17x7.8 is for 2/3-inch CCD cameras and has a focal length of 7.6mm to 137mm. Features include a servo module with Digi Power, Quick Zoom (from wide to telephoto in 0.6 seconds), Cruise Zoom (for constant speed), One Shot Pre-Set, and RS232 control ports. The A18x7.6BERM/BERD is the SD version of the lens.

POV cameras are useful for adding atmosphere to sports productions, but more suited to capturing on-the-field action are cameras like Thomson Grass Valley's LDK 6000 mk II WorldCam and LDK 300 and 500. This year, Thomson Grass Valley will introduce hybrid fiber/triax connectivity for the 6000 as well as an SDI multi-core camera system for the 300 and 500.

"Initially, we came out with a camera that could send signals over triax because that's what everyone initially asked for," says Mark Chiolis, Thomson Grass Valley marketing manager, acquisition and production. Today, new arenas have built-in fiber runs and connections. As a result, production crews are looking for cameras that can work with either fiber or triax. Thus, the new hybrid fiber/triax system.

Ikegami is introducing the TA-79HD triax adapter. And its new CB-79HD camera-control-unit converter box will allow crews to switch back and forth between triax and hybrid fiber/triax camera cable.

Fiber and triax will coexist for some time, and both have advantages and disadvantages. Triax is better for shorter runs and can be more easily repaired and manipulated; fiber is lighter in weight and can have longer cable runs. Fiber, Chiolis says, is definitely becoming more commonplace.

Also popular are long-shooting lenses like Canon's 100-times and Fujinon's 101-times lens. Both were introduced last year; neither manufacturer sees the need for a 102-times lens.

Fujinon, however, is offering an enhancement. Shooting at 101-times provides the tightest shots possible but is also a test of how well the camera operator can focus. In fact, says Waddell, the problem isn't the human eye but the quality of the camera viewfinder. Fujinon wants to help with that last bit of focus with a new option that uses three CCDs to compare the video and drive the focus. "It takes over the focusing," he explains, "to get it clear down to the nth degree."