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Chip and Disc (no more tape)
High Definition
Standard Def
Miniature Cameras

Solid progress: advances in camera technology

Camera round-up, 2004

by David Fox and Christina Fox

It has been a significant year for new cameras. High Definition is becoming mainstream for high-end production, even in Europe. Standard Definition cameras are becoming more powerful, more compact, more versatile and better value. DV-based camcorders can now be used for almost every type of production. And two new formats have been introduced that have nothing to do with tape, but everything to do with improved workflow.

Chip & Disc

Sony's new DVD camcorders are based on the Blu-ray Professional Disc format, recording 85 minutes of DV or 45 minutes of MPEG-2 on each Euros 30 disc. It records MPEG at 30, 40 or 50Mbps, and users can use MXF, or iLink (FireWire) for DVCAM transfers, which can be up to 3x realtime.

There are two models initially, a DVCAM-only camcorder (PDW-510P) for Euros 19,800 and a switchable DVCAM/MPEG IMX unit (PDW-530/P) for Euros 33,800. Both are based on the MSW-900 camcorder, which Sony believes is the best SD camera head it has made.

The camcorders should survive most conditions. Germany's WDR tested them at both -30 degrees and 50 degrees, and subjected them to intense vibration, without problems. It has a shock absorber and an electronic buffer, as well as a ten-second loop record for continuous recording - even while changing discs. The discs should have a 30-year archive life and survive at least 1000 record/re-record cycles. Sony claims the format will also halve maintenance costs compared to tape.

The cameras come with logging software and save any metadata onto disc. It also records thumbnails (suitable for rough editing), GPS data (if a unit is plugged in) and other simple metadata automatically.

Panasonic's new solid-state recording system is unlikely to arrive before Summer 2004, but will have similar workflow advantages. Called ING (IT News Gathering), it uses DV/DVCPRO compression with standard IT components and open interfaces, including SD (Secure Digital) memory cards, which are widely used in digital stills cameras and other devices.

Panasonic new P2 cardInitially, ING will support 4GB of SD memory on a PC card, called P2 (for Professional Plug-in card), storing 18 minutes of DV or 9 minutes of DVCPRO50. But, there are five P2 slots in the camera - all hot swappable for continuous recording.

Being Flash memory, it retains data without power. Within about five years, cards should be available storing up to 128GB (144 minutes DVCPRO HD, 285 minutes DVCPRO50 or 576 minutes DV). Initially P2 cards will be expensive, but they are fast, with a seek time about half a millisecond and very high throughput (up to 640Mbps), useful for nonlinear editing. "There is no need for digitisation, so it dramatically speeds up the editing process," says Robert Pascher, manager European broadcast marketing. It also has native support of MXF.

New P2 camera with 5 slots for the new P2 cardsPower consumption is low - about two Watts, compared to 7W for tape or optical disc and 5W for hard disk. The P2 camera has rolling record, so is effectively always recording, and because it is data, any Internet cafe is an ingest point.

Ikegami already has a solid state camcorder available, thanks to the flexibility of its Editcam 2 hard-disk camcorder. By replacing the disk with a Flash memory FieldPak, users who need a more robust format have that option. "At the moment it's a bit expensive, but it is a way forward, as Flash gets cheaper, without changing the camera," says Juergen Gottwald, marketing manager, Ikegami Electronics (Europe). Ikegami has a 10GB Flash module now, but it will cost about $10,000, compared to a 20GB hard drive for Euros 500. "But, we expect the price will go down soon as Flash memory is used in so many applications."

The memory pack can record any format Editcam supports, including DVCPRO50 and MPEG IMX/D10.

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Joe Dunton with the new hybrid film/HDTV cameraHigh Definition

The hybrid film/HDTV camera created by Joe Dunton Cameras has just gone into production on its first movie, being shot on both HD, using the Mitchell Digital Magazine, and high-speed 16mm film through the same lens. It uses an Arriflex 16SR3 camera, and the magazine is being developed with Ikegami, which has earmarked its prototype CMOS image sensor for the camera, which will reduce its size and enable progressive shooting.

The camera now has a range of outputs, including HD optical with a novel pilot light, so that users can be sure it is connected without any signal being sent. It also has a flip-out LCD monitor, for menu access, and a remote control socket.

Hitachi's Bernd Kaltenschnee with its Hitachi's new DK-H3A HD box camera is "an inexpensive solution for HD imaging suitable for various applications," says Hitachi marketing manager for Europe, Bernd Kaltenschnee. The 1080i format two third-inch 3CCD 16:9 camera offers 1000 line horizontal resolution, 50dB signal-to-noise ratio, sensitivity of f8 at 2000 lux, and uses a bayonet lens mount.

Panasonic also has two new multipurpose HD cameras, the 1080/50i AK-HC905 with three, two third-inch, one million-pixel, IT CCDs, and the 720/59.94p AK-HC900.

JVC's KH-F870 uses three CMOS chips, to reduce costs (it is expected to be under £15,000 when it arrives in Spring). It features HDSDI out, bayonet mount and full HD 1980x1080 specification.

Ikegami is also taking the CMOS route for its next HD cameras. This will make it a lot easier for it to offer multi-format models (both HD and SD), because any number or pattern of pixels can be accessed on a CMOS chip, from the whole chip to just a single pixel. It should become a product next year.

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HDTV is not just a high-end format. JVC's new JY-HD10 camcorder costs £3,450. Available in NTSC now, a 720/50p version should arrive within months. It has a single one third-inch, 1.18 megapixel CCD.

Canon, Sharp and Sony are also backing the HDV format, which records MPEG-2 on MiniDV tape and includes 720p (1280x720 at 25p, 30p, 50p, and 60p, 19.7Mbps) and 1080i (1440x1080 at 50i and 60i, 25Mbps) versions. The HD10 requires upconversion for 1080i output, and includes downconvertors for NTSC and Pal.

It might also entice DV users wanting a widescreen camcorder as its Squeeze mode maps a full 16:9 image onto 4:3, giving an electronic anamorphic image.

For editing, there is a plug-in available for Adobe Premiere and Apple's Final Cut Pro, but native HDV NLE support is expected soon.

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Standard Def

The first 14-bit standard-definition camera was launched at IBC 2003 by Thomson Grass Valley. The Euros 75,000 LDK 500 has new video processing architecture that gives it built-in electronic filters, such as: graduated effects where the user can alter the colour, horizon and transition; and an electronic soft focus filter, with adjustable centre spot. There is even a multi-matrix colour corrector allowing users to adjust a single colour without affecting any others.

It has either Dynamic Pixel Management sensors, switchable between 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratios without changing resolution or viewing angle, "zero-smear" FT sensors, or ultra-low smear (-140 dB) IT and ITW sensors. The IT and widescreen ITW sensors have a high sensitivity of f14/2000 lux for low-light and high-contrast situations. The DPM and FT CCDs offer 2000 lux at f9.

Grass Valley's other new camera is the Euros 25,000 LDK 300, which replaces its LDK 100. The 12-bit model has two new DSPs and a lightweight design that supports triax, DVCPRO50 recording, Grass Valley's new Digital Wireless Triax Camera System and its new C2IP Ethernet-based camera control system.

JVC's KY-F560 is a low-cost (£3,250) half-inch 3CCD 4:3 camera with 16:9 masking, and 12-bit DSP. Designed for rostrum or studio use, it can be fitted with an optional SDI-out board and studio analogue.

Panasonic's latest "high end" DVCPRO50 camcorder, the AJ-SDX900E, is 25/50Mbps, 4:3/16:9, interlace/progressive switchable, to cope with almost any type of production. It has 12-bit DSP and sensitivity of f13@2000lux.

Panasonic's range of convertible cameras is being extended with two new models: the half-inch IT 3CCD AW-E655, with motor drive and optical filter; and the two third-inch IT 3CCD AW-E750, which boasts a minimum illumination of just 0.00008lux.

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Sony's new PD170MiniDV

Sony's new PD170 MiniDV camcorder is an upgrade for its best-selling PD150. It has improved signal processing, bringing CCD sensitivity down to 1 lux (previously 2 lux), and increasing the audio signal-to-noise ratio by 6dB. The iris has increased from 12 to 24 steps for a smoother change between f numbers.

It has a new 200,000-pixel precision Hybrid (Transmissive and Reflective) LCD panel that works in direct sunlight, and both viewfinder and eyepiece are larger. Users can also opt to have the viewfinder automatically switch off if the LCD is open. For ease of use, the carry handle now has a record start/stop button and zoom controller with off, low and high speed selector. Cost around Euros 4,400.

Panasonic has a new miniDV-based 4:3 camcorder, the DVC30, which fits its range just below the DVX100 and is being launched at NAB 2004.

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Miniature cameras

Hitachi's compact HV-D30 one third-inch 3CCD camera now comes with SDI output. Weighing 400g, it boasts horizontal resolution of 800 lines and can use a wide range of C-mount lenses. It also features: CCD iris; Lock Scan low-speed shutter function; electronic shutter to 1/100,000 second; remote control via an RS232C datastream from a PC; and auto shading correction.

Canon has introduced a remote-control pan and tilt camera for outdoor use that can be integrated into a standard computer network. The NU-700P is a 3CCD camera and 20x zoom lens (4.2 to 84mm) in a rugged housing with rain wiper and defrost system for use in all weathers. Connect it to Canon's network-camera server and it can be accessed and controlled via the Internet or a LAN.

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    David Fox and Christina Fox © March 2004