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Cameras: going beyond HD

Even as broadcasters are only just arriving at 1080p 50/60 HD, camera manufacturers are looking beyond that for the next big thing, which is, naturally, big – bigger sensors and bigger images, principally 4K.

Even as broadcasters are only just arriving at 1080p 50/60 HD, camera manufacturers are looking beyond that for the next big thing, which is, naturally, big – bigger sensors and bigger images, principally 4K.

If you want to future-proof your programme by shooting at higher resolutions, there are now several possibilities. Where previously the only mainstream choice was a Red, you can now opt for Canon’s EOS C500 (pictured above) (or its EOS-1D C full-frame DSLR), JVC’s handheld GY-HMQ10, or four Sony models, including the newly announced F5 and F55, which will use a new H.264-based codec, XAVC, designed specifically to go beyond HD.

It will record at up to 600Mbps for 10-bit 4K 4:2:2 at 50/60p, or at 200Mbps for HD 4:2:2, up to 60p. The cameras will also record MPEG2 at 50Mbps or MPEG4 SStP, or (using a new external recorder) 16-bit 4K Raw – and the F55 can record both MPEG2 50Mbps and XAVC 4K simultaneously to the fast new SxS Pro+ card.

The external recorder will also be used (with a new Raw 4K interface) to upgrade the existing NEX-FS700 camcorder to 4K. Meanwhile, the F65 is going beyond 4K. Following a version 3.0 upgrade it will also be able to shoot 6K and 8K Raw (it already has a full 8K sensor). It will also be able to shoot at up to 120 frames per second in 8K.

The new EOS C500 is Canon’s high-end professional 4K (4096 x 2160-pixel) cinema camera, and is available in both EF- and PL-mount versions. It outputs 4K via dual 3G-SDI ports to external recorders (such as models from AJA or Codex Digital) as a 10-bit uncompressed Raw data (with no de-Bayering) from one to 60 fps. It can also output quad HD (3840×2160), 2K (2048×1080), HD (1920×1080), and other options. In 2K it offers a 12-bit RGB 4:4:4 format at up to 60fps or 10-bit YCrCb 4:2:2, which allows 4K or 2K output at up to 120fps. At the same time, it can record 8-bit 4:2:2 50Mbps HD to its two internal Compact Flash card slots.

At about half the price of the C500 there is the full-frame EOS-1D C DSLR (about £10,000/€12,300), for shallower depth of field. It is also claimed to offer ‘advanced low light performance and film-like dynamic range’.

There are compromises. In 4K it records 4:2:2 (compared to the 4:2:0 typical of DSLRs), but only using 8-bit Motion JPEG (same as the C300 camcorder, but 10-bit would give better fidelity). For HD it records 4:2:0 internally (to Compact Flash). Video (excluding 4K) can also be output to an external recorder via HDMI using an uncompressed YCbCr 4:2:2 signal. It also offers Canon Log Gamma, to maximise exposure latitude and dynamic range – claimed to be comparable to film (about 13-14 stops dynamic range).

Also, it doesn’t use the full sensor for 4K, but crops it to an area equivalent to an APS-H sensor (a crop of 1.3x), but this is so that there is no need to resize or scale the image, to ensure maximum image quality. For HD, it can use either the full 35mm frame for the shallowest possible depth of field or a Super 35mm (APS-C) crop.

For high-speed work, the F55 and F65 can shoot at up to 180fps in 4K (while the F5 goes to 120fps), but if you need something faster, there is For-A’s FT-One – the first full 4K super slow motion camera, recording up to 1,000fps. It can simultaneously record and play back in 4K, and one output channel can provide either full 4K output or four 1080p HD-SDI outputs, while a second channel provides down-converted HD-SDI for live viewing and the control menu.
The camera’s internal memory can record 8.5 seconds at 1,000fps, while two hot-swappable SSD cartridges can store up to 150 seconds between them.

Red has developed a new 6K Dragon sensor, which will be available as an upgrade to existing Epic (for $6,000) and Scarlet cameras, and should deliver more than 15 stops dynamic range, much improved low-light performance over the existing Mysterium-X sensor, and 120fps at 5K.

Also new from Red is the Epic-M Monochrome, which has a native 2000 ISO M-X sensor and increased net resolution thanks to the removal of the de-Bayer process. A new low pass filter accommodates the reduced pixel pitch. Its $42,000 price for the sensor module includes the upgrade to the Dragon Monochrome sensor in early 2013. David Fincher is shooting his latest project solely on these cameras.

There is also a new $13,000 Meizler Module for I/O, designed to reduce the cables needed for complicated setups. It also provides wireless motor control, video, audio and timecode.

At the other end of the scale, JVC’s GY-HMQ10 costs less than £4,000 and has a 1/2-inch CMOS sensor with 8.3 million active pixels, which delivers realtime 3840×2160 footage at 24p and 50p. It uses H.264 compression, offers variable bit rate, at up to 144Mbps, and can record up to two hours of 4K to low-cost SD memory cards (using four cards at a time to capture the four HD images that combine to create the 4K version). It also has four HDMI terminals for live monitoring.

Large sensors

Sony’s F5 (pictured) and F55, like the F65 and FS700, use single S35-sized sensors, as does Canon with its entry-level EOS C100 (which uses the same sensor as the popular C300) and C500. The C100 records 1920×1080 HD 24Mbps, 4:2:0 AVCHD video to dual SD cards internally, but can output uncompressed 4:2:2 HD via its lockable HDMI port to an external recorder, such as the Atomos Ninja. The sensor captures 8.4 megapixels, with individual Red, Green, and Blue channels for each 1920×1080 frame, and an ISO range of from 320 to 20,000 for low light work with ‘minimal picture noise’. It also has dynamic range of a consistent 12 stops across the ISO range.

Sony’s new NEX-EA50 is the first large-sensor, low(ish)-cost camcorder that can be used on your shoulder without requiring an extra rig, thanks to an innovative slide-out shoulder pad that includes mounts for battery and wireless receiver/transmitter.

The Exmor APS HD CMOS sensor is claimed to offer low noise and high sensitivity in low light conditions. It also enables 1080 progressive and interlace recording at 50p/25p/50i or 60p/30p/24p/60i, recording AVCHD 4:2:0 at up to 28Mbps.

Breaking from the pack, Blackmagic uses a slightly smaller than Micro Four Thirds-size sensor, which can still deliver shallow depth of field, and hold its own in low light. The Digital Cinema Camera is an unusual design, using a rear LCD for touch-screen control of most of its parameters. It is essentially aimed at the DSLR market, but offers wide range of much higher-quality codecs, and greater flexibility than a DSLR does. It also comes with UltraScope and DaVinci Resolve software (worth almost as much as the camera’s price – $2,995), and is the first professional camcorder to use Apple’s high-speed Thunderbolt connection. It comes in two versions, one with a Canon EF-mount, the other with a Micro Four Thirds mount (for which there are low cost adapters available for many lens types, including PL-mount).
The Digital Cinema Camera’s single 13-stop dynamic range sensor is 2.5K, but resolution limits aren’t necessarily limiting…. The new James Bond movie, Skyfall, was shot using prototype Arri Alexa Studio and Alexa M cameras, at 2.8K using Arriraw, but this produced up-resed 4K IMAX images that its cinematographer Roger Deakins told IBC delegates looked great.

Studio/OB cameras

Arri has now taken the large sensor into the realm of the system camera with the latest Alexa upgrade, giving live productions the option of a more cinematic, shallow-depth-of-field, higher dynamic range look. By adding the €10,000 Alexa Fibre Remote option and a software upgrade, plus a Telecast Fiber Systems’ CopperHead SMPTE 311M fibre interface and a camera monitor, the Alexa can be turned into a studio or OB camera for about the same price as a traditional system camera (€40,000 – as it doesn’t need the internal recorder, which can be added later). Its higher sensitivity and dynamic range would be useful if dealing with difficult lighting conditions, such as at concerts.

Grass Valley’s new LDX range (pictured) also promises higher dynamic range at 1080i than its existing cameras, but its design allows it to handle 1080p, which requires twice the processing power and throughput. The cameras are software upgradable and come in three versions, priced from $60,000 to $100,000.

The LDX Première is a dual format HD camera for general applications; the LDX Elite is a multi-format camera with many artistic features for high-end production in all the different 1.5G video formats – it includes additional controls for gamma and depth of field; while the LDX WorldCam is its most flexible multi-format camera, with advanced features and greater image sensitivity for full 1080p production without additional lighting requirements.

Hitachi has rounded out its studio/OB camera range with the SK-HD1500 high-speed model, which boasts the world’s first 6Gbps fully digital optical transmission system. Most systems use 10Gbps transmission, but by going to 6Gbps Hitachi has extended the maximum cable length possible between camera head and control unit by around 4km.
It is also claimed to offer superior signal to noise (-58dB) at both normal and 3x speeds and increased dynamic headroom. Each essential part of the 16-bit camera has its own independent digital signal processor using new, power-efficient LSI chips, to manage the higher bandwidth of progressive readout HD sensors.

Panasonic’s new AK-HC3800 studio/EFP camera boasts high-sensitivity 2/3-inch IT CCDs and a newly developed 38-bit digital signal processor with 16-bit A-D converter. It is 1080 50/60i switchable, with a S/N ratio of 60dB without additional DNR. It also has: chromatic aberration compensation; dynamic range stretch; Film Rec Gamma based on the Varicam system; and Scan Reverse for cinema lens adaptors.

The AK-HC3800, its new AK-HCU200 camera control unit, new AK-HRP200G fibre output and new AK-HVF70G lightweight 7-inch LCD viewfinder will be available as a package in December at for about €60,000. An IP connection with LAN cable option will arrive in the spring.

Ikegami has a new range of Unicam HD dockable cameras for studio and EFP use. The HDK-55 is its 1080i model, the HDK-97A is 3G capable for 1080/50p, while the 97AP adds 24p. All three use three AIT CCDs, but there is also the HDK-97C with three CMOS sensors.

There is also a new control panel, the OCP100, with variable colour temperature and gamma curves (depending on the camera you use it with). The cameras can be fitted with analogue or digital triax, wireless, or fibre backs, or put in a system expander for large viewfinder/lens support. There is also a full studio version, the HDK-970A.

Sony’s new HDC-1700 is a cost-effective, dual-format HD system camera with 16-bit A/D conversion and 1.5Gbps fibre transmission, three-chip 2/3-inch Power HAD FX CCD image sensors and supports 1080/50i, 1080/59.94i, 720/50p, and 720/59.94p. It can be used with many HDC Series accessories, such as optional HD viewfinders and large lens adaptors.

On the shoulder mount

Most of the new studio/OB cameras can also be used in a shoulder-mount configuration. Indeed, the LDX has a new ergonomically designed ComfortPad that was developed with physiotherapists and camera users. It should reduce the need for handheld users to subconsciously lift their shoulders to level shots, reducing muscle tension and enabling the camera to be held for longer, to prevent strain or injury.

Also helping prevent strain is what Panasonic claims is the lightest mainstream shoulder-mount camcorder, weighing 2.8kg: the AG-HPX600. It is also Panasonic’s first upgradeable camera, so that users can keep up with new technology. It comes with AVC-Intra 100 (as well as DV and DVCPRO formats), but users will able to add 50Mbps Long GoP recording and AVC-Ultra at 200Mbps as they become available.

The camera has a newly-developed single 2/3-inch CMOS sensor ‘with very good low light sensitivity’ (F12 at 60Hz or F13 at 50Hz), low noise with an S/N of 59dB, a gigabit Ethernet network connection and will be able to do variable frame rates (1-60fps at 720p and 1-30fps at 1080).

By David Fox