Micro Four Thirds for video
Some time ago, I wrote about a variety of non-traditional tools for broadcast and video production applications. Subsequently, it was announced that last season's final episode of the Fox Network show “House” was to be shot exclusively with Canon DSLR cameras used in the HD video mode. DSLR cameras are the still picture, digital image capture successors to 35mm film SLR cameras. Most DSLR manufacturers had only recently added video capture modes to the feature set of their top models when the director of “House,” Greg Yaitanes, collaborated with DP Gale Tattersall to decide on this groundbreaking shoot.
No sooner had that been accomplished than another creative director, Randall Wallace, decided to shoot footage with an even smaller sensor camera, the Olympus Pen E-P1 and its Micro Four Thirds format.
Full frame 35mm DSLRs use a sensor that is 36mm × 24mm for a total imaging area of 864mm2. Micro Four Thirds, which derives its name from the use of a sensor that is twice the 2/3in sensor size that typical point-and-shoot cameras and some video camcorders use, has an 18mm × 13.5mm size sensor. The actual imaging area is slightly smaller at 17.3mm × 13mm, or 225mm2 total. Wait, you might say, professional camcorders such as Sony's XDCAM use 2/3in sensors. That's true, but typically, like XDCAM, they use three of them — one for each color channel.
But back to our Micro Four Thirds shoot. Under director Wallace, cinematographer Dean Semler and DP Kris Krosskove were able to shoot with the E-P1 camera “… in places where the eye could never get to … .” They had cameras everywhere from hoof level at the starting gate of a horse race to 4in in front of the flaring nostrils of a galloping horse. Krosskove was himself captured in a video clip riding the back of a stabilized pick-up truck at 40mph with a camera mounted on a painter's pole traveling just inches above the ground. He was beaming with pride when he shared with me, “There's been nothing like those race scenes ever before.”
And, what were the scenes he was discussing? They were for the hit Disney movie, “Secretariat.” So, we have now had the 21 megapixel Canon DSLR camera used for shooting a television episodic and Olympus' diminutive Micro Four Thirds camera, with an imager almost 75 percent smaller than the Canon, being used to capture footage for theatrical release and theater size displays. This is an area where broadcasters owe a debt of gratitude to content creators. The creative side is happily pushing the envelope of HD video capture technology with the use of some inexpensive tools. In so doing, they are providing broadcasters with a proof of concept that can have quite a favorable impact on station capital budgets. The current generation of still video cameras is not without its problems, particularly when it comes to handling audio and things like variable frame rates and focus pulling. But, manufacturers are listening and are promising versions that are more video application friendly. Broadcasters need to be mindful of these developments. That future ENG camera or magazine show shoot might be taking on a very different and less costly equipment look.
Anthony R. Gargano is a consultant and former industry executive.
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