Video production companies and rental equipment houses are always careful when selecting their inventory to choose technology that will translate into a fast return on investment. When it comes to cameras, the promise of reliability and functional flexibility are certainly important. But, for the U.S. division of Gearhouse Broadcast, it needed to see it for themselves.
During production of the 2012 U.S. Open of Surfing, in Huntington Beach, CA (in July), a Gearhouse crew set up a Hitachi SK-HD1200 high-definition camera on a tripod among the wind-blown sand and punishing salt-water surf and left it running, without a camera cover, for three days.
“It’s one of the worst environments to operate a camera in and, even after three days in the elements, the camera performed perfectly,” said Marc Genin, Managing Director, Gearhouse Broadcast, LLC. “Needless to say, the engineers were pleasantly surprised with the camera’s robustness, which is a de facto requirement in our business, capped off with excellent images.”
As part of a global company, the U.S. headquarters (in Sun Valley, CA) of Gearhouse Broadcast operates a full-service facility that caters to live sports and entertainment production. The U.S. arm of the company has recently purchased 16 of the cameras (used mainly in 1080i/59.94fps mode, with an assortment of Canon HD lenses), with plans in place to buy several more by the end of the year. It uses them for a wide variety of live sporting events, studio shows and music events. Basically, when a client does not request another brand of camera, the SK-HD1200 is the company’s new highest end go-to model.
“The Hitachi has turned out to be a rather interesting camera,” Genin said. “As a global company, we are always looking for new cameras that perform well and offer our clients good value for the money. We have to buy what our customers want, but we also are interested in what we think is right for the job. We think the Hitachi holds up very well.”
The camera is also used extensively by the “Home & Family” show, a long-standing live magazine show that is seen on the Hallmark channel by Gearhouse Broadcast in Los Angeles for 10 months of the year. Beginning this past January, the crews have left the cameras running through the month of July.
“The shader is old school and thought it best to leave the cameras on,” Genin said. Considering, the cameras were new out of the box, switched on and left in the studio, “Not one camera has come back to us with any major issues since.”
Among the camera’s many features, Genin’s team particularly likes the cameras’ head weight at 4.8lbs (“about a pound lighter than other cameras, yet its body is all metal”), and it’s dockable recorder back, which allows the company to use it for a P2 job one day and an XDCAM project the next. It can also choose to operate the camera over a triax or fiber transmission path.
“We’ve already bought the head. Why not make the most advantage of it?” Genin said, adding that the camera also carries more power in the head than others, so that it can accommodate more accessories (like multiple LCD viewfinders, lights, etc.).
The camera also provides a low signal-to-noise (>61dB) HDTV image using three 2.3 million pixel, micro-lens array, native 1080p CCD imagers. Different DSP ICs are used independently for the HDTV camera head processing, the transmission system and the Camera Control Unit (CCU) processing. In addition, new power-efficient digital signal processor LSI chips offer dynamic processing in excess of 38-bits per pixel, per RGB channel. It also features motorized and remotely controlled optical filters and 16-bit A/D converters.
“The picture quality is incredible and not very noisy at all,” Genin said. “Our internal tests have shown that the blacks are excellent and the low-light capabilities are superb. We don’t just look at price. We want a quality camera that stands up to the elements. That’s the priority. The Hitachi camera is basically bullet-proof.”
Perhaps the most “refreshing” thing for Gearhouse Broadcast, Genin said, is that customers who use other Japanese-oriented cameras are immediately familiar with the menu structure of the SK-HD1200. It has never had a customer return one or say they need extra training.
More than 60 of the cameras were used by the Australian division of Gearhouse Broadcast to support live coverage of the 2013 Australian Open tennis tournament. The cameras were on hand once again for this summer’s Vans U.S. Open of Surfing (July 20-28), where they delivered the same top-notch performance as they did at last year’s event.
—Michael Grotticelli is an online editor for Broadcast Engineering.