Alternative tools for broadcasters

Requirements for equipment and other needs for broadcasters are traditionally filled by a range of broadcast manufacturers. We live in an age of the blending of the various forms media and the continuing evolution of the technology that is applied to create and deliver that media. Mindful that we are always on the lookout for tools and processes that can improve efficiencies or reduce costs, enhance production value or advance creative technique, we should occasionally take an outside-of-the-box look at the tools used in other industries. With that in mind, I recently attended the PhotoPlus Expo, a still photography and imaging trade show and conference held at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City. There were several products with broadcast applications — some obvious and others not so obvious.


One example of such a product is today's mid- to high-end DSLRs that include HD recording capabilities, some as high as 1920 × 1080 60p. Canon, Nikon, Sony and others all have DSLR models that now include the capability to record HD. These cameras have incredible low light sensitivity and an arsenal of interchangeable lenses with depth of field ranges that give the creative side of the house a terrific new production tool. The added bonus is that with lesser lighting requirements and a smaller field crew, the accountants are happy as well.

But as with any new tool, you need to know when it is appropriate for use. Sometimes there are drawbacks. For example, you can forget about using HD DSLRs for a shoot that requires good live audio capture. And, things like time code … well, let me explain it this way: I was speaking with a product manager about the company's still camera's video capabilities; when I mentioned “time code,” his response was, “What's that?”

This lack of basic knowledge notwithstanding, for the appropriate ENG or production application, HD DSLRs can be incredibly useful and efficient tools. Channel 4 in the UK uses them for news. NBC's “Saturday Night Live” opening sequence this season was shot with several Canon HD video-capable DSLRs. The MTV production community has “discovered” HD DSLRs, and uses more and more of them to shoot music videos. Certainly, with growing adoption of HD DSLRs in the video production world, they will become time code-friendly and audio-capable.

Support equipment

Leaving the still camera milieu, thanks to solid-state and digital technologies, even traditional broadcast video cameras and camcorders have become significantly smaller and lighter over the years. Simultaneously, in the photographic industry, there has been an evolution of highly effective and relatively inexpensive still camera tripods and support equipment.

For example, Bogen Imaging's Manfrotto line of camera tripods and monopods offers fully capable professional support equipment. An inexpensive tripod, complete with a fluid head, can be purchased for less than $500, and monopods cost much less than that. For heavier support needs, lightweight carbon fiber tripods complete with fluid heads are available for $1000 or less.

Camera Bits

Another little gem I found at the show was an inexpensive software program called Photo Mechanic by Camera Bits out of Portland, OR.

Most television stations, particularly those with large news activities, have a significant number of still images in their photo archives. If you have already invested in an expensive asset management system that handles all of your video footage and still photos, read no further. But if you are considering a way to manage those still archives or an expensive module to handle stills to add on to your video asset management system, you might want to take a look at Camera Bits.

It provides quick ingest and has a comprehensive set of metadata tagging tools. Batch processing capability is excellent, and it gives you a fast browser, allowing easy image resize and file size resolution adjustments. The next version, due out during the first half of this year, will incorporate additional features that will be of even more interest to the broadcaster.


So, this was just an example of broadcast-applicable tools from nonbroadcast suppliers. Don't give up on your traditional providers! But don't overlook the opportunity to stretch that equipment budget or provide new creative tools from nontraditional sources.

Anthony R. Gargano is a consultant and former industry executive.

Send questions and comments