Camera Trends for 2007

There are times when all the camera manufacturers seem to be headed in the same direction, and in a way that’s true today: they’re all making high-definition image capture equipment. What makes it interesting is that they’re all doing it in different ways.

For instance, Ikegami and JVC continue their efforts to replace the industry’s venerable CCD imagers with CMOS imagers. They tout CMOS’ lower manufacturing costs, power consumption, ease of system design and on-chip feature sets.

However, Sony just moved the pinnacle of its top-of-the-line electronic cinematography cameras higher with the introduction of the Sony F23. The camera uses 2/3-inch CCD imagers, which Sony said represent the best choice at this time.

It’s worth noting that a half-year earlier, the company unveiled its HDR-FX7 HDV camcorder with ¼-inch CMOS imagers.

History is repeating itself here. As CCD imager technology progressed, more and more cameras used them because of cost, ease of manufacture, lower maintenance costs and so forth. However, the very best cameras continued to use Plumicon tubes because at that time they still yielded the best image. Finally, CCD technology allowed those imagers to surpass tubes, and everybody used CCDs.

The same thing happened as camera makers developed digital signal-processing cameras. But computer technology did not allow a fast enough A/D conversion rate to capture the dynamic range that analog processing was capable of, and the very best cameras continued to be analog. Then that changed. CMOS imagers seem to be the trend.

Regardless of which imagers are used, HDV acquisition is definitely making huge inroads into high-definition production. They generally cost less; the recording media (DV tape) costs less; and they’re generally smaller and more easily carried.

HDV camcorders range from palm-size models to more full-sized camcorders with professional features like balanced audio inputs. Many are capable of shooting at the 24p frame rate, simulating the film-look so popular today.

Most HDV camcorders come with noninterchangeable lenses, but a few of the higher-end models from Canon and JVC will accept a variety of lenses, which make them applicable for a greater range of jobs.

When comparing these camcorders, it’s good to look at the total pixel count. Whether they’re selling a 720 or 1080 camera, there will be a full compliment of pixels vertically. But different manufacturers make do with quite a variety of pixels horizontally, and in general the more the better.

One company that is not jumping on the HDV bandwagon is Panasonic. They’ve pronounced HDV too much of a compromise, and have instead pursued the new AVCHD codec, an MPEG-4 scheme that promises 50 percent better performance than any other compression now in use.

The company’s AJ-HPX2000 P2 camcorder allows the user to switch between Panasonic’s existing DVCPRO HD/50/25 and DV, and the new AVC-Intra codec. Within AVC (advanced video coding), users can choose 100 Mbps for the highest quality recording, or 50 Mbps for a recording that matches DVCPRO HD in quality, at half the bandwidth.

Showcasing variety in recording media, Grass Valley’s Infinity Series Digital Media Camcorder will record to professional grade CompactFlash media or the company’s integrated REV PRO hard drive recording packs, or both at the same time.

Hitachi is another camcorder maker that entered the solid-state recording field with four, eight and 16 GB Mediapac cartridges for its Z-DR1 dockable, tapeless recorder. Look for the price of media for solid-state recording to tumble quickly.

Ikegami continues to improve its hard drive Editcam system, where its media price has also continued to fall.

All of that’s not to ignore Sony’s XDCAM HD optical disc camcorders. They’ve sold a lot of them and will continue to sell more because they perform, and the media is affordable and bulletproof. I also think people like them because the discs can be treated somewhat the same as tape, and old habits die hard.