ABC used a new unobtrusive digital camera in taping its newest venture into reality-based programming, "Hopkins 24/7."
For the taping at John Hopkins Medical Center, ABC chose the Sony DSR PD100A, a compact digital format camera new to the market at that time. The tiny size allowed producers to capture critical moments without being invasive, which resulted in a real look into the hospital subculture.
To do a show centered on a hospital and its patients, the first considerations are to protect the privacy of the individuals involved and to be as unobtrusive as possible. This meant no multiple-person crews, large ominous television cameras glaring at the patients or special lighting. Self-contained units were a must.
The nature of this kind of program required a camera that was simple to use - one that a non-technical person would have little difficulty with. The field producers had to be as unobtrusive as possible in their efforts to capture the real view of day-to-day patient, doctor and staff relationships and, at the same time, be able to operate the equipment as close to how a seasoned professional would as possible. The PD100A's size worked well in places in places like the Emergency and Operating rooms, where space was an issue. It also allowed patients and doctors as close to normal interaction without a glaring camera lens on them. The digital capability also allowed producers to edit, on site, the hundreds of hours of tape and make storyline decisions early in the process.
The same cameras have been used successfully for other news and documentary projects. ABC utilized a total of eight of these hand-held devices, shooting over a thousand hours worth of tape, which has been pared down to a six-hour long series for television and a 10-hour series for cable.
Small, near consumer-type camcorders have been used for some time in the production of television shows. It wasn't too long ago that Metromedia utilized Hi-8 cameras to shoot some of its sitcoms. The ABC technical staff noted the quality of pictures these Sony DV format cameras put out rivals the quality of some of the larger format ENG and field production equipment in use today and exceeds what most analog equipment can produce. Sony made minor modifications to these cameras to develop an even newer model that incorporates the XLR audio connectors installed on the PD100As.
One of the biggest challenges came from the wireless microphones. In addition to the microphone mounted on the camera, they utilized an RF microphone with the receiver on the camera as well. It was necessary to select an RF system where the receiver would not substantially add to the bulk of the camera itself.
The other major problem encountered in these kinds of situations is lighting. Color temperature from one shot to the next varies significantly. The Sony cameras didn't seem to have any problem tracking and compensating for the different color temperatures. When adjustments were necessary, they were simple enough that the non-technical operators could perform them with little or no trouble.
All the DV tape was edited on an Avid Unity with three terabytes of storage. This gave the producers plenty of space to effortlessly store the thousand hours shot, keep the assembled material on-board in a digital format and still have room for moving around in the storage environment.