HDV is becoming a ‘key format’ of the broadcast camera market

Sometimes interviews take unexpected turns that push you in an unforeseen direction.

That’s the case with this week’s Sound Off interview of Ali Ahmadi, product and marketing manager for Camera Dynamics, the manufacturing arm of the Vitec Group and home of Sachtler and Vinten.

What started off as a brief conversation about a new product Ahmadi describes as the “Swiss Army knife of camera support,” turned into an interesting conversation about the HDV format and the impact the format is having across the continuum of video production applications.

HD Technology Update: Initially, you were designing a support product and it grew into something much more. What did it become?

Ali Ahmadi: It’s a product developed by the Sachtler engineers, and we’re calling it SooM. We set out to create the ultimate family of tools for someone who uses a video camera, and if you were to ask me to describe it in two or three words, I’d say it’s the Swiss Army knife of camera support.

Obviously, Sachtler is known for its tripods and fluid heads. It is a tripod that is much more than meets the eye. The basic configuration of SooM, as we unveil it next week (Editor’s note: Jan. 21) at Video 08 in Orlando on Monday, is a 75mm tripod that has a spreader like most tripods do. The magic part is you can take the spreader out, and the spreader also has a 75mm ball so you can put the fluid head into the spreader, and when you take the spreader out of the tripod, it turns into a mini tripod.

So, everywhere you go, you have your tripod and your baby tripod right then and there.

In addition to the tripod and baby tripod/spreader, you have the SooM tube, which can sit in the tripod and attach to the tripod or baby tripod/spreader. Because it’s held at these two points, you can actually extend it. So, you set up your tripod, and you can raise the tube and end up with a lens height beyond 8ft.

Any kind of obstacle — a crowd in front of you, a hedge you are trying to shoot over or a car — whether you are working in a news situation or you are trying to get a creative shot, you can do this from more than 8ft above the ground, all the way down to a couple of inches when you are using the baby tripod, and it’s all in one unit.

The true magical part is you have this tube with a 75mm ball and you put your head on it, you can actually take that out of the tripod, and it will turn into a monopod that you can raise and lower. It has a little foot pedal that can further increase its stability while you’re using it.

Right now, we are talking about three units that combine to create a single tripod system. In truth, it’s four different products: a tripod with a spreader, a baby tripod, a tripod with a high pod and it’s a monopod. It all fits in one bag that you can wheel around with wheels or carry on your back with backpack straps.

We are suggesting the head with the FSB6 and the SooM, which create a powerhouse for HDV cameras out there. Really, what you have at that point is a Swiss Army knife on steroids that’s appropriate for an ENG shooter, a cinematographer or a videographer.

HD Technology Update: So, you see SooM as a product for videographers as well as ENG TV crews and cinematographers?

Ali Ahmadi: Absolutely. We believe this is going to make a very strong impact with people who work in ENG applications with these HDV-style cameras.

Most of these ENG operators are familiar with our HotPod. That’s the standard for the news guy, and you can see it at all the news conferences. It sets up fast and gives an added height bonus through a pneumatic strut. When we are talking to people from the ENG side, they recognize the HiPod feature of the SooM as being similar to HotPod; but, the SooM offers other features as well.

HD Technology Update: Is this specifically designed for HDV cameras, or could SooM be used with larger ENG cameras?

Ali Ahmadi: That is limited by the weight capacity, and that is limited by the head. The FSB6 has a suggested maximum payload of 13lbs, but any 75mm head can be used.

HD Technology Update: When you look at developing a product like this, you must have a pretty good handle on the size of the HDV market. How would you characterize the HDV market?

Ali Ahmadi: It is very difficult to say because that category of cameras has various applications and various users. If you go into Best Buy as a dad who wants to shoot his son’s baseball practice, you are going to come across an HDV camera. They’re used for everything from that all the way up to cinematographers like David Lynch who decided to go with these kinds of formats because they will allow him a totally different kind of workflow. That opens up a whole new way of moviemaking to him.

That’s two people from opposite sides of the spectrum in the HDV market, and as a result, it is very hard to gauge that market. And, all the camera manufacturers are now pushing for solid-state memory to store the video. This offers great advantages in terms of workflow, so these cameras and the new workflows are getting more attractive by the hour.

HD Technology Update: In particular, what impact do you see HDV having on the broadcast and motion picture markets?

Ali Ahmadi: I think it’s having a huge impact because of two reasons. These cameras now are so closely tied to computers — the optical chips — and you take that in combination with the advances computers have made and the advances of chips in the last couple of years; just three years ago, it was inconceivable that anybody other than the highest professional photographer could have an 8-megapixel still camera.

Now, you go to the store and you get your daughter a little 8-megapixel point-and shoot, and it’s a throwaway. “Try not to drop it the first week you have it.”

Then you say, “My God, what kind of world are we living in?” These cameras live off these types of technological advancements, and the result is a generation of cameras that are extremely good at a much lower price. But, you have to upgrade more often, and between the upgrades, the feature sets increase by a lot as well. This is all growing at exponential rates.

Right now, we are all raving about the 4K Red camera. If we keep going at the speed we are going, in two years, the little cell phones will have 4K motion picture cameras.

What used to be a niche roll for a camera (for example, the victim camera for taping the demolition of a building) is turning into a key portion of the broadcast industry. It is not the biggest portion, but it is a key portion.

However, we must all remember one thing: Just because the camera is smaller and cheaper, just because we can save money and time by optimizing the workflow, it doesn’t mean that we can get sloppy with the camera work. There still has to be a highly skilled person behind that camera shooting the footage, and you need professional tools for that. We are in the business of helping them by providing the tools they need on location.

That is why we developed the SooM: to create a professional and multifunctional tool that will allow the professionals behind the camera to capture that perfect shoot – just the way they want, the way they need and the way they imagined.

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