Latest Pro Cameras Stake Out HD, 4K Territory

SEATTLE—When the television and cine markets began demanding 4K cameras, the quickest solution was to use large-format, single 4K sensors. Since many of these sensors were close to the size of a 35mm frame of film, shooters could draw on the large supply of 35mm PL mount film lenses. Lens makers quickly began development and production of a newer generation of optics.

However, a problem arose when it came to using these large-sensor cameras for the extreme telephoto zoom shots in sports and entertainment venues: the laws of optical physics dictated that to duplicate shots like a centerfield view of a batter it would take a lens the size of a howitzer. And even if a lens of that size could be used, its depth of field would be so shallow the batter might be in sharp focus and the catcher, a few feet back, might be soft.

The solution was to revert to 2/3-inch sensors, used in TV cameras for decades, which could utilize lenses of the same form-factor as are used in large venue HD productions today. The challenge: putting enough pixels on those 2/3-inch sensors to yield 4K resolution.

Sony is one company that is making large single-sensor 4K cameras, including the F55, and the HDC-4300, a 4K multi 2/3-inch sensor camera. Each of the 4300’s 2/3-inch CMOS sensors has an array of 4096x2400 pixels, which allows it to image in native 4K.

Sony HDC-4300

“So you have a true 4K 2/3-inch system camera that looks, drives, feels and integrates with existing Sony infrastructures,” said Rob Willox, marketing manager for content creation systems at Sony Electronics. The company actually got a “two-fer” out of the 4300, because it not only is a full 4K camera, but has advanced HD capabilities that can be used every day on high-definition remotes while waiting for 4K jobs to come up.

“We had a 3x super motion camera, the HDC-3300, [but] that was getting a little long on the technology curve,” Willox said. “So we started with a clean sheet of paper, and with 4K we were able to create a replacement for the 3300 that now has up to an 8x HD frame rate on the same camera that can do 4K. And the 4300 came in at a lower price than the HDC 3300.”

Ikegami is another company making both large single sensor and multi 2/3-inch sensor 4K cameras. It partnered with ARRI to create the HDK-97ARRI, utilizing a single 35mm sensor, with PL mount lenses, in a familiar shoulder-mount design. But the company’s UHK-430 is also a full resolution 4K camera, utilizing 2/3-inch CMOS sensors.

“[The UHK-430] is using 4K sensors in each of the three color channels, RGB, 8 megapixel sensors in each channel, 24 megapixels total,” said Alan Keil, director of engineering for Ikegami. He pointed to the importance of talking about the total number of pixels on each chip, “because it does give an overall better understanding of the camera’s resolution capabilities.”

Keil sees a ready market for the UHK- 430. “A lot of people are interested in the 4K 2/3-inch format, not just in sports,” he said. “I guess there will be customers in a pretty wide range of applications who would like to stick with the 2/3-inch format due to the availability and convenience of lenses. I do think large-format single-sensor cameras have their place, but the lenses are very limited in their zoom range, and compromises are required in terms of operational convenience, ease, size and weight, and so forth.”

Hitachi Kokusai took a slightly different path to provide 4K from multi 2/3-inch sensors, according to Emilio Aleman, engineering manager for the company. “It’s the foursensor design that allows the SK UHD 4000 camera to have four 2K 2/3-inch sensors,” one each for red and blue, and two for green, he said. The second green sensor is offset 1/2 pixel-width diagonally, which provides 4K resolution in the luminance channel.

Because there was no need to develop new sensors when utilizing this technique, “it lowers the overall cost of the camera versus having native 4K sensors,” Aleman continued. “So the buy-in cost of our camera is a lot lower, almost the same as a normal 2K camera. For production it’s excellent, because it allows you to have the best quality in 2K format, while you can record 4K for archiving or for future use. It’s the same workflow and the same camera as you’re going on the air with now.”

Aleman sees customers for the camera coming from more than just sports productions. “Our target for this camera was studio production, and existing broadcasters that wanted a noticeable improvement over their existing 2K cameras for news, sitcoms and variety show production. It’s ideal for that kind of user. And for large screens such as 4K projections, it gives you a nice, pristine picture when you put that big picture on the screen.”

Grass Valley attacked the 4K multi 2/3-inch imager market with its multifunctional LDX 86 High Frame Rate/HD/3G/4K Software Upgradable Camera Platform. “Basically all the LDX 86 camera system is delivered with all the hardware needed for any application,” said Klaus Weber, senior product marketing manager for camera systems for the Montreal-based company. “And then the camera can be upgraded by software licenses. The camera is based on our Xensium-FT CMOS HD imager.” Three of those imagers are utilized for resolutions up to 4K.

The software licenses can be purchased for as little as seven days, or perpetually. At the top end, the camera can be license-upgraded to the LDX 86 Universe, which provides universal format support with switchable 1X/3X/6X HD, 1X/3X 3G and 1X 4K from a single camera.

“All of our cameras are addressing the live production market,” said Weber, “so they’re typically broadcast-type applications for high end entertainment production, but also news applications. For the moment, the most interest is from the high-end, OB broadcasters, live TV crews in the U.S. and Europe, top-end players.”

Canon has concentrated solely on the large single-sensor 4K cameras, and has just introduced a second generation of its C300. “The feedback we got from a lot of our customers was that this was the year they wanted to see a camera that could record 4K footage directly in the camera, without the need for an external recorder,” said Chuck Westfall, product planning advisor at the company’s ITCG Image Communication Products Business Planning Division. “And we were able to do that with the C300 Mark II. It does 4K at 30 frames per second, and it can do basically what’s called 12-bit RGB 4:4:4, which is extremely high quality. It is compressed, but it’s extremely high-quality video in the camera.”

The camera has two slots for the CFast type media, which is the second generation of Compact Flash, and can support all the data that is 4K, according to Westfall. “The camera also does support RAW 4K out, if it’s important to be able to go into a RAW recording,” he said. “That will produce the absolute maximum level of image quality that is possible with the C300 Mark II, using an external recorder.”

AJA Video was not known for making cameras up until a few years ago, but then came CION. “CION really is what we would describe as a next-generation production camera in the sense that it’s taking the formats we need today, which is primarily HD and 2K, but providing you a camera system which is fully 4K all the time,” said Andy Bellamy, CION product manager.

He pointed out that the large single-sensor CION can internally scale that oversampled 4K image to HD needs. So if you need HD today, you’re still benefiting from oversampling a larger sensor. “And the camera was primarily designed to be ergonomic, so it’s lighter in weight,” Bellamy said. “It fits very comfortably to the shoulder, and it’s easy and straightforward to use, very intuitive, almost simple.

Marco Solorio of OneRiver Media shooting the feature film, “10/10ths” (2016 release) with the Blackmagic URSA. BTS photography by Courtney Cutchen. Photo ©2015, Ten Tenths Films, LLC. CION was always intended to be very film-like, according to Bellamy. “So throughout the process of development, it was never, ever to look like video. You can, of course, tune it to make it look a little more like video if that’s what you need for your individual project.”

Blackmagic Design is another company that suddenly sprung into being a camera designer and manufacturer. “When we designed the original Blackmagic Cinema Camera, we thought we were creating sort of a handheld camera,” said Bob Caniglia, senior regional manager for Eastern North America at Blackmagic Design. “That turned into a ‘cyclops,’ with people adding all kinds of third party pieces to it.”

That led the company to bring out URSA, a robust, fully-featured design that allowed for multiple users. “Monitors on opposite sides of the camera can be simultaneously used by the DP and a focus-pulling assistant,” Caniglia said. “And then an audio engineer could be at the rear of the camera, where he has meters and can plug in whatever he needs into the XLR jack.”

URSA is designed to be upgradeable, including the sensor. “For 2015 we announced a 4.6K sensor upgrade availability, which we should see in a month or so,” Caniglia said. “So if you bought the original 4K and wanted to move to the 4.6K, you can do so and insure the original investment in the camera.” The company also introduced a smaller form-factor URSA Mini, which can be used on its own or in combination with an original URSA. The look of the video matches in both cameras.

JVC and Panasonic both have 4K large single-sensor cameras, but are also concentrating on their new HD cameras.

At the 2014 NAB Show, JVC introduced its GY-HM890, a full shouldermount camera that’s ENG, EFP style, but can be converted to a studio system. “It has ability to utilize a full studio system, whether it be fiber or multicore, without buying new cabling,” said Craig Yanagi, JVC product manager of professional video. “When used in the field, you have a highly versatile camcorder using cutting-edge technology, with the ability to stream live video from the camera.”

Though most stations don’t share individual cameras between the field and the studio, Yanagi noted that the possibility always exists if the station had a camera go down.

Having the same model cameras in the studio as in the field has another advantage: the commonality of spare parts, where one set of spares could cover both studio and field cameras.

“We actually have a program where the customers maintain a unit on consignment, and they have that there in case something was to happen,” Yanagi said. “But we have an extremely low service count on the cameras.”

Panasonic recently introduced a new, HD, news-type camera that can also be used for production. “The AJ-PX380 is a fully-loaded, light, low-power camcorder that’s ideal for newsgathering, but equally well-suited for reality TV production, live event and corporate uses,” said Steve Cooperman, senior product manager at Panasonic. “It’s an excellent choice for shooters who prefer the ergonomics of a shouldermount camera, yet at a cost below larger 2/3-inch native cameras.”

The 1/3-inch 2.2MP 3MOS AVC-ULTRA camera offers powerful, advanced network functionality as well as dual codec recording for simultaneous high resolution and HD/SD proxy image capture. The built-in network functions support wired LAN, wireless LAN and 4G/LTE connection, which facilitates live streaming. The camera features a quality of service layer that dynamically adjusts the bit rate of the streaming signal to optimize transmission speed as the bandwidth of the cellular network changes.

Panasonic offers the camcorder in two versions: the AJ-PX380GF, including camera body plus AG-CVF15 Color Viewfinder and XT17x4.5 BRM 17X Fujinon lens.