Lens use delivers glimpse into HD growth

The clock is winding down toward the February 2009 deadline for cessation of NTSC transmission and full-on DTV operation.

Stations are increasingly weighing their options, deciding what to do about HD acquisition and local origination. Who better to assess the state of those preparations than a manufacturer of broadcast video lenses?

That’s why HD Technology Update turned to Fujinon marketing manager Dave Waddell to get a snapshot of where stations are with their preparations for HD origination and the steps being taken to make local HD production successful and affordable.

HD Technology Update: Local TV stations face a February 2009 deadline for cessation of NTSC transmission. In the period of transition from analog to DTV where many stations will be adding the ability to do local program origination, such as news, in HD, what are the most attractive options they have in terms of lenses?

Dave Waddell: Obviously, if they are replacing cameras now, I believe it would be better for them to strongly look at HD. Whether their immediate plans are for HD or not, SD cameras are going to be completely out as far as manufacturing goes in the not too distant future.

We are already starting to see lower-priced HD cameras that are available for news applications; and, whether they are actually going to go HD for news or not, it really makes sense to go, at least, with an HD lens because they are going to be replacing the cameras in the next two to three years and the lenses will still be good. As long as the camera uses 2/3in imaging devices, there is no problem mounting an HD lens on an SD camera or vice versa.

I anticipate more ENG type cameras coming out between now and NAB of 2007 that will be lower price than what has been available over the past few years. So, I think the ability for most stations to go HD for acquisition is going to be more attractive.

HDTU: HD lenses initially were quite expensive. Many were aimed at electronic moviemaking and the sports teleproduction market where the economics are substantially different from a local TV station. What advancements can stations expect to find high-performance lenses in their price ranges? Will anything be sacrificed in terms of optics to produce a product for that market?

DW: HD lenses are coming down in price and the main reason is because we are manufacturing more of them. Sales of HD lenses have actually overtaken SD lenses, so it makes economic sense that they are going to come down some.

Now, there are different categories of HD lenses just like there are different categories of HD. The best HD lenses are not coming down in price very much. However, if you need a lens for news where you cannot get the optimum out a camera anyway because of lighting conditions and so forth, then it makes no sense to make the lens as absolutely as good as it can possibly be because you can’t achieve that. So we can make the lenses just a little less in terms of optical quality and still achieve what the end user wants to achieve but reduce the price considerably.

HDTU: In this time of transition between NTSC and DTV, what can lens manufacturers do to make it easier to shoot for both audiences from a single lens?

DW: Actually that’s the case now. If you look at 2/3in cameras, whether it’s NTSC or HD, the lenses are interchangeable as far as the lens mounts. So, if you purchase an HD camera now and you have no reason to shoot HD, you can use your SD lens on it. You’d just not get the performance you need for HD. Likewise, if you purchase an SD camera now and anticipate in another couple of years you are going to go HD, you can purchase an HD lens and actually improve the performance of the camera and future-proof yourself by having a lens available when you do purchase your HD camera.

I see a lot of that happening, especially with stringers — the guys who don’t operate on a big budget.

HDTU: Turning to the sports market, does the extreme telephoto requirements provide special challenges for makers of HD lenses? In particular, could you address the impact of vibration and attaining and holding focus on those sorts of shots?

DW: Long lenses have always been a challenge, but it’s even more of a challenge in HD because of the depth of focus involved. It’s extremely difficult to focus. As far as the vibration, all of the stadiums shake. With some of the lenses exceeding the 100:1 zoom ratio, there’s a lot of magnification and any movement at all you are going to see on the screen, so image stabilization becomes extremely important in those applications.

As far as the focus goes, we came out several years ago with Precision Focus Assist. It’s not really an automatic focusing device like you’d see on a consumer camera, but it’s just an assist so the operator can use it if he wants to, either momentary or full automatic. But it will allow the operator to attain focus when he might not be able to see it in a low-resolution viewfinder.

Focus is so much more critical in HD. You can be out of focus a lot more in SD and not notice it than you can be in HD.

HDTU: Do you anticipate HDV and AVCHD camcorders having an impact on acquisition at local stations? Can you see any role for Fujinon in that market space?

DW: I think we are already seeing a little bit of that. In some of the smaller market stations, we are seeing some of the HDV cameras going in. Will it continue? It’s hard to say. Typically these cameras aren’t very rugged and robust, and that’s almost a prerequisite for a news application. So I think there will be some used. Some of the HDV cameras on the market today we make lenses for. I don’t anticipate us getting into that market as far as cameras go.

HDTU: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

DW: Finally, HD is happening. While the stations are slow to convert to HD, I think it will eventually happen. It’s not going to be something that happens overnight like the transition will happen from NTSC to DTV. I think we will see several stations start to broadcast HD news, if not acquisition, certainly from the studio news standpoint. I think we’ll start to see that happen sometime in November with the November sweeps. Once that happens, it’s going to be the snowball effect. Other stations will feel the competition and have to do it themselves.

Tell us what you think! HDTU invites response from our readers. Please submit your comments to editor@broadcastengineering.com. We'll follow up with your comments in an upcoming issue.