The jury may still be out on whether President Bush's recent tax cut will trickle its benefits down to the general population, but lens makers agree that research and development they've done for high-definition lenses is resulting in better standard-definition lenses as well.
A lens is often referred to simply as "glass," and it's the glass that separates the different quality grades of lenses. The experience lens makers have had using high-quality glass in making motion picture lenses helped prepare them for making high-definition lenses.
LESSONS OF FILM
Angenieux (now Thales Angenieux) was well known to broadcasters during the 16mm newsfilm era, but has been lesser known during the ENG era from the mid-'70s on. However, because of the reliance on motion picture lens research to design high-definition lenses, Angenieux has experienced a renaissance in the video marketplace.
"We control probably 70 percent of the film industry [lens market]," said Chris Beauparlant, Angenieux's U.S. sales manager. "We've been able to take our success in the film industry and use those optics to make high-definition lenses."
He said the company's SD lenses benefit from this expertise as well, using some of the glass and crystal elements from the high-end lenses.
Another major lens manufacturer, Fujinon, also benefits from its HD lens research.
"We've had to control the chromatic aberrations much greater in the cine lenses," said Fujinon, Inc. Marketing Manager Dave Waddell, "because if you have any of these small chromatic aberrations in a lens on the cine side that you blow up to a 35-foot screen, it's going to look like a big problem.
"But we also see [aberrations] trickle down from that into the broadcast market because of the extensive research we've done in the cine marketplace."
Gordon Tubbs, Canon USA's assistant director of the Broadcast and Communications Division, said the introduction of several high-definition lenses over the last year or two has affected the company's standard-definition line. He noted that lens designers have had more than 200 kinds of glass to choose from, so their efforts haven't been going into inventing new kinds of glass. "It was just a matter of picking the right glass elements for the requirements," he said.
Tubbs said the target for lens designers is to develop lenses that are a little bit better than the cameras they are mounted on. "We could have used some of these glass elements in the past and they would have far exceeded the requirements. There was no need to increase the price of the lenses or anything else in order to use these glass elements."
However, there have been continuing advancements in the coatings designers put on the glass elements to cut down on reflections and refractions that cause problems within the lens.
"[With glass and crystal technology], there are also different coatings that can go on both of them as one more exponential factor added into the whole mathematical equation that cranks out a solution at the end," said Angenieux's Beauparlant.
He pointed out that it's not merely a matter of putting a motion picture lens on a video camera. "[With a video camera] you then are dealing with a beam splitter [and] a prism, so there are different color registration points for red, green and blue.
"You have to take into account with a prism that you might have ghosting effects because of the way the light might pass through the prism," he said. "Therefore, we have to take that optical back from film and look at how we can change elements in the back to account for going through a beam splitter and still keep the quality of the image."
But there's a lot more to a lens than glass and coatings. Canon's Tubbs noted that the superior mechanics and electronics necessary for a high-definition lens were immediately incorporated into the company's standard-definition lenses. "Mechanically and electronically there's no differences today between a standard-def and a high-def lens," he said.
END OF SD?
Fujinon's Waddell echoes those thoughts. "We're utilizing a lot of the parts now that are manufactured for high-def lenses," he said. "They're spilling over into the standard-def product line."
Waddell points out that in addition to improving the quality of the standard-definition lenses, the economy of scale achieved by utilizing common parts in both HD and SD lenses reduces the cost of both.
Although all three companies are still making standard-definition, broadcast-grade lenses, that may not always be the case.
"What you're seeing is a merging of the standard-def and high-def product lines," said Waddell. "Eventually, I would assume that the broadcast grade of lens, as we have known it for years, will go away and be replaced with HD, simply because it doesn't make a lot of sense to do a parallel product line."
Angenieux's Beauparlant said they are monitoring the market carefully. "The jury's still out on which way all these networks are going to go, particularly on news acquisition. So we will continue to develop lenses for standard broadcast applications."
Canon's Tubbs said his company has gone so far as to eliminate its standard-definition line of broadcast-grade box-style lenses because it has found the marketplace wants the features built into its high-definition lenses. It will continue to make its lesser grade standard-definition box-style lenses for less demanding customers where cost is the top priority.
For portable cameras, however, Canon is continuing to make standard-definition broadcast-grade lenses. "The features are basically the same on a high-def ENG lens as they are on standard-def ENG lens," he said.
"So you're not necessarily buying it because of a long telephoto or because it has a wide, wide angle, or it has a stabilizer built in like certain lenses might have, so it's not a feature-driven thing. A lot of time with the portable cameras it's a budget-driven thing."
Until these lens makers discontinue their standard-definition product lines, buyers of the companies' SD lenses will continue to enjoy the benefits of their motion picture and high-definition research and development.