Mark Harrison, BBC creative director, arts, has confirmed that F&L is in the process of ditching DigiBeta in favour of DVCam (DSR), HDV and HD formats.
He said: "We're beginning to phase out Digi and we're starting to phase it out now. In the arts department we hardly use it any more? The main thrust is how we free up more of a budget up on screen."
The cost advantages of DVCam are clear: DigiBeta cameras retail for around£28,000 while DVCam and HDV retail for between£3,000 to£10,000. DVCam is also regarded as an easier format to edit on Final Cut Pro, the department's preferred desktop editor.
However, the BBC's decision has alarmed freelance camera crews - many of whom offer their services with a DigiBeta camera thrown in with the deal. Freelancers claimed they had not been properly briefed of the changes and they regard the switch from DigiBeta to DVCam as a downgrade in kit which will compromise the quality of programmes.
One freelance cameraman said: "If we're maintaining standards, why are we not shooting on HD? They're asking us to downgrade; using DVCam is cheapening things. It's not just about our livelihoods - it's about maintaining standards."
Broadcasting union Bectu's assistant general secretary, Martin Spence, said that the move would "short-change the licence fee payer" although Harrison argued that most viewers would not be aware of the difference between DVCam and DigiBeta on screen.
Spence also raised concerns over an increasing expectation that directors and producers will self-shoot on the user-friendly DV format: "Camerawork is - or should be - a significant skill. I'm not attacking the DVCam as a format in the hands of someone skilled. The BBC has a duty to keep technical standards up to the mark."
However, Harrison said: "The vast majority of factual work will be shot by craft cameramen." He added: "There will be some use of equipment by production teams."
While DVCam has made swift inroads in production in recent years, the hire market still regards DigiBeta as the most important format to its business, according to Broadcast's sector survey (2.9.05) on the hire market: 84% of hire companies offer DigiBeta and DVCam while 78% offer HDCam and miniDV.