“This marks the year that LED lighting takes off,” predicts Chris Earls, head of operations at Prime Television.
Camera operators have previously been saddled with heavy and power-draining tungsten, halogen or fluorescent tube equipment but the low-cost, low-heat, lightweight and low-power consumption benefits of LED arrays and panels have led to a surge in demand.
A single LED diode is likely to last until you retire, but it doesn't offer much in terms of light output. Most manufacturers, such as Hollywood-based Litepanels, mount hundreds of LEDs into a tray then add a reflector. Its Ringlite Mini (pictured) slots over a camera lens distributing light evenly and directly at a subject.
“LEDs give amazing power efficiency and are a significant help for battery life in ENG situations or if you're running HD cameras (which drain more power than cameras in SD mode),” says Earls.
Japan's IDX, better known as a battery vendor, offers the X3 which outputs the equivalent of a 35W halogen bulb at ‘daylight' colour temperatures and only requires 11W of power, while German firm Bebob Broadcast markets the Lux-Led range for use as a freestanding, handheld or camera light (distributed by Holdan in the UK).
After recalling its initial batch and subsequently delaying release, Red Digital Cinema's hugely hyped Red One 4k camera is finally shipping. Promising high-resolution digital cinematography on a low budget, the $17,500 (£8,975) camera (body only, lenses extra) could prove irresistible to film-makers or those interested in experimenting in 3D cinematography.
“Despite the late delivery and all the other issues with the camera we are convinced that it will have a dramatic effect on the market from production through rental and through the post workflow,” argues Paul Carter, managing director of hire firm Axis Films, which will stock two models. “There will be a lot of opportunities not least for rental companies and the accessory manufacturers to provide a service for Red owners.”
Until the camera is proven to be roadworthy, however, Axis will insist that an in-house technician, familiar with all the quirks of the camera, attends the shoot. “We envisage that this person would also be responsible for the data-capture side of the operation,” says Carter.
“Anyone who has read the hype will be eager to see what this camera can do,” he adds. “Some producers and DoPs want to be able to say that they are among the vanguard to have shot on Red.”
Panasonic AVC-Intra Compression
Whatever the digital format there's a trade-off between file size and image quality: the smaller the file size, the easier it is to move around but the poorer the quality is.
Panasonic is pushing a new compression technology called AVC-Intra in its latest P2 cameras which enables the recording of HD data as smaller files on a P2 card or alternatively offers much higher quality content at conventional DVCPRO HD bit rates.
AVC-Intra, accessed from the menu of P2 cameras AJHPX 2100 and AJHPX 3000 can be set at 100 Mbps for 1920 x 1080 10-bit 4:2:2 recording or 50 Mbps for DVCPRO HD quality at half the bit rate, but double the record time on a P2 card.
Panasonic claims AVC-Intra, which uses intraframe compression, is twice as efficient as the interframe-based MPEG-2 long-GOP scheme used by Sony in its XDCAM HD and XDCAM EX systems. Sony says AVC-Intra does this by throwing away half the original picture information during recording, so it's really half-def quality.
“It's a very interesting development,” says Prime TV's Earl. “Not only is it good for capturing high end material at lower bit rates for drama but also for the news and documentary markets.”
When extreme sports cameraman Steffan Hewitt was directing a series of windsurfing kit commercials in Hawaii eight years ago he found it impossible using conventional equipment to get a shot at speed, shot from the front with a wide angle lens. He experimented with a minicam fitted to the end of a boom pole and got the shots he needed.
Hewitt designed and built a prototype rigged from lightweight carbon-fibre tubes and began selling it. Polecam now has more than 200 customers across the world, including 30 in the UK. “Most are hired by freelance cameramen who then become owner-operators,” says Polecam's Mel Noonan. “It is an extremely simple concept but incredibly useful for achieving creative, out of the way shots.”
Users can even accessorise this accessory with a number of camera heads including Fish Face, a submersible pan and tilt unit, and DiveBag, a latex glove that fits over a mini-cam also for underwater shots.
Iconix Mini HD cameras
There are a number of compact HD cameras on the market but the Iconix, from Iconix Video, has a lot of supporters.
“Because we service a need for small, high quality cameras to function with Polecam we're constantly searching for new models,” says Mel Noonan, marketing director, Polecam. “The one that seems most flexible is the Iconix. It offers interlace and progressive image scanning and can be switched to SD - useful if you want 16 x 9 SD. You can even switch it to dual link mode for component HD recording.”
Polecam has sold more than 60 of the£9,500 units, which weighs less than four pounds, but now also offers the cheaper Toshiba IK-HD1, although this only records 1080i. “The Toshiba is more useful for live events and outside broadcast,” notes Noonan. “The Iconix has been used just about everywhere from motorsport to natural history to reality shows and demand continues to grow.”
Other claimants to the title “world's smallest HD camera” include Bradley Engineering's €5,000 remote head BE-HD10, a new two-megapixel camera which captures HD (1080i or 720p 50/60), and TV Skyline's HD 1100 unit which records 1,100 lines (compared with the 900-line resolution of the Iconix).
XDCAM HD 422
Although Sony has been pushing its disk-based recording system XDCAM HD as a workhorse for broadcast work, few producers have so far adopted it. That may change with the introduction of a higher-spec model due for release this spring.
The PDW-700 XDCAM HD 422 camcorder features a 2/3 inch chipset compared with the existing XDCAM HD model's half-inch CCDs, to record full 1920 x 1080 4:2:2.
What's more, Sony is outfitting all its XDCAM HD range with new 50GB dual-layer disk media which doubles the storage and recording capacities of the original single layer version making it ideal for applications that require long continuous recording.
“A camera like this might finally twist people's arms to go tapeless,” suggests Video Europe general manager Matt Marner who plans to purchase multiple units. “One thing that has put people off moving to file-based systems has been the image quality available from half-inch sensors. That barrier is removed with this release which should deliver quality on a par with HDCAM. That, combined with greatly increased record capacity, should prove very attractive to a wide range of producers.”
Movietube Lens Adapter System
The Movietube from Germany's Kinomatik allows fixed lens camcorders like the Z1 to achieve the same depth of field, imaging characteristics, and viewing angle as 35mm film. Its lens adapter is compatible with Panasonic's DVX100 and HVX200, as well as Sony's Z1U and FX1.
“We've had increased demand for this product in recent months from cinematographers who haven't the budget to shoot 16mm or full scale HD,” says Danny Howarth, facility manager, Provision. “It's a great product that can put 35mm lenses in front of a standard HDV camera to achieve incredible depth of field and a far better picture.”
The system accepts all film lenses in Arri PL or Panavision mount, as well as 35mm still lenses from Canon, Minolta or Leica or Nikon - optics which many camera operators may own, thus saving themselves the cost of hiring a box of primes.
Analogue to digital conversion
Despite the HD revolution, hundreds of thousands of legacy analogue users still exist - and so does their content. As a “missing link” solution, Shining Technology's Beetle bridges the analogue-digital divide by offering a simple and efficient mechanism for working with content digitally even when captured on Betacams.
The small Beetle DV 1850 device will convert and store analogue video to a hard drive in DV, DVCPro50 and MPEG-2 formats and could also export edited digital video to an analogue VTR or display. The catch? It's still being tested but could be launched in April at NAB.
“Even though our industry is undergoing a massive shift to HD, we can't forget that a significant sector of the market still uses analogue equipment,” notes Shining marketing manager Chris Wang. “By bridging the gap to help these users convert their content to digital formats rather than losing it altogether, we're making their HD transformation a bit easier.”
Solid state camcorders
Producers reticent about shooting HD with a tapeless workflow may have their concerns alleviated by Sony's new entry-level HD camcorder which records full 1920 x 1080 HD onto memory-based cards.
“The biggest restriction to the take-up of solid-state production until now has been limited record times,” says Mitcorp business development manager Dennis Lennie. “The PMW-EX1 enables operators to shoot up to 70 minutes of HD at 25Mbps or 50 minutes at 35Mbps per 16GB ExpressCard.” That's equivalent to a single HDV tape recorded by a Z1 - the staple format for factual productions.
Mitcorp has already sold 50 of the£4,000 (approx price) EX1s, including units to Special Treats Productions to shoot behind-the-scenes material for forthcoming James Bond film Quantum of Solace and for Raw Cut's Sky One documentary Road Wars.
The EX1 is the first in a new line of solid-state camcorders Sony will market under the XDCAM EX name.
Film-maker Phil Grabsky, who owns Seventh Art Productions, has his eye on the EX1. “The workflow needs to be thought through, but if you think that 15 years ago people weren't comfortable with email, 10 years ago with an Avid or five years ago with an iPod the concept of disk or solid-state based recording will soon be very familiar.”
Interchangeable Lens HDV
Sony's next generation of HDV technology, the HVR-Z7E and HVR-S270E, feature interchangeable lens systems allowing a far greater choice of lens for producers working in this format.
“These are ideal for budget independent productions, corporate video or videographers,” notes John Preston of dealer H Preston which purchased 100 of each model. “A lot of customers have wanted to upgrade but have felt unable to do so until now. Now they can have their choice of HD, prime, stills and wide-angle lenses.
“The S270E is also the first shoulder-mounted HD camera available at a reasonable price,” he adds. “Some operators prefer not to use tripods in order to be as unobtrusive as possible and they can now stabilise shudder.”
The S270E uses larger tapes for more than four hours of continuous recording - practical for filming live events. “You no longer have to swap tapes at crucial moments,” Preston says.
Additionally, both camcorders feature hybrid solid-state recording of HDV1080i, DVCAM, or DV to a compact flash card while simultaneously recording to tape.
“That offers a great introduction to file-based workflows without any of the worry some users have about shooting without tape,” adds Mitcorp's Lennie.