As Technology Improves, Camera Prices Retreat

Buzz building about new products with notable advances in TV production 1/02/2012 12:01:00 AM Eastern

While January is not usually a month for
big camera announcements, this month
promises much more buzz than usual. The
country’s largest photography confab is being held for
the first time during the 2012 Consumer Electronics
Show, where all the major vendors of broadcast cameras
will be out in force. Several notable new video cameras
for professional use will also be hitting the market.

During CES, for example, JVC will be giving some
top network and station executives a peak at its new
products for this spring’s NAB show under nondisclosure
agreements. “CES is an important show
for us because the key people from our industry are
there,” says Dave Walton, assistant VP of marketing
and communications at JVC Professional Products Co.

Notable products beginning to ship in January include
Sony’s new F65 camera with an 8K sensor; Canon’s
much-anticipated C300 camera for cinema and TV
production; and Panasonic’s new AG-3DP1 3D P2 HD
shoulder-mount 3D camcorder.

At CES (Jan. 10-13), JVC will also be showing a prototype
of what Walton is calling “the first affordable 4K
camera.” The company is not releasing model numbers
or exact pricing or specs yet, but the unit will weigh
less than four pounds and be priced at under $10,000.

These cameras are designed for film and TV production
and will have little immediate application to traditional
broadcast operations. But they are all worth a close look
because they highlight some of the rapid advances in features
and sensors that are making their way into lowercost
camcorders for broadcast news and production.

Steve Cooperman, product manager for P2 HD and
production monitors at Panasonic Solutions Co., says
that the company’s recently launched HXP-250 P2 HD
handheld camera draws on a number of recent improvements
in imaging technology yet costs under $6,000.

“As technology improves, the price points come
down,” Cooperman says. “With the 250, you are getting
AVC Intra codec with 10-bit and P2 [storage and
work" ows], things we didn’t offer in the past” on inexpensively
priced hand-helds.

Trickle-Down Tech Effect

Technology trickling down from high-end cameras
to lower-cost camcorders has also been a notable feature
on a number of newer Sony cameras, says Bob
Ott, VP of marketing and product management at Sony
Electronics. “We are always looking to embed the great
stuff from the high end and translate that into something
more affordable,” Ott says.

At the same time, tech advances are cutting the cost
of higher-end film and TV production gear.

Here, one of the most interesting developments has
been the impact of sensors taken from digital single
lens reflex (DSLR) cameras. As producers saw the advantages
of their large sensors, which offer incredible
low-light capabilities and a more cinematic look with a
shallow depth of field, vendors also took notice. Over
the last year, both Sony and Panasonic launched video
cameras with these larger sensors.

These efforts took a notable leap forward in November
when Canon announced its new C300 camera,
which begins shipping this month.

Canon’s DSLRs with video capabilities played a central
role in popularizing the use of DSLRs in TV and film
production, but the C300 represents the company’s first
big push into production for film and TV production. As
part of that push, Canon has also developed a new line
of 4K lenses that will begin shipping in 2012.

“We’ve done some interesting things that I haven’t seen
from anyone else with the use of a super 35mm 8-megapixel
sensor,” and improved imaging that “gets much
cleaner color,” says Chuck Westfall, technical advisor,
professional engineering and solutions division, Canon
U.S.A., who adds that they interviewed more than 150
people in Hollywood during the development process.

While the C300 has all the features expected on a
professional video camera, it remains relatively light
and small, allowing it to be used in smaller spaces. It
has a list price of around $20,000.

One version of the C300, which will begin shipping
this month, will work with the many EL mount lenses
used on Canon’s DSLR; a second version, which will
reach users in March, is designed for the PL mount
lenses widely used in film and scripted TV production.

Westfall notes that Canon is also working to improve
the video capabilities of its DSLRs, which provided the
basis for its development of the C300. Canon’s upcoming
top-of-the-line EOS-1D X DSLR will feature
a number of imaging advances. The company is also
working on a prototype of DSLR that can produce 4K
video, Westfall adds. “We understand that Hollywood
production is moving towards 4K capture and that demand
will only grow,” he says.

In the cinema world, 4K images offer four times the
number of pixels as 2K, which in turn have somewhat
higher resolution than standard HD TV images.

It will be years before 4K TV sets become widely
available in the home, but the technology is already
important for film production and is likely to become
more widely used in primetime TV production over
the next few years.

Thanks to that interest, Sony already has more
than 200 orders for its new F65 camera, an unusually
high number for a high-end camera, says Satoshi
Kanemura, a VP at Sony’s Professional Solutions of
America division.

One big reason for the robust sales is the fact that
the new F65 camera offers an unprecedented 8K imager
with 4K output but is priced at $55,000, much
less expensive than the $100,000 to $250,000 a stateof-
the-art camera might have cost two years ago,
Kanemura says.

Another factor is the flexibility that these high-quality
images offer in post-production. All the extra pixels
make it much easier to correct colors, adjust greyscale
or composite, or even reframe the image by zooming
in on certain features.

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