As Technology Improves,Camera Prices Retreat

Buzz building about new products with notable advances in TV production
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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.

E-mail comments to gpwin@oregoncoast.com

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