The pandemic has altered the progression of production technology in various ways, forcing R&D teams to implement remote working faster than intended, while also keeping many of them away from their labs and so stalling other, less pressing, advances.
However, even with the disruption, camera development does seem to be going in the usual sometimes-contradictory directions: bigger (sensor size), smaller (cameras and budgets), faster (connectivity), higher (image quality and sensitivity) and smarter (controls).
Sony has three pillars it is working on to support its advances in image acquisition, in line with customer demand, which it calls the three Rs: Reality; Realtime; and Remote.
Reality means “pushing image capturing forward to reflect natural or artistic reality as best as possible in terms of colour space, bit-depth, dynamic rage, framerate, resolution”, explains Claus Pfeifer, Head of Content Acquisition, Sony Professional, Sony Europe.
Realtime is “reacting to content in terms of processing, transmission and display, supported by AI and VFX systems (also LED screen virtual production and eye autofocus)”, while Remote deals with “controlling and using content remotely through cloud technologies”, and encompasses such technologies as 5G and metadata.
“All three pillars are linked to each other,” he adds. “The Reality pillar has seen many developments on resolution and dynamic range in the past years. There are still areas of further developments here, but currently Realtime and Remote are the areas of greater advances.”
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Pfeifer believes the key areas for camera development over the next few years will be: “Compact form factors; large frame sensors becoming de facto; AI-powered cameras for facilitated remote work; and connected cameras, again for facilitated remote work and quicker production times.”
As image resolutions increase to 4K and above, John Kelly, General Manager, EMEA Professional Business Solutions, JVCKenwood, believes: “We are likely to see an increase in the use of real-time intelligent image processing, such as tracking/pan-and-scan for live production.”
Given the increased importance of connectivity thanks to the pandemic, JVC has added improved remote production features to its existing camcorders.
“The latest updates add a number of new and highly relevant features, especially for remote IP production, including enhanced SRT [the open-source Secure Reliable Transport standard] functionality: network adaptive bitrate, lower latency and SRT support for return video over IP,” says Kelly.
The pandemic has also pushed more organisations to become content creators. For example, there has been increased demand for small and medium-size applications for sports production, such as football clubs directly streaming live matches to fans unable to attend in person.
These limited-budget productions don’t have the scope of larger OB-type events and typically use two to four cameras, with content delivery over IP rather than over-the-air. “This has allowed sports clubs to retain an income stream and not only engage with their normal, core audience but also those who may not normally be able to attend in person,” says Kelly.
“We are likely to see an increase in the use of real-time intelligent image processing, such as tracking/pan-and-scan for live production,” John Kelly, JVCKenwood
While Covid may have been the key short-term driver for recent innovation, technology advances and customer requirements typically go hand in hand, says Pfeifer. “We listen to customers and develop technology, and in turn technology opens up new creative or operational possibilities for customers.”
For example, Sony’s Venice camera “was initially developed for the cinema industry, but currently we see it being used more and more in the live production area as directors see the storytelling possibilities of large frame sensors on the pitch.
Another example would be around a specific feature: we had requests from users for an improved autofocus, which we then implemented in our cameras using AI technologies,” he adds. Indeed, Sony is currently “investing on a global level in AI technologies” as well as “in developing cloud-based solutions to improve remote work”.
In the near future, Pfeifer predicts that these advances will allow productions (and ultimately viewers) to see “immediate, high-quality, immersive content, on demand”.
Thanks to the coronavirus, remote production using robotic pan/tilt/zoom cameras has increased considerably. This is an area in which Panasonic has traditionally done well, but there is increasing competition, including new releases from Canon, JVC and others.
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Canon has three new UHD PTZ models: the weather-resistant CR-X500 for outdoor broadcast use, with an image stabilised 15x optical zoom (30x for HD) and 12G-SDI for UHD up to 60p using a single cable; the CR-N500 indoor PTZ, with similar features; and the CN-N300 entry-level version with a smaller sensor. Alongside them Canon has introduced hardware and software control systems that will also be compatible with its Cinema EOS cameras.
The two indoor PTZ cameras don’t have 12G-SDI, but they do have several other connections not on the CR-X500, including IP streaming over Vizrt’s free Network Device Interface (NDI) protocol for low-latency IP video transmission.
Indeed, NDI is claimed to be “the world’s most widely adopted software-defined IP video standard” and is now being included on an increasing number of cameras, partly driven by the greater emphasis the pandemic has placed on connectivity.
“We have seen an increase in demand for IP-based remote production applications, with cameras fully controlled over an IP network. This could be for sports, live events, or a wide range of corporate and institutional applications,” reveals Kelly.
“Remote productions also benefit from reduced manning requirement, which is necessary with Covid restrictions.”
JVC’s latest range of PTZ cameras now allow for 4K and HD streaming, using a wide range of formats including NDI and SRT.
“With VITC [Vertical Interval Timecode] multi-camera synchronisation technologies built-in, it’s possible to build an efficient and robust multi-camera live production over an IP network,” he adds.
Like Canon, two of JVC’s three new PTZ remote cameras support NDI, which “is designed to harness the massive creative potential of software and networks, allowing anyone to work with video”, says Dr Andrew Cross, President of Research and Development for the Vizrt Group. “Now with [the recently released] NDI 5, you can easily build shows and share video between them, for free.”
One new feature in NDI 5 is NDI Remote, which allows anyone using just a URL to contribute live audio and video using an internet-connected device (camera phone or web browser) to a show.
There are also security and reliability enhancements, IP-based remote genlock support, full integration with Apple devices and computers, and improved Adobe Premiere and Final Cut Pro support. There are two versions of NDI, the full, variable bitrate I-frame, broadcast-quality version and NDI HX, which uses a compressed long-GoP H.264 codec with no integrated alpha channel.
“Our customers are facing a huge demand for premium content like 1080p HDR or 4K UHD, while at the same time trying to manage the complexities of developing that content,” Marco Lopez, Grass Valley
Multiviewer manufacturer Apantac has also introduced an NDI-based PTZ camera, the AP-1080P-PTZ-20x. The HD camera also has 3G-SDI, HDMI and USB 3.0 connections.
“NDI has changed the way content is accessed, created and distributed, making video accessible over IP,” says Apantac President Thomas Tang. It “allows users to deliver live video over IP to any compatible system or software on the network, using a single cable for all the video, audio and control”.
BirdDog, which specialises in video-over-IP also has several NDI-based cameras, including its first compact box camera - the new PF120, an HD camera with a 20x zoom. It uses BirdDog’s custom NDI silicon, with simultaneous NDI and HDMI output. It also has a USB UVC connector for other streaming applications. BirdDog also offers full NDI compatibility across its range of PTZs – it also has SDI (6G-SDI for UHD) outputs and most models have HDMI.
Easing the transition between SDI and IP is a key part of Grass Valley’s strategy, with its recent launch of three new SDI/IP production systems for cameras, switchers and replay. These are designed to reduce complexity with a common workflow regardless of the format(s), to be simple to set up for any UHD/3G/HD resolution, and benefit from massive I/O scaling for multi-layered video.
“Our customers are facing a huge demand for premium content like 1080p HDR or 4K UHD, while at the same time trying to manage the complexities of developing that content,” explains Marco Lopez, Grass Valley’s General Manager of Live Production.
“Everything we develop at Grass Valley seeks to balance those requirements of enabling the best in live media production while making it simpler and more manageable to create.”
Its new, flagship LDX 150 live production camera offers triple-speed UHD with global shutter and wide colour gamut acquisition on a native IP backbone. It uses three new Xenios 2/3in image sensors, offering increased sensitivity and sharpness, wide dynamic range, improved signal-to-noise ratio and greater depth of field, even in low light conditions.
It also offers built-in JPEG XS compression that can be natively streamed over IP with no additional CCUs or server boxes.
That is because the camera is a self-contained IP endpoint with up to 100Gbps IP network connections for audio, video and control directly at the camera head.
This enables distribution of camera sources across the network without the delays inherent in sending signals to a separate control hub. It uses REMI (a Remote Integration Model), which requires less bandwidth as only those signals needed are transmitted.
Efficiency also increases as multiple creative teams can have immediate, non-conflicting access to all camera sources wherever they work, making collaborative production easier.
Also for live production, Arri has introduced Amira Live, a new version of the Amira designed for multi-camera applications as a cinematic S35 live camera. Amira models could already be set up for live use, but it involved adding a connector module and plugging in several cables, whereas the new model has an integrated fibre connection, which makes it simpler, more reliable and quicker to set up.
It comes with a 10in multicam viewfinder monitor (VMM-1). Arri is due to introduce a new S35 4K camera later this year, something it said it wouldn’t do until it could guarantee at least the same quality as the Alexa sensor. It will be about the same size as its Mini LF and use the same recording media and viewfinder.
Blackmagic has also recently introduced two new low-cost UHD studio cameras for live production. They are built from carbon fibre-reinforced polycarbonate, with integrated 7in viewfinders, but as they use micro-four-thirds mounts rather than taking broadcast B4 lenses, they are probably most suited to lower-end applications – even if the MFT lenses are a lot more affordable. There are also low-cost (optional) focus and zoom demands for adjusting the lens from the tripod handles.
Features include talkback, tally, camera control, built in colour corrector, 13 stops of dynamic range and even Blackmagic Raw recording to USB disks, so it can be used without needing a live switcher. It outputs frame rates from 23.98fps to 60fps.
The basic Blackmagic Studio Camera 4K Plus costs $1,295, while the Studio Camera 4K Pro costs $1,795 and has 12G-SDI, 10GBase-T Ethernet and talkback connections, plus balanced XLR audio inputs. The 10G Ethernet allows all video, tally, talkback and camera power via a single connection, for faster single cable setup.
Full-frame or crop top?
The introduction of larger-sensor, lower-cost DSLRs played a huge part in bringing cinematic-style images to lower-budget productions, and the crossover between stills and video is still producing interesting cameras.
Canon’s upcoming EOS R3 full-frame mirrorless model will include auto focus tracking for racing cars and motorbikes (as well as people and animals). It can also record oversampled 4K video. Although it is primarily aimed at photographers, broadcast users can record Raw video internally or shoot in Canon Log 3 for high dynamic range and enhanced colour grading possibilities.
The weather-proof body houses dual card slots supporting SD and CFexpress memory cards. It also boasts good low-light capabilities, an adjustable screen and three customisable dials on the body (plus a Lens Control ring on each RF Mount lens), allowing for easy access to various controls.
The $3,900 Sony Alpha FX3 full-frame camera looks like a stills camera, but is actually the latest addition to Sony’s Cinema Line. It can shoot 4K at up to 120p or HD at 240p, in 10-bit 4:2:2 with full pixel readout in all record modes. It boasts 15+ stop dynamic range and offers S-Cinetone shooting for a more cinematic look using colourimetry matching its high-end Venice camera – as also used by its other FX9 and FX6 Cinema Line cameras.
FX3 users can add on various accessories, such as microphones or monitors, without needing to fit a cage thanks to a detachable XLR top handle that fits into Sony’s smart multi-interface shoe input.
Bigger is usually better, except when it isn’t. Full-frame sensors are great, but the price of the larger lenses required by them isn’t, which is one reason many users like to also have the ability to crop an S35 image from their larger sensors.
For example, many users of Arri’s Alexa Mini LF requested an S35 mode, which has now been implemented, allowing the Mini LF to be used beside an Alexa Mini with identical recording formats (but with the option of higher frame rates) and much lower data rates than using the full sensor.
The new $2,495 Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 6K Pro now comes with an adjustable 5in HDR (1,500-nit) touchscreen to match its 6144x3456 HDR-capable S35 sensor (13 stops latitude), an EF lens mount, built-in ND filters, a larger battery (NP-F570) and it can be used with a new optional OLED viewfinder. It records 12-bit Blackmagic Raw up to 6K or 10-bit Apple ProRes up to 4K to SD or CFast cards, or external media via USB-C.
Moving up to 8K, the new Kinefinity Mavo Edge 8K is a large-format cine-style camera. The compact, lightweight (carbon fibre) unit houses a 3:2 full-frame CMOS sensor with electronic neutral density filter with continuous adjustment and 800/3200 dual native ISO. It has dual SSD media recording all the Apple ProRes codecs, including ProRes4444/XQ at up to 75fps (8K at 2.39 aspect ratio) or 160fps (4K/2.39), with a dynamic range of up to 14+ stops. Its versatile lens mount means it can work with a wide range of lenses, from E-mount to LPL. It costs from about €12,000.
An important consideration for many camera buyers is whether or not the camera is on the Netflix approved list. Although that only applies to commissioned Netflix productions, it is seen as a good baseline to start with.
Fortunately, the list has expanded to encompass smaller and lower-cost cameras, such as Panasonic’s tiny BGH1 box camera – the first MFT sensor camera with Netflix approval, and its S1H, the first mirrorless camera to be approved. Other affordable cameras on the list include the Canon EOS C70 and Blackmagic Design Ursa Mini Pro 4.6K.
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