NAB 2006: Camera Wrap-up

You can always count on NAB to reward those who are curious about advances in camera and lens technology. In fact, many attendees thought that the manufacturers outdid themselves this year.

Of the many discernable trends, perhaps the most striking is the increasingly rapid replacement of videotape by other media. The three giants of video camera technology-Sony, Panasonic and Thomson-all moved further into the tapeless future.

Thomson formally launched its Grass Valley Infinity Series family, which is designed as an open and flexible approach to electronic newsgathering and field production with no proprietary pieces. Thomson explains that the open standards-based Infinity model is a move away from the dictated approaches and proprietary recording, storage and playback formats that have caused frustrations and workflow inefficiencies for broadcasters and video professionals. The company envisions Infinity as a solution that offers openness and format flexibility to support the demands of its customers for more collaborative, efficient workflows. The Infinity series of digital media camcorders and digital media recorders integrates full IT connectivity, compression choices, true contribution-quality high-definition format support and the ability to freely use off-the-shelf removable recording media such as REV PRO cartridges or professional-grade CompactFlash memory.

Announced at IBC last fall, the 2/3-inch, 3-CCD, multiformat Infinity Digital Media Camcorder supports MPEG-2, DV25 and JPEG 2000 compression codecs. Recording media options include CompactFlash cards, Iomega REV PRO hard drives and 3.5-inch drives-thus allowing even consumer retail outlets to serve as sources for recording media in a pinch. The camcorder's IT-based interfaces include three USB 2.0 connectors, one FireWire connector, one HDMI display connector and a Gigabit Ethernet connector.

To emphasize the Infinity Series' departure from traditional camera technology, Thomson didn't even use the word "camera" in its introduction of the product, calling it instead "a new line of IT-based acquisition, recording and storage devices." Priced at just over $25,000 (without lens), the Infinity Digital Media Camcorder is expected to be available in June. The Infinity recorder is also anticipated to be ready at that time.

To back up Infinity, Thomson announced the Grass Valley Open Alliance Partner initiative, whose member companies will support the Infinity system's file-based workflow. Among these partners is HP, which will certify Grass Valley's removable REV PRO drives as an option to its workstations and reference the REV PRO drives for its OEM partners. The REV PRO devices can be built into workstation products or made available as external drive accessories. This support will allow customers, such as HP OEM partners, to purchase HP workstations designed for desktop video applications with REV PRO built in. It will also ready the workstation to support workflows featuring the Infinity Series. Avid is also a member of the Open Alliance Partner initiative and will offer interoperability between its editing systems and Infinity's removable media. Apple also supports the Infinity workflow in its nonlinear editing systems.

Sony, never one to be outdone, pushed aggressively into the tapeless space with its XDCAM HD line of optical disc camcorders, which record to the same PFD-23 Professional Disc media as standard-definition XDCAMs. The XDCAM HD lineup includes the PDW-F330 and PDW-F350 camcorders, PDW-F70 recording deck and PDW-F30 viewing deck. These products are capable of recording 1080i video of multiple frame rates at a bit rate of up to 35Mb/s using the MPEG HD codec, which is based on MPEG-2 MP@HL compression. The F330 and F350 XDCAM HD camcorders each use three half-inch CCDs to provide HD recording in 1080/59.94i, 50i, 29.97p, 25p and native 23.98p.

The PDW-F350 additionally offers variable frame rate recording capabilities for over- and undercranking speed effects. Its frame rates range from 4fps to 60fps in one-frame increments. These effects can be played back in the camera or on a Sony optical deck without the need for additional processing, or through a nonlinear editing system or converter. The PDW-F350 also enables 24p, 25p and 30p image capture with no additional conversion required. Prices for the Sony models are in the upper $20,000 range.

Sony also announced the replacement to its HDW-F900 CineAlta camcorder, the workhorse of 24p television production. The HDW-F900R features a more compact and lighter chassis, HD-SDI outputs and new accessory boards for slow shutter, image inversion and downconversion with 3:2 pull-down. The HDW-F900R can also take advantage of the optional video cache feature of Sony's HDW-730/750 camcorder series for more production flexibility. It features three 2.2 megapixel CCDs and 12-bit DSP; it has the same optical axis as its predecessor model and identical image-making capabilities. The F900R can record four channels of AES/EBU digital audio plus four channels of simultaneous analog audio. It will be available in July for about $80,000.

As expected, Sony also expanded its family of HDV products, with the HVR-A1U compact camcorder joining the HVR-Z1U. The HVR-A1U sports a 1/3-inch, 3-megapixel CMOS imager and offers many of the same features as the HVR-Z1U, such as balanced audio, XLR inputs, SMPTE timecode and a Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T Lens.

Sony also introduced a super-slow-motion HD camera, the HDC-3300, whose three 2/3-inch high-speed progressive CCDs can record 1920x1080/180i and 150i as well as 1280x720/180p and 150p. It can achieve 3x speed slow-mo effects in HD resolution and can output normal speed signals simultaneously for live feeds through separate digital signal processing. Applications for the $270,000 camera include sports and other content requiring slow-mo playback.

Panasonic came out swinging at NAB with the AG-HVX200 variable frame rate camcorder, which records onto Panasonic's proprietary P2 solid-state memory cards. DVCPRO HD, DVCPRO50, DVCPRO and DV can be recorded to P2 media or delivered live via FireWire to an external recorder. DV can be recorded to Mini DV tape as well. Launched in January, the multi-featured, under-$6,000 camcorder is already popular among independent filmmakers and videographers. The HVX200 records content as I-frame-only, 100Mb/s DVCPRO HD media. DVCPRO HD is the direct descendant of DV rather than the tangent along the path to low-cost, high-quality HD production that is HDV.

Panasonic also showed an expanded line of P2-based HD cameras, including the AJ-HPC2000 shoulder-mount camcorder with three 2/3-inch image sensors. The camera records 720p and 1080i HD and 480i SD formats. The HPC2000 features five P2 card slots for enhanced onboard recording capacity and includes HD-SDI, genlock, timecode, composite video, IEEE 1394 and USB 2.0.

Another new product from Panasonic is the AK-HC1500, a 3-CCD (2/3-inch), 3.3 lb., 1080i/720p-switchable HD camera designed for applications in studios, live sports, videoconferencing and image analysis. This multi-purpose camera features variable frame rate functionality and cine gamma curve.

For entry-level videographers, Panasonic debuted the AG-DVC20, a 3-CCD Mini DV camcorder that weighs 4.4 lb. and features optical 10x zoom with Electric Image Stabilizer. The AG-DVC20 will be available in June for $1,850.

JVC expanded its ProHD line with the GY-HD200U, a 720/60p HDV camcorder targeted to the indie filmmaking market. The camera's 60p provides 60 full frames of information per second, excellent for viewing and analyzing motion, as well as for delivering an overcranked recording for slow motion when the final output is 24p. It carries JVC's "Super Encoder," developed for the company's latest line of ProHD products. The price is just shy of $8,000, including lens.

To enhance the ability to use multiple types of lenses on the GY-HD200U, JVC offers an optional lens adapter-the HZ-CA13U-specifically designed for the 1/3-inch bayonet mount of JVC ProHD camcorders. The adapter enables the use of 16mm film prime lenses with a PL (positive lock) mount to address the needs of the cinematography community. The GY-HD200U is capable of inverting the image from a prime lens so that special editing functionality is not required for correct recording of the image.

Also new from JVC is the GY-HD250U, a ProHD camcorder that records true 1280x720 progressive at 60fps, as well as 24p and 30p. The shoulder-style camera may be converted to a studio camera via adapter, making it suitable for cinematography, studio production and ENG applications. The GY-HD250U includes built-in genlock capability and component and HD-SDI output. Priced at just under $9,000 (without lens), the camera sports a lens mount that accommodates lenses from Canon, Fujinon and other third parties. The camera will be available in October.

Canon jumped into the high-def arena with the XL H1 HD camcorder. The three 1/3-inch CCD unit features native 16:9 aspect ratio at 1080i and offers selectable frame rates, including a 24-frame option. The XL H1 uses its three 1080-line CCDs to capture interlaced fields, recording high-definition footage as HDV-2. When the frame rate selector is set to "i," the camera shoots 60 frames interlaced. Thanks to its Digic DV II digital signal processor, the Xl H1 also offers the option of shooting in Frame Mode, in 30- and 24-frame-per-second varieties. Canon 30F and 24F frame rates (30 and 24 full frames per second) provide similar motion quality to 30p and 24p footage produced by progressive scan CCDs, but because Canon's CCD block is interlace, not progressive, these frame rates can't be referred to as 30p/24p. The camera has no capacity for progressive acquisition.

Canon's Xl H1 is targeted to independent filmmakers as well as broadcasters doing work ranging from ENG to reality TV. The XL H1 features uncompressed SD/HD-SDI output, as well as genlock input and SMPTE timecode input and output for multi-camera shoots.

Hitachi debuted the DK-H31S, a compact HD camera built for demanding production environments. Using three 2/3-inch CCDs, the two-piece DK-H31S provides HD in 1080i and 720p formats. The rugged unit is designed primarily for sports production and surveillance applications. This camera will be available in the fourth quarter.

Also making video camera news at NAB was Iconix Video, which announced the release of the HD-RH1 remote camera system/remote head, a high-definition, 3-CCD POV camera that weighs less than 4 lb. and costs $16,000. The camera head assembly features a 1/3-inch progressive 16:9 image sensor backed by a 1/3-inch 3-CCD prism system for optics and uses 14-bit quantization at the A/D conversion and processing steps. Standard C-mount lenses are used with the head, which can be tripod-mounted or used with mobile stabilization units. The system can capture and output video in all HD resolutions, including 720p, 1080i and 1080p, while supporting frame rates of 24, 25, 30, 50 and 60fps for both NTSC and PAL formats. Outputs include HD-SDI (SMPTE 292M) as two Single Link 4:2:2 or Dual Link 4:4:4 RGB/YCbCr, DVI-I and analog outputs, with genlocking capability to tri-level sync.

In the area of workflow demos, iQ Digital chose Ikegami's tapeless DNS-33W Editcam3 ENG/EFP camera to show how video can be integrated with new forms of imagery created for Web design and branding applications. Marcus May, general manager of iQ Digital, explains the workflow benefits realized with the DNS-33W Editcam3: "Since the Editcam records digital clips to a removable, nonlinear FieldPak, we can drop our footage into our Avid Unity editing systems immediately after acquisition. Not only does that eliminate the significant time expenditure we used to have for digitizing footage, it also helps us reduce our overall project-cycle time. By getting rid of the digitizing step with Editcam, iQ Digital is able to move directly into editing and other key processes."

Ikegami showed the tapeless Editcam and Editcam HD family of production cameras and accessories alongside several other HD cameras based on multiformat CMOS imaging sensors. In addition to the Editcam offerings, Ikegami's line of CMOS-based cameras includes the HDK-79EC/HS, which operates in standard and high-speed HD formats and was demoed in 720/120p and 1080/60p for slow-motion HDTV applications; the portable HDK-79EC; and the HDL-40C, a multiformat HDTV box-style camera.

The HDN-X10 Editcam HD uses Avid's DNxHD mastering codec to deliver 1920x1080 HD images that can be edited on laptop and desktop systems in real time. Editcam HD currently employs a data rate of 145Mb/s to provide 1080/60i, 1080/24p and 720/60p recording and playback using removable hard disk FieldPak2 or solid-state RAMPak recording media. Ikegami's 120GB FieldPak2 provides 90 minutes of HD recording time. FieldPak2 and RAMPak media can be mounted and edited immediately without the need for digitizing or transcoding.

Silicon Imaging announced a portable 10-bit digital cinema camera with direct-to-disk recording and Adobe Production Studio integration. The SI-1920HDVR features a 2/3-inch CMOS sensor with 12-bit A/D conversion. The camera's 1080/24p signal is recorded as 10-bit linear data in CineForm RAW, a new version of CineForm's wavelet codec. This codec compresses the 74.6MB/s signal to 12MB/s for recording. The use of the CineForm RAW format preserves the original pixel data, giving cinematographers the flexibility to develop the "digital negative" in post rather than make non-reversible decisions on-set.

Recorded data can be edited using the Prospect HD Edit plug-in in Adobe Premiere Pro. Discussions about supporting this wavelet compression codec are underway with other editing software manufacturers. SI claims a 10-stop dynamic range and an exposure index between 160 and 300.

The camera's 16:9 format, 2/3-inch CMOS sensor enables use of wide aperture optics to achieve a 35mm-like depth of field without the need for ground-glass converters. Its interchangeable optical assembly supports the use of 16mm PL-, F- and C-mount lenses.

Other features of the Silicon Imaging camera include variable frame rates from 12fps to 72fps, a 7-inch LCD touch-screen interface, a removable camera head and up to four hours of battery-powered shooting on the camera's 160GB notebook hard drive, which can be hot-swapped for continuous recording. A Gigabit Ethernet connection links the camera head to the body. The camera body is essentially a computer-driven hard drive recorder that records on 2.5-inch SATA drives, with four USB and Gigabit Ethernet connections. The SI-1920HDVR is priced below $20,000 and will be available for delivery in the third quarter of 2006.

While traditional camera manufacturers drew their fair share of show-goers, one of the most overrun booths at NAB was occupied by a start up-some would say an upstart-called RED Digital Cinema. Although RED did not even have a prototype on display, the company muscled its way into the camera community's consciousness with a spec sheet to die for.

RED promises an 11.4-megapixel digital cinematography camera that will shoot variable frame rates up to 60fps with 4:4:4 or 4:2:2 chroma subsampling in resolutions including RAW 2540p (4520x2540 pixels), 4K, 2K, 1080p, 1080i and 720p-all in a lightweight package priced at about $17,500 (without lens). According to RED press releases, the RED ONE camera is based on the Mysterium Super 35mm cine-sized (24.4mm x 13.7mm) CMOS sensor, as well as the REDCODE codec, REDFLASH memory, RED-RAID storage, RED-DRIVE compact recording medium and the RED line of lenses. The camera will record imagery up to 2K resolution on a hard disk recorder (the 40-160GB RED-DRIVE) or Flash recorder (the 32-128GB REDFLASH); the RED-RAID data recorder must be used to capture 4K RAW imagery.

The company touted the camera (it showed a milled aluminum mock-up behind glass) as useful for every type of professional production-from wedding videographers to Hollywood feature producers. The RED camera will support PL-mount 35mm and Super 16 lenses, allowing the use of existing film lenses as well the new set of lenses that RED engineers are developing. The first of these lenses, shown in mock-up, was a 300mm F2.8 unit with a PL mount.

RED charged prospective buyers $1,000 apiece to reserve orders for the camera. The company reportedly "sold" more than 200 cameras at NAB, pocketing a quick $200,000-plus on the show floor. RED Digital Cinema founder Jim Jannard expects that the camera will ship in early 2007.

While the days of videotape as an acquisition medium appear to be numbered (although tape probably still has a long life ahead of it as an archival medium), the days of film continue to stretch into the future. Many directors and cinematographers still favor film over electronic acquisition-for reasons ranging from film's wide contrast ratio to its inexplicable organic quality.

Taking advantage of 16mm's newfound popularity, ARRI introduced the ARRIFLEX 416, a modern, compact and lightweight (12 lb.) Super 16mm film camera with a 35mm-style optical viewfinder and low operating noise level similar to that of the ARRICAM. The 416 is compatible with lenses and accessories used by ARRI's 35mm camera line. Speed is variable from 1 to 75fps. Delivery is scheduled for the end of 2006.

Continuing its push into digital camera technology, ARRI also showed the ARRIFLEX D-20 digital camera. The D-20 is based on a 6-megapixel CMOS sensor designed by ARRI. Since the sensor has the same size as a Super 35mm film aperture, the D-20 uses the same lenses as 35mm film cameras.

The D-20 can be used in two different output modes: HD and Data Mode. When the ARRI FlashMag is mounted on the ARRIFLEX D-20, HD Mode provides 10 minutes of uncompressed 4:4:4 HD recording or 15 minutes of 4:2:2 recording. Data Mode recording requires the dxQ recording and processing unit, which was developed jointly with Quantel. Data Mode offers the option to output processed images as 2K files of any standard format, including 10-bit log DPX, a digital intermediate standard. A further benefit of Data Mode is the ability to output the entire 4:3 area of the camera's 24x18mm CMOS sensor. Aside from greater flexibility in framing, this capability makes it possible to use existing anamorphic lenses with a conventional 2:1 squeeze to produce images of 2.35:1 final aspect ratio without reducing the vertical resolution.