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Small is Beautiful: Sizing Up the Iconix HD-RH1

Iconix’s HD-RH1

package ($16,000) includes the camera head, controller, 10-foot cable, tripod adapter plate and power adapter. Cables of 20- and 33-foot lengths are available as options. The camera head uses three 1/3-inch progressive CCDs (2048×1152 pixels with half-pixel offset) to capture images in the HD format of your choice. The camera head measures 1.3 x 1.5 x 1.9 in. and weighs 2.3 oz., which makes the HD-RH1 the smallest three-chip HD camera in the world. The HD-RH1 uses a C lens-mount, a threaded screw-in mount, to attach the lenses.

The camera outputs 720p, 1080i or 1080p signals at 60, 59.94, 50, 30, 29.97, 25, 24 and 23.97fps. Iconix also offers what the company calls a “frame double” mode when shooting in the 720p format. Frame double mode enables the camera to capture at one frame rate and output another. For example, it can capture at 23.976fps and output a 720/60p signal. The 720p standard is either 50 or 60fps; outputting a signal at other frame rates may or may not be supported by recorders, editing systems or other devices.

The HD-RH1 control box, to which the camera head must be connected, is considerably larger (8.4 x 1.8 x 12 in.) and heavier (3.5 lb.). A single cable–the connector is on the front panel of the controller–links the control unit to the camera. This cable powers the camera head and feeds the video signals back to the controller. The controller requires 12V DC and draws 30W. An AC adapter with a standard 4-pin XLR connector is included in the package. On the back of the unit are Dual Link HD-SDI outputs, a DVI port, three analog video outputs (Y, Pb, Pr or RGB switchable), genlock in, a lens interface connector and a 4-pin XLR jack.

Test Setup

Iconix supplied us with an HD-RH1 and Fujinon 2.8mm f/2.2 (TF2.8DA-8, $413), Fujinon 15mm f/2.2 (TF15DA-8, $375) and Schneider Cinegon 10mm f/1.7 ($1,277) lenses. We connected the HD-RH1 to a

Blackmagic Design HDLink

($445) box to display the Dual Link HD-SDI output on a flat-panel LCD with a resolution of 1920×1200 and set the camera up using a

DSC Labs ChromaDuMonde chart

.

Operational Features

The camera uses 14-bit A/D conversion and has most of the typical DSP functions you’d expect to find in a professional HD camera. Of course, there are no buttons or controls on the camera. The tiny head has a lemo-style connector for the cable to the controller and a lens mount. Mounting holes for the optional tripod adapter plate are located on the top and bottom of the camera head–a nice touch–so you can secure the HD-RH1 from above or below.

The controller’s front panel has membrane switches to select the output format, frame rate, camera setup files, color bars, white balance, black balance and gain, as well as to enter and navigate the menu system. Tiny blue indicators mark which camera setup file, format and frame rate are in use. There are frame rate indicators for 60, 50, 25 and 24; if none are lit, the frame rate is 30. The actual frame rate, whether it’s a whole number or an NTSC-compatible fractional, is set in the menus. Video gain, red gain and blue gain can be adjusted with three knobs.

Changes made in the menus are automatically saved in the active setup file. Just in case, there’s a menu selection to reset everything to factory defaults. Menu navigation involves using the menu button, arrow keys and select button in a two-level deep structure. The main menu presents 11 choices. Selecting one of those choices brings up a page with from two to 10 options. It isn’t difficult, though the cursor moves line by line, so you must press the arrow buttons repeatedly.

The HD-RH1 can output any flavor of HD you might want, including adding pull-down to 720/24p to maintain compatibility with DVCPRO HD recording. There are some limitations that may impact how you choose to record the signal. The camera’s Dual Link output when in the 1080/50p or 1080/60p mode will be a Y’CbCr 4:2:2 PsF signal. It didn’t display properly using the HDLink because Blackmagic doesn’t support this mode.

I rated the sensitivity of the camera at an ISO of 400, though any exposure index is camera-setting dependent. Video gain can be increased in fixed steps or as a variable, which activates the front panel potentiometer, from 0 dB to +15 dB. Exposure can also be adjusted using the electronic shutter, which offers settings from 1/32 to 1/10,000 of a second. A clear scan function lets operators adjust the shutter in percentages from 0 to 100. That range at 24fps translates to a 360- to 17-degree adjustable shutter.

Detail can be switched on and off, and the amount of detail added to the image can be adjusted. The range is limited to an arbitrary scale of 0-10. In our tests, there wasn’t a wide difference between one end of the range and the other. Detail isn’t typically used when shooting in HD, so this shouldn’t be an issue. A digital noise reduction feature can be used in conjunction with detail, though, for most applications, both are unnecessary.

Setting focus is always an issue with HD cameras because it’s critical and hard to do when the resolution of the camera exceeds the resolution of the monitor you’re using to set focus. Iconix has a focus assist feature that turns the output of the camera into a black-and-white negative image to highlight contours in the image. Some operators may find it useful, though it isn’t much help if the subject doesn’t have distinct contour lines. There isn’t a front-panel button to turn focus assist on and off–you must go into the camera menus.

ITU-Rec.709, BBC, Cine and a user setting are the options for gamma correction. The range for the user option, which is a master gamma control, is from 0.35 to 0.90. Black stretch and black press are set using Iconix’s black gamma controls. The portion of the video signal to which the black gamma applies can be set to 15, 25, 35 or 50 percent. The range of adjustment is more than adequate for most purposes. Black levels are set using a pedestal control, which is odd nomenclature because digital video doesn’t have pedestal. The level adjustment is also reminiscent of analog video, with a -7 to +10 range. There are also options to adjust red, green and blue “pedestal.”

Highlight compression is handled using a knee function that has controls for point and slope. The white clip can be set from 90 to 109 percent.

A white balance button on the front panel triggers the auto white balance procedure. The portion of the image measured during this procedure can be changed in the menus. Red and blue gain controls on the front panel are active when the auto white balance is set on manual to warm or cool the overall image. The color temperature default is 5,600 K. You can set the color temperature to 3,200 K, 4,300 K, 5,600 K, 6,500 K or a mode called FLAT. Oddly, the white presets appear on the matrix page. I asked Iconix about this. They explained that these presets are actually color matrix presets that are adjusted to maintain a Rec.709 color gamut at these color temperatures. Color temperature is ignored as the output of the CCDs is translated into the Rec.709 color gamut in the FLAT mode. It’s an odd way to adjust color temperature, which shifts the white point redder or bluer.

The color controls are limited to a user matrix function–the standard six-pole matrix–useful for matching the HD-RH1 colorimetry with other cameras. The preset matrix is either Rec.709 or off unless the camera is set to output NTSC or PAL, in which case NTSC or EBU will be the choices.

What’s Missing?

There are no flare compensation or white shading controls. This is an issue because the C-mount lenses designed for prism-based CCD cameras are primarily industrial lenses with less critical specs than the lenses used for digital cinematography. To maximize the performance of these optics, flare and shading controls are a necessity. The Schneider Cinegon had visible uncorrected white shading errors. The Fujinon lenses did not.

The 30-foot separation limit between the camera head and controller may be an issue in some applications. A good solution would be a wireless system so the camera head could be positioned anywhere.

Conclusions

It’s odd to say this: when you handhold the Iconix camera, you really are holding it in the palm of your hand. Due to its small size, you can put this camera in tiny spaces, use it as a hidden HD camera or mount it where you’d never position a heavier camera, such as on the roll bar in a race car. Inventive digital cinematographers will find dozens of places to put this shot glass-sized camera.

A full range of HD formats and Dual and Single Link HD-SDI outputs in RGB or Y’CbCr provide enough options to fit this camera into standard workflows, whether the application is live broadcast or digital filmmaking.

Size often compromises image quality. That wasn’t the case with the HD-RH1. The images were spectacular for a point-of-view camera. The ability to focus inches away and enlarge a subject several times life size at 1080p resolutions offers the possibility of finding startling new perspectives on the world around us.

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