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High-definition production gains momentum

Oct 7, 2002  •  Post A Comment

High-definition television isn’t just for broadcasting. TV cinematographers and producers are steadily migrating toward the use of high definition purely as an acquisition format. In turn, camera accessory manufacturers such as Fujinon and Canon have responded with lens modifications to meet the needs of the TV production community.
Widespread shooting in HD is emerging, said Pierre de Lespinois, a TV director who has shot nearly $100 million worth of HD programming during the past three years, including “The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne” and a variety of shows for the Discovery Networks. The industry is in a transition period, he said. “If you are a cinematographer, you need to know how to do both film and HD,” he said. “It will eventually all be digital.”
The journey to HD by producers and directors during the past few years has not been driven by Federal Communications Commission mandates as it has been for broadcasters, since most of the content being shot in HD doesn’t air in HD. The movement is guided by economics, because shooting in HD is cheaper than film. “That has forced peripheral markets to produce film products suitable for HD,” Mr. de Lespinois said.
Shooting in film and shooting in video are two completely different beasts. That’s why camera lens makers have had to modify and adapt their TV lenses to make them more film-like. TV lenses traditionally have included motors to automate the functions, but film producers and directors want manual functions.
At this year’s National Association of Broadcasters convention, Fujinon introduced the fourth generation of its Cine Style lenses aimed at the HD market. “For episodic productions, most people shooting these have a film background and you have someone that follows the focus,” said Dave Waddell, marketing manager for Fujinon in Dallas.
Fujinon tailored its TV lenses so that the barrel diameter is larger and the focus rotation greater, making them more akin to film lenses. “It enables the operators to utilize the product like they are used to using a film product,” Mr. Waddell said. “What’s new is the technology has now evolved to the point where it’s good enough to do what producers and directors of photography want to-which is produce on video rather than film.” The lenses range in price from $18,000 to $40,000.
Canon is currently offering its second generation of HD lenses for cinematographers. Lens makers have traditionally offered HD lenses for news gathering but those lenses don’t possess the attributes that cinematographers want. Canon adapted the barrel and the markings to make them more precise for cinematographers, said Gordon Tubbs, assistant director of the broadcast and communication division for Canon U.S.A. “You have to make your product operate the way they want,” he said.
Zoom lenses, which have different focal lengths, are more than $35,000 each, while prime lenses, with fixed focal lengths, run from $17,000 to $25,000, Mr. Tubbs said.
The cost of shooting in HD is significantly less than shooting film. A 50-minute HD tape costs $50 compared with a 12-minute roll of film for $450, Mr. de Lespinois said. Processing costs for an hour of film are $220 to $250, while the cost to transfer film to video can be $300 to $800 an hour. There are no processing or transfer costs with HD, he said. These savings are magnified over the life of a project. When Mr. de Lespinois shot “The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne” for $36 million, he shaved $7 million off the cost by shooting in HD, he said.
TV producers will pay less to get nearly as good a product, said B. Sean Fairburn, a director of photography who has shot commercials in HD and is currently shooting a midseason replacement pilot for ABC. “HD is not better,” he said. “It’s almost as good, but it costs less. It’s good enough for TV.”