Newer HD Cams Gain Esteem

Oct 12, 2006  •  Post A Comment

For years the conventional wisdom went like this: HD cameras provide a fantastic picture, but are expensive, bulky, unreliable and have poor image quality in low-light conditions.
Producers on reality game shows such as “Survivor” and “Amazing Race” have pointed to technical concerns about the cameras as one reason why the shows have yet to adopt the format.
Today’s HD cameras are still expensive, but the other issues have been largely overcome by improved technology and operator education, according to production experts familiar with the technology.
“We’ve been taking HD cameras everywhere and there’s really nothing you can’t do with them,” said Steve Burns, Discovery’s executive VP and chief science editor, who manages the network’s “Atlas” HD project. “At this point, pretty much anything you can do with an SD camera you can do with HD.”
The latest generation of professional HD cameras, with the Panasonic VariCam series leading the way, have undergone thousands of hours of worldwide tests under rigorous conditions by nature-documentary producers working for Discovery HD Theater and National Geographic HD.
Production representatives for the networks, as well as an independent supplier of the gear, said the cameras typically perform well even under harsh conditions. The bulky, heavy HD cameras of the past have been replaced by newer, lighter models, with some mini-cameras now available.
“They’ve been tested in extreme weather conditions and withstand really well,” said Ed Walker, director of rental services for the Roscor Corp., a Midwestern video rental facility that often supplies production crews on location. “With some you have to add a little bit of lighting … but they still work well under low lighting conditions.”
The lighting issue has been a concern for producers of reality programming, which often feature shots at dusk and at night. “The older HD cameras had this problem, but newer cameras are more sensitive to lower light levels nowadays,” said Tom Gallagher, director of network operations for National Geographic Channel.
Because of the camera’s optical precision, production coordinators have found that operating HD cameras sometimes require a higher level of skill.
“If you have an experienced shooter, you can often get a better image if you take it to manual than leaving it on automatic,” Mr. Gallagher said.
This article is part of TVWeek.com’s High Definition newsletter, a weekly source of breaking HD news, articles and interviews written by Senior Reporter James Hibberd.


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