Quick Sensor Size Recap, Universal Measurement

With all the talk of new cameras i thought it might be beneficial to go over sensor sizes again. This time i’ll make it really down and dirty and try to use as close to a universal measurement standard as i can. This is NOT scientific. When it comes to truly measuring image sensor you have to be far more precise and take into account variables such as aspect ratio and active pixel areas. This is the “quick guide” if you will, purely for the sake of giving some kind of universal language to work off of.

1/3”- Measurement diagonally is 0.22 of an inch. This is the standard found in most under $10k traditional ENG video cameras, hand held or shoulder mount.

2/3”- Measurement diagonally is 0.45 of an inch. This is the standard found in most full size shoulder mount broadcast ENG cameras. Typically these cameras start at least $15,000.

Super16mm- Measurement diagonally is 0.55 of an inch. This is classic film standard that is used less commonly these days. Interestingly enough there has been a bit of a “digital resurgence” of late. The BMD Pocket and the Digital Bolex are both natively this size and the Sony F5 & F55 can underscan and offer Super16 lens compatibility.

Micro Four Thirds- Measurement diagonally is .85 of an inch. This format was first created by Panasonic and Olympus for the still photo world. It has made inroads in cinema cameras both as a sensor size and as a lens mount style.

Super35mm- Measurement diagonally is 1.15 inches. This format has been and continues to be the most commonly used format for motion picture creation for the past 70 years. It is an industry standard with a high degree of lens compatibility. It is very similar to APS-C, a still photo standard that measures about 1.04 inches.

Still Photo Full Frame- Measurement diagonally is 1.7 inches. This format has been a universal format for still photography for over 70 years. It is till held up as the “gold standard” for still photo digital SLRs. It is also the standard by which most people think of when the envision lens focal length to angle of view ratios. It as little application for motion picture, the depth of field is considered to be almost too shallow for common use. But people continue to have success using cameras such as the 5D and the new Sony A7s for Full Frame video acquisition.

Anomaly Format: BMD 2.5K- Measurement diagonally is 0.7 of an inch. Some formats are really only used in 1 or 2 applications. So far the original BMD 2.5K sensor size has not seen any forward momentum and most likely will fade away. Post by Eric C. Petrie


NAB ’14 Camera Recap: What Did We Really Get

The annual NAB show has come and gone. It was a good year for cameras and it also saw the spreading of some interesting trends:

Dockable Cameras: What’s old is new again. The two piece camera concept, something big up through the late 90’s, is back. We saw two piece, head-dock combo cameras from Blackmagic Design with the URSA and from Panasonic with the new VariCam system. We’ll see if these dock systems catch on with more manufacturers and more models and if these docks actually pay off with the flexibility the makers claim 

High Speed: We’re starting to get to a point where 60p is just expected in a professional camera. But we’re also introducing the concept that to make a “high speed” camera you don’t have to be Phantom creating thousands of frames per second. Most users are very excited about 120 or 240. For a lot of camera makers frame rates in this range are now becoming very tangible specifications. AJA, Panasonic, Sony, and even JVC all showed cameras that could reach the 120 threshold.

ProRes & Other Beefy 10-Bit Codecs: ProRes is starting to become the closest thing the video industry has ever had to a high end “universal standard” codec. Blackmagic, AJA, and even Sony and Panasonic all showed ProRes recording cameras. And we have more options for ProRes external records then ever, thanks to AJA and Atomos. Beyond ProRes the theme was 10-bit. XAVC and AVC-Ultra where shown off on many new models, all recording in 10-bit. In some cases the compression schemes have become so good we can get a 10-bit signal out of a 25mbps package. RAW recording is starting to become more readily available, though i wouldn’t quite call it a “common” feature yet.

Super35mm: Large sensor “cinema” cameras have been the growing trend for the last 3-4 NAB shows. This year the ratio of cameras that specifically use the Super35mm standard compared to smaller sensors was the biggest it’s ever been. Panasonic, AJA, Blackmagic Design, JVC, and Sony all showed new cameras that make use of this format. There were very few cameras shown with smaller traditional broadcast 1/3” or 2/3” sensors.

Shoulder Mount/ Improved Ergonomics: Generally speaking there weren’t too many cameras that required kitting out shown this year. There was a very pleasant uptake in ready to go cameras. The Blackmagic URSA, The AJA CION, the new VariCams, and the new JVC all use shoulder mount designs. Sony’s even gone to the lengths of improving the F5 & F55 shoulder mount. Those cameras are already shoulder-mountable, and always have been. But now they’ve gone totally ENG with a new control layout and new features via a docking sled. JVC even showed an economically designed hand-held camera with a large Super35mm sensor. For some reason that’s a concept that hasn’t really been that prevalent before.

Post by Eric C. Petrie


JVC Enters Cinema Market

JVC has long been known for making quality and affordable ENG cameras. They have long been a solid alternative to Panasonic or Sony in broadcast situations. JVC is gearing up to become the affordable alternative in the cinema world. JVC has shown 3 prototype cameras, all 4K, all using a Super35mm sensor. JVC Kenwood company recently acquired a semi-conductor firm that now allows them to build their own imaging sensors. Two of the cameras are traditional single-piece cameras, the third is a camera head that can be used in remote situations such as in a fly rig (think NFL zip-line camera). Even though all the models are being deemed “prototypes” and thus not guaranteed to come to market, they do all have official model numbers.

The first camera is a very small hand held ENG camera body that is a very similar to the JVC HM150. This is the first time we’ve seen a “cinema” camera take a form factor that is much more similar to a compact ENG camera. JVC is clearly, and admittedly, aiming this camera at broadcast news and live coverage. JVC claims that the ENG market is very interested in the “cinema look” that is generated by the current crop of cinema cameras but does not want to depart from the familiar form factor and body style that ENG users have grown accustom to. Thus the GY-LSX2 lets operators use the camera essentially as they would an HM150, but with interchangeable lenses and a Super35 sensor. The rest of the camera runs down like this. The lens mount is an active Micro Four Thirds. This is an interesting choice because most hot Micro Four Thirds lenses don’t have an imaging area large enough to cover Super35mm. Some Olympus lenses apparently do. As do some from third party Micro Four Thirds companies like Zeiss and Sigma. Another benefit of using the Micro Four Thirds mount is that it is very easily adapted to other systems. It can be adapted to F mount or PL mount with a simple metal tube adapter. The camera also does support Micro Four Thirds under scanned cropping of the sensor if you should want to use standard MFT lenses that don’t cover Super35mm. The camera records to AVC-4K h.264 codec. This could be a 100mbps 4:2:0 8-bit Long-GOP format, JVC said final specs haven’t been locked in. If so this would be a highly compressed 4K format, which would have it’s own pros and cons. JVC also mentioned 240 frame per second recording in H.D. resolution. They said there target price point for this piece will be under $6K

The second camera, the GY-LSX1, is a shoulder mount ENG style camera body that has a PL mount. They mention using converters for 2/3” B4 mount ENG lenses but whether they intend on building these themselves or rely on 3rd parties was unclear. Such converters do exist though typically there is loss of both light and optical resolution due to taking a lens designed with a 2/3” image circle and blowing it up to a 1.7” image circle. This camera would record in the same codec as the handheld camera, 100mbps, 4:2:0, 8-bit, Long-GOP (subject to possible change).The camera would also feature the same 240 frame per second H.D. recording but would offer 60p 4K recording as oppose to being limited to 30p like the hand held camera. JVC says the target price is under $20K but i would have to believe that it would be much lower due to cameras with similar specs being announced at this NAB for below $10k. JVC claims they will have 4K Super35mm cinema cameras on the market before the end of the year. Post by Eric C. Petrie


JVC 4K Hand Held.jpg

JVC 4K MFT Mount.jpg

JVC Slid

JVC Slid 2

Sony Enhances F5 & F55 Cameras

Although Sony hasn’t debuted a new cinema camera at this yeas NAB Show the have announced several new firmware and hardware upgrades for their existing F5 & F55 cameras. In many ways this strategy of continuing to offer a wide array of enhancements to existing products is a welcome breath of fresh air. Many companies have promised us “modular” cameras, “future proof” cameras, “upgradeable” cameras, yet year after year NAB is still crowded with new models driving people to feel as if investing in new gear is futile because of the compulsive need to not be “out of date”. Sony has continued to demonstrate a real interest in developing and fleshing out the F55 & F5 to meet the needs of any possible shooter.

The first big announcement was firmware 4.0 for these cameras. The heavy hitting features in version 4.0 are big enhancements to interval recording, the addition of cache pre-roll recording, and the addition of ProRes and DNxHD codecs. The importance of the addition of ProRes cannot be understated. Its significant on several levels. It marks the first time Sony has enlisted a 3rd party codec on one of their industrial level cameras. It furthers the concept that ProRes has really become the worlds first high end “universals standard” video format. It also shows that Sony is truly listening to user feedback, to the extent that they are doing what was previously considered impossible for them. 2 years ago when these cameras where introduced and the XAVC codec was introduced with them i knew Sony would never go to the extent of licensing a 3rd party format like ProRes. And now 2 years later here they are enabling ProRes on their cameras.

In the hardware department there were two notable announcements. Sony has introduced an interesting “sled” concept. The sled mounts to the bottom of the F5 & F55. It adds a shoulder pad and a new control layout. This layout essentially converts the bottom quarter of the camera into a layout that would be identical to what someone would find on an XDCam ENG camera. It also adds a slot-in wireless audio dock. The native control layout of the F5/F55 is similar to an Arri Alexa, it’s driven off of a screen/button combo thats on the side of the body. While this works well for cinema users it’s a very unfamiliar, unintuitive, and slow layout for news-style shooters who need critical function access with the flick of a switch. The second big hardware announcement is the ability to upgrade your F5 to an F55. It involves replacing a few components including the image sensor. Having that upgrade path available is an extremely nice option to allow customers to get into a camera today with a path set for the future

When you combine all of these exciting new features with some of the options that Sony already has for these cameras it becomes clear that Sony want to find a way to use these cameras in every possible scenario. Keep in mind Sony already has their own B4 mount adapter for these cameras to allow of ENG lenses to be used. And they already have a studio dock so that they can be used in live environments (think 4K sports). Post by Eric C. Petrie

F5 ENG back side

F5 ENG back]

F5 ENG sled front

F5 ENG sled side

Panasonic Announced The New VariCam HS

Panasonic has announced the latest in it’s legendary VariCam series, the VariCam HS. What was old is new again as Panasonic brings back the dockable camera solution. The camera is made out of two components; the head, with the lens mount and the sensor, and the back with the dockable recorder. The head features a 2/3” 1080p sensor that is capable of generating 240 frames per second. The camera can record 4:4:4 12-bit AVC-Intra or, in a surprise move, 4:4:4 12-bit Intra-Frame ProRes. Another surprising specification, Panasonic claims that their newly designed 2/3” sensor block is capable of delivering 14 stops of dynamic range. This would make it one of the only small-sensor cameras capable of doing this. Although it’s not that far removed from Blackmagics Super16mm Pocket cam which delivers 13 stops with a single 1” sensor.

Where does this camera fit on the market? With a standard B4 ENG mount you’ll be able to use high quality versatile servo zoom lenses. You’ll still be able to get “cinematic” looking images thanks to the 14 stops of dynamic range. Internal 240 frames per second at 4:2:2, 10-bit, Intra-Frame is very impressive. And 1080p30/24 at 4:4:4 12-bit Intra-Frame is a ton of data to work with. Right now Panasonic has the list price of the camera at $55,000. That puts it (in Panasonic’s eyes) in competition with Alexa and Epic. Thats far beyond the price range of Canon C500 or Sony F55. Is the cinema world of Epic and Alexa ready to embrace this Panasonic camera? I guess we’ll find out this fall. Post by Eric C. Petrie

Panasonic VaricamHS

Panasonic Brings VariCam 35 to the Party

As part of Panasonic’s dockable VariCam solution they have introduced a second options for camera heads. The VariCam 35 head can be mounted to the same dock recorder as the VariCam HS head. VariCam 35 features a completely newly designed 4K Super35mm sensor and a PL lens mount. The exact details of what it can record internally aren’t quite clear. It appears that it can record 4K at 4:2:2, 10-bit, Intra-Frame in ether AVC-Ultra or ProRes. It also appears it can record 1080p at 4:4:4, 12-bit, Intra-Frame in ether ProRes or AVC-Ultra. It may also be able to record 4K at 4:4:4, 12-bit, Intra-Frame in ether ProRes or AVC-Ultra. Internal 4K recording appears to be capable of at least 60p but possibly can go up to 120p. The camera can also record 4K RAW to an additional optional docking unit. Similarly to the Sony F55 all the internal 4K recording is done using the Panasonic or ProRes codecs but by docking on the additional module you now have 4K RAW. There’s no cabling to attach, no baseplate needed, no rails. The 4K RAW recorder seamlessly docks to the camera body. VariCam 35 will begin shipping before the end of the year. Price on the head and dock recorder together will be around $60,000. No price has been announced on the optional RAW recorder but it will most likely come in over $10,000. That means your total price on a 4K RAW VariCam will be in the neighborhood of $70,000. Post by Eric C. Petrie

VariCam35 w/ RAW recorder

VariCam35 w/ RAW recorder side.jpg


Blackmagic Releases Their Take on Studio Cameras

Blackmagic always has a very interesting and unique take on industry standard technology. They already make most of the equipment you would need to assemble a small studio, now they’ve got the cameras too. The Blackmagic Studio Cameras are unlike anything you’ve ever seen. The camera is available in two flavors, 1080p and 4K. They have a 10” LCD screen on the backside, the same one found on the URSA. At it’s thickest point it is 4.5” thick, at it’s slimmest it’s about 1.75” thin. It’s just barely big enough to put on the necessary ports and a lens mount. The body has a remote port, headset & mic ports, 2 XLR audio in, optical fiber, SDI out and in, reference, and finally 4-pin 12v power. The lens mount is Micro Four Thirds. The sensor is an interesting similar 12.6x7mm (16mm film?) to that of the Pocket. So it’s smaller then a true Micro Four Thirds but it’s bigger then a 2/3” broadcast sensor. It’s about 1” diagonal. The 1080p model is only $1995 and the 4K model is $2995. The 1080p is shipping in less then 2 weeks and the 4K is shipping in about 8 weeks.

At first glance these seem like miraculous achievements and a perfect fit for any small studio, school, church, government, or community system. There is one big glaring issue that jumps out at me. Almost by definition a studio camera must have a very smooth fluid powered zoom lens. It would be incredibly difficult to run a studio camera with out the ability to smoothly zoom in and out from the handles of the tripod. The same is true of focus. Not being able to control the focus from a servo focus control would be very challenging. The nature of this cameras Micro Four Thirds mounts means that it’s most natively designed to take still photo lenses which have absolutely no such servo control. There are a few exceptions, photo lenses that have small built in servos. But the servo mechanism is a very poor excuse when compared to a real servo lens. So what are you to do? Adapting Micro Four Thirds to a B4 lens is possible with an adapter that is about $1,500. It’s expensive because there is a lot of optical correction that has to take place. You also lose light using the adapters. Then you have to rig external power for the lens because the powered servo zoom motors won’t be taking the power off the camera like a traditional studio camera. So there’s another $1,000 in a power solution for the servo lens. Now what about the lens itself? You’re not going to get into a powered zoom lens for less then $5000, average price is probably going to be closer to $10,000. So now you’ve taken your $2k BMD 1080p camera and added at least $8,000 of gear to the front of it in order to get proper zoom, focus, iris control, like someone would expect from a studio camera. Post by Eric C. Petrie.

Camera sides

AccessoriesViewfinder screen

Sony Shows New PXW-X180 XAVC Camcorder

Sony is starting to make it apparent that XAVC is their do-it-all format of the future. They’re slowly introducing XAVC hardware on all levels. Today they revealed a new XAVC camera, the PXW-X180. So what the heck is it and what does it do? It’s a hand held ENG-style camcorder in a very similar body as the PXW-Z100 or, going back further, the NX5. It features 3x 1/3” 1080p CMOS sensors and a 25x zoom lens. The big feature of the camera is it’s format versatility. It’s primary format is XAVC, 10-bit, 100mbps, 4:2:2. But it can also record XDCam, 8-bit, 50mbps, 4:2:2. Or it can record AVCHD, 8-bit, 35mbps, 4:2:0. It records all of these formats to SxS memory cards.

Another new and unique feature of the camera is it’s Sony’s first broadcast camera to feature an internal variable neutral density filter. This give it the ability to have the N/D adjusted in smooth continues levels from 1/4 to 1/128, instead of the traditional 3 setting N/D wheel. It also features Wi-Fi control, which is becoming more and more common these days. The camera will be available late summer for about $6,000. Post by Eric C. Petrie

DD1 3Q noMike 1200

AJA Debuts Their First Camera: CION Digital Cinema Camera

In a somewhat surprising, but not entirely unexpected move, AJA has revealed their entry into the world of 4K digital cinema cameras. They call it the CION. According the AJA the built the camera with a few goals in mind. Foremost, they wanted to design a camera that actually was a camera, not a unusable box. As you can see the camera has a very traditional camera design that could almost pass for an Arri Alexa or Sony F55 or Phantom Flex. This means you can actually take it out of the box, throw it on your shoulder, and start shooting. Another of AJAs goals was robust data capture. As you would expect from an AJA product the whole back end of the camera is based around ProRes.

What exactly can CION do? It has an 4K APS-C (near Super35mm size) CMOS sensor that features a global shutter. That means no rolling shutter or skewing effect. They utilize several filters in front of the sensor to virtually eliminate moire. All internal recoding is done using ProRes. In 4K or 1080p it can record 30p at 4:4:4 12-bit. In 4K that’s around 1200mbps. Or, if you need higher frame rates, it can record 4K or 1080p 60p at 4:2:2 10-bit. It’s interesting that changing your resolution doesn’t seem to have a bearing on limitations of frame rates or color sampling. It also features RAW output up to 120 frames per second. But that means you need an external recorder that is compatible with RAW 120fps. Hello Convergent Design? Of course using an external recorder sorta defeats one of the reasons for buying this camera, to have a clean, well designed, all-in-one camera system.

The camera will obviously be compared to the Blackmagic Design Production 4K camera that has similar specs but also features internal RAW recording. This will be one of those cases where it might come down to the small details. For example, the AJA can play back clips, delete clips, and reformat media in camera. That gives it a leg up on the Blackmagic. If the AJA allows you to retain all settings after a power cycle thats another leg up on the BMD. But the Blackmagic will always be cheaper. AJA CION ships this summer for around $8,995 Post by Eric C. Petrie


What is Panasonic’s AVC-Ultra

Panasonic has always been a leader in video formats and codecs. They were on the fore front of the DV native to edit revolution. They were the first to offer 4:2:2 50 and 100mbps versions of DV, called DVCPro. They introduced their next-generation format AVC-Ultra back in 2007, years ahead of Sony’s next-gen format, and even a little ahead of Apple and ProRes. AVC-Ultra has evolved a lot over the years. The most critical part of AVC-Ultra is that nearly all variations are at least 10-bit 4:2:2.

First, you have AVC-Intra. These are Intra-Frame formats, recording every single frame of video in full quality. These run at 50mbps, 100mbps, and 200mbps. The 200mbps variation is 4:4:4 12 bit. Next you have AVC-LongGOP. Still maintaining 10-bit 4:2:2 this LongGOP format runs at 25mbps, 36mbps, or 50mbps. As of this writing Panasonic has also announced AVC-4K. At this point specs are a little vague on what exactly that will look like. We know it will be at least 4:2:2 10b-bit. But it could also be 4:4:4 12-bit. At 4K resolution 4:2:2 10 bit would run about 400mbps in AVC-Intra. At 4K resolution 4:4:4 12-bit would be a whopping 800mbps in AVC-Intra. Post by Eric C. Petrie

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