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Capturing Vision

Jan 1, 2005 12:00 PM, By D. W. Leitner

Highlights 2004: A Shooter's Notebook

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Every once in a while, it's useful to stop and take a look at the gear that comes our way each year. One reason: The constant churn of “new and improved” technology yields important innovations that can help our business.

So here's one take on some of the most interesting new gear to turn up over the past year.


If film is dead, someone should tell that to Arri, which keeps introducing brilliant, stylish new 35mm camera designs. In July, Arri introduced the Arriflex 235, an ultra compact modular MOS (“Mit Out Sound,” as the old DP joke goes) camera. With its new single-pin pulldown and 200ft. magazine, the camera borrows lessons in downsizing and ergonomics from Aaton but also accommodates existing 200ft. and 400ft. magazines from larger Arriflex 435s and 35-3s. All the latest options are here: Super 35mm, 3-perf pulldown, anamorphic viewfinding, frame rates up to 60fps, and an independent video tap.

In October, digital camera pioneer Dalsa announced the January 2005 opening of its Dalsa Digital Cinema Center in Woodland Hills, a Los Angeles suburb that is not-so-coincidentally also the home of Panavision, whose rental-only model Dalsa intends to imitate. Absorbing the assets of HD rental house Broadcast Plus in the bargain, Dalsa plans to jump-start the rental market for PL-mount digital cinema cameras with its breakthrough 4K Dalsa Origin, which features a single 8.2-megapixel (4046×2048) frame transfer CCD — 2:1 aspect ratio, slightly larger than 35mm — with a rotating mirror shutter and optical viewfinder. Current frame rates are 1fps to 36fps with future rates of 48fps to 60fps claimed.

Sony has taken an historic first step in giving the masses the means of low-cost HD production with the introduction of pro HVR-Z1 HD and prosumer HDR-FX1 camcorders. Both leverage the advantages of proven MiniDV technology and efficient MPEG-2 interframe compression. The resulting HDV format will not only democratize HD acquisition but also point the way to the use of other asymmetrical high-compression codecs for original recording. In the case of the HVR-Z1 in particular, the question that will occur to many is, If the cost including lens is 20 times less than a CineAlta F900 with lens, what were the tradeoffs? The answer to this question will determine the degree of acceptance of these new camcorders among pro users.

With the plethora of camcorders now available, improving the electronics is one area to differentiate your product. Panasonic does this with its AJ-SDC615 DVCPRO camcorder. It delivers significantly improved signal processing, which could help in this hotly contested price range. By moving to a 12-bit A/D DSP (digital signal-processing) chipset, Panasonic says that the camcorder delivers greatly improved picture quality, color reproduction, and luminance gradation, aided by three 2/3in. CCDs, the same 16:9 imagers that are in the popular AJ-SDX900.

Last June Dalsa's neighbor Panavision unwrapped a prototype of a joint Panavision/Sony PL-mount digital cinema camera called Genesis. Featuring a single 12.4-megapixel CCD, similar in size to Dalsa's, and reportedly based on Sony's CCD technology, Genesis is said to capture from 1fps to 50fps. First reports indicate remarkable image quality.

Anyone attending last September's IBC who saw the test screenings from Arri's single-chip, PL mount D-20 “film-style digital camera for TV applications” came away with the impression that Arri was closing in on the goal of creating a commercially viable digital cinema camera. Essentially a converted Arriflex 435, the D-20 contains a custom-designed 6-megapixel, 35mm-sized CMOS from Belgium's FillFactory, with rotating mirror shutter and optical viewfinder. Arri is presently field testing preproduction units. Final delivery hasn't yet been announced.

Kinetta is nearing assembly of the first 10 prototypes of its single-chip, PL-mount digital cinema cameras. Designed for documentary and low-budget filmmaking, these await the delivery of AltaSens' 2/3in., 2.2-megapixel (1920×1080) “system-on-a-chip” CMOS sensors. (JVC's 3-chip HDV camcorder and a 3-chip Ikegami box camera are delayed for the same reason.) Unique to Kinetta are a color OLED viewfinder and a film-style quick-change “magazine” housing 12 1.8in., 40GB ATA drives (that's what Apple uses in its iPod). Configured as a RAID 3 setup, the cameras will deliver 110 minutes of RAW uncompressed 10-bit log recording at 24fps. What's more, inventor Jeff Kreines promises a hand crank for fully variable speed up to 60fps.

Ikegami introduced its first Editcam in 1996. It was a breakthrough product. The camcorder recorded SD on removable hard drives, and in partnership with Avid, the drives could directly connect to that company's NLE systems. At NAB 2005, the company takes its innovative design to a new level, as it introduces an HD version that employs Avid's breakthrough 10-bit DN×HD codec. With the codec's lossless 2:1 compression, Ikegami looks to be a contender. “Unlike some of the other [HD] designs, the CMOS chip and DN×HD together will allow us to record a full 1920 raster,” says Alan Keil, vice president and director of engineering at Ikegami.


Canon sees interactivity as the way to solve a problem that shooters face: too much info in the wrong place. Instead of thumbing through a 50-page manual in the field, an LCD readout on the zoom lens might just be a good way to deliver the info. Voilá. Here is the debut of Canon's EDD (Enhanced Digital Drive) lens family. “In some cases, people were not using the camera's features at all [before the EDD lenses released],” says Gordon Tubbs, assistant director, Canon U.S.A.'s Broadcast and Communications. “We thought that if we could make the setting and the checking of the memory that's in the lenses' digital drive more visual, we could make it simpler for the operator, while adding more functions since it's visual.” The LCD's GUI offers a point-and-click way through the menus, but that can be turned off for run-and-gun shooters.

When Panavision debuted its 300x HD Zoom at NAB 2004, some expressed surprise. The film world's iconic camera manufacturer had not only created a telephoto lens that delivered results beyond any HD lens out there, but it would also be the company's first product to be sold outright. Where? To new markets including homeland security, sports, and news broadcasting. According to the company, the lens has a unique design that allows it to zoom continuously from a very wide field of view at the short (7mm) focal length to 2,100mm.

Feeling nostalgic for that classic retrofocus 5.9mm T1.9 Angenieux? Band Pro has announced a new Carl Zeiss 3.9mm T1.9 DigiPrime, to be introduced at NAB in April. If existing DigiPrimes are any indication, color fringing will be imperceptible. But how about that barrel distortion the Angenieux is famous for? Whatever the case will be, this is one anxiously awaited lens, especially since it delivers an astonishing 100-degree view angle.

Fujinon extends the coverage of its HD prime lenses to nine with the introduction of the HAeF10, a T1.5 10mm lens that fills the gap between its existing HAeF8mm and HAeF12mm. It has the focus pullers' required 280 degrees of focus rotation and features large, bright markings for zoom, focus, and iris and cine-compatible gearing like the others in the series. The gearing allows the lens to work with existing cine controls and matte boxes.

Canon's FJ series of HD-EC lenses fills out to include a 55mm prime, the sixth lens in the series. The FJs55 lens sports a fast T1.6 aperture and an enhanced focus rotation angle of 280 degrees (up from 180 degrees). One unique product: Canon's ACV-235 Anamorphic Converter, which sits between a prime or zoom lens and the camera. Canon says shooters can now record CinemaScope size (aspect ratio 2.35:1) images with an HD camera.

Lights, Accessories

The perfect compact lighting instrument would be bright, directional yet soft, flickerless, fully dimmable, 5600K (my taste), lightweight, low in power consumption with self-contained power. I've just described LitePanels' LED LitePanel. Its snap-on battery fits in one hand like a big chalkboard eraser. I recently shot an interview subject in front of an eMac, and to simulate the eMac's screen brightness I parked a LED LitePanel on top of the eMac's shiny white case, slightly out of frame. I did this, plus dimmed the LitePanel, in less time than it took to type this sentence.

In the rapid evolution of professional camcorders — megapixel 16:9 IT chips free of vertical smear; extended DSP bit depths; codecs for DV, MPEG-2, and HD; disc and flash memory storage — one area conspicuously left behind is electronic color viewfinders. Scotland's Accuscene intends to change that. Since debuting a prototype color Accuscene HD viewfinder on a Panavised Sony F900 at NAB 2002, Accuscene has further refined its 1280×720 LCoS design. With December's announcement that Burbank, Calif.-based Band Pro will join as sales partner, Accuscene's color viewfinder is poised to become a common tool in HDCAM production.

Kodak's two venerable daylight-balanced color negatives, 5245/7245 (EXR, 50 E.I.) and 5246/7246 (Vision, 250 E.I.) were joined last November by a new stock, Vision2 5205/7205 (250 E.I.). Positive buzz by cinematographers, (Alan Davieu, left, conducts a 5205 comparison test) similar to what greeted Vision2 sibling 5218/7218 (500 E.I.), bears out Kodak's claims of relaxed contrast and improved shadow neutrality for the new daylight-balanced negative.

New tripods for DV always catch our eye. The DV camera support market is still nascent, but Davis & Sanford Tripods ProVista Airlift Tripod has nice specs. With a 10lb. weight limit, the top-leg section still uses double-strut construction for stability. The centerpost floats via hydraulics, which makes for quick and easy height adjustments, and the quick release leg locks are handy.

The latest on-camera lights offer more lumens than ever, but controlling that output isn't always easy. Anton/Bauer addresses that with its UltraLight (UL) Dimmer, which allows a 0 to 100 percent adjustment of the company's UltraLight series of camera lights. Since the dimmer employs a microprocessor-controlled PWM (pulse-width modulation) circuit, it can actually minimize power loss when put to work, rather than dumping it out as heat.

While small DV camcorders are ideal for run-and-gun work, the camcorder's small size often works against getting a stable shot or pan. DV Caddie came up with a simple, inexpensive solution; one that won't add much weight to your kit. The Caddie Shoulder Rest helps to stabilize a small, lightweight camcorder by bracing against your torso. The device comes with two support pieces — a long one for over the shoulder and a short piece that can be used against the chest or as a handle.

With the the first delivery of Fuji Photo Film's Eterna500 this quarter, one thing is clear — stock companies continue to compete, which of course benefits shooters. The new Fuji stock, while rated as E.I. 500, delivers granularity similar to current E.I. 250-rated films, according to Mark Murphy, vice president of Fujifilm's Motion Picture Products Division. Murphy credits “Super Nano-structured Σ Grain Technology” and other newly developed chemistry for the stock's capabilities.

Dan Ochiva contributed to this story.

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