A deep dive into how cameras have evolved drastically to encompass greater capabilities


Our TV watching habits have changed considerably in the past few decades. But if we look back in time, we can see how broadcasting technology has been changing continuously since the first television programs were telecasted for the first TV sets, and how broadcasters have innovated to keep us entertained. Productions or broadcasts, irrespective of whether they take place remotely or locally, begin with a common starting point—the camera. They are the arguably the eyes of the workflow.
Cameras have evolved too. If we look at the history of cameras, it took a lot of light to make an image that wasn’t that good. However, once the basic circuit was made, people used it as a foundation to make better cameras. In the late 1940s, the image orthicon was invented, and that was when TV as we know it today really got its start. The monumental move from black and white to colour marked the beginning of an era, and there has been no looking back since.
In live production environments, cameras give production teams the flexibility to work in varied ways, whether with remote or at-home production, or a more traditional mobile production approach, be that over traditional SDI, 12G SDI or over IP. Most media houses opt for fully glass-to-glass solutions, the ability for vendors to offer customers integrated workflows is of the utmost importance, and this starts with the best cameras.

Where today’s broadcasters and production companies are being asked to provide services across multiple platforms, delivering strong stories and arresting images is more important than ever to keep audiences captivated. “We are seeing a growing demand for 4K/UHD and HDR cameras and lenses, but this differs from region to region, and from customer to customer, depending on their budgets and requirements. While consumer take up of 4K television sets is rising, the majority of viewers worldwide are watching their content on HD sets – so we still have many customers asking for HD camera systems,” said Greg de Bressac, VP, Sales – APAC, Grass Valley.

In some regions, next-generation production formats combine resolution, dynamic range and colour gamut (e.g. 1080p with HDR and WCG). This doesn’t always require 4K cameras, though. Camera technology companies, today, serve a wide range of subjective requirements with solutions optimised to the particular scenario.

To meet today’s production’s needs, and therefore meet consumer appetite for more content, production teams need cameras that are flexible and agile; enter: IP-enabled cameras. These are specifically meant to offer to the user, more freedom by allowing remote operation. These cameras can be flexibly licensed for functionality on a temporary or permanent basis, so when you need to do an occasional UHD/HDR production, you need a license for that shoot only. For instance, the latest addition to Grass Valley’s camera portfolio is the LDX 100 camera, which has IP built into its DNA, to enable direct connection to the IP infrastructure—from any location; this is known as Native IP. “Most importantly, the camera doesn’t require a separate base station, making it extremely feasible in OB environments. As an example, in the case of an 18-camera truck, the set-up straight away saves 36 RU of rack space and the associated weight, which in turn, makes considerable difference when space is at a premium,” explained Bressac.

Blackmagic Design’s URSA Mini Pro 12K, a new digital film camera with an advanced 12,288 x 6,480 12K Super 35 image sensor, 14 stops of dynamic range, comes with a high frame rate shooting at up to 60 frames per second in 12K at 80 megapixels per frame. This new 3rd generation model supports new Blackmagic Generation 5 Color Science and higher Blackmagic RAW performance. URSA Mini Pro 12K’s extreme resolution goes well beyond traditional motion picture film. Customers get the benefits of shooting with film including incredible detail, wide dynamic range and rich, deep colour, making it ideal for feature ilms, episodic television and immersive, large format IMAX.

Another example, Sony’s latest camera, the HDC-P31, is a point of view (POV) system camera with remote functionality and 1080/60p HDR capability that complements the company’s versatile line-up of box and portable system camera options. As the demand to streamline media production workflows increases, the model’s remote menu setting and status monitoring minimise the time and personnel needed on-site during a production, since POV cameras are often mounted in inaccessible or hard-to-reach locations or used on a crane, rail or robotics system. The flexible and lightweight HDC-P31 is ideal for studio, faith and rental applications, and sports production. The new HD model incorporates a global shutter three 2/3-inch CMOS sensor system for enhanced optical performance that provides high sensitivity and low noise. In addition, the camera is designed to be used as an integral part of Sony’s popular HDC series ecosystem, creating quality images using the same workflow, but in a smaller POV form factor.

As 4K UHD continues to build momentum, the need for camera systems to incorporate higher resolutions and IP infrastructure is growing more than ever. “As a result, for broadcasters and production companies, embracing UHD HDR content delivery means that even the most basic equipment package is actually much less basic than a ew years ago,” said Bressac.

Camera equipment, today, has made it easier to cope with the dynamic market demands. Cameras come with flexible licensing models, which means that customers can easily source and hold licenses for when they need them, and then seamlessly deploy them on a temporary or a permanent basis to super slow motion, HDR, or all the way up to UHD. This modern way of licensing makes much easier for customers to only spend when they are going to get the returns on that investment.

With consumer patterns changing significantly, consumers also demand stunning high-quality images. Native 4K cameras are a significant milestone in helping broadcasters and content owners provide this highly sought-after footage to viewers. This makes it imperative for cameras to be able to output images for high resolution and image clarity.
“One other way that we are incorporating technology is around the use of functionality and tech that is really quite normal in other parts of our lives into broadcast camera operation. Using phones and tablets, for instance. Our new LDX 100 camera allows you to use a mobile phone application to manage your cameras, to distribute and install licenses through simply putting you phone close to the camera unit. We have new GPS technology in our LDX 100 that allows you to know where that camera is at any point in time, be that in a stadium or in another continent. And finally, our Creative Grading solution allows traditional camera ‘shaders’ to deliver amazing colour grading results across a whole fleet of cameras using commercial off the shelf tablets running iOS or Android,” elaborated Bressac.

The M&E industry is expecting a rise in 4K, UHD and HDR uptake, across sports and entertainment production. As broadcasters and content providers address consumer demand for captivating viewing experiences, camera equipment must deliver a lot, as stated above. This makes it important for broadcasters and production houses to keep abreast with latest happenings and upgrade their equipment periodically, in line with current trends—to reap the large number of benefits. To offer best in-class services, companies are increasingly investing in latest technologies like IP, 4K, HDR, UHD, in the race for content.

At the same time, however, cameras need to be part of solutions that are flexible and cost-competitive. With licensing models getting better, customers are expected to see value in aligning their spread with their incoming revenue.

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