Cameras Leverage Quality, Mobility, Connectivity

Canon XF100 camcorder

Government video production imposes a fairly unique compromise between cost and quality. Lacking the cash reserves of broadcasters and large corporations, government video operations are required to navigate through the sea of available production equipment with an eye on what will be most cost-effective, while still meeting the high standards of quality imposed on them.

Increasingly, digital media has become the friend of budget-minded government production teams. Fueled in part by the increase of online video publishing, the camera industry has responded to demand by producing a multitude of affordable, high-quality video solutions.

As it turns out, many of these models have proven ideal for government operators in terms of quality and pricing.

MOST POPULAR MODELS

Chuck Westfall, technical advisor for professional imaging products at Canon, noted a few of the most popular models for government use in the United States.

“The XF105 and XF100 mid-range professional models in our HD camcorder lineup are tremendously popular,” he said. “The high image quality is supported by a broadcast-ready XF codec. The XF105 and XF100 are both compact in size and weigh less than three pounds with battery. They have easy operation and can be used by professional cameramen and reporters.”

Westfall said that, based on his interactions with government operations, Canon’s cameras were mainly used for court operations, gathering forensic evidence, police interrogations, government lectures and training videos and public affairs events.

The X105 is an excellent example of the industry tooling its models for budget-conscious producers. Sharing capabilities with Canon’s pricier 300 series of camcorders, the XF105 uses the company’s XF codec to provide file-based MPEG-2 compression with an MXF file wrapper for 50 Mbps MPEG-2 recordings. Canon’s XF codec is supported by the industry’s most popular editing software systems, including Adobe, Apple, Avid and Grass Valley. The XF105 even provides infrared and stereoscopic 3-D production capabilities.

Finally, the XF105 supports Compact Flash recording, using Canon proprietary memory cards (the XF105 has two card slots) for swift transfer of recording to nonlinear editing systems.

Blackmagic Design has come on strong with cameras in the past few years, getting noticed as much for their high-quality images as for the cameras’ low cost. Users throughout the government and educational markets took notice and Blackmagic’s cameras are letting these users get a cinematic image quality that was previously not available on a government budget.

Blackmagic Design Production Camera 4K

One such Blackmagic customer is the University of Portland.

“In taking the multimedia work in-house, we had to maintain a professional look,” said Jeff Kennel, a videographer, photojournalist and head of the multimedia team at University of Portland. “Regardless of whether it’s a YouTube video or a TV commercial, it’s going to represent the university, and we had to uphold the quality of the brand.”

“No matter what, people are going to associate the university with the quality of the product we put out,” Kennel said. “I felt digital single-lens reflex cameras had some shortcomings and I wanted something more cinematic with more dynamic range and sharpness while being mindful of our budget.”

At the top of the Blackmagic lineup is the Production Camera 4K, a 4K digital cinema camera with a Super 35 sensor, EF lens mount, global shutter, 12-stops of dynamic range and ProRes and RAW recording for less than $3,000. Capable of both cinema and live production, the Production Camera 4K puts Ultra HD production at a government-friendly price, while still supporting HD workflows for those who aren’t quite ready to take the step into Ultra HD production.

Bob Caniglia, senior regional manager at Blackmagic Design, said that government entities such as public access channels and schools are seriously considering the Production Camera 4K to stay future-proof. Blackmagic Design even provides a live production link with its affordable Atem Production 4K switcher.

“Many government entities have budgets to be conscious of, but that doesn’t mean they have to sacrifice professional features and high-quality video production,” Caniglia said. “Regular video cameras shoot limited dynamic range, which is why the resulting footage has a ‘video’ look to it. But cameras with a much wider dynamic range provide a film look with great depth of field. It’s this film look…at an affordable cost that can really elevate the work of government video professionals.”

PUBLIC ACCESS TELEVISION

Affordable, high-quality video equipment is making it in public access television as well. Smaller communities are finding it possible to maintain a television presence, bringing educational, civic and enrichment programming to their audiences, while maintaining a modest production budget. Government Video talked with a spokesman for JVC about one such project―Civic Center TV 15 in West Bloomfield, Mich.―and the equipment it prefers.

Civic Center TV 15 is a community channel operated through a commission that hires a contractor (Motown Digital) to run the facility, and they have been using two JVC GY-HM650 camcorders since early 2013. In fact, they like them so much that the general manager (and owner of Motown Digital), just purchased two GY-HM600s for his company, according to JVC.

JVC GY-HM890 camcorder

The GY-HM650 is billed by JVC as a “mobile news camera” and does, in fact, have several features specifically for in-the-field news gathering. It’s small, lightweight and has built in FTP and WiFi capability to quickly send recordings back to a studio. Its size can be deceiving, however, and the GY-HM650 is packed with features.

One of the GY-HM650’s more interesting capabilities is that it can simultaneously record and provide a live-streaming signal at a different bit rate than the recording. Alternately, its dual memory cards allow for both HD and SD recording simultaneously.

The GY-HM650 uses standard SDXC/SDHC memory cards and, at the top end, allows for HD MPEG-2 (35/25/19 Mbps) and AVCHD 1920x1080 60i recordings. The GY-HM650 also has HD-SDI and HDMI outputs, for connection to both professional video gear and consumer-grade displays. Additionally, the unit has a built-in GPS and a Web interface for remote viewing of the camera’s images and wireless remote control from a smartphone, tablet or PC.

JVC intends to expand its 600 product line with the release of its new 800 series cameras. The GY-HM890 is the first to hit the market, and JVC says that the unit will further develop the live HD streaming capabilities of the current GY-HM650 model.

WIRELESS MOBILITY

Panasonic AJ-PX270 P2 camcorder

Panasonic recently announced delivery of its new AJ-PX270, the company’s first P2 HD handheld camcorder with AVC-Ultra recording. The five-pound PX270 uses 3G/4G/LTE wireless mobility for communications. It also features three newly developed 1/3-inch high-sensitivity and low-noise MOS imagers for clean video.

Using the AVC-Ultra codec, the PX270 records in 100 Mbps AVC-Intra100 and 200 Mbps AVC-Intra200.

“The PX270’s scalable, flexible AVC-Ultra codec encompasses recording 10-bit 4:2:2 HD at 25 Mbps, a dramatic achievement meaning that broadcast-quality HD can be transported over fast broadband networks at high speed,” said Steven Cooperman, senior product manager at Panasonic. “Users can record long-format material to a single- or dual-microP2 card.”

Sony has begun to enter the wireless arena as well with its HXR-NX3/VG1 camera, which began shipping in January. Unlike the PX270, the HXR-NX3 only communicates over WiFi/near-field communication. This precludes the possibility of directly live streaming Web broadcasts, as files must be transferred to a nearby smartphone or tablet computer before being uploaded to the Internet for viewing. Billed as a camera ideal for Web journalists, the HXR-NX3 has a “light MP4” recording mode, producing 720p at 3 Mbps to aid in creating small file sizes for transmission.

The HXR-NX3 also offers professional features for regular recording, such as a 1920x1080 HD from three Sony Exmor 1/2.8-inch CMOS sensors. Additionally, it uses digital processing that Sony calls Clear Image Zoom to double the camera’s zoom range from 20x (optical) to 40x. The HXR-NX3 records in AVCHD 2.0 and DV formats.

For those who feared that the only legacy of the Internet regarding video production would be adorable cat videos, there can now be a collective sigh of relief. Technology continues to drive the quality of production equipment up—and the costs down.

For government video operators, that means better access to equipment and more services for the communities they serve. Beyond that, it means a higher quality of production as well, with cleaner video and better sound.

If current camera industry trends are any indication, aside from higher quality we can expect more networking capabilities. On the communications side, the newest cameras are taking advantage of mobile 3G/4G/LTE networks to make connectivity easier faster and affordable to government budgets. The days of needing a truck and a microwave transmitter to do remote feeds are no more.

Likewise, on the publishing side, cameras are being built with production-to-Web workflows in mind. Public access channels like Civic Center TV 15 already post their most popular segments on YouTube. Perhaps the cat videos were just a necessary step in our online evolution.

 

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