The HD Odyssey: HD Camera Buyers’ Guide, Part I

By Carolyn Braff
When transitioning a

college athletic department’s
video operations from standard-definition to high-definition, choosing a camera may not be the first thing a director does, but it can be the most important. After all, the camera — and its accompanying lens — is the medium through which the high-definition signal must travel. No matter the quality of the rest of the equipment, if the image is lost in a low-quality camera, so is the effort.
To assist in this process, SVG-U has polled representatives from seven major camera manufacturers to find out what questions every video coordinator should ask before jumping into the world of HD, and has compiled some of their product suggestions as well. This week’s edition provides information from Thomson, Ikegami, and Panasonic. Check back next week for Part II, featuring Canon, Fujinon, JVC, and Sony and some questions related to lenses and archiving.
What Am I Looking To Accomplish?
When shopping for HD cameras, a few universal questions should be added to any checklist. The first step is to establish a goal that the acquisition will help accomplish.
“The camera is one part of a system to accomplish a goal,” explains Michael Bergeron, chief technologist for Panasonic. “Mission one is to find something that will either integrate into the current operation or preferably enable improvements to that operation.”
With a goal in mind, it becomes much easier to choose equipment, especially with budget restrictions doing their part to narrow the multitude of options.
How Flexible Does This Camera Need To Be?
The next question to ask is, how many roles does one camera need to fill?
“Schools are probably not going to be able to invest in a complete studio system, a field production unit, and also portable camcorders,” explains Mark Chiolis, senior marketing manager of strategic marketing & business development for Thomson Grass Valley. “Going by what is going to be the biggest bang for my school buck, get a camera that can go from the studio, to multi-camera production in the field, to a camcorder to [one-on-one interviews] separately during the live events. The overall question to ask is, for all of these different events, how flexible is the camera that I’m looking at?”
For most athletic departments, the transition to HD will be a gradual one. So, until the transition is completed, ensuring that the new high-definition camera is SD/HD-switchable will enable it to fit into the existing SD infrastructure.
“None of the software for coaching analysis is HD-ready yet,” explains Domenic Cicchetti, education business development manager for Panasonic. “You want an HD camera that can shoot at 720p, 1080i, or 480p/60. When the software’s ready, when your server systems are up to size and speed, you can then switch the camera, and you’ve already made the investment that will bring you to the future.”
How Will This Camera Fit Into My Workflow?
Workflow is perhaps the most important concept to solidify before selecting a camera.
“You must take into consideration the workflow,” urges Craig Yanagi, national product manager of creation products for JVC. “After you capture the image, you need to process the image. If you can’t process the image, it isn’t going anywhere. It sounds simple, but there are a lot of systems out there, and you have to be careful of what you’re buying. Once you buy into a workflow system, you’re going to be working within the parameters of that system for a long time.”
Says Chiolis, “Especially if they’re going to do editing, they need to ask, what are the other components that this camera will connect to? How does it connect into switchers, graphics, servers, editors? What is the workflow that the entire system is going to generate?”
He warns that conversion costs can double the price of a camera. If the athletic department has already invested in an HD-SDI switcher, for example, and the newly purchased HD camera does not have an HD-SDI output, a conversion product can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $6,000.
“It’s something to take a look at before you start spending money on cameras,” Chiolis says, “If you’re in a three- or four-camera system, that may be up to $25,000 in additional charges if you don’t know exactly how you’re going to use the system or don’t think that through in advance.”
For manufacturer suggestions on affordable HD cameras, click here.