St. John’s Athletics Finds Economic HD Workflow with Canon Camcorders
St. John’s University currently produces HD coverage for its athletics home games with HD camcorders from Canon U.S.A. The St. John’s Television Network (STJ-TV) uses Canon XF305 and XF105 professional tapeless HD camcorders to produce sports coverage not only for its official athletics website (www.redstormsports.com), but also for national and regional cable networks, and for Internet and mobile platforms.
“This has been great for our fan base and marketing efforts for all of our sports,” says Mark Fratto, Senior Associate Director of Athletics for Communications at St. John’s University. Fratto explained that St. John’s had been using Canon SD (standard definition) camcorders for several years to produce sports content for its Athletic Department’s website. “We’re elevating our coverage to the next level and producing high-quality live-action HD sports not only for our own website but for much larger commercial distribution outlets as well.”
The University, with its central campus located in the New York City borough of Queens, has 17 varsity athletic programs known collectively as the St. John’s Red Storm. They include: basketball, soccer, tennis, golf, and fencing; men’s baseball and lacrosse; women’s softball and volleyball; and indoor and outdoor track & field and cross-country. Campus sports venues include the famed Carnesecca Arena and Taffner Field House, the Belson and Jack Kaiser Stadiums, and Da Silva Field.
“In modeling the St. John’s Television Network we looked at professional teams that set the standard,” Fratto notes. “Those teams use a lot of Canon products, which is a brand known for its high-quality optics. You can get great results for the cost and the size of Canon cameras and lenses, so it was an obvious decision for us.”
St. John’s selected high-performance HD video camcorders that are rugged enough to handle coverage of more than 100 different sporting competitions per year, but also intuitively designed to accommodate a production crew that includes both student and professional camera operators.
“I researched HD camcorder models made by different manufacturers, talked to the people using them, and found that Canon’s XF305 and XF105 were both great choices,” adds Sean McCluskey, St. John’s Director of Multimedia Services. “The XF305 and XF105 cameras are not heavy or cumbersome. They’re small, but not too small. They also have HD lenses, and that’s something other brands of HD camcorders with built-in lenses don’t have. Then there is the fact that the XF305 and XF105 have HD-SDI output, genlock input, and SMPTE time code in/out, which are very handy, since we’re doing not only live game coverage but also studio productions such as The Red Storm Report for a regional cable network.”
In addition to its five Canon HD camcorders (four Canon XF305’s and one XF105), the St. John’s Television Network’s affordable HD production system also includes a NewTek TriCaster 850 Extreme production system, a NewTek 3Play 820 slow-motion replay system, and two Windows-based graphics computers.
“We assembled the right mix of easy-to-use, relatively low-cost HD technologies, integrated them into a mobile flypack, and use them with our Canon HD camcorders to do four- and five-camera productions,” Fratto notes. “Everything is completely portable, and all of our venues are within walking distance here on campus. We essentially took every aspect of large HD-truck productions and shrunk them, including the cameras.”
Compact and Sturdy HD
Designed for professional use, Canon’s XF305 and XF105 HD camcorders are multi-purpose video cameras that can feed live HD to a production switcher via their HD-SDI outputs (as in the case of the St. John’s Television Network) or record directly to Compact Flash (CF) cards. Both cameras are equipped with native Canon 1920 x 1080 HD CMOS image sensors for exceptional picture quality, the Canon XF Codec for precision HD capture and recording, and Canon’s proprietary Canon DIGIC DV III Image Processor for accurate color and detail. The three-CMOS XF305 features a Genuine Canon 18x HD L-series zoom lens. The single-CMOS XF105 comes equipped with a Genuine Canon 10x HD L-series lens. Both models feature Canon’s SuperRange Optical Image Stabilizer (IS) system with Dynamic and Powered IS modes for optimal performance in a wide variety of situations. The XF305 and XF105 also offer extensive Custom Picture Settings that users can save to an SD memory card for easy matching of multiple XF305 and XF105 cameras.
“The XF305 and XF105 HD camcorders allow us to set our own specific color profile and ‘paint’ the camera for HD,” McCluskey says. “We can save those profiles to an SD card and load them into all of our Canon HD camcorders, which is very convenient.”
McCluskey noted that the St. John’s Television Network relies on the XF105 for studio interviews and press conferences and on the XF305 for live sports coverage. “The XF305 is smaller than traditional HD field cameras for sports, so it gives you more functionality,” he says. “You can hold them up high if you need to shoot down inside a huddle, or you can get down very low if you want to capture a ‘gopher’ shot. Some are on tripods and others are hand-held. Most important, the networks like the HD quality we are able to create with them.”
Creating New Platforms
As a Big East member, all of St. John’s conference basketball games are covered by national cable network video-production crews. The additional live HD game coverage that the St. John’s Television Network shoots with Canon HD camcorders and delivers to that network (and to other cable and online outlets) has the potential to revolutionize college sports television, Fratto believes.
“We are using this HD production model to shoot, transmit, and distribute those men’s basketball games that are not selected for air by the broadcast network,” he explains. “We are also able to create a platform for women’s basketball, men’s and women’s soccer, volleyball, fencing, softball, and baseball. None of those games would ever make it to air in broadcast quality if they had to be produced using expensive, traditional HD equipment. With our Canon HD camcorders and other affordable equipment, however, we are able to put these productions together ourselves and reach much wider audiences. There is also revenue involved, with broadcast sponsorships, billboards, replays and other opportunities. We believe we have developed a model that every college and university could use.”
“We have a video production operation that benefits our entire University,” Fratto says. “The St. John’s Television Network gives undergraduate students a chance to learn and contribute by experiencing hands-on HD sports production. We think that at least in terms of regional sports, this model – as demonstrated by what the St. John’s Television Network is doing with Canon HD camcorders and the other equipment – will be unbeatable in terms of the quality versus the cost.”