UHD cameras: we have lift off

Red 8K Weapon at IBC2015
David Fox
November 17th 2015 at 11:55AM : By

A look back at some of 2015's top UHD cameras

With Ultra HD channels going live, buying UHD and 4K capable equipment is no longer a matter of mere future proofing. Fortunately, there is now a wide choice of cameras available, and it can even make financial sense to buy one if you only use it for HD. David Fox reports.

One of the cameras that got a lot of attention this year was Sony’s compact Super 35 handheld UHD camcorder, the PWX-FS5, a smaller, and less feature-full, brother to its best selling FS7.

Its body weighs just 0.8kg, light enough to consider for drone use, and it is well designed, with a very comfortable rotating hand grip, six custom buttons (three on the grip), and a really nice electronic variable ND filter (which retracts out of the way completely when not in use, to make the most of the sensor’s low light performance - ISO 3200 to 32,000). Its 3.5-inch LCD screen can be positioned on nine different mounting points on the body.

Sony FS5

Its main drawback is that it only goes up to 30p in UHD, however it can do eight second bursts at up to 240 frames per second in HD. It records internally (to SD cards) using XAVC Long-GoP 4:2:0, but can output 10-bit 4:2:2 to an external recorder. It can record S-Log2 and S-Log3, with up to 14 stops dynamic range. It runs at around €5,800 (body only) or €6,300 (with 18-105mm E-mount lens) inc VAT.

Blackmagic Design’s Ursa Mini camcorder started shipping at the end of the summer at €3,395 - €6,225 (£2,025 - £3,699). For broadcast users, the more expensive PL-mount Minis are the ones to get, as they can be fitted with a $295 B4 mount to take ENG lenses, complete with power and control from the camera. The mount includes optics, to give full sensor coverage, but “we don’t lose any light or have vignetting,” claims Bob Caniglia, a senior regional manager.

Blackmagic Design’s Ursa Mini also attracted the crowd. For broadcast users, the more expensive PL-mount version is the one to get

Thanks to upgrades since it was shown at NAB, the camera can also now do both SDI in and out as well as timecode and intercom, and can be controlled from Blackmagic’s Atem switcher like a studio camera. The 4.6K Mini offers 15 stops of dynamic range (compared to the 4K version’s 12), and also affords room for cropping/stabilisation for 4K or UHD production. There is also EF mount versions of both.

Little or no aliasing

Canon’s XC10 is one of the least expensive UHD camcorders (under £1,600 inc VAT), but may not be the ideal form factor for many as it tries to be a camcorder in a DSLR body. However, it does show how the extra resolution of UHD can make for an excellent HD camera, as an independent test against the EBU’s standards for HD content acquisition found that the 1-inch CMOS sensor and DIGIC DV5 image processor provides “little or no aliasing” and meets Tier 1 for HD production, making it suitable for use on even high-end productions.

JVC’s GY-LS300 handheld Super 35 4K camcorder received a version 2.0 update, and now includes: a film-look JVC Log mode; Cinema 4K/2K recording (4096x2160 and 2048x1080); Prime Zoom allowing zooming using prime lenses without losing resolution - offering 2.3x maximum zoom for HD or 1.25x zoom for 4K; and a histogram. It can also now trigger recordings via HDMI/SDI, has JVC LUT support for the Atomos Shogun recorder, and HD output via HDMI/SDI when doing 4K recording, for HD monitoring.

V2.0 also adds colour matrix adjustment, spot meter for exposure, and a black paint setting to precisely adjust the colour temperature of master black. A new 70Mbps recording mode allows 4K recording on economical Class 10 SDHC/SDXC cards. The GY-LS300 includes HD streaming with WiFi and 3G/4G for live HD transmission.

The 2/3-inch conundrum

Sport is where Ultra HD is taking off, and outside broadcasts require greater depth of field to keep everything in focus, which is why all the major manufacturers have been intent on releasing models with 2/3-inch sensors that take B4-mount lenses.

Hitachi was first last year with its SK-UHD4000 four-chip camera (two green sensors), and has now been followed by more traditional three-sensor cameras from Grass Valley (LDX 86 range), Sony (HDC-4300) and Ikegami (Unicam UHD). Panasonic has taken a single-sensor approach (B4 mount with convertor and slight light loss) for its AK-UB300 and AK-UC3000 box and studio cameras.


Grass Valley LDX 86 Universe


The HDC-4300 will also address one of the biggest sports requirements, live slo-mo replay, via a software update, to offer 2x (100 or 120fps shooting - it will also do up to 8x super-slow-mo in HD). The camera can also be used for high dynamic range shooting (it will get S-Log3 output in the update), something that the LDX 86 will also be able to offer via its new XF fibre transmission base station.

This will not only provide 15-stops of dynamic range but also one-wire UHD transmission (instead of 4x 3G-SDI), using Tico compression, “which is getting a lot of momentum because it is low latency and can be virtually lossless at 4:1,” says Mike Cronk, Grass Valley’s senior vice president of strategic marketing.


Small and mighty

Another problem that broadcasters need solving for UHD is miniature cameras capable of 50/60p.

Here Bradley Engineering has been working with AltaSens (JVC Kenwood’s sensor manufacturer), and is using its Super 35 4K sensor in the new fibre-based Bradley 4K PTZ (3840x2160 50p) remote camera, which was demonstrated in a small spider-cam type rig at IBC but can also be housed in Bradley’s usual remote heads.

The tiny IO Industries 4K SDI camera offers 50/60p in both UHD and 4K in a tiny package, and received several updates at IBC. It now supports Camera Corps and TV Skyline remote control panels, with full control of focus and iris for Canon EF lenses, as well as all the standard camera functions. The camera has a Super 35, global shutter CMOS sensor, outputting 4:2:2, 4:4:4 or Raw.

Another problem that broadcasters need solving for UHD is miniature cameras capable of 50/60p

Panasonic’s new AW-UE70 is claimed to be the industry’s first integrated UHD pan/tilt/zoom camera, but it only delivers 3840x2160 25p (via HDMI), although this might be OK for a commentary camera. It can stream UHD IP and record to microSD. It also delivers various HD formats including 1080 at 50p, 50i and 25p.

To a greater Xtend

For high-end production, the new Alexa SXT (Super Xtended Technology) adds electronics from Arri's Alexa 65 camera to the existing Alexa XT sensor for in-camera recording of ProRes 4K UHD (3840x2160) and ProRes 4K Cine (4096x2637).

It can do live colour grading, so no need for a separate LUT box, and can output to an on-set monitor as well as doing the final grading and dailies creation, “so the people in post will know what the intended look was,” says Stephan Schenk, Arri’s managing director. It also has SXR (Super Xtended Recording) with new 1TB or 2TB capture drives. “That gives you massive capabilities to shoot without stopping,” up to seven hours in ProRes.

Arri's Amira documentary camera got a free new software update (3.0) enabling ProRes 4444 XQ recording, plus MPEG-2 HD 4:2:2 to match the XDCAM workflow. It now also connects via Ethernet to a Sony box to be controlled by a standard Sony RCP-1500 for multicam capability. A new Amira Slot developed with Ambient for wireless audio has a two-minute battery to allow hot swapping the camera battery without interrupting the signal. There is also a paid update for the Alexa Mini now available, adding Arriraw and 4:3 capability.


Rolling in the deep

Canon’s new EOS C300 Mark II shoots 4K and UHD, and offers wider dynamic range (up to 15 stops). It uses a new Canon-designed Super 35mm CMOS sensor that has twice the readout speed (reducing rolling shutter effects), and a more advanced imaging engine with dual DIGIC DV5 processors. The extra dynamic range is courtesy of a new Canon Log2 codec that retains more highlight and shadow information. It also has the Wide DR setting from the C100 MkII, which requires less work in post.

Other new features include: improved auto focus; extended ND filters; an increased ISO range of up to 102,400 for low light use; and dual CFast 2.0 card slots. It has new XF-AVC recording codecs based on H.264 compression and MXF wrapping, with 10-bit 4:2:2 XF-AVC intra for 4K/UHD at 410, 225, 220, or 110Mbps, while HD and 2K can be recorded in 10-bit 4:4:4 at 210Mbps, or 12-bit at 225Mbps. It won’t shoot at more than 30p in 4K/UHD, although it can go up to 100/120p in 2K/HD.

Beyond UHD

With Japan’s NHK committed to test transmissions of 8K next year, and full coverage by the 2020 Olympics, anyone that wants to sell the broadcaster cameras must be able to offer 8K, so camera manufacturers are ramping up their development efforts. Canon announced at IBC in Amsterdam that it will commit to 8K - it just wouldn’t commit to any time scale for this, but it said it is working on an EF-mount Cinema EOS System 8K (8192x4320) camera, a professional 8K reference display, and a still-image SLR camera equipped with a CMOS sensor with about 120 million effective pixels. It is also working on 8K-to-4K down conversion and 4K cropping.

Ikegami, however, is already on its fourth generation 8K/Super Hi-Vision camera. The new SHL-810 is one tenth the size and weight (less than 9kg) of its first model from 2002. It uses a single 33-megapixel Super 35 CMOS sensor, achieving 4,000TVL horizontal and vertical resolution, and provides 8K, 4K and 2K output, all in native quality. It can be used in a fully 8K production environment or alongside UHD and/or HD cameras.

With Japan’s NHK committed to test transmissions of 8K next year, and full coverage by the 2020 Olympics, anyone that wants to sell it cameras must be able to offer 8K

It can use regular PL-mount lenses, while a System Expander enables the use of large viewfinders and full studio lenses, converting the portable camera into a full facility studio/OB camera. Output from camera head to the control unit is 40 gigabits per second via standard SMPTE hybrid fibre, allowing long-distance links for live broadcasting. The SHK-810 employs a dual-green colour filter to deliver SHV’s wider dynamic range.


Red alert

Red introduced its 8K Weapon this year, with its new lighter, stronger forged carbon fibre body, fitted with a 70-200mm Zeiss Compact Zoom, as this gives the most complete coverage of the Weapon’s 8K sensor. It uses the small new Weapon body (also available in magnesium and woven carbon fibre), but with a larger new sensor, and should ship by the end of the year.

Unlike the Dragon, which had its fan inlet at the front (which could cause noise on set), the Weapon has its fan inlet at the back, using the front to house two on-board microphones, so users always have a reference audio track.

Red has also been showing off its live monitoring of high dynamic range. Its HDR-2084 option uses the quad outputs of the Redcast module (developed for live broadcast use) to offer four different LUTs at once, and supports HDR monitors, such as Dolby.


Red 8K Weapon