Camera technology visualises every storytelling detail

Larger TV screens not only bring greater enjoyment, but also pushes camera technology to capture more colours and details in order to deliver enhanced viewing experience for today’s demanding audience.

Television, once the centrepiece in almost every living room, has evolved significantly over the past decades – from a little black box that only has black-and-white programming to today’s large and ultra-thin high-resolution screen that displays a palette of vivid colours.

It has also become “smarter” with the integration of the Internet, allowing viewers to bring media from the content streaming space onto their large screens.

The advancement of broadcast camera has similarly evolved to address content producers’ demands in capturing as much detail as possible, and meet the viewing habits of today’s audience. Viewers are looking for immersive viewing experience that calls for dynamic angles as well as sharper colours and contrast, alongside enhanced audio quality.

The Wandering Earth is a Chinese sci-fi film released in theatres early this year. Having grossed US$700 million at its worldwide box office, the film further made its way onto Netflix following the acquisition of rights by the subscription video-on-demand (SVoD) operator.

Directed by Frant Guo, The Wandering Earth follows a group of astronauts who are on a mission to find another solar system in which to settle.

Cinematographer Liu Yin highlights that the film discusses mankind’s place in the universe. Moreover, The Wandering Earth is also a disaster film. He elaborates: “When a movie contains both sci-fi and disaster elements, the director and I tend to make the characters the centre of the story, and use sci-fi elements and visual effects for background support.

“We want to focus on characters’ emotions and their relationships. We hope the audience not only enjoy the film visually, but also feel it emotionally, and relate the story to themselves.”

Liu captured the film using Alexa SRT and Alexa Mini from ARRI. Explaining his choice on ARRI cameras, he says: “Many scenes in The Wandering Earth required that the cameras performed well in colour and with lighting. ARRI cameras always produce great results. Alexa can still capture good images even in scenes with low light and low contrast.

“We used Alexa Mini mainly for the motion shots. Some of the sets had limited space, so Alexa Mini, being small and handy, was great for these tricky angles as well.”

ARRI Alexa Mini can be operated in number of ways — by wireless remote control, as an A-camera with the ARRI MVF-1 multi-viewfinder attached, or with an on-board monitor and controlled via the user button interface on the camera body.

The camera can also be held at arm’s length in a hand rig, while its compact size also makes it suitable for tight shooting conditions, as well as underwater, aerial, car, action, and 3D shoots.

Apart from cameras, Liu also used ARRI’s Master Anamorphic lenses and Anamorphic Ultra Wide Zoom lens for the shoot. The deployment of Anamorphic Ultra Wide Zoom 19-36mm T4.2 provided Liu a wider angle, which he says was “perfect” for big scenes. He explains: “When we wanted to show how small and helpless mankind is in nature, AUWZ gave us a very wide shot where the characters are only a very small part of the image.

“With Master Anamorphic lenses, the image quality stays pretty much the same even when using different apertures.

“To me, the various apertures give me a different depth of field. When you change aperture on some old lenses, the image quality also changes, but you don’t have this problem with Master Anamorphic lenses.

“Both MA and AUWZ 19-36mm T4.2 lenses have a shallow depth of field and minimum distortion; they produce images that look similar, so it was easy to match and very suitable for what we were looking for.”

Another versatile camera manufacturer is Grass Valley, which has sealed a deal with The Weather Channel to supply 18 of its LDX 86N Series cameras.

The American pay-TV channel was looking to upgrade its full roster of studio cameras with IP and 4K/Ultra HD (UHD) solutions, and selected Grass Valley for its ability to manage complex technical integration and deliver advanced control capabilities while capturing images.

Declaring that the migration to IP and 4K/UHD is at the forefront of the network’s strategy, Michael Smereski, vice-president of broadcast engineering at The Weather Channel, explains that camera investment that the company’s makes now has to be future-proofed to support the company’s plans.

He insists: “While great pictures are important, an advanced feature set and seamless integration with our IP and SD-SDI routing system are crucial factors.

“Grass Valley was able to meet all our criteria, making it the obvious choice for this project.

“Moreover, the Grass Valley cameras provide native Mo-Sys support, which is central to the immersive reality and augmented reality elements that we have within our programming.”

The LDX 86N Series is equipped with native 4K/UHD XensiumHAWK CMOS imagers that support full native 4K/UHD and HD resolutions. Users are able to switch between higher resolution and higher frame rate, while having the option for high dynamic range (HDR) upgrade.

Other features of the LDX 86N Series include optional IP outputs that provide users a migration path from SDI baseband to an IP-based infrastructure for future-proof production, including remote and at-home productions.

Ross Video has also developed two cameras – ACIDCam and PIVOTCam – that are designed for studio applications.

The ACIDCam HD broadcast video camera features UltrachromeHR outputs for chroma key applications, and is equipped with HDR technology through hybrid log gamma (HLG) and perceptual quantisation (PQ) to capture the full breath of colours and contrast in any scene.

ACIDCam is available in two models – H200 and Z50. The H200 offers 1080p, CMOS sensors and HDR capabilities. As for Z50, it offers UltraChrome with 1080i resolution and SD compatibility.

PIVOTCam is a pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) camera that can be installed in TV studios as well as houses of worship, corporate board rooms, auditoriums and classrooms.

The PIVOTCam-SE model comes with a 4096×2160 sensor, and supports IP control, streaming and power-over-Ethernet (PoE), over a single CAT6 cable.

Cameras and lenses have come a long way since the days of black-and-white moving pictures. Cameras for the 8K era are already available … enabling TV producers to capture next year’s Summer Olympics Games in Tokyo in super ultra-high definition and vivid colours!

The article is featured in the Sep-Nov Issue. Read more at our E-publication.

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