As more and more stations adopt the one-man band approach to newsgathering, the camera manufacturers are turning out new units that are small enough and light enough to be managed easily, and big enough and heavy enough to be balanced for a steady shot. Plus, they’re inexpensive enough that any station’s budget can handle them, too. Among the options that will be featured at NAB 2012 are the Sony NX5, the JVC 150 and the Panasonic 250.
For most stories these days, ones that don’t require live video, Raycom Media’s WSFA Montgomery, Ala., sends out a single reporter. But the NBC affiliate makes sure each MMJ — at Raycom, that stands for mobile media journalist, one of several names the “one-man bands” go by these days — is properly equipped to shoot, write, edit and get the story back to the station pronto.
At WSFA, the tools include a Sony HXRNX5 handheld camcorder; a tripod, a mic and LED light that mount on the camcorder; a laptop with Grass Valley Edius editing software; and a compact Verizon MiFi box that wirelessly takes the video from the laptop and relays it to the station’s FTP site where it can be picked up by a producer.
“The idea is, ‘Look, here’s your kit; go do your stories,’ ” says WSFA Engineering Manager Morris Pollock. “They remotely contribute those back and don’t come to the station unless they have a live, on-air hit or if something is broken.”
With mobile media journalists (aka one-man bands, multimedia journalists, video journalists, digital journalists) becoming the rule rather than the exception in many markets, most stations have put together MMJ kits just like WSFA, and at their heart is a new breed of HD handheld camcorders.
The handhelds hit the sweet spot for the MMJs. They are small enough and light enough that any reporter can manage them, and they are big enough and heavy enough that any reporter can balance them and get a steady shot. And they are inexpensive enough that any station’s budget can handle them, too.
The Sony NX5 that WSFA uses is typical of the breed. Weighing in at around 6 pounds with a 20X Sony lens, the camera lists for just under $5,000.
The camera possesses other attributes broadcasters look for in an MMJ handheld: a flip-out monitor so reporters standing in front of the camera can frame themselves properly, professional audio features, automatic focus and exposure with manual override and remote control.
The pictures flow from three one-third-inch Exmor CMOS sensors with good low-light performance and are recorded in the AVCHD format to memory sticks or ubiquitous SD memory cards. An optional 128 GB flash memory listing for $800 snaps on to the side of the camera and records up to 11 hours.
The camera records at variable data rates. “If you are in a situation where you know you are going to run out of recording space, the camera allows you to go to a lower recording rate, which gives you more time on the chip,” says Bob Ott, vice president of product marketing and management, Sony Electronics.
Ott also points out that Sony’s SteadyShot stabilization system keeps the picture from getting too shaky, and built-in GPS keeps track of where video was shot. “You can get the coordinates and literally return to the street corner where you shot the video.”
Sony offers another option for MMJs, the NX70, significantly smaller and lighter than the NX5. Touted as dust- and rain-proof, the camera has just one imager, an Exmor R CMOS, and a 10X lens, which means less picture quality and more running around for a good shot. But it comes with 96 GB of internal memory and features image stabilization and GPS just as the NX5 does. It lists for $3,200.
Its small size comes in handy when discretion is important, says Ott. “If you are going to Occupy Wall Street and you don’t want them to think you’re a newsperson shooting video, the NX70 looks like a consumer camcorder, but has SMPTE time code and all the other things you really need for news gathering.”
JVC’s current entry in the MMJ game is the ProHD GY-HM150, a more capable and feature-rich version of its widely used predecessor, the GY-HM100.
LIke the 100, the 150 uses quarter-inch CCDs for imaging, records at three data rates (19 Mbps, 25 Mbps and 35 Mbps) on SD memory cards and operates with any of three file formats (MOV, MP4 and AVI). What’s new in the 150 is SD capability, a second memory card for backup and wired or wireless remote control.
It comes with a 10X Fujinon lens, weighs 3.1 pounds (with lens and mic) and lists for $3,500.
When discussing the camera, JVC’s Dave Walton and Larry Librach like to talk about workflow. Stations that have adopted JVC’s 700 series shoulder-mount cameras for their two-man crews put the 150 into the field with MMJs and saw no change in workflow. That’s because all the cameras use the same codecs, file formats and recording media.
“We are the only manufacturer that maintains compatibility among all the different caliber of cameras that we sell,” says Librach. “That’s very important.”
What’s more, the 150 is also compatible with Sony’s principal shoulder-mount cameras for conventional two-person ENG, the PMW-350 and the PMW-320. The cameras’ EX format is identical to the JVCs’ MP4, Librarch says.
Ironically, the Sony’s handheld NX5 is not compatible with the larger Sony cameras, Walton says. Its AVCHD format is “really designed for consumer use, and it just doesn’t work in the professional workflow that these stations have adopted.”
Some broadcasters with the large Sonys have gone with the 150 for their handhelds, Librach says. “They realized the benefits of maintaining a consistent workflow.”
Librach acknowledges that workflow isn’t everything. Some broadcasters may opt for Sony or Panasonic handhelds, despite the different formats, because of other attributes. They may go with better picture quality or a longer lens, Librach says. “Everybody looks at it a little bit differently.”
While conceding the format incompatibility, Sony’s Ott says the NX5’s AVCHD format is not “out of the norm. It’s essentially the same type of encoding that’s used in DVDs. There are a lot of editing platforms, whether it’s Adobe or [Apple] Final Cut Pro 10 that will edit AVCHD.”
Plus, the AVCHD format affords certain efficiencies, Ott says. “If your editing system is a 25 meg-based system, which a lot of them are, the [AVCHD] 24 meg data rate works very well with respect to video going onto hard drives.”
Panasonic is offering three handhelds for the MMJ market: The AG-HPX250, an extension of its high-end P2 line with its AVC-Intra format; the AG-AC130; and the AG-AC160. The 130 and 160 are basically the same, but the 160 has more features. Both use the AVCCAM format, which trades away some of the P2 AVC-Intra quality for efficiency.
Weighing in at 5.5 pounds without lens and listing at $6,000, the 250 incorporates one-third-inch 3-MOS imagers with a 22X lens — “the longest in its class,” says Joseph Facchini, VP of sales and product management, Panasonic Solutions.
The 250 has the other basic attributes of the P2 line, including the proprietary solid-state cards that define it. The AVC-Intra format is compatible with leading nonlinear editing systems and servers, and allows recording at either 100 Mbps or 50 Mbps.
At this year’s NAB Show, Panasonic will introduce a proxy feature. “It enables you to send a low-res proxy back to the station while you are still shooting. It takes up a lot less bandwidth. When the VJ gets back to the station, you can edit the high-res version.”
The 130 and 160 weigh just over 5 pounds without lens. The 130 goes for $3,900; the 160 for $900 more. They are fitted with the same “best of class” 22X lens as the 250.
The big advantage of the 130/160 is the more efficient record data rates, which extend from 6 Mbps to 24 Mbps.
“It’s an industry-standard format so it’s compatible with everybody’s editor,” says Facchini. “What it provides is very high quality at lower bit rates. So, it makes your workflow faster. You can ingest the footage faster. The files are smaller.”
At NAB, in addition to the proxy feature for the 250, says Facchini, Panasonic expects to demonstrate Ultra, a new, low-bit rate format that is compatible with P2. Cameras with the format should be available in 2013, he says.
Sony’s plans for NAB include improvements to the stabilization system of its handhelds. “The goal is to steady the shot without degrading the picture,” Ott says. “At NAB, there will be a lighter weight camera that has such good optical stabilization that we will have it on a shaker table.”
JVC was coy about its NAB plans. “We are keenly aware of the rapid changes in the mobile new acquisition market,” Walton says. “We have been leading in this area and it’s our intention to retain that leadership with new products at NAB.”