Some station groups want a field camera to be able to switch from HD to 4K. Others put a high priority on IP connectivity, workflow integration or weight (low) and size (small). And some want a little bit of everything.
WRAL Raleigh, N.C., photographer Edward Wilson was sitting in the newsroom at about 3:30 p.m. one day in mid-November when the assignment desk told him to get to the scene of a shooting on Capital Boulevard in North Raleigh.
Wilson, a veteran shooter with 24 years of experience at WRAL, recalls that he grabbed his gear and dashed out the door. However, when he got to the scene and began setting up, he realized he had left behind his Sony NEX digital still camera, which he uses to shoot photos for WRAL.com.
“These days, we do everything from setting up the microwave shot to shooting the story for air and stills for the station’s website,” Wilson says. “I wish I didn’t have to worry about taking a still camera and my ENG camera into the field and fumbling around with two separate cameras.”
Pete Sockett, director of engineering and operations at WRAL, is sympathetic. “We want to be able to click a button [on our ENG cameras] and get a still image — not at 1920 x 1080, not at 4K, but at 18 megapixels like the DSLRs — and have that picture automatically end up back at the newsroom for our Web guys to put up.”
The ability to readily switch from HD video to stills is just one of the features some TV news organizations would like the next generation of ENG camcorders to provide. The problem for vendors is that other news pros have other ideas of what’s important to have in future gear.
Some want to be able to switch from HD to 4K. Others put a high priority on IP connectivity, workflow integration or weight (low) and size (small). And some want a little bit of everything.
“We are really trying to step back and ask, ‘What does a newsgathering camera need to be?’ ” says Michael Koetter, SVP of media technology and development, Turner Broadcasting System.
Koetter would like to see a camcorder that allows his shooters to switch between HD and 4K. “A lot of times we take two cameras with us,” he says. “One camera is for regular ENG. We use it to do our live shots, and then we switch to a large-format cinema camera, which we call ‘cinema news gathering.’ With that camera, we are doing documentary long-form work. We would really rather not have to carry two cameras.
“If we were to consolidate that to one camera, we would be in this hybrid world where we could still do the run-and-gun, bread-and-butter newsgathering, but then be able to switch the camera to cinema mode,” he says.
Designers of future ENG cameras should take into account the demands broadcasters are putting on the people they send into the field, says Blake Russell, Nexstar Broadcasting Group SVP of station operations.
Greater reliance on multimedia journalists — the one-person crews that do everything from report and shoot to edit and contribute in the field — should lead to the development of camcorders that are smaller and lighter, he says.
“You’ve got more females in the industry right now who are shooting their own stories, and the only way they can do that is to have a much lighter weight form factor of a camera,” Russell says.
“I have people tell me all of the time, regarding multimedia journalists, ‘I’ve got these people on staff, and it is very, very difficult for them to get the bigger cameras and go out and do what they do.’ ”
To WRAL’s Sockett, the proliferation of multimedia journalists means the need for simplicity in camera setup and shooting.
“Give me an Android or iOS app for instance, that lets me control my camera when I am standing in front of it,” Sockett says.
An app for a tablet that gives a reporter a look at what the camera is shooting and allows on-the-fly adjustments for focus and framing would make things quite a bit easier for multimedia journalists, Sockett says.
“Rather than focusing on a light stand, moving the light stand out of the frame and stepping into the scene where the light stand was, an app like that could make things much simpler for the reporter in the field or even someone back at the station to make adjustments if needed.”
Another area where future ENG cameras could improve workflow is in how signals are encoded in the camera itself, says Russell. “Being able to pass [the camera signal] in some sort of ASI stream would be good because that would allow us to feed a lot of existing microwave technologies,” he says. “That would be unique.”
This feature would reduce the encoding and transcoding steps needed to move news footage from the lens to the newsroom, he says.
Wireless IP connectivity is high on the list of future ENG camera improvements that Del Parks, VP engineering and operations for Sinclair Broadcast Group, would like to see.
Parks calls IP connectively centered on 4G LTE and Wi-Fi “essential” to ENG. “For broadcasters, the ability to route those IP signals in a multicast mode to all of our news stations would be very exciting,” he says.
While transport from the camera to the station is important, recording on tapeless media, such as SDHC memory cards, in the camera will remain important and should not go away, says Nexstar’s Russell.
“Sometimes, there needs to be a little bit of rocket science to figure out how to go right out of a camera with an IP stream,” he says. “I think that simplicity has a value.” Continuing to record to memory cards makes sneakernet sharing of footage as simple as it was when reporters handed videocassettes to producers, he says.
Sockett agrees: “On the recording side, really the Holy Grail is if you record and it shows up at the station at the same time in full resolution.”
This function would be an important addition to newsroom workflow because it would allow editors and producers back at the station to begin assembling a story as it’s being shot, while providing confidence that the footage was being recorded separately in the camera as a backup, Sockett says.
In their never-ending search for the perfect acquisition gear, broadcasters are looking beyond the traditional vendors like JVC, Sony, Panasonic and Canon.
Smartphones already have become an important contribution technology in TV news. Today, news directors at many stations ask their reporters, anchors, news producers and others in the newsroom to be prepared to use their smartphones to report from the scene of a breaking story they may happen upon until a more traditionally outfitted ENG crew arrives.
And several vendors already have come to market with apps for iPhones and other smartphones that enhance their ENG usefulness.
But in the future, Nexstar’s Russell says smartphones could play an even bigger role as a contribution technology. “We are all carrying around a great camera right now in our pockets.”
If a few obstacles are overcome, such as finding a way to steady smartphone cameras, the handheld devices could be suitable for many shooting situations, Russell says.
“For the most part, especially in a newsroom, what are you doing in news on a daily basis?” he asks. “It is find it, get it and edit it. I don’t need a fantastic lens to be able to shoot a SOT [sound on tape]. I don’t need a fantastic lens to be able to spray some sort of scene or to do an interview. I need to make sure it produces pretty video and move on.”
For 95% of situations most stations face on a daily basis, iPhones and smartphones could provide a viable alternative to traditional ENG cameras, Russell says.
“Honestly, if we could all figure out how to shoot with iPhones and smartphones and have it look really, really good and steady, and if we were able to have a video format that would go directly into the editors without having to do a ridiculous transcode, these cameras would be a solution for news.”
This story originally appeared in TVNewsCheck’s Executive Outlook, a quarterly print publication devoted to the future of broadcasting. Subscribe here. Read the other stories in the Winter 2015 issue here.