Few professional cameras ever outlive their usefulness. Thanks to a multitude of camera adapters, virtually any system can be given new life and a new key role.
In the late 90’s HDV swept away standard definition video. Affordable, markedly higher resolution and with essentially the same workflow, it was a major step forward for digital production. The Canon XL1, JVC GY-HD100 and Sony HVR-Z1 all won plaudits and achieved remarkable sales worldwide as this MPEG2-based format gained favour in the professional and corporate markets. HDV is still in use today, but as tape heads wear and file-based acquisition becomes increasingly standard, the camcorders will join other format systems as unsupported and all-but defunct.
However, these cameras – and many other tape and disk format systems – are still well able to produce excellent pictures. For any organisation that mostly produces DVD and web video or uses video technology to train students, these older models can be very cheaply and adeptly adapted as studio cameras, with the assistance of broadcast manufacturers.
Focus Enhancements were among the earliest to develop an affordable, external tapeless recorder, with its Firestore range. Their latest model, the FS-H200’s Firewire port ingest video for recording as HDV onto CF cards. With a built-in LCD screen and on the fly metadata management, it’s a stylish and advanced solution, able to record over 2 hours onto a 32GB card, far outstripping its tape equivalent. Its street price of under £700 make it easily less expensive than purchasing a new AVCHD camcorder.
At around half this price, Datavideo’s DN-60A fulfils the same function but lacks the video playback and metadata functionality. Working in sync with the camera body, the recorder turns on as the camera is powered up and the DN60A is designed for instant capture as the camcorder’s record button is activated. As a file-based system, Datavideo has been able to include pre-recording, instant record and time lapse capture to the feature list to give the user a great deal of flexibility. Small, tough and light (160g including batteries), it’s an excellent field unit, with controls that are easy to use even in the coldest climates. The resulting files are ready for instant post production in most NLE systems.
Add tapeless, add remote control, add look back
While on-board recorders are an inexpensive way to enter the world of file-based acquisition, they do little beyond dispensing with the tape. Datavideo, with its low-cost TLM-43LB system goes one step further, by converting the camcorder an inexpensive studio system. As well as a DN60a recorder, the package includes a remote controller which can be tethered to a tripod handle and a 4.3” monitor to show either the camera feed or the output of the vision mixer. In addition, the screen has a large built in tally light to ensure good communication between with the studio and make it easy for the talent to identify which camera is live.
With this sub-£300 package, camera operation on the tripod becomes intuitive, video viewing is far more comfortable and integration into a multi-cam set-up is simplified.
Even with the TLM-43B, integrating ENG camcorders into the studio can still be a challenge. Most affordable and portable cameras were intended, after all, for field use and not to be part of a multi-cam shoot feeding into a central vision mixer. Simply connecting the camera’s video output to the production desk can be problematic.
Sadly, HDMI has a maximum run length of around 10 metres, and it faces the issue of the fragility of the connection between the cable and the equipment. HDMI – SDI converters from Datavideo, Blackmagic or AJA are an instant solution (SDI cable is robust enough to carry HD signals up-to 100m). While composite cables can reach further, they suffer signal loss that can seriously jeopardise the picture quality. Datavideo’s DAC-7 is a way around the problem, converting S-Video and composite video to SDI for much more robust signal transport.
SDI-based camcorders have more powerful options. JVC and Panasonic are renowned for their studio adapter kits that can turn certain of their broadcast SDI cameras into studio models with centralized camera control, 2-way cabling, monitoring and crew communications.
Panasonic’s studio system consists of a CA300 camera adapter which enables the transmission of pictures, return images, tally signals, mic signals, and genlock signals. Signals are managed at the production desk by a base station which also delivers power to the camera. Matching the output of all the cameras, a control unit remotely manages gain, white balance, shutter speed and other key settings. While this technology may on the surface appear best suited to broadcasters, it is surprisingly inexpensive to convert a low-cost broadcast camera, such as an HPX371, into a full studio rig.
Sometimes, particularly in OB environments or stadia, SDI doesn’t offer large enough cabling runs. Another option is optical fibre. Blackmagic’s ATEM Camera Converter pack attaches to the camera or tripod and converts the HDMI or SDI output to fibre, connecting to a switcher up to 45km away! Importantly, like the studio adapter kits, the ATEM unit also includes talkback facilities between the producer and camera operators and a tally light system. Although lacking camera control functionality, it does include a return signal feature whereby the camera operator can monitor the live programme output as well their own camera feed. At under £400, it’s a real steal.