The Use of Hand-Held Video Cameras in Television Broadcasting

Article excerpt

A state-of-the-art review of portable TV cameras - past, present and future-in competition with compact film cameras, indicates that they are making steady progress, but still have some distance to go

The hand-held or portable video camera is now becoming a common sight amongst the normal O.B. cameras. Various manufacturers produce their own versions and these are often modified by the users. The first thing I think we should do is to look back and see how and why video cameras came out from the studio.

The first studio camera in Great Britain which ventured outside was at Alexandra Palace in about 1937. This was an EMITRON camera which was a normal studio camera and was used for an afternoon programme introduced by Joan Gilbert. Then followed the coronation of George Vl which saw the use of the first O.B. van. These early cameras were very insensitive and the vehicle was very big.

After the war, with the advent of the IMAGE ORTHICON tube, cameras became lighter and more sensitive. But outside broadcasts were still thought of as actuality events, sports and great occasions. The main problem was that there was no good way of recording the output of the camera. Telerecording existed but the results were very variable.

In about 1956 the first portable cameras built round the VIDICON tube became available. These were the "Peepie-Creepies", or as our Japanese friends called them "Handee-Lookees". They were originally designed for use in the American Political Conventions. These conventions were covered exclusively on Network Television but with the existing Image Orthicon cameras there was no way of getting into the middle of the delegates. Here the "Peepie-Creepie" with its radio transmitter and battery packs succeeded.

The cameraman would be put into the middle of the delegates and left to wander round listening to radio talkback. When anything interesting happened he was there producing close-up pictures. These cameras then began to be used on other shows as well. In early 1958 Associated Rediffusion took delivery of the CSF radio camera. This was used on outside broadcasts, mounted in a car at Brands Hatch and at the Dorchester hotel at a Light Entertainment Show. The camera was also used without its radio unit with a video cable on "Cool for Cats". Here it was used to get interesting shots of the dancers which the normal studio cameras could not get. One minor problem on the show was that by 10:30 at night the studio was very hot. The hand-held was meant for an outside environment and so would get rather unstable. This meant the cameraman and engineer could be seen walking up and down Kingsway at 10:30 at night cooling the camera off before transmission at 11:30.

These cameras were portable but their picture quality did not match the 4 ½ Image Orthicon Cameras: When they were used on live programmes for special shots this was no problem. But then in 1958 came the video tape recorder and programme making changed. Before this anything recorded had to be telerecorded and if quality was required film cameras were used. Inserts into drama programmes were filmed using 35mm cameras.

The possibility of using television cameras throughout a production including the inserts was then available even if the pictures had to be relayed back from the O.B. site. The next stage was to place the VTR unit in a vehicle and this was available by 1959.

The hand-held was being developed at the same time and the Japanese produced a camera built round the 3" Image Orthicon. This overcame the sensitivity problem but was rather bulky.

Broadcasts in this country continued using the normal O.B. cameras, like the Marconi Mark III, for location work. They were cumbersome but once rigged could produce pictures matching the studio pictures.

The Americans were the first to use a colour hand-held camera and this was the PCP 70 which was based on the PC 70 introduced in 1967. The PCP 70 was first used on-air by N.B.C. in May 1968. CBC had been working on a radio version and this became the PCP 90 Minicam. These two camera types were used in America mainly for sport or news work.

The next development was the replacement of the normal plumbicon tubes with the 5/8" version and this became the LDK-13. This camera again was primarily introduced for sport and news work but has now moved into drama work and commercials. The first use of the LDK-13 at London Weekend away from the normal sports actuality work was on a Light Entertainment series "The Train Now Standing ....." This programme was based on the dayto-day life of people working on a railway station. The majority of the series was to be recorded in the studio with a mock-up of the station. But there was a four-day sequence at a real station which would be used as cutaways. The original plan was to use 16mm film for the location work. This would have been alright if the location work had been complete sequences. But there were a lot of shots which were inter-cut between studio and location and back again. In the end it was decided to use the LDK-13 hand-held camera for the location. The recording took place from the 4th-7th April 1972.

This proved very successful, the shots on location matched very well with the studio shots. There were problems at first because of only one handheld camera, which meant that extra editing was required. We obtained a second LDK-13 in November 1972. An O.B. unit was then built to accommodate both cameras. The unit also has sound and vision mixing facilities so that complete multicamera sections can be recorded.

This unit is normally used to provide inserts for drama programmes and drama series like "Upstairs Downstairs", "Helen A Woman of Today", etc. The inserts for these programmes normally run for about 3-6 minutes, although in the case of one "Upstairs Downstairs", there was an 18-minute insert. In the case of "Helen A Woman of Today" the inserts varied. The extract you will see at the end comes from a complete O.B. programme.

Why do we use hand-held or portable cameras instead of film cameras? We are limited to 16mm inserts which are played back on Flying Spot Telecine machines. The quality is very good but does not match the studio plumbicon cameras. The video hand-helds are normally mounted on tripods or a crane but they can be used as a handheld in some locations. The original requirement was for matching in a fastcutting comedy shot. In drama it is to retain the mood. If somebody comes to you and asks if you saw those fabulous inserts on tape or film in a production the mood has been lost.

Another reason is that the director can see his recording played back without waiting for the rushes. He can also use more than one camera and see the final cut copy. The film world has moved to television cameras fitted onto film cameras, but the director only sees the black and white material, perhaps played back from VTR. In the case of the video cameras the playback is in colour and is the tape he will use for transmission.

Of course the present day cameras are not perfect; the LDK-13 suffers at times with lag and requires power for its equipment. We have used an invertor in a helicopter to provide power but the batteries are larger than an Arri battery belt. The other limitation to our LDK-13 is that there are only two lenses available, a 6-1 and a 10-1. The later range of portable cameras have a much better selection of lenses.

Our attitude to the video camera is that where the 16mm Arri will go so will a video camera. So far we have succeeded. There have been some tight spots but there are normally ways round these. We have not dropped a camera by parachute yet but have flown in a variety of helicopters. What you do need is a sympathetic director and a cameraman. Not to listen to the excuses as to why not, but to see how to get round the problems. A film stock has a limitation on sensitivity and contrast range; so have plumbicon cameras. The advantage of a video camera is that you can adjust the colour balance on location till it is right. With film, answer prints are required and if the shoot was no good, nothing can be done about it. With a video camera the director is very aware of the problems whilst still on location.

We now use a single 2001 EMI camera as well as the hand-held LDK-13's on some locations to cover for the bigger lenses. We can fit the 18-1 Angenieux zoom into the EMI 2001. The "Helen" you will see has a 2001 as well as hand-helds and it is impossible to tell which is which.

This is an example of how we have progressed from a normal O.B. van with four studio type cameras to a two camera hand-held unit supported with a single studio camera unit.

The latest portable video cameras have technically moved a long way from the LDK-13 camera. They use 1" Plumbicons with light bias and anti comet tail as standard. Because of the bigger tube and its accessories pictures are improved. The low light high contrast conditions beloved by some drama directors can now be handled without too many problems. The range of lenses has improved and this makes the whole operation more flexible. The Phillips LDK-15 has facilities for recording at the camera head or transmitting back to a base station.

As with all great strides of technical progress there is good news and bad news. The good news is that the camera is more reliable, produces better pictures, has a range of lenses, is interchangeable with the studio camera control units. The bad news is that the camera head is much bigger. The viewfinder is meant for news work and talkback facilities on one camera is a loudspeaker.

Although the camera manufacturers call their cameras portable, they seem to be thinking only of news and sport. They also seem to think only of th'e large ex-American football players as being suitable to operate these new cameras.

Unlike news when the camera may be operated for about half an hour, a drama might take hours. If the camera is not being used on a tripod the cameraman will slowly sink to the floor. By the end of the day he will be tired and his work will suffer. When the camera is mounted on a tripod most of the viewfinders are not in the normal working plane. Larger viewfinders are available sometimes bigger than the camera.

With the LDK-13, it was possible on some street locations to work without too much attention being paid to the camera by the bystanders. The newer cameras give the game away; they can see you coming. The snag, of course, is that the drama use is very small at present. Although one of the new portables could still be a handful on a battlefield.

I think this is a very good point to look at the present design of portables and what we really want in the future. Those of us who have used the LDK-13 have been spoilt. Although they have had their problems, like viewfinders failing, they were lightweight and compact. The cameraman could run backwards down a golf course without too much trouble. He could also see where he was going in the crowd at the Cup Final. The cameras, when used on a tripod, could be fitted with a small external monitor which allowed the cameraman to stand back. Our own LDK-13's are now being modified for motorized control of zoom and focus, which again allows the cameraman to stand back.

The new cameras are with one exception bigger physically than the 5/8" plumbicon type. The one that is still reasonably small has other problems with its viewfinder and talkback facilities. Because these cameras are made for the American news market, they are designed round the cameraman standing up. This means thai if he has to lie down for a shot or sit in a tree he has great problems. The technical wizards have improved the picture quality but have presented the operator with new problems. How do you carry the camera if it is not on its shoulder mounting? Or, how do you put it on the ground? These are two baffling problems. If you want to run quickly with the camera you might want to carry it in one hand. When you climb up a ladder, most people require to use one hand for themselves. While you are waiting for the director, it is nice to put the camera on the ground. With some models they fall over.

At present there are portables produced by Marconi, Phillips, Fernseh, and RCA in PAL versions. There are other Japanese and American cameras but these are normally NTSC only. The manufacturers have consulted some users as to their requirements, but of course we are all different. What we all require is a lightweight small practical video camera. This would have a set of interchangeable lenses including a fixed wide angle. The viewfinder needs to be switchable for both hand-held or tripod use or replaceable. The tripod viewfinder should be physically not much bigger than the hand-held one. A 3" viewfinder is a reasonable size. There should be suitable fitted carrying handles and provision for standing the camera upright on the floor. The zoom and focus controls should be motorized and be available in two locations. The first when the camera is being carried and operated and the second when it is on a tripod. The cable between the camera head and backpack should be light and fitted with very good plugs and sockets. Cameras have been known to be carried by the cable before now. The camera must be able to accept normal talkback facilities and also allow for microphone lines. The weight of the camera plus lens must be as light as possible but well balanced. The back-pack again, if carried by the cameraman, must balance out. If it' is carried by a separate person the balance will have to be different.

The design of hand-held cameras seems to be in the state that monochrome cameras were in 1960. The old cameras which had been designed for the operator had been replaced by the new transistorised cameras. These cameras were smaller but were difficult to operate. They sold very well in some markets but the next generation changed back with the operator in mind. I hope the third generation portable cameras will progress in the same way . . .

. . . We are designing a single portable unit with simple facilities. This will be carried in an estate car, on site a simple unit is brought out on a sack barrow containing all the technical equipment. This will enable the director to work alongside the camera if he so wishes. The Lighting Director and Programme Director can view the output of the camera on a high quality monitor as the shots are being recorded. This unit will not replace the two-camera unit, but will be in addition. This we hope will help directors who prefer film cameras to try a video camera for their inserts. Because it is a self-contained unit it will be able to work on location where perhaps the other units cannot get to.

I would like to thank Peter Cazaly, Production Controller, for permission to give this lecture. I would also like to thank Gordon Williams, Outside Broadcast Supervisor, and Phil Tweedy, Outside Broadcast Senior Engineer, for their help and enthusiasm for the whole hand-held project.

[Author Affiliation]


Head of Production Engineering, London Weekend Television


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