Sports Venue Technology Summit: When Choosing the Right Cameras and Lenses, Focus on Future

New videoboards tend to be the centerpiece of any venue renovation, but without the right tools capturing content, that HD display may not appear HD at all. At SVG’s Sports Venue Technology Summit at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver, leading vendors discussed how venues can get the most for their buck when selecting cameras and lenses, and how to prepare for future needs.

Regardless of the resolution of the videoboard, Grass Valley’s Bruce Lane suggested building the highest quality control room that you can afford, whether that’s HD, 4K, or beyond. The benefit, he says, lies in the fact that sports venues are closed systems that connect the control room directly to the videoboard without the distribution or transmission concerns dogging broadcasters, and capturing high-quality content now – even if it plays out on an SD display — will pay off in the future.

“If you can do the work on your control room, do the work on your control room,” said Lane, strategic account manager for sports venues in North America. “Enhance the production – granted, it’s going to suffer at the end of the day because it’s going to go onto an SD display, but everything you bring up to that point is going to be better and you’re going to have that material recorded in either HD or 4K. Then, as you upgrade your scoreboard in the future, you [have] that archived material and, certainly, that’s going to look so much better, especially as we look at these scoreboards that are 4K and 8K.”

Choosing the right cameras and lenses brought smiles to the faces of (from left to right) Sony Electronics' Mike DesRoches, Panasonic's Jim McGowan, and Grass Valley's Bruce Lane.

Choosing the right cameras and lenses brought smiles to the faces of (from left to right) Sony Electronics’ Mike DesRoches, Panasonic’s Jim McGowan, and Grass Valley’s Bruce Lane.

Although there continues to be a number of sports venues – particularly on the collegiate level — that have an SD display, many are investing in HD cameras, not only to futureproof their content, but to make their current SD boards look as good as possible. Then, when those SD video boards are upgraded to HD, those venues already have HD cameras in their arsenal and HD-content-capture techniques in their repertoire.

“When you talk about HD production for HD scoreboards, it’s very important to remember that whatever you see up there on that scoreboard is going to be magnified,” said Jim McGowan, senior strategic account manager, Panasonic Media & Entertainment Group. “You want to start out with good, tried-and-true production techniques like good lighting. Also, if you’re gathering content from the field, you’re going to want to pay attention to that focus assist button on the camera. Focus is extremely important in HD especially when it’s blown up on that HD scoreboard.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum, a handful of sports venues on the professional level are sampling 4K cameras for the same reason. Sony Electronics’ Mike DesRoches emphasized that 4K is “immediately usable for production purposes” as a tool to scale, zoom, edit, and more, even if the videoboard is not 4K. A few 4K-capable cameras, like the Sony F55 of newly released 4300, can be integrated into existing HD complements and yield immediate results.

“The [Sony HDC-2500 series] seems to be the staple for HD hard cameras [in sports venues] but when you have 4K cameras like the 55 or the 4300, it’s just a matter of putting a base processor unit in front of those guys,” explained DesRoches, senior sales support engineer. “You’ll have either a much higher frame rate capture capability or the ability to do large-format, shallow depth of field shooting stuff for a more cinematic look – it’s all there for you. All you need to do is add a BPU in front of the whole camera chain [to add a 4K camera] – it’s just plug and play.”

Fujifilm’s Gordon Tubbs and SVG’s Ken Kerschbaumer round out the cameras/lenses conversation.

However, not every sports venue needs to aim for 4K. High-frame-rate cameras, like Grass Valley’s LDX series cameras or Sony’s 4300 (in a 6x or 8x configuration), have different feature sets that may prove to be more conducive to certain sports than 4K.

“I think 4K and high frame rate are two different tools that can be used,” said Lane. “4K still has the potential for motion blur if it’ not captured fast enough, so depending upon the event that you’re covering, you could have motion blur in 4K. Whereas in high frame rate, you’re capturing faster so you don’t have blur. They’re two different tools that can be used… You pick and choose the tool that’s appropriate.”

Of course, choosing the right camera for your venue’s needs is nothing without also choosing the right lens. The panelists concurred that anyone considering a camera upgrade should invest in the best lens they can afford, and to consider features like focal length, wide angle, and telephoto.

“You should buy the best lens you can get because there’s a good chance the lens is going to outlive two cameras,” said Gordon Tubbs, VP, broadcast and communications products, Fujifilm. “Technology is moving things a little bit faster now and I think people will replace lenses a little bit sooner, but generally, you should buy the best lens you can. You should definitely get the focal length you want because that’s something you’ll never fix. If you don’t have what you need – [for example,] wide angle — you’ll never get it. You can add on wide converters, but you’re going to cost yourselves a problem somewhere else.”

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