Broadcast HD Minicams
Historically, it was undercover documentary and nature film productions that first began to use minicams for television, then came the candid camera type shows and then Big Brother back in 2000. Since then the demand for minicam technology really kicked off with minicams and remote minicams being employed on all types of small and big screen productions.
If this is your first minicam requirement it can be pretty daunting as there are a large number of options for the many different production requirements. Over the last ten years there has been an increasingly number of productions that are finding the use of some sort of minicam element. Productions like reality shows, hard-hitting documentaries, dramas, sports coverage, TV commercials, and news and current affairs programmes have become regular users of Minicams. Whether it is specialist mini-cameras or remote control heads productions use minicams as single camera units (one-off specialist shots), for undercover surveillance, as on-car/motorcycle mounted cameras and on full-blown multi-camera remote head, fixed minicam HD productions.
MiniCam Pro’s very high-end HD minicams offer a wide variety of creative options but as minicam technology is getting better and better, it can sometimes be more difficult to pick the optimum minicam for a production than to decide on the main camera and format. This is where our specialist technicians can really help with consultation and advice based on our wide knowledge and experience in the field but here’s some ideas to help you get started;
Toshiba IK-HD1, IK-HD2 and IK-HD5 cameras (& CCU)
Toshiba is the clear leader in the field of high-end minicam manufacturing our technicians have been using Toshiba minicams for top-end acquisition for over 15 years; it’s compact size and a wide choice of prime lenses this is our first choice for top end, big screen and drama productions. Toshiba started in the medical arena, making small medical cameras long before they were commonly in use in TV and commercial film production. Then the Toshiba TU-48 was the minicam of choice for many years, from Top Gear to Nissan car commercials, but that was back when minicams were not HD.
The recent industry standard Toshiba IK-HD1 has finally been replaced by (NEW) much more broadcast friendly Toshiba’s IK-HD2 and IK-HD5 cameras. The Toshiba IK-HD2 HD remote head camera system is an enhancement of their established and hugely popular Toshiba IK-HD1 camera system. Toshiba have taken the CCU and added several new features making it more broadcast friendly. New features include Manual User mask setting for Auto-Shutter (exposure) and white balance, Black Gamma level set, Edge detail output – great for focus assist, and Manual Red and Blue black balance adjust. The feedback from technicians is that the new camera system is more straightforward to use than the previous and already popular IK-HD1.
Apart from the some new features and ease of use these new cameras from Toshiba still offer full BBC approved HD with its three-CCD 1/3-inch interlace sensor outputting 1080 x 1920 via HD/SDI, composite or component quality. Not only is the Toshiba IK-HD2 and IK-HD5 the most compact HD cameras on the market but with a choice of lenses (2mm, 4mm and 8mm) it gives the sharpest, clearest, true colour imagery available. It is also ideally suited to applications where extreme vibration is an issue due to its fixed prime lens; because of this it has been used as a bobsleigh-mounted camera at the Winter Olympics, along with other sporting events at the Commonwealth Games.
Its 65 gram weight and 1.6 inch dimensions mean that this little camera can be used in even the smallest of spaces to give shots you simply cannot get with other cameras. Combine the Toshiba with a Polecam, with remote cable lengths of over 30 meters and the option of a waterproof housing, and you can achieve truly great HD shots, within a budget, that would never have been possible before.
Toshiba IK-HR1S Camera (one piece camera)
Unlike the Toshiba IK-HD1, IK-HD2 and IK-HD5 with their small camera, separate CCU device and the use of specialized (and expensive) connector cables before they can be made operational, this camera is designed as a one piece unit and much like any other CCTV box camera simply needs a power supply and a readily available BNC cable in order to operate. As a compact, one-piece camera the IK-HR1S is ideal for high speed and broadcast imaging, producing little or no motion artefacts. The camera is easy to use and offers a number of manual and electronic controls to help maintain this degree of performance in various lighting and scene situations, it provides incredible high definition video with the flexibility of switchable 1080i or 720p output. With various auto and manual controls to choose from for Shutter, Gain, White Balance and Gamma, you can dial-in the settings best suited for a particular scene or lighting situation.
If you want a high quality HD camera that is also ultra-compact and lightweight, and is an incredible camera in a wide range of conventional and specialized imaging applications the Toshiba IK-HR1s is the camera for you. When rigged to a helmet, it can also be used as a head-cam for extreme sports athletes looking to capture all the action and excitement from their point of view in pristine quality. We use this great Toshiba camera regularly on sports, entertainment, wildlife and numerous other productions needing the versatility of a compact camera along with the high quality of HD video. Through the use of an advanced sensor and a sophisticated electronic shutter function, this camera is able to capture super-fast movement with little or no motion artefacts maybe that is why the Toshiba IK-HR1S is a favourite on programmes such as Top Gear.
Really small, covert minicams are a delicate speciality and require the most care and knowledge. So whether you require a tiny button camera, shirt camera, tie camera, mobile phone camera or glasses camera be careful as there are many off the shelf versions that do not come close to withstanding the basic quality standards and durability that we insist on at MiniCamPro. At MiniCamPro we import our pinhole board cameras from Japan and China, to ensure the best in HD quality at the time, and to build them in to the required appliance or body worn item.
Covert, Pinhole or secret filming camera technology is a real balancing act of quality verses size, power consumption and recording device. As a rule, the smaller the whole package is the lower the video quality but this does very much depend on the applications. MiniCamPro supplies very small full HD pinhole/covert cameras for use in bag cameras, jacket cameras, rucksack cameras and hat cameras but to get the HD quality a HD recorder such as a PIX-240i or a AJA KiPro Mini is required. These recorders are small but not small enough to fit in a breast pocket; and then of course you have to power the whole system. Our technicians work with the production team to design and build the perfect covert/hidden/spy/pinhole camera that the programme budget requires.
At MinicamPro we also provide smaller lower quality HD packages which these are not up to BBC/SKY HD approval standards but are excellent quality for undercover covert secret filming. In our lightweight micro-minicam applications we use a camera that produces an impressive 1280 x 960 resolution at full 720p HD mode. Although not full HD, this is the best quality micro-minicam available and with its unrivalled broadcast quality video and super sharp imagery and vivid colours. The camera is fitted with a wide-angle lens and can be positioned pretty much anywhere you like to get the shot you need, even at close range, and comes with a range of interchangeable outer lenses to disguise the camera as perhaps a shirt button or even a screw head. A high gain microphone is supplied and can be attached anywhere on your clothing. Audio gain control is offered in the menu system, allowing vocal audio recording.
MiniCamPro tailors all minicam requests to suit the production and client requirements. We custom build hides for specific projects and our technicians have a wide knowledge experience of hiding cameras in just about every situation. So whatever the requirement on any covert/secret filming you are looking to do, we have the best quality micro-minicams for body worn, undercover filming kits (used by reporters at BBC, Sky News and ITV). Whatever you require, whatever the application, we have something that will work for you.
GoPro Hero 3+
There is also the latest and very popular and extremely versatile GoPro 3+ (Black Edition) mini HD camera. Although not true HD in the broadcast sense, this camera is an excellent piece of kit that is often used on many TV productions. Whether you're shooting a car or bike-mounted exterior or an extreme sporting event, the GoPro 3+ can capture ultra-wide angle HD video that is acceptable as part of the SD content of your TV production.
MiniCamPro has the latest GoPro Hero3+ cameras. The GoPro Hero 3+ shares the ultra-wide angle 170 degree lens as its predecessor (the HD Hero 3) and is supplied with all the same mountings you need in order to mount it to almost anything. It also uses a similar waterproof housing, that not only makes it completely splashproof but also turns it into a proper underwater camera capable of depths of up to 60 metres… but that’s where the similarities end. The big differences in the new GoPro HD Hero 3+ (Black Edition) over the previous GoPro cameras. The Hero 3+ Black is smaller and lighter and has a new larger sensor and processor shooting 4k15, 2.7k30, 1440p48, 1080p60 (wide,medium and narrow FOV) 960p10, 720p120 and 480p240 whereas the earlier models could only achieve this at 720p (16:9) or 960p (4:3). This makes the picture quality of the GoPro Hero 3+ is far superior to even the GoPro Hero 2. If you are looking for slow motion, the new Hero 3+ offers a 120fps mode at 848 x 480 which will slow the action by four times. The team at GoPro have even improved the time-lapse feature, with the 12 megapixels the GoPro Here3+ offers beautifully crisp and stunning time lapse - taking photos automatically at preset periods; this is available at half-second intervals and burst shooting at 10fps.
With up to 9 hours of record time on a 32GB SD card (depending on the record format) this makes for a very useful tool on just about any production but perhaps the most important difference from the previous version, from a production perspective, is the Wi-Fi connection to your smart phone, you can easily control all the settings functions from your phone as well as see what you are recording (although delayed). Settings are also much easier to manoeuvre with your smart phone. The GoPro Hero3+ also has HDMI and external microphone ports.
Clearly, the GoPro 3+ is a vast improvement on previous GoPro cameras and is a very useful tool, as an ideal action camera on location but you need to know its limitations. GoPro’s are a long-time favourite with production managers because of its low hire cost but they are often under the misapprehension that it offers broadcast quality HD. The fact is that even with the new bigger sensor, the single CMOS sensor is still only 0.435 inch big and this means that this camera does not qualify to any national or international broadcast specifications for HD. Also, the camera records in MPEG-4 H.264 which can sometimes lead to issues in post-production, especially with AVID. Finally, there is only a limited amount of setup you can do on the GoPro and so camera matching to your main camera can be quite difficult and this can obviously lead to a much heavier and costly grade in post.
The first affordable truly HD minicam came along in 2009 from Sony in the form of the now commonly used HXR-MC1. For the first time we had a camera that could output and record in 16:9 (at that time a rarity) as well as output 1080/50i. This minicam, which was essentially a Sony AVC-HD camcorder with the head separated from the recorder by a cable, allowed high quality HD images to be captured at a fraction of the cost of the alternatives on the market at the time. It was not all good, though, as the camera head still didn’t meet the broadcasters’ requirements for full HD and only had the ability to record in AVC-HD, which is not an acceptable HD format and one that can still cause importing problems with Avid Edit systems. Using an external recorder such as the Convergent Design NanoFlash overcomes this problem but you have to rely on the use of a non-lockable HDMI cable. Another shortfall was the lack of an external microphone/audio input, leaving only the camera’s internal mic, plus a separate sound recording device might be needed. All that said, the Sony HXR-MC1 is still very much a favourite at MiniCamPro and is used on a variety of different production applications.
Not to be outdone by Sony, Panasonic launched the Panasonic AG-HCK10G a year later (2010) and, like the Sony, the Panasonic was a split camera head and handheld recorder but that is just about the only similarity. The AG-HCK10G camera and AG-HMR10 CCU recorder provided a huge step forward. The camera was signed off by many broadcasters as full HD because of its 1/4.1" three-CMOS camera system producing 1920 x 1080 high definition video. This camera has a full range of professional features with menus for white balance, gamma curves, detail and timecode settings. In addition, it is a truly multi-regional camera allowing progressive and interlaced recording in both the PAL and NTSC flavours of HD. The camera also has an input for external audio, meaning that you could now record sound directly to the camera without worrying about sync issues of external audio.
As broadcasters do not regard AVC-HD as an acceptable HD recording format, MiniCamPro has custom-built portable rack systems that can take up to four Panasonic AG-HCK10G feeds (per rack), recording on to four Convergent NanoFlash recorders at 50fps with a timecode feed and audio recording on to a 788 recorder; all recording on tough, low-cost CF cards. It’s always a good idea to record in CCU as well, especially for that once-in-a-lifetime stunt or reaction shot. Using the Panasonic cameras through the record racks means that true HD content can be provided within a reasonable budget. The Panasonic camera used on the new Kudos Production Hunted (production for BBC1/HBO) for all their specialist camera and stunt shoots.
This versatile camera is very quick to rig, responds well to low light and, most importantly, is full HD and can match convincingly with footage from the main cameras on a shoot. A number of other benefits include: an adequate (but not good in bright light) 2” colour LCD screen; dual SD card slots allowing you to download rushes while continuing to shoot; speaker/headphone and HDMI output sockets allowing for listening and handy reviewing of footage; and a USB 2.0 interface allowing for connection to a PC or Mac.
There are applications where the AG-HCK10G is not suitable, with the camera head being twice the size of a Sony HXR-MC1 and four times the size of a GoPro. It is often too big for a body rig or for a very discrete camera set-up. That said, we would put this camera at the top of the pile for most HD productions. We have used it for external and internal vehicle mounted shots, as a static camera for wide shots on multi-camera shoots, as fixed cameras in studios and on numerous hidden camera shoots. The wide-angle adapter and 15 meter extension cable makes the camera even more versatile for any shot where space is at a premium or you want to get the camera head further away from the recorder.
MiniCamPro offers a show and tell service on all our equipment. We are happy to come to any production company to demonstrate our equipment or can cater for up to 12 people at our offices in West London.