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Phil Connolly

Best 2/3" camera for low light

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Hi I'm speccing some gear for a multi-cam shoot. I need an extreme telephoto zoom lens, I think the  Canon HJ18ex28B (28mm to 500mm or 1000mm with 2x extender) is the one to go for,  I don't need the size or the zoom range of a box lens, but something that can shoot a mid shot from 50 meters. 

I'm not really current on 2/3" broadcast cams but anyone know which is best for low light? The shoot is going to be in a Cathedral and I may not be able to add much light. The lens is pretty slow F4.9 @ 500mm and worse with the extender (which I think I'm going to have to use).

Are HD 2/3" cameras workable in the 2000ASA range, noise wise? Last time I used a 2/3" it was CCD camera and at best could be pushed to 800, but hopefully  things have moved moved on in the last 10 years. Any broadcast experienced peeps on the forum? 

I understand a super 35mm sensor would be better in low light - but would that be problematic marrying with a B4 type zoom lens. Mathmatically I think I need to be able to use a lens in the 500mm to 700mm range on a 2/3" sensor to get the shot size. So am I correct in thinking their isn't an easy way to get this degree of telephoto with 35mm gear?

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I don't know much about 2/3" cameras but I believe the Ursa Mini Pro has an B4 mount option. I have no experience with it and don't now much about it but the Mini can shoot at 3200 is if I am not mistaken.

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I don't think the 2/3" broadcast cameras have changed much in sensitivity over the years, they are all limited by the photosite size, overall sensor size, and prism block design.  They tend to be a base of around 320-400 ASA at 0 db.

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There is a Canon 50-1000mm (T/5.0-8.9) zoom, and a faster Fujinon Premier 75-400mm (T/2.8-3.8) for Super-35 sensor cameras.  The Fujinon with a doubler could get out to 800mm, which of course isn't as telephoto as you might like, though it gets hard to operate smoothly when the lens gets super long, there is some jiggling if you aren't careful.

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To be fair, they have improved 2/3" chips quite a bit, especially considering the fact that people like Grass Valley now have 2/3" studio cameras with circa-4K resolution, high frame rates, and astounding low light performance that's better than earlier standard-def cameras of vastly lower pixel density. The difference is that these are rather expensive studio cameras not field-portable camcorders. It was from this sort of thinking that the Viper emerged and I was always dismayed that it wasn't followed-up.

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So what are the state-of-the-art 2/3" field cameras today, and have they increased the ISO past the 320-400 base range of previous 2/3" cameras?

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Your best bet would probably something like the Grass Valley LDX 86N series. They're software-upgradeable so various examples will have various capabilities, but they advertise 15 stops of dynamic range (presumably in pursuit of HDR broadcasting), Rec. 2020 colour (not complete coverage, of course, but beyond 709) and peak at (I think) 180fps.

It's difficult to put a number on sensitivity. Broadcast cameras like these are generally described in terms like "f/12 at 2000lx." The standard interpretation of this is that the camera will produce a 100% video signal when viewing a white (89.9% reflectance) chart under the stated illumination with an optical system of the given transmittance. Even though it is common for broadcast camera manufacturers to publish a signal-to-noise ratio in dB, which is a lot more than cinema camera manufacturers tend to do, it's still difficult to calculate a sensible ISO equivalent from this, but you could establish it experimentally quite easily. The very latest cinema cameras, with lower pixel densities on larger sensors, will naturally outdo 2/3" broadcast cameras, but the field has not stood still.

One interesting point is that the LDX 86 series feature pixel binning, where the sensor will collect the values of four adjacent pixels to produce one output pixel for HD work, or send the pixel values as is for 4K work. The camera will also operate fundamentally in HD mode, for increased sensitivity and lower noise, and then upscale the results for 4K output.

My impression is that the LDX 86N in particular seems to have significantly greater sensitivity than an Ursa Mini Pro, based on my experience of them side by side on a trade show floor, and the Pro is reasonable at ISO 800. It's only an impression, though.

This is a six-figure camera, to be clear.

P

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Phil.. you can use a ⅔ ENG zoom on many s35mm sensor cameras .. just go into crop mode with an adaptor ...I did a shoot for BBC Nat history of a night time festival  with the Panasonic LT varicam.. one of the lenses was an ENG telephoto zoom.. worked very well.. and the Varicam has dual ISO 800 and 5000.. the 5,000 is very good not noisy we even shot slo mo 50fps in the night !  I think the LT will go to 240.. but not 100% sure.. could be a good contender..

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Hmm thanks for the comments - I was considering the S35 crop option. But wonder if 2K Beyer crop would look worse then a 3chip 1080p type camera. But good to here Robin had good results with the vari cam. 

I'm just curious to see if standard 2/3" cameras have improved from the 400ISO of ten years ago. I'm assuming most have moved over from CCD to CMOS - which is better at low light. But as Phil R said stats are harder to find and decode on broadcast kit.

The camera position is going to locked off - basically its an event in a venue where the rear camera position is about 50metres from the stage. It can't be forward of that because it will block the audience. But ideally needs to be able to get a mid shot from 50 meters. So using an online calculator gave me 500mm for a 1.2m wide shot and 1000mm for 60cm width at 50m. Hence the canon looking like the goto lens. The venue is a Cathedral so columns prevent putting the camera closer at the side. Has to be square on at the back.

I imagine operating will be tricky but its mostly static shots and I've have to spec a really solid head. 

The thing thats out my control is the lighting and these lenses are slow. Hence the worry about camera speed. I did think of going full broadcast box zoom - like the canon 72X Digisuper - which is  a bit faster. But that starts to push the budget. Looking for a mid range option. 

If this looks like its going to happen - I'll def try and test the Varicam and see if it intercuts with the other cameras. 

I'll get some quotes on the Grass Valley as well but seems outside of OB companies fewer places carry them. 

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one of my friends does lots of nature documentary shooting with Varicam35 and the Canon 50-1000 lens. it is very useful combination and sensitive if you need S35 sensor 

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There was a version of the Panasonic Varicam "35" that had a 2/3 camera head attached in lieu of the s35mm sensor.  Try contacting Panasonic to see if you can find one of these for rent.  This might be the best low light 2/3in camera ever made.

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Thanks Bruce will investigate - I didn't know they did a recent 2/3 version

I guess the S35mm Varicams don't do a live 2/3" crop for multicam. I know the Ursa Mini does - but its not amazing in 2K mode.

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