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Sony production formats: is there room for Digi Beta? – News – Digital Betacam camcorders

Sony production formats: is there room for Digi Beta? – News – Digital Betacam camcorders – Brief Article

Marc Loftus

PARK RIDGE. NJ — Digital Betacam may have a solid place in the industry today from a mastering and delivery standpoint, but where does it fit in when it comes to acquisition? Broadcasters and post house all easily accept the Sony format for mastering, which actually makes it a practical acquisition format today and a reason why Sony is continuing to support its Digital Betacam product line.

Initially introduced in 1993, and supported with Digital Betacam camcorders around 1995, the format represented a higher-quality alternative to its analog Betacam SP predecessor. Producers used to shooting Betacam SP were familiar with the form factor and weight of the Digital Betacam camera, as well as the format’s 32-minute record times. Digital Betacam’s image quality was touted as superior to that of SP, and the Digi Beta camcorder introduced the concept of a “set-up card,” which allowed DPs to program the camera for a certain look or to easily match cameras in multi-cam shoots.

But, with high definition formats such as Sony’s HDCAM 60i coming down in price, would a production company invest in a non-HD digital format today? Speaking with Jon Reiner, Sony’s marketing manager for movie and television production, Sony believes the format still has a place, depending on budgets and applications. Reiner was an early adopter of Digital Betacam back in the mid-90s while with his own production company.

Let’s look at it from a migration standpoint for the producer still shooting analog SP For starters, Sony (http://bpgprod.sel.sony.com) introduced the digital, but standard definition, IMX format in 1999 and followed with an IMX camcorder — the MSW-900 — at this year’s NAB. IMX’s pricing will be familiar to companies that have built their businesses around the Beta SP format. The new MPEG 50-based IMX camcorder uses the internationally standardized 422Profile@MainLevel and will cost around $39,000, providing producers with the opportunity to shoot widescreen productions. The camera is also compatible with a full line of third-party lenses from the likes of Panavision, Canon and Fujinon.

Digital Betacam would be the next step up, with camcorders selling for around $50,000. Reiner says the format is strong in PBS productions, documentaries, news magazine programs and local commercials.

“Digital Betacam upconverts to HDCAM fairly well,” notes Reiner. “If you shoot Digital Betacam and need to master to HDCAM, your Digital Betacam is going to look fine when upconverted.”

That brings us to HDCAM, a high definition digital format available in several iterations. At NAB, Sony introduced an HDCAM camera that’s priced around $60,000. The introduction marks the lowest price at which Sony has ever offered an HDCAM camera. Like Digital Betacam, the networks all accept HDCAM as a mastering format, says Reiner, so anyone shooting in HDCAM could be comfortable with their investment decision. In addition, he adds, a freelancer would have the flexibility to shoot many different types of work and could deliver it on either HDCAM or dump it down to Digital Betacam.

On to the high end, Sony’s HDCAM has seen significant acceptance over the past year, with at least 40 different features and more than 20 television series and pilots being shot on the high definition format Sony’s 24p CineAlta HDCAM camcorder is positioned as a digital alternative to 35mm film.

What about DVCAM, you might ask? Sony sees PAL (25p) DVCAM as the alternative to 16mm and is introducing a version DVCAM camcorder — the DSR-570W5 — this year as well. The lower price of DVCAM camcorders (around $15,000 for a fully-featured camera), and their compatibility with other vendors’ lenses has made them very popular in the indy feature market, says Reiner.

Personal Velocity: Three Portraits, for example, was shot on the DVCAM format and won both the Cinematography Award/Dramatic and Grand Jury Prize/Dramatic at the Sundance Film Festival.

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