Module 17-1


Updated: 02/03/2017


  module 17-1


Part I 

Camera information at bottom of page.



The Basics

With all that has gone before as background, we can now turn to the first in a series of modules on the camera and its associated equipment.   

Camera Imaging Devices

io tubeThe very heart of a video camera is its imaging device. The first TV cameras used rather large tubes, as shown on the left.

Some early color cameras had four of these tubes (for red, blue, green, and luminance), which explains why early color TV cameras weighed more than 200 kilograms (500 pounds) and had to be hauled around in trucks.

rca color cameraAn example of one of the first color cameras used in broadcasting in the 1950s, is shown next to the woman on the right. Note how it compares to one the latest pocket sized cameras (complete with a video recorder) shown in the insert at the bottom of the photo.

The latter camera, and in fact most of today's video cameras, CCD /CMOS chipuse an imaging chip, such as the CCD shown on the left. Many cameras have now moved to a CMOS chip, but at this point the distinction is not that important.

The most common chip sizes are 1/2 inch and 2/3 inch (the size of the little box shown near the center of the CCD chip above). 

The 1/2 inch chip has a diagonal surface distance of 8 mm (less than a third of an inch), while the 2/3 inch has a diagonal of 11 mm (less than a half of an inch).

High resolution professional cameras often use a larger chip, up to the size of a 35mm motion picture film frame.


Video Resolution

Video resolution is a measure of a video camera's ability of to reproduce fine detail.

The higher the resolution--the more distinct lines in a given space that the camera can discern--the sharper the picture will look. We'll take a closer look at how this is measured in a moment.

The standard NTSC broadcast TV system can potentially produce a picture resolution equal to about 400 lines of horizontal resolution. (This is after it goes through the broadcast process. What you see in a TV control room is generally much higher.)

CATV, DVD, HDTV, and digital satellite TV transmissions go beyond what's common in standard commercial broadcasting.

Note that the number of lines of resolution (sharpness) is different than the total number of horizontal scanning lines, which is 525 or 625 in SDTV.

Three- to four-hundred lines of resolution equal what viewers with 20-20 vision can see when they watch a TV screen at a normal viewing distance.

"Normal" in this case translates into a viewing distance of about eight times the height of the TV picture. So, if the TV screen were 40 cm (16 inches) high, a so-called 25-inch (64-centimeter) picture, the normal viewing distance would be about 2 meters (10 feet).

HDTV/DTV, with its significantly higher resolution, makes possible both larger screens and comparatively close viewing distances. test pattern

Although most SDTV sets in homes are capable of only 300-400 lines of resolution, TV cameras are capable of much higher resolution -- up to 1,000 lines or more.

And so this question arises: Why bother with high resolution in cameras with their added costs when the home TV set can't reproduce this level of sharpness?

Answer: As in most aspects of TV production, the better quality you can start out with the better the quality will be for the TV viewer--even with all the broadcast-related losses.  


Determining Resolution

Charts that contain squares or wedges of lines on a light background can indicate the limits of sharpness. wedge of test pattern

Within a particular area of one of these resolution charts there are lines that converge. The illustration on the left was taken from the full test pattern image shown above. (Note the red rectangle.)

Numbers such as 200, 300, etc., appear on the chart next to the corresponding line densities. By exactly filling the camera viewfinder with the resolution chart and observing the point on the chart where the lines appear to blur together and lose definition, we can (in a rough way) establish the limits of resolution.

High-quality standard definition, NTSC cameras can resolve about 900 lines; HDTV/DTV cameras over 1,000  --  well off the chart shown here.


Color Resolution

The resolution we've been discussing is based on the sharpness of the black and white (luma or luminance) component of the TV image.

It was discovered early in the experiments with color TV that the human eye perceives detail primarily in terms of differences in brightness and not in terms of color (chroma) information.

When NTSC color television was developed a highly complex system of adding a lower-resolution color signal to the existing black-and-white signal was devised. Using this system, color information can be added to the existing monochrome signal without having to greatly expand the information carrying capacity of the original black-and-white signal.  


Minimum Light Levels for Cameras

Television cameras require a certain level of light on a scene to produce good-quality video. This light level is measured in lux or foot-candles. The latter unit is used in the United States and lux is used in other countries.

A foot-candle is a measure of light intensity from a candle at a distance of one foot (under very specific conditions). The origin of the term "lux" is not known, although it's assumed to refer to lumens (a measure of light power) times ten.

Since we'll refer to both lux and foot-candles throughout these modules, you'll need to know that a foot-candle is equal to about 10 lux. (Actually it's 10.76, but 10 is generally close enough, and it's much easier to use in conversions.)

Most professional video cameras require a light level of about 75 foot-candles (750 lux) to produce the best quality video. Most homes and offices exceed this.

However, consumer (non-professional) video cameras typically need a higher level of illumination for the best video.low light camera sensitivity

With consumer-type camcorders you will find advertising literature claiming that a particular camera is capable of shooting pictures under less than one lux of light. (The light falling on a subject from a 60-watt light bulb 3 meters [10 feet] away is about 10 lux.) 

However, if you have ever tried this with a consumer-type camera, you know that you can't expect much in the way of impressive video quality.

Although an EIA standard is in place in the United States to specify minimum quality standards for light levels, adherence to this standard is not mandatory.

Since manufacturers know that consumers want cameras that shoot under low light levels, they are reluctant to use the EIA standard and look inferior to a competitor who is not adhering to the standard.

Suffice it to say, if you are in the market for a camera and you don't see the EIA standard specified, you need to check out any low-light level claims.  

By just zooming in on the darkest corner of the room and observing details in the darkest areas, you can make a rough comparison of the light sensitivity of different cameras.

At low light levels the iris of a camera must be wide open (at the lowest f-stop number) to allow in the maximum amount of light.  As the light level increases in a scene the iris of the lens must be stopped down (changed to a higher f-stop number) to maintain the same level of exposure on the camera target.

Under low light conditions video can quickly start to look dark with a complete loss of detail in the shadow areas.

To help compensate, professional cameras have built-in, multi-position, video gain switches that can amplify the video signal in steps from 3 up to about 28 units (generally the units are in decibels or dB's).

But, the greater the video gain boost, the greater the loss in picture quality. Specifically, video noise increases and color clarity diminishes.

Still and motion picture camera operators who are used to working with IE/ISO (film speed) exposure indexes may want to determine the light sensitivity of their video cameras. This information is often not available from camera manufacturers, but can be determined in - this three-step process.


Night Vision Modules  

For situations that require video under extremely low light levels, night vision modules are available that use electronic lightnight vision module multipliers to amplify the light going through a lens. (Note photo.)

The most refined of these can produce clear video using only the light from stars (a light level of about 1/100,000 lux).

At this point we'll take up a new topic, and one that will be continued into the next module.


Camera Mounts and

Handheld Camera Shots

tripodAlthough a tripod may be a hassle to carry and set up, the results can be worth the effort -- especially when displayed on HDTV screens where camera movement on static scenes can make an audience a bit "seasick."

Hand-holding cameras for a period of time can also get tiring. After trying to hold a camera steady for some time, the inevitable fatigue translates into progressively less steady shots.

The traditional exceptions to using a tripod are in news and sports where you must be mobile enough to follow moving subjects, documentary style production where shots are brief and rapid, and subjective camera shots that simulate what a moving subject is seeing. 

That having been said, in recent years the interior shots of many dramatic  productions are being routinely shot with handheld cameras.  For one thing, it saves production setup time, which means money.

The award-winning film, Traffic, released in 2001, had handheld shots designed to impart a documentary feel to some of the scenes.

In the action scenes in the 2007 film, The Boune Ultimatum, handheld shots were used to convey periods of total frenzy.

In the hands of a professional director of photography this effect can work; however, when less experienced videographers attempt to handhold a camera (especially while zooming, panning and tilting) the effect can look amateurish and even make viewers a bit nauseous.


Camera Pan Heads

On most tripods the pan and tilt head (which attaches the camera to the tripod) is not meant to be used for smooth panning and tilting while shooting -- only to reposition and lock the camera into position between takes.

And, this may be just as well, given the fact that a cut from one scene to another is faster and generally better than panning, tilting or zooming to new subject matter.

Even so, pans and tilts are commonly seen -- especially for following action, for revealing the relationship between objects in a scene, etc. Therefore, many tripods have heads designed to smooth out pan and tilt movements.fluid head

There are many types, but the most-used type is the fluid head shown here. It provides an adjustable resistance to pans and tilts -- just enough to smooth out the process.


Bean Bags

A simple camera "mount" bean bag that works in many situations is the beanbag. The photo on the left shows one on the door frame of a car.

The "beans" inside are small round plastic balls that can assume the shape of the surface the bag sits on. The top of the bag can adjust to the bottom of a camcorder, providing a degree of camera stability.

When used on accommodating surfaces, bean bags can represent a quick approach to getting shots.


Wireless Camera ModulesRF camcorder transmitter

Although camera operators doing "live" broadcasts from the field used to have to be "hard wired" to a production truck, today's cameras can relay the camera's signal via a RF (radio frequency) transmitter.

One is shown here on the back of a camcorder.

These units are commonly used in award programs, allowing cameras operators to freely roam throughout the isles to get shots of audience members without the problem of trailing and hazardous camera cables.

The photo at the top of this page is from Although the camera by itself (behind the lens) is pocket sized, it is capable of professional quality video. Numerous lenses are available for this camera and the technical specifications exceed those of many large professional video cameras.

In recent years SLR type "still" cameras -- primarily Canon and Nikon -- are being used in professional video production.

(Click on "more" for the second half of this section.)

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