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The Evolution of Professional Video Acquisition

Professional video acquisition is undergoing a revolution as the production industry takes advantage of the wide range of advanced camcorders and cameras at their disposal. The image quality available in contemporary products is far in excess of what was exclusive to just high-end TV and movie productions a decade ago, but the jump in quality and fall in price points are just part of the story.

The Importance of Convergence

The emergence of DSLRs used for professional video production is well documented, but after an initial significant spike in demand, these products became less fashionable. End-users realised that, although the image quality “bang for buck” was considerable, DSLRs simply weren’t built with video in mind and so low-end digital cinema cameras became the option of choice. The genie was out of the bottle, however, and camera manufacturers were keen to exploit this market. The next generation of DSLRs and, more recently, Compact System Cameras (CSCs or Mirrorless Cameras) were built with video in mind and have reaped the rewards, with renewed interest in the segment.

The Rise and Rise of Large Sensors

The background to this, of course, was the digital cinema revolution, kickstarted by Red Digital Cinema in 2007. Filmic, shallow-depth-of-field shooting was once only the preserve of high-end film makers, but now it is not just possible at lower price points, it is becoming the standard.

In 2012, less than a tenth of global pro camcorder volumes were accounted for by products with sensors larger than 2/3". In 2017, this figure had risen to almost half.

Key to this is the desire to give content the prestigious, cinematic look: to add value to the production. This is true of almost all genres and verticals, up to and including some news items (although not true ENG content). The pervasiveness of this look has led to a global decline of the 2/3" segment, as broadcasters opt for mid-range digital cinema cameras rather than “traditional” 2/3" sensor camcorders. ENG is now the only preserve of these 2/3" sensor cameras and, even here they’re under pressure, as quality lower-end products are being preferred in some cases, due to pressure on budgets.

1" Sensors: The Perfect Compromise

Digital cinema cameras typically have S35mm or larger sensors, which give a distinctive look, but are not practical in all situations. Where users may have the required experience or want more of a “run and gun” style of shooting other options are required. This is where 1" sensor camcorders have come in. First entering the market in 2014, 1" sensor cameras have grown to become the leading sensor size in the global pro camcorder market, accounting for a third of volumes in 2017.

1" sensor pro camcorders have come to prominence at the expense of the 1/3" segment, the traditional “workhorse” sensor size. 1/3" sensor camcorders have been, and continue to be, used in a wide range of verticals because they offer what was the perfect compromise between performance and price. 1" sensor camcorders offer arguably better image quality while being less expensive in some cases.

In addition to this, the fixed-lens nature of many 1" sensor camcorders means that the total cost of ownership is lower than even the most affordable large sensor camcorders, while maintaining the shallow depth-of-field look (albeit in more forgiving way).

Evolution of High-end Digital cinema cameras

At the other end of the market, top-range digital cinema cameras are also undergoing a transformation. As the quality of mid-range cameras improves at pace, vendors of high-end digital cinema cameras have been forced to innovate. The past 12 months have seen a raft of Large Format Sensor products released from Arri, Red, Sony and Canon, with rumours of more products to be released in the coming year. The aim here is to stimulate mature markets that have become saturated with S35mm cameras over the past couple of years by giving end-users (and rental houses) new reasons to purchase products.

Live Content outside the Realm of Broadcasters

It is not only the pre-recorded market that is undergoing significant change. While system cameras still dominate the world of live acquisition when it comes to broadcast, PTZ cameras are really making their mark across the whole spectrum of live AV. Flexible, comparatively inexpensive and not requiring the operator skills needed for more complex products, PTZ cameras are proving hugely popular in corporate, education and house of worship verticals to name a few. They are also being used to a certain extent within broadcast, competing with low-end system cameras to allow savings both in terms of CAPEX (cheaper products) and OPEX (fewer operators required). While the system camera market has remained relatively flat despite the transition to 4K, the global PTZ market is going from strength to strength, with volumes growing with a CAGR of 5.3%.

While the priority in professional video production has remained the same – producing the best quality content that budget will allow, the ways by which this is done are changing as technology evolves and high-quality video acquisition products become more affordable. The pressures on budgets, the collision between pro video and AV worlds and the intense competition in the market means that innovation is likely to continue. It will therefore be the manufacturers that can stay ahead of the curve that will prosper.

Global Pro Camcorder Sensor Size Splits

About the author

Chris Evans

About Us

Here at Futuresource Consulting we deliver specialist research and consulting services, providing market forecasts and intelligence reports. Since the 1980s we have supported a range of industry sectors, which has grown to include: CE, Broadcast, Entertainment Content, EdTech and many more.