Supermarket Sweep: Pan, Tilt & Zoom: Dynamic Range Stretch & AW-HE60 Make TV Cookery Show a Piece Of Cake

Supermarket Sweep Pan Tilt & Zoom‘What’s Cooking?’ is the new Channel 4 daytime cookery show backed by a major UK high street supermarket chain and produced by Superhero TV of Predictable Media. Ben Shephard and Lisa Faulkner presented the show with celebrity guests and well-known chefs competing against each other to cook up recipes as viewers interact and ask questions via Twitter and Facebook.  The show is broadcast live from a temporary studio in the car-park of a premium supermarket store in Becton, East London. Cameras within the studio follow the preparation of the food while others are used by mobile camera operators shadow the presenters along the supermarket aisles as the competing teams collect ingredients.  The technical integration and installation of the program was undertaken by 110 Productions; a technical services and solutions provider for independent broadcast and television productions, with the assistance of 3D Broadcast.

Setting up the staging, lighting, camera positions and configuration was no simple task as the purpose-built studio was lit with a combination of LED Fresnel and soft lights and features gigantic windows producing high backlit brightness and long shadows that result in ever-changing shooting conditions.  Of course this was one of the greatest factors that made the show such a challenge to produce and a potential threat to footage being ‘television-worthy’. Peter Johnston of 110 commented; “The British weather will always spring surprises. Over the course of an hour the contrast between the interior and exterior lighting can change markedly; maintaining a consistent and natural look on screen is vital but is difficult to achieve against quickly changing lighting levels. The typical solution is to add polarising film to the windows but, this was a very expensive option.”

However, Johnston’s experience with the alternative being in-camera electronic compensation techniques – was not positive. When testing the technique using a 350 camera, Johnston found the effect “unnatural and harsh.” Similarly, the Panasonic HPX500 tested was unsuitable as it did not offer the benefits of true HD and the HPX600 only offered a single chip.  Fortunately on the advice of 3D Broadcast, Johnston and the camera operating team at Superhero TV trialled Panasonic’s HPX3100 with its Dynamic Range Stretch function.  The producers were very impressed with its ability to compensate for extreme levels of contrast and quickly agreed to make the camera the main production tool.

Paul Raeburn of 3D Broadcast, noted; “The HPX3100 cameras are very good in themselves but the extra stops of latitude offered by the DRS is a godsend. Other camera systems can technically do the same, but usually there’s a price to pay in terms of mediocre looking pictures. We found that the Panasonic controls the levels well and, does not compromise on the quality of the video. The result is great pictures in all conditions.” The results from the DRS were so appealing that it is now activated on the cameras, whatever the lighting conditions.

The four HPX3100 units are mounted on inexpensive Libec LS-100 pedestals and an EZFX jib for a professional studio feel and the cameras are supplied with a camera control unit which manages video signals and centralised control from the vision desk.  Jill Keane from Panasonic’s distributor, Holdan explained; “Dedicated system cameras such as the new HC3800 will have a slight edge in terms of studio ergonomics and signal processing but snapping a studio adaptor onto a Panasonic P2 ENG is not only cost-effective, but it also gives the crew options for shoulder-mounting the devices, either during the series or on subsequent shoots.”

The programme makes continual use of graphics – up-to 70 per edition. With live viewer interaction encouraged, the producer needed to create striking CG on the run. This is achieved with a virtual VTR which plays out alpha channel motion graphics created in real-time in After Effects. The signal is embedded cleanly by the switcher, adding a dynamic and informative element to the show.

For the roaming in-store ingredients finding sections, the production also employs the lightweight Panasonic HPX371, connected to the studio by radio link. The camera was selected because of its balance between size and quality which made it good for walking the aisles of the supermarket. For the same reason it’s one of the Panasonic cameras deployed by Associated Press video journalists around the world: weighing in at around 5kg including lens, it doesn’t slow the camera operator down and is relatively discreet.

Although the four HPX3100s were ideal for use in the studio and able to compensate for the ever-changing lighting, to deliver the footage of preparation and cooking areas using an aerial view, robotic PTZ HD cameras were also required.  Panasonic robotic cameras are frequently selected for this specialist application with 64 AW-HE50 HD integrated pan-tilt remote cameras recently delivered to Roll to Record, the principal technology provider for Big Brother UK and a number of AW-HE120 cameras installed in London’s famous ‘Ronnie Scott’s jazz club to take the experience outside the walls of the venue.  For ‘What’s Cooking’, Panasonic AW-HE60S PTZ robotic cameras were mounted to the ceiling and specifically selected for their 18x zoom lens, and pan and tilt mechanism which allows the producer to frame each shot accurately. The movement and image settings of the PTZ units are controlled in real-time at the production desk with the help of Panasonic’s low-cost 5-camera controller.  A month into the production, the solution has been delivered according to the budget restrictions and is working fully dependably as Johnston explained; “These days budgets are under constant pressure so at every point we have selected equipment that is reliable and broadcast spec, as well as being highly cost-effective.”

The series is being broadcast from this month for a run of up to 13 weeks – with some of the shows pre-recorded as live.

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