Q&A: Canon Europe’s Kuniaki Iijima reflects on an “incredible year” in sports broadcast

Canon Europe’s Kuniaki Iijima: "Sports broadcasters can be confident that we will keep listening to their requests and opinions so that we can provide really high quality, innovative lens solutions."

Canon Europe’s Kuniaki Iijima: “Sports broadcasters can be confident that we will keep listening to their requests and opinions so that we can provide really high quality, innovative lens solutions.”

With its products playing an integral role in bringing sports fans the action from Brazil and Russia, among other landmark sports events, 2014 has undoubtedly been another landmark year for Canon. As IBC 2014 hoves into view, Kuniaki Iijima – who is European broadcast products director at Canon Europe – reflects on the impact of the new CN7x17 KAS S Cine-Servo Lens and the exciting opportunities for sports production heralded by 4K.

How is 2014 shaping up so far in terms of Canon’s presence in sports production?

2014 has been an incredible year for Canon in sport. A look to the sidelines in Brazil during the recent football tournament revealed a familiar sight to many sporting event fans. Canon’s broadcast field lenses represented approximately 90 percent (based on Canon U.S.A, Inc, survey of data as of July 14, 2014) of all television lenses used to capture the memorable TV moments. Similar can be said of the winter event in Russia, highlighting the continued popularity of Canon’s professional imaging product portfolio.

We’re also very much looking forward to this year’s Ryder Cup; as an official supplier of the tournament we expect to have a similarly significant presence.

An integral part of our official professional offering is support. Our world renowned technical teams are present at all of the world’s largest sporting events, providing on-site dedicated assistance when professionals need it most – with convenient access to technical support, equipment maintenance, and product loans.

Canon has lately emphasised its ability to deliver products across the spectrum of applications. Could you highlight a few specific products that really demonstrate this breadth of offer?

The Canon DIGISUPER XJ95x is one of the most popular lenses in sports broadcasting and has been consistently used across the biggest events in the world. It offers the widest focal length (8.6mm) of any other Canon field lens and an impressive zoom range, enabling a multitude of imaging possibilities that can’t be achieved with other lenses. The lens has been designed to capture every possible on-site sensation, from the emotion of a crowded stadium, to the close-up facial expression of an individual player or athlete – and thanks to built-in IS users can be assured that no matter how close up they are shooting they always receive a stable picture

Recent changes in shooting styles, especially experiments with 4K, and our commitment to offering the best devices on the market saw us introduce the CN7x17 KAS S zoom lens earlier this year. This is Canon’s first-ever large format 4K lens to feature a servo drive unit and long zoom ratio, and unlocks a world of creative opportunities in sports production using large sensor cameras.

What have been the key product launches this year in terms of high-end sports production?

Our CN7x17 KAS S, launched early this year, was a really significant announcement for the sports broadcast world. The extended zoom range – the focal length is an impressive 17-120mm – and servo drive unit make it suitable for a number of different situations. It’s designed from scratch to be familiar and comfortable for camera operators, so handheld or shoulder-mounted use at pitch-side or for interviews is very natural. The focus travel is 180o, for example, versus 300o for our standard cine lenses. This is in order to speed up focusing to match TV operation, and simultaneously pay attention to shallow DOF. For fixed camera positions we have the usual compatibility with Canon focus and zoom demands, which means configuration can be just the same as with standard 2/3” lenses.

Of course, all that would have no meaning to our customers if the optical quality was not good.  Fortunately, our designers have really got to grips with the challenge and have provided a lens with outstanding performance, which we can confidently say is more than suitable for 4K production.

2014 has witnessed the arrival of 4K in a major way. What is Canon’s view of the progress made by the format this year, and what is the company’s role going to be in its future roll-out?

4K has the potential to make sports broadcasting more exciting than ever for viewers, but the nature of a lot of 4K equipment doesn’t lend itself to the established language of sports broadcasting. Lens selection can be a particular challenge as most 4K cameras to date utilise large Super35mm sensors. We’ve provided our first optical solution there with the CN7x17 KAS S, which is the first in a new line-up of products designed to support the use of large sensor cameras in sports production.

We’ve also seen some recent developments in the 2/3” camera market, though, with Grass Valley and Hitachi in particular both having proposed 4K solutions that will utilise 2/3” sensors. As we have done for more than 50 years, we will continue to work closely with all of our industry partners to understand what kind of lenses our customers need to work with the next generation of camera technology.

From your conversations with sports broadcasters and OB providers, what are their abiding concerns about professional lenses and cameras… and how does Canon address these in its products and support?

The question of investment comes up time and again. The pace of change when it comes to broadcast technology and the investment required to keep up is always at the front of our customer’s mind, but by staying in touch with our users at every stage Canon ensures that it is bringing the right solutions at the right time and maximising customer investment.

For example, the 86x was introduced in 2000 (before HD era) and is still being used in the field today. Of course, as a TV lens, durability is very important, but Canon is also looking to the future. Now we have the 95x which offers higher optical performance over the 86x, so whilst we do not position this as a perfect lens for 4K, it can be used with 4K cameras with some compromises required during this transaction period.

Other concerns include size and weight. Customers are increasingly shooting wider and for longer periods of time, and do not want the size and weight of their lens to be too big or heavy. Of course it is a big challenge, but one that we have embraced with the launch of new products that offer higher performance and specifications without increasing size and weight.

An interesting trend that we’re also seeing is interest in the convergence of virtual imaging and live sports broadcasts, for example to super-impose advertising that can be adjusted dynamically during the match or event.

Our latest lenses – including the CN7x17 KAS S – feature 16-bit rotary encoders, providing a level of precision that allows them to be integrated directly into a virtual studio system without additional equipment. It’s just another example of how listening to our customers allows us to create products that can meet their current and future needs.

What should sports broadcast professionals should look out for from Canon as we move towards 2015?

Well, of course I can’t reveal any specific details but sports broadcasters can be confident that we will keep listening to their requests and opinions so that we can provide really high quality, innovative lens solutions. It’s something we’ve been doing in professional broadcast for more than 50 years with incredible results and there’s so much more to come.

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