New Canon Servo Lens Enters the Ultra-Slo-Mo Ring with HBO Sports, Inertia Unlimited

Despite debuting at NAB 2014 less than a week prior to the opening bell at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on April 12, Canon’s new CN7x17 KAS Cine-Servo lens made its way onto its first live sports production, as part of a new integration with Inertia Unlimited’s X-Mo Blue ultra-slo-mo–camera system on HBO’s coverage of the Pacquiao-Bradley WBO Welterweight title fight. The Canon Servo lens was used on an Inertia Unlimited X-Mo robotic-camera system ringside at the fight.

The Inertia Unlimited X-Mo camera integrated with the Canon CN7x17 KAS Cine-Servo lens

The Inertia Unlimited X-Mo camera integrated with the Canon CN7x17 KAS Cine-Servo lens

“To be able to secure such a remarkable, high-end lens for a camera that is so close to boxing fight action and shooting at such a high frame rate is really an incredible advantage,” says Jason Cohen, director, sports production, HBO Sports. “We were very grateful to be able to demo this, and I think it’s something you are going to see more and more in live sports because the images were simply unbelievable. That angle has never looked so good.”

From the Show Floor to the Ring
Upon seeing the new sServo lens at Canon’s booth on Monday during NAB 2014, Inertia Unlimited President Jeff Silverman immediately saw its potential not only in 4K production, at which it is targeted, but also for his X-Mo system. Despite the short notice, Canon was able to provide a CN7x17 KAS Cine-Servo lens (available in August for priced at $33,000) for Inertia Unlimited and HBO Sports to demo with the X-Mo at the Pacquiao-Bradley Fight the following Saturday.

“This was a great opportunity that we had to get the lens into action right away after NAB, and our friends at HBO and Inertia Unlimited gave us a chance to show what this lens can do,” says Richard Eilers, director of sales, ITCG Professional Products Engineering Division, Canon. “By the lens build and specification, it has great potential for applications like this in sports production. We’re thrilled at seeing the great results achieved at the fight and are looking forward to discovering many other areas with the talents of our customers where this lens can deliver terrific images, in both 4K and HD.”

Bringing the Lens Gap
Although the X-Mo has long been a ringside staple, HBO Sports’ boxing coverage (traditionally with 17-80mm Angenieux Optimo cinema lens), this marked the first time the new 4K-friendly Canon lens had been integrated with X-Mo system.

“We have always been patiently waiting for a lens that bridges the gap between B4 lenses and cine lenses, and that is precisely what this Canon lens does,” says Silverman. “When I saw it at NAB, I realized immediately that it was absolutely the ideal solution for either a 4K camera or for a high-speed camera that uses a large sensor like the X-Mo.”

The X-Mo system uses the Vision Research Phantom v642 ultra-slo-mo camera, which is equipped with a single large sensor, making it difficult to use B4 lenses and usually forcing Inertia to use cine-style lenses, which traditionally do not feature preprogrammed servo settings to automate focus, zoom, and iris functions. This has forced Inertia and other slo-mo–camera providers to manually build in servos — often an arduous and complex process.

The new Canon Servo, however, contains a 16-bit high-precision microprocessor in its Digital Drive unit to enable operators to preprogram focus and zoom position/speed as well as iris settings. The microprocessor also provides the capability from a very high-speed zoom of 0.5 seconds to a very slow and consistent zoom of 300 seconds.

“The servos on it are very responsive,” says Silverman. “A lot of the cinema-style servos are designed for productions where they don’t have very quick movement, which you [don’t need] when you shoot commercials and film. But, in sports, we are constantly reacting the action, so we need to zoom in or pull out very quickly. The servos on this lens are snappy enough to do that and exactly what we are used to with high-end broadcast lenses.”

A Weight Off Camera Operators’ Shoulders
In addition, according to Silverman, the Canon Servo lens represents a much more lightweight option for handheld X-Mo configurations than previous lenses Inertia Unlimited has used. “It is not the lightest lens in the world,” Silverman says, “but it is much lighter than the alternative and is realistically handholdable, which was not usually the case in the past. And it is also a perfect marriage with the typical robo [configuration].”

4K Still on the Way
While the lens looks to be a major addition to ultra-slo-mo production, Canon of course has its eye on the burgeoning 4K market, promising that the lens can deliver 4K optical performance throughout the broad focal length.

“This lens fills a huge hole in the ecosystem and is going to be a significant player for not just the high-speed market but also the 4K world, which has been so devoid of effective choices thus far — with the exception of some of the Fusion Cabrio lenses,” says Silverman. “And Canon decided to build a 4K lens from scratch that targets that space. There are a lot more lenses they are going to have to build, but I think this is very significant.”

JitaCam Takes Flight at MGM
Although integration of the new Canon Servo lens with the X-Mo dominated much of the buzz around the MGM truck compound at the fight, it wasn’t the only big camera debut for HBO Sports. The show, which was run out of NEP SS17 and  featured a total of 14 cameras, also marked the first time HBO deployed the JitaCam (jib in the air) 360-degree aerial camera rig in conjunction with Orad virtual graphics.

“The JitaCam setup required a ton of people and research hours and support to try to figure out how to calibrate a [venue] with a hanging jib,” says Cohen. “It makes for some pretty exciting possibilities, though.”

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