NFL Kickoff 2019: NBC Debuts New Canon Lens for Opener, Plans More Dual Skycams for SNF

More super-slo-mo, outside pregame set are also in the offing

The NFL makes it an even century tonight, kicking off its 100th season from Soldier Field. And NBC Sports Group kicks off its 14th season of Sunday Night Football with the Packers-Bears matchup on the NFL Kickoff Game tonight, rolling a massive show that features the debut of Canon’s new CJ15ex4.3B 4K broadcast lens on a Steadicam rig.

As for the 2019 SNF campaign, the Peacock plans to roll out dual Skycams on multiple games, has upped its number of super-slo-mo cameras, and has moved its onsite Football Night in America pregame set to outside the stadium.

A One-of-a-Kind Lens for NFL Kickoff Game 2019
Canon’s new CJ15ex4.3B UHDxs portable zoom lens is the first portable broadcast lens to feature Air Sphere Coating, which originated with Canon’s EF-mount photography lenses. And, through the optimal placement of fluorite, UD, and Super UD lenses in a multi-group optical configuration developed by Canon, the CJ15ex4.3B possesses excellent correction of such situations as color bleeding and chromatic aberration.

Camera operator Richie Leible with new Steadicam featuring Canon’s CJ15ex4.3B 4K broadcast lens

“We are demoing the new Canon 15×4.3 4K wide-angle lens in this game on our Steadicam,” says Keith Kice, technical manager, SNF, NBC Sports. “It gives you a very wide angle, and we really like it so far. There is only one of those lenses in the world right now, so we’re very excited to be able to use it on the opener. As those become public, we’d love to have them for the Steadicams because they make a very big difference.”

The lens will go directly from Chicago to Amsterdam, where it will be shown on Canon’s stand at the IBC Show (it’s expected to ship early next year).

SNF Preview: More Skycams, High-Speed Cameras, Virtual Graphics
NBC will have a Skycam system on all SNF and NFL Playoff games this year and will bring in dual Skycams on seven occasions (five regular-season and two playoffs). Last month, NBC deployed dual Skycams in Tennessee for a Steelers-Titans preseason game in which the production team experimented with using the high Skycam from a side-view angle to follow the action down the field.

“I’m glad we did it. We learned a lot,” said NBC Sunday Night Football Executive Producer Fred Gaudelli on a conference call. “There are things that I would do differently than we did [in Tennessee], which is the whole purpose of doing a test during a preseason game. One of the things we lost was just some of the intimacy of a regular play that you would get from the conventional game cameras. I think we could still get that if we just shot a little bit tighter and lowered the camera from where we had it the other night.”

NBC Sports will be the first to use Canon’s new CJ15ex4.3B 4K broadcast lens for live coverage of a sports event.

He added that the plan for now is to use the sideview Skycam position on a series or two rather than the entire game.

“I wouldn’t have any plans to do it for an entire game in the regular season,” he explained, “but I could see breaking it out for a series or two, max, during a game this year. Might even try to on opening night, where we’ll move the Skycam to the side and take a series of one for the Packers and one for the Bears and see how it goes. But I’m glad we did the test,” he added, “because we did get a lot of good information and were able to assess where the holes are right now. We think we can plug some of those holes.”

NBC also continues to refresh its camera complement, replacing older models with Sony HDC-4300’s. The average SNF show is now up to 43 total cameras, including 20-plus HDC-4300’s (six in 6X-slo-mo mode) and four HDC-4800 4K-capable cameras.

“We’re using a lot more 4300’s this year,” says John Roché, senior technical manager, NEP. “Eventually, NBC’s plan is to use all and above in the future, so we are getting away from the older technology.”

In addition, NBC has added a new Canon UHD-Digisuper 122X 4K UHD field box lens to one of its 4300’s. The system leverages Canon’s ARIA (Automatic Restoration of Illumination Attenuation) technology to minimize ramping at the telephoto end (often causing ultra-zoomed-in shots to lose brightness).

Leible joins the Packers defense for a group celebration.

“It can be very challenging at nighttime when you’re down on the field and you have to shoot a coach up in the box,” says Roché. “But this system shades automatically so you don’t lose any brightness. The ARIA feature helps immensely and is making video [shaders] a lot happier.”

NBC used three Fletcher 4K POV cameras to cover the end-zone backline during the preseason in an effort to get a definitive look at close scoring plays. According Kice, the broadcaster will look to deploy this system later in the regular season.

Use of augmented-reality graphics — driven by Ross Video and SMT — in the Sunday Night Football telecast will continue this year.

“When we first started using virtual graphics, it was on our two goal-post cameras,” says Tim Dekime, VP, NFL operations, NBC Sports Group. “Then we added it to our Skycam, and, this year, we will also have it on our Camera 2 location. So we will have those virtual graphics on four different locations, which is a big advantage for Fred and the [production] team.”

Although NBC continues to explore upgrading its SNF telecasts to 4K and/or HDR — which it uses for Notre Dame football games — the Peacock’s NFL coverage will not make that leap this season.

“No plans [to transition to HDR] near term,” says Ken Goss, SVP, remote operations and production planning, NBC Sports Group. “We are looking at it and evaluating it, but not right now. We are obviously doing [4K HDR] on Notre Dame games, and we’re looking at all the necessary elements to move in that direction, but it’s a complicated technology. We have decided not to do it [on SNF] for now, but it’s definitely down the road — just not this season.”

NEP’s ND1 (A, B, C, and D units) is also back in the SNF compound for this season, with Gaudelli and director Drew Esocoff at the front bench.

“Tim, Keith, John, and the [SNF] team are incredible,” adds Goss. “Week in week out, they do an amazing job staying in front of the technology and delivering a massive show as we move through the season.”

Football Night in America Preview: Onsite Set Shifts Outside
NBC will be moving its Football Night in America onsite pregame set outside the stadium this year in an effort to engage more with fans onsite.

Leible gets a tight shot of Packers tight end Jimmy Graham after his touchdown.

“As we’ve learned through the year,” said Sam Flood, executive producer/president, production, NBC and NBCSN, on a conference call. “The audience and the stadium and the warmups start happening a little after 7:20, 7:30, so that first half hour gives you a chance to get out amongst the fans who are warming up in a different way for the game with their activities. We’re jumping into that.”

The set, which will incorporate branding for new Football Night in America sponsor Applebee’s, will feature a jib, a Steadicam, and two hard cameras, as well as a new desk and design.

“It’s a very slick set,” says Dekime. “It’s being completed right now. We will be outside every Sunday except Thanksgiving and playoffs, when we’ll move inside the stadium.”

The NBC Sports production team is also launching a new “field set” for demonstrations of key plays featuring NBC’s on-air talent: former NFL coach Tony Dungy, former defensive back Rodney Harrison, and former QB Chris Simms.

“It’s going to be used only when there are moments that [it] can really highlight why [they] happened,” says Flood. “To have a quarterback that gets sacked a lot in Chris Simms, we can showcase things that way. When we have a safety intercepting a lot of footballs, we can show that [with Harrison]. We have a coach in Tony, a quarterback [in Chris] and a defensive back [in Harrison] — the big three — so we can handle them all. It’s going to have great insights, [and] it’s a new way to educate and inform in an engaging fashion.”

Football Night in America will once again be produced by Rob Hyland and directed by Mike Sheehan.