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Fujifilm’s 4K lenses: changing the TV industry with amazing image quality

Watching on the big screen in a movie theater. On a flat-screen TV at home. On a mobile device on the go. People are enjoying more videos and with higher expectations than ever before. To satisfy the demand of viewers in this constantly evolving world, the motion picture and broadcast industries require the highest possible level of image quality. Since it offers four times the resolution of HD, 4K is growing in popularity as a new standard for movies and broadcasts.

In 2015, Fujifilm developed the FUJINON UA series, the world’s first 4K zoom lenses for use in broadcasting, spurring the adoption of this new standard. This product series has helped lead to the establishment of television stations that broadcast exclusively in 4K and plans for 4K recording of the upcoming 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Behind this major advance in television image quality lies a Fujifilm product strategy that sweeps away conventional wisdom about what a lens can or cannot be.

Broadcast and movies: two different worlds of camera lenses

In the world of television production, camera operators are constantly selecting and focusing on meaningful elements in the scene in front of them. For this reason, when it comes to cameras and lenses, maneuverability and ease of operation are top priorities. Broadcast camera lenses need to be light, compact, and portable, and have easy-to-use focus and zoom functions. Since broadcast camera operators must nimbly shift focus on a variety of subjects as they shoot, they tend to favor high-magnification zoom lenses. Fujifilm began developing television camera lenses in the 1960s and since then has released a wide range of products that fulfill these and many other stringent requirements.

So when Fujifilm entered the movie camera market in 2002, its engineers were understandably concerned about accommodating the different needs and culture of the motion picture industry. In contrast to the spontaneous world of TV, shooting a movie requires camera operators to capture scenes that are carefully planned in advance. Moreover, cinematic artists in highly specialized roles take ample time to get every detail perfect. Image quality tends to be prioritized over maneuverability and ease of operation. Although the new market Fujifilm was entering was undergoing major changes, such as the conversion to digital capture and projection, movie camera lenses still reflected a long tradition of putting image quality above all else.

4K as an opportunity to revolutionize movie camera lenses

Addressing the need for outstanding image quality in the motion picture industry, the first 4K movie camera reached the market in 2006. In 2009, Fujifilm released the world’s first zoom lens for use with 4K digital movie cameras. Then Fujifilm bet on its own ability to develop an entirely new type of 4K digital movie camera lens: compact and lightweight with high-magnification zoom capability. For added flexibility, the drive unit for the zoom and focus was detachable from the lens. The FUJINON ZK series was revolutionary—a kind of hybrid, combining the ultra-high-image quality of a movie camera lens with the maneuverability and ease of operation of TV camera lens.

Yet Fujifilm’s engineers were still not satisfied. They were determined to develop a movie camera lens that was even easier to use. The movie production environment was becoming even more competitive, and a more versatile lens could save costly hours on the set or on location while allowing operators to concentrate on capturing outstanding footage. Although confident they could produce a hit product, the engineers immediately ran into some significant design challenges.

The image sensor of a movie camera is much larger than that of a TV camera. For this reason, high-magnification zoom capability means a long and heavy lens—unless its design is truly innovative. To create a lens that was highly compact and lightweight, the engineers needed to design an intricate lens mechanism, develop lens elements of extreme thinness, and decrease the number of lens elements overall. Further, the engineers needed to design the drive unit to offer the functionality demanded by both the TV and movie industries. This 4K movie camera lens would require extremely advanced manufacturing technologies, and, of course, Fujifilm would not permit even the slightest compromise in image quality or stability.

As they embraced these challenges, Fujifilm’s engineers were inspired by the fact that no other company in the world was in a position to develop the lens they envisioned. Indeed, at the time, most other movie camera lens manufacturers did not have the technology to offer a 4K lens with high-magnification zoom with a drive unit of this level of performance.

The addition of a drive unit made the 4K lens a success in the broadcast environment.

The addition of a drive unit made the 4K lens a success in the broadcast environment.

Addressing major changes in the movie and TV industries

When Fujifilm showed the new digital movie camera lens prototype to camera operators, they typically said, “This just looks like a TV camera lens!” They seemed dismissive of the product at first. Yet when Fujifilm officially revealed the new FUJINON ZK lens at an international trade show, advance orders flooded in from around the world. Surprising and delighting industry experts, the FUJINON ZK lens overturned conventional wisdom, making waves in the motion picture industry.

As an unexpected bonus, the FUJINON ZK lens quickly caught on with TV camera operators, who used it with their 4K cameras. Although there was already strong demand for 4K capture, there was no 4K lens on the market designed specifically for their needs. Although originally designed for movie cameras, the FUJINON ZK lenses proved effective in dealing with the challenges of 4K shooting for television.

Still, the movie camera specification of the FUJINON ZK didn’t fully meet needs of television: the zoom magnification rate was not quite high enough, and the focus performance was not quite up to TV capture standards. There was still unfulfilled demand for a 4K lens designed specifically for television. So Fujifilm set out to develop a broadcast 4K camera lens in advance of its competitors.

Comparison of HD and 4K images

Spurring the adoption of 4K in the television industry

In developing the FUJINON UA series of television camera lenses, Fujifilm paid close attention to input from professionals who had used the FUJINON ZK lens in TV applications, thereby gaining a solid understanding of industry expectations for 4K broadcast image quality.

The world’s first 4K lenses for television received an enthusiastic welcome from TV stations, broadcasters of live events, and video production companies. In particular, since the launch of the series, 4K broadcasting of live sports events has expanded rapidly. In the UK, some sports broadcasters have leveraged the potential of these new lenses to field live 4K feed vans and even launch TV channels broadcasting exclusively in 4K. Signaling the shift to a new era of image quality, many broadcasters have adopted the FUJINON UA series and are now preparing to record the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics in 4K.

Setting aside conventional wisdom and tearing down the walls that separate industries, Fujifilm has helped bring about the 4K revolution in both movies and television. Building on its success offering game-changing products in these markets, Fujifilm is now researching and developing lenses for use with 8K resolution cameras.

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