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ESPN Debuts On-Field Camera System for Monday Night Football With Sony FX-9 on ARRI Trinity Stabilizer

13/09/2021

ESPN Debuts On-Field Camera System for Monday Night Football With Sony FX-9 on ARRI Trinity Stabilizer System is MNF's more flexible answer to the shallow-depth-of-field craze By Brandon Costa, Director of Digital

Monday, September 13, 2021 - 4:31 pm

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Week 1 of the NFL season is nearly in the books, and, for those in the business of producing live football for television, a key conversation point is picking up right where it left off a season ago: what's with this on-field camera shooting in a shallow depth of field?

It's a trend that has swept the industry in 2021, and yesterday the shot was seen frequently across afternoon games on CBS and Fox.

With Monday Night Football returning this evening to kick off its 52nd season, ESPN is rolling out its own take on the new on-field camera, deploying a Sony FX-9 affixed to an ARRI Trinity camera-stabilization system.

Camera operator Clay Loveless (right) tinkers with the ARRI Trinity RF rig that he will operate this season on Monday Night Football for ESPN. (Photo: Gabriel Christus/ESPN Images)

The production crew expects the camera to serve many roles, from taking the place of the Steadicam to, when warranted, pulling in some of those popular cinematic looks.

It's basically a Steadicam Plus Plus, says Monday Night Football director Jimmy Platt, who is entering his third season at the helm of the iconic sports-TV property. It gives you the ability to have a jib and a Steadicam all in one system, essentially. Putting the shallow-depth-of-field camera on there is a plus, but we could have put any traditional broadcast camera on there.

The shallow-depth-of-field camera caught fire last December, which, Platt notes, was too late for the Monday Night Football crew to work anything like it into their rotation. They did, however, have a lengthy offseason to weigh the options. He loved the image, but, as for many, the struggle to keep the image in focus was a sticking point he was hoping to overcome before committing to a camera of its like.

The NFL permits broadcast partners - ESPN included - only one roving camera position that can come onto the field during a stoppage in game action. ESPN didn't want to sacrifice its valuable Steadicam without knowing that it would be logistically worth it. The ESPN operations team believes that this setup delivers the best of all worlds. The Sony FX-9 offers the strong autofocus needed to keep up with the goal of the shot, and the overall rig, which is connected to the truck via RF, offers more control over other elements of the image (such as aperture and color correction), making it a seamless and valuable addition to the broadcast.

That [shallow depth of field] has taken on a life of its own, which has been cool to see, says Platt. There have been various success rates. We've had the benefit of being able to sit back and watch the development while also doing some of our own R&D. The thing that's interesting with the shallow-depth-of-field craze is, there's a reason it works in film; the sports world is a bit different. But there are use cases where shallow depth of field is great, like when a quarterback walks out onto the field or there's a unique scene-setting shot.

But, in a touchdown celebration, he continues, in my opinion, the rest of the environment is important. Only one or two players might be in focus, and the other players are out of focus, or the crowd is out of focus. What we're going with gives us a really good use case in adjusting how much depth of field we have based on the situation at hand.

Director Jimmy Platt (left) and technical director Josh Miller rehearse at the front bench of ESPN Monday Night Football's primary onsite mobile production unit, NEP EN1. (Photo: Gabriel Christus/ESPN Images)

You have to look at this like a photographer, Platt continues, and actively choose when these types of shots will look great and when they will not. Can we get in and out of both looks within one system? I think this will help us do that well, which is what we saw when we tested it during the preseason. We'll only get better at dialing it in. There's still a lot of refinement that needs to be made that we'll make as we go throughout the season.

ESPN Senior Operations Producer Matthew Kwok says that the Monday Night Football team did extensive research over the summer in an attempt to vet the shallow-depth-of-field trend while simultaneously rethinking the on-field camera option as a whole. The team got its first look at the ARRI Trinity in action during a boxing event, and it caught their eye.

The camera, which will be operated on the field by veteran Monday Night Football Steadicam operator Clay Loveless, will present a new and significant challenge. Although a rig like this is used often in scripted film and television production, there's a quite a difference, as Platt points out, between operating this unit during a take on set and operating it live on the field during a three-hour game in a football stadium, where there's little control over the environment.

Another key decision in ESPN's work with this camera was to stick with autofocus over putting manual controls into the hands of the operator or someone else. The added role of a focus puller (or assistant camera operator) was not suited to live sports production, in the team's opinion.

It's hard for that focus puller to make refinements as the operator gets closer to the subject and vice versa, Platt points out. It ends up being a lot of hunting for the focus. With a normal broadcast camera, the Steadicam operator would be able to zoom and focus at the same time off of a grip switch. When you add in shallow depth of field, your room for error is minimal. They cannot zoom, get their
LINK: https://www.sportsvideo.org/2021/09/13/espn-debuts-new-on-field-camera...
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