OK, here’s my take on the situation.
If money is no problem then the safest bet is to purchase a good quality HD lens, expect to spend at least £8k.
If you budget is restricted then the situation is much less clear. There are now several low cost 2/3? HD lenses designed for cameras such as the Panasonic HPX500. In my opinion these lenses are just not worth the money. They might be cheap (£4k ish) but the one’s I’ve played with have been pretty grim, suffering from lots of CA and soft corners.
If your on a tight budget the best thing you can do is take your camera to a good dealer and go through their second hand lenses, trying them on the camera. Check for resolution (use a chart), corner softness, CA and contrast. I did this and ended up with a Canon 16x8x2 IF lens. I found that lenses with lower zoom ratios tended to be better than those with higher ratios. I’m really pleased with my lens and when compared to the latest HD equivalents I can not tell the difference in real world use. It certainly outperforms all the budget HD lenses I’ve tried.
One interesting thing that I have discovered in my research into this subject is that Contrast is what makes the biggest difference in lens performance, not simply resolution as one might expect. Visually the next thing you notice is CA. This is a tough one as when you increase the resolution or sharpness of a lens you also tend to increase the CA.
Until lens manufacturers start to release MTF curves for their lenses the only thing we have as buyers to go on is the advertising blurb. It’s easy for a manufacturer to claim improved performance or new glass or other technology, but without accurate MTF curves it’s all pretty meaningless. You would only need the tiniest resolution improvement to be able to claim that you new HD lens range is sharper than your SD range, it could just be a fraction of a percent difference.
Last weekend was the Royal International Air Tattoo. The largest military air show in the world. I’ve filmed this event many times and every year we try to do things a little differently to jazz things up. We have been shooting the show in HD for the past 3 years, this year it was entirely XDCAM with the exception of the minicams which were HXR-MC1P HD minicams. We had an EX1, EX3 and 3x PDW-700?s. As well as the usual extra long telephoto lenses we had a couple of gyro stabilized lenses including a schwem gyrozoom. While not an HD lens we found that the performance of the lens wasn’t too bad. There is no other lens that offers the degree of stabilization offered by the schwem so for the applications we were using it for we were happy to accept the slight softness in the corners. The application we had was to use it in one of the “Follow Me” vehicles used to marshall the aircraft around the airbase.
The high point of this was doing a tracking shot of the recently restored Vulcan bomber landing at Fairford. To do this we drove along the taxiway parallel to the runway at high speed as the Vulcan came into land. Once it had landed we got some impressive shots as it taxied right behind us. The Vulcan is a huge aircraft and to have this bearing down on you as it taxies with all four engines running (they normally use only 2) is quite a rush! The Schewm is a long lens so the Vulcan completely filled the frame, despite this the gyro stabilisation kept the images rock steady. Over the weekend I shot aircraft startups and GV’s using an EX3, then the follow me stuff with the schwem and PDW-70 as well as flying and display footage using a PDW-700 and 42x Fujinon lens. The most reassuring thing is that as these are all XDCAM cameras we know they will all cut together well in the final edit.