Hitachi Z-HD5500 Cameras Raise Live Production Quality for Sardis Events


Specialising in corporate events and conferences, Sardis Events often works in production environments with dynamic lighting and background conditions that can be challenging for video cameras. When the company expanded its video equipment to support recent growth, they purchased three Hitachi Z-HD5500 studio and field production cameras. 

Based near Chicago, Sardis Events was formed in late 2016 as a division of production, AV installation and rental company Sardis Media, in business for 20 years. Sardis Events handles services from staging and set design to multi-camera image magnification (IMAG) and live webcasting for companies including Baxter, Discover, Motorola Solutions and many others, as well as various professional associations. Sardis produces events across the US and internationally with audiences ranging in size from hundreds to thousands. Because their project volume has grown to nearly 100 jobs annually, they started evaluating new cameras in 2017. 

“We owned 1080i cameras from a different manufacturer, but as we got busier our jobs began overlapping more often,” said Nate Aguilar, technical director at Sardis Events. We found ourselves renting extra cameras and equipment quite often until it reached the point where it made sense for us to expand and build a second camera, switcher and routing system of our own. We wanted fibre connectivity to extend operations over longer distances, and we wanted to upgrade to 1080p so our video would hold up well on big screens and for webcasting.”

The ability of the new cameras to handle LED-based backgrounds was also inportant to Nate. “We do more and more LED video walls as backdrops on stages, and we needed cameras with global shutter sensors to acquire video without the visual artefacts that LED displays can cause,” he said. “After learning that the HITACHI Z-HD5500 was optimised for challenging LED environments and recorded natively to 1080p, it seemed like a good fit for us. When we had a demonstration in front of an LED wall, the results were excellent. Finally, the cost-effectiveness of the camera was also a factor in our decision because it means we can be competitive on the price of our services while delivering a high quality product.”

Sardis deploys the Z-HD5500 cameras on tripods, handheld or on a jib depending on the demands of each project. The cameras are connected via fibre to HITACHI CU-HD1200 camera control units mounted in one of two pre-wired racks that Sardis moves between shows for easy set-up. One rack houses the CCUs, camera shading controls, shading monitor, recorders, scopes and a Ross Carbonite Black Plus switcher frame, and the second rack holds the switcher control surface and primary monitoring.
The pre-configured racks combined with the cameras’ fibre connectivity and ease of deployment make the team's on-site set-up times quite fast. “Live mobile productions often require quick turnaround,” said Kurt Hafferkamp, project lead and video technician for Sardis Events. “At many events, there isn’t time for any equipment not to work. Even when we have longer set-up times, it's good to know that the Z-HD5500 cameras will simply work. They’ve proven themselves many times.”

HITACHI Controllers Rack Sardis
For Nate, the quality that the cameras deliver, before any tuning, will always be the most important factor. “We plug them in, do an automatic white balance, and the images look as they should. You can always fine-tune them with the controller, but in a run-and-gun set-up where all you have time for is auto-white, they consistently look great.”
Nate and Kurt appreciate the distance and flexibility of the cameras’ fibre connectivity, as well as the inherent quality advantages of the 1080p60 video format, both of which have upgraded their productions significantly. Their camera operators prefer using the Z-HD5500s because they are lighter and easier to handle for handheld operation, and have functions like return video and tally.

From a business perspective, Aguilar also notes the cross-rental opportunities with companies Sardis partners with. “We have vendors who own HITACHI cameras, so it’s easy to cross-rent, and it’s also easy for us to integrate the rentals into our respective projects. I hope to add more to our inventory in the future to further support that aspect of the business.”