22Mar2011

Super Sharp Shooters

The chat on DSLR’s has been done to death. We’re all wising up. It’s been an age since we’ve seen strutting shooters prowling the streets, shoulders proudly laden with some sort of bizarre rig; an intricate metal structure with a Canon whatever-D hidden at its centre like a fly stuck in a spiders web. Initially we all went weak at the knees in discussions with these cool cats, gawping at the sweet depth of field in videos on YouTube, planning to discard our far inferior HDV cams and resigning ourselves to 12 minute shooting limits over a small battalion of memory cards, less we be considered lesser mortals!

Then the test results came in. We decided to chill, have a beer and put our feet up. In retrospect, we decided that we didn’t really want to suffer from aliasing, moiré, shutter rolling, poor audio and actually not-so-amazing compression. We didn’t want to try and get round the uncomfortable rig, didn’t want to attach a viewing monitor, and we didn’t want to fit an entire sound production unit into our shirt pocket. Anyway, why would you use a 21MP sensor to record an image which only requires 2MP for 1080p High Definition? That’s like asking Alain Ducasse to rustle up a microwave burger with extra plastic cheese.

I’m not anti-DSLR (I’m getting one), it’s just in the corporate video world, I haven’t got time to fret about the intricate setup details that come with the cameras, and the limits of the technology. When shooting in the field I need my cam-ops to be able to adapt quickly and for that you can’t beat the versatility and simplicity of the dedicated HD video cams. While Philip Bloom is my hero of the month, I’d add up all the extra costs and hire RED. And I don’t watch House anyway.

Love them or hate them, we can all argue about DSLR’s until the cows come home. But really there’s no point now because the world has moved on. Mother Data continues to compute its unstoppable evolution. At the end of 2010 Panasonic released their micro 4/3 dedicated video camera. Built on the chipset and characteristics of the big sensor stills cameras but wrapped inside the specifically designed package of a fully functional video camera. Reports are coming in from the filmmaking community that, while not perfect, the camera is most definitely a step in the right direction. The Panasonic is priced competitively (under £5k) and offers that 35mm look without the cost of bigger cameras such as RED and Alexa (good luck finding one of those!), and without the hassle that comes with DSLR.

This is just the first step of course, but it’s going to change the corporate video game quicker than Usain Bolt can crash your Beemer. It won’t be long before these cameras start to filter down into the hands of the average consumer, and by that point both the video quality itself and the web’s ability to handle the clarity of the image will be taken for granted. Let’s not forget it was only 3 years ago that YouTube was broadcasting at a ‘High Quality’ mode of 480x360px. In July last year they announced their first 4k videos with a resolution of 4096x3072px (if your monitor is the size of a house and your broadband is powered by nuclear fission, take a look for yourself).

But before you cast your beloved HDV camera to the flames, remember that for most small screen content, this format will still hold its own, both in terms of budget, ease of use and image. Yes, it’s starting its last lap, but it’ll cross the finish line flicking vees at the folk with stills cameras, desperately slotting in their 6th memory card of the day and hoping things continue to move slowly enough that they don’t have to pan too fast. It’s also worth remembering that if you take tape out of the equation, some HDV cameras can still pack in a hefty image. Take one which has HD-SDI output, attach a nanoFlash unit and, depending on the camera, revel in the glory that is uncompressed full HD at high bit rates with 4:2:2 colour. That’ll do guv’nor.

Image quality and technology are constantly improving, and while yesterdays cameras are slowly gathering dust on the shelf, small children gaze in wonder at this bizarre, lego-like brick they once overheard a terribly old man call a ‘Mini Video Cassette’. Clients expect the best, and at least at a quality comparable to what they see on the web.

It’s not worth worrying about though, because in 3 years time we’ll all be chuckling about the good old days of HD and Micro 4/3 as we upload our 4k 20GB mobile video instantaneously to YouTube.2 via uber-genius Smartphones from the comfort of the pub. The future is bright. Anyone got a spare memory card?

Toby Trueman, Producer

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Toby is Heehaw's Head of Productions. He is partial to ale and mountains, and enjoys a good BBQ. His hopes for the future include owning a bloody fast car and 'being international'.

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