The More Things Change…

I’ve been back in production full-time for close to 3 years now and even in that short time, I have seen the technology advance rapidly, continually evolving into an amalgam of new and old.  When I first came back in, I purchased the Sony Z1U as a corporate videography camera (it had been released a year prior, in February of 2005, so it was still a fairly new camera).  At the time, the standard was still mini-DV tape, though the recent release of the HVX-200 had yielded solid state’s entrance into the video world.  JVC, Canon and Sony were all still sticking to the tape-based MPEG-2 format and for me, it was a familiar face, so I went with what I knew.

Fast-forward to the present, being on-set with two Varicam’s (a 2700 and a 3700), both of which were running P2 cards and existing in a solid state workflow entirely.  Those cameras were chosen for this particular project through the preference of the DP.  In my own experiences, solid state had become a regular part of my productions, though usually utilizing the RED One and the Canon 5D Mark II.  I still have the trusty Sony Z1U, and we’ve actually had success with intercutting footage between the RED and the Sony Z1U, with the audience unable to tell the difference when projected on a mid-sized screen.  And in the midst of the production, I was reminded of a couple of things.

Clear picture and clear sound will always triumph over cool equipment. Even the most basic production is expected to produce two things… clear pictures (we can actually see what’s going on) and clear audio (we can actually hear what’s going on).  As long as the audience can see and hear what’s on-screen, you’re ahead of the game.  Who cares what you used to help get the shot and whether or not the camera was 3 chips, CCD’s or CMOS, tape or solid-state… gadgetry never translates into the finished product.  We have a RED One in-house… and so what?  We were shooting award-winning footage long before that.  And yet sometimes, I get caught up in the tech-head side of things.  Does anyone watching really care what the film was shot on?  Only if they loved the story.  Do they want to know the bit-rate of the data stream?  Only if they can see the action.  I hear buzz about the latest greatest camera coming out (which seems to happen almost daily now) and I wonder why there’s even discussion about which is better/cheaper/more efficient.  Pick your flavor and begin shooting.

What’s around the camera is more important than the camera itself. With the image quality in even the least expensive consumer camcorder being robust enough for the shrinking screen (from theater to television to computer to iPod), that much more importance is placed on what’s around the camera, rather than just the camera itself.

Whether it’s a Panasonic HVX-200, a Canon 5D Mark 2 or an iPhone, what you place around and even in front of the camera is that much more critical.  And I don’t necessarily mean additional gadgetry or accessories.  It doesn’t take much to make an iPhone “hand-held shooting rig.”  What is infinitely more important are the human resources you place around the camera.  The knowledge base and experience of the crew and the acting chops of the talent, whether live actors or .  A novice with a Varicam 3700 will not have the same results as a professional with the afore-mentioned iPhone.  Case in point, the latest viral production video… the infamous music video shot with an iPhone.  People make a big deal out of that… “Oh, this music video was shot with an iPhone!  See, it’s so easy anybody with an iPhone can do it!”

Not quite.

The Director of Photography on that music video has been shooting for years.  His crew and their director have been working in the industry equally as long.  Having a lighting and grip package to support the chosen camera doesn’t hurt either.

And that’s why I say, what is around the camera is more important than the camera itself.  For the budding professional, the best advice you could ever receive is to just use what you have or what you can afford and get started shooting.  If an editor, build the best system you can or make a deal with a current owner and then get started editing.

In fact, as I start thinking about it more… I should probably swing by, grab a camera and go shoot some pretty pictures.

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~ by Carlos Tovar on October 6, 2009.

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