Pervasive video and the Apple iPad change everything.

Untitled from kirk tuck on Vimeo.

I don't think still photography is going away. There's a lot to be said for the print and unique moments in time. But you'd have to be ostrich-like not to get that video is becoming pervasive. This month I've partnered with a friend to shoot a couple videos for an online magazine. Being photographers we were seduced by the rampant hype on the web to shoot with the Canon 5Dmk2 camera as a video camera. It works well but there are some limitations. The biggest stumbling block is sound. You have one amateur microphone input that feeds into an auto level control preamp. You essentially have no control over sound. One is the inability to really see fine focus on the back panel screen. Another is the short "timing out" of the lifted mirror. If you don't get ready to shoot quickly the camera times out and you have to go back and reset all over again. Finally, in opposition to all those people who are enamored with the incredibly shallow focus you can achieve, too little depth of field can be a pain in the butt.

If you've read my past blogs you'll know I'm loathe to jump onto the "high priced" bandwagon. I know we might be able to fix the 5Dmk2 sound with the Magic Lantern aftermarket firmware. I could learn to meditate and become patient with the kludginess of the still camera interface, etc. but I thought I'd take a stab at iconolasm and just pull a cheap camera out of the bag and see what I could do with it. I call this the "Ultimate HD video on a budget" rig.

The footage above is not meant to be a polished piece of film making. My goal was to test the visual quality and usability of a $349 point and shoot camera. Let's face it, whether you use a $2500 Canon 5dmk2 or a $10,000 professional video camera you're still just getting 1400 by 1000 pixels per channel for a file of around 2 megapixels. I figured that, with good lighting, the Canon SX20is might be up to the challenge.

If you go cheap here's what you get: A 12 megapixel still camera that also "moonlights" as a 720p HD camera. Two decent, directional microphones (and, what's this? settable manual audio levels----if you want them). How about a zoom that works (sllently) during taping as well as several autofocus and manual focus options. I'll let you judge the cleanliness of the files.

So, is this the painstaking work of weeks? No. It's an hour of walking around in downtown Austin on a sunday afternoon and about 1/2 hour of editing on an old copy of iMovie 08 a couple of weeks later, after finding the footage on a card I was about to reformat. That's about it. Coupled with canned RF sounds from Apple and a free upload to Vimeo. Need to see what the HD version looks like on Vimeo? You can go here: http://www.vimeo.com/9094309

So, what did I find out? That it takes practice to do smooth pans with a fluid head. That cheap cameras don't always zoom nicely. That the image quality with good light is very usable. That I'll be buying a separate audio recorder and a shotgun microphone sooner rather than later. And that Apple and Canon have made it easier to capture video but no less easy to come up with a great idea and great direction. My take away? The real magic in video is the planning, the script and the sound. Getting pretty pictures is less complex.

So how does the Apple iPad fit in to all of this? Well, I think it's going to become the default device for all future magazines and newspapers. The iPad and other similar devices will reconstruct media as "apps" and people will buy them the same way the do games and songs on the iTunes store. Think about it. Great content that mixes still photos, video, type and audio interviews in one device that's large enough to comfortably take and read everywhere. Books, magazines, movies, TV shows, presentations and portfolios all in a device you can carry and use just about everywhere. And you can argue about whether or not it should have come with a camera or the ability to read flash but you just expose yourself as a previous generation thinker. Rev up those credit cards. This is one of those tectonic shifts that will revitalize the economy and our relationship with art and media. When everything is available you'll always want the good stuff. Prepare for the ascendency of the creative class. Get those IT guys out of the way before they get trampled.....

Let me know what you think of the Vimeo interface because I'm thinking that will become my default for sharing video. Now let's get back to work on some interesting photography. Thanks, Kirk


Pete Appleby said...

Hi, Kirk! That is certainly acceptable video in my opinion, especially when you consider the cost - benefit ratio.

I think you are right about the iPad, in my opinion it is a game changer. I'm already working on product presentations for this in b2b sales. Image being a sales rep visiting a prospect on a call. Start your presentation, the client touches an image and the presentation pauses. A pop-up menu appears, with options for spec sheets, more product images, an add to cart link, etc.

The relatively low cost of the iPad combined with the simplicity and ease of use means that Apple will sell millions of these. There are currently 250 million iPhones in the world today, and Apple is selling new ones at a rate of about 8 million per quarter. Why Apple and not blackberry, etc.? Because they are easy to use, understand, and they just work. In the eyes of the consumer, there is value for the price.

On the consumer side, the iPad will be like you mentioned. The publishers will create content because they can be assured of some level of revenue from their efforts. So the NY Times may keep a public website with rather dry content, and limited subjects. But they will have links to the App Store where you can buy their reader app and a subscription. With a subscription, you get the real deal, with dynamic content, across the board.

For Photography, the iPad will allow our clients to quickly and easily review our product without us having to worry about different browsers, platforms, and having to watermark and password protect our websites. I've avoided the iPhone due to the limited resolution, the iPad is worth a modest investment, when compared to the cost of a new lens or camera body.

We live in interesting times!

Jim said...

I like the Vimeo interface. It's simple, clean and always loads quickly.

As far as camera choice, you may want to seek the middle ground and go for the Panasonic GH-1 with the 14-140 (optimized for video) lens. That way you could use your other m4/3s lenses as well.

Bernie said...

I think you are right about the iPad and I agree with Pete Appleby above on it being a game changer. The interesting thing about it to me is that it has no new technology as such it is the Apple design and packaging that makes it.

Apple are one of the few companies out there who understand that innovation has to do with bringing technology to market in a new way and not just inventing new technology.

I love your attitude to the 5dMkII! It is certainly a great camera but the purpose of the game is to get great images not great hardware.

Jessica said...

Just FYI, I often have trouble getting Vimeo videos to load completely. More so when I lived in Thailand, but even here in California sometimes, whereas I never have a problem with YouTube.

Bold Photography said...

Is Vimeo flash based? Or their own codec? If the later, is that compatible with the iPad? Flash isn't... that would make it tough to review your movies online.

On a computer, it's fine, even when viewed full screen (the iPad's 4:3 aspect ratio fits nicely with the sensor of the SLR-cam...) I agree, though, that the iPad will make a nice portable portfolio device... now, what am I supposed to do with all these 11x17 prints??

kirk tuck said...

Jessica, That's funny because YouTube usually runs slow for me! I wonder if it has to do with the ISP's for our services.

I always think the technology can't get simpler and then it does.

Ken said...

I agree most cameras can shoot great video with enough light. The thing that sold me on the 5d MKII was it's low light abilities. Better low light abilities at higher ISO's meant less lighting gear to lug around. I can use just a few thousand watts of light at a high ISO versus 10k at a low ISO and the result will look just as good. I think it's one of the best video cameras around. It beats out some top dedicated video cameras in that regard given it's price.

That said, I like and dislike the shallow depth of field due to the size of the sensor. It allows you to make a more "cinema" looking video but that requires finesse with focusing or lots of light to get decent DOF. Everything has it's pros and cons.

Anonymous said...

While I totally agree that flash sucks and HTML 5 will take over, it's kinda funny that I can't view the video on my iPhone because Vimeo uses flash. Oh well, I'll wait until I get to my desktop machine.

Peter Frailey said...

Kirk... A bit OT, but is the picture of the Kirk on the cookbook cover the same Kirk as the image at the top of your blog *grin*.

Peter F.

Ct Photo said...

I think print media as we know it will be different in a few short years. Right now traditional print media is looking at the Ipad as a revenue stream. I think you will find that people will creat their own "playlists" like the Ipod. Rather than a magazine or newspaper editor deciding content an individual will pick their own news sources and subjects. Of course this means graphic content including stills and video will be in demand.

channel_mixer said...

Kirk, have you shot video with the EP-2? How do you find it compares to the Canon?

I was a very avid DV shooter a few years back, and DVD seemed like the holy grail at the time. Today, I think it's obvious that download to screen is next gen and the most likely platform for video moving forward, so the thought is no longer that there is your video and then a "web version" of it.That alone is an interesting shift.

I can see how the iPad dovetails with this, but I remain skeptical. The iPod and the iPhone were both late model updates to pre-existing technology. With the iPad, Apple is attempting to create a new medium that didn't exist before (eMagazines, eNewspapers) with a business model that is dependent upon people buying into it (one could use the iPod with mp3s not purchased from the Itunes store, for example).

Apple has its finger on the pulse and seems able to invent consumer desire, so I wouldn't bet against them, but I think the potential for an Obama-like letdown is huge.

Poagao said...

Did you shoot this or did "Charlie Martini"? Or is that your stage name?

I thought the building shots were stills at first. Also, I don't know what you're talking about with the audio; it sounds fine, no wind noise or anything. You're also lucky you got that guy with the synthesizer to follow you guys around ;)

kirk tuck said...

Channel_mixer, I've done some tests with the EP-2 in video but I'm still waiting on those knuckleheads from Olympus to get the microphone adapter to market!!! The latest word from the Olympus hive is that the product will ship at the end of Feb.

As to the iPad, I don't have a dog in the hunt and I'm sure Windoze imitators will have their pods out in a heartbeat, but I watch the way my 14 year old and his friends use their laptops and ipod touches and I'm certain that 10 million units in the first year is a very lowball estimate.

We forget that since we are generations away from most of the incoming market we can't see the applications and allure in quite the same way. This broad shift will be the future whether we see it clearly though our history googles or not.

kirk tuck said...

Poagao, Charlie Martini, my international rep and social graces coach, was in town for the day so I let him run the camera. I was busy following along, pondering the universe and wondering to myself how much better the footage might look through a Red One camera or how much harder the pans up the buildings would be with a 5Dmk2....

I also got to carry the tripod! The guy with the synthesizer was a pain in the butt but he kept buying us drinks and making funny jokes about video.