5.08.2016

The Industry is changing day by day and minute by minute. A thought about staying relevant in 2016 and beyond.

The studio is always in flux.
What will come through the door tomorrow?

I get a lot of grief from fellow photographers when I buy and sell gear. They seem to feel that we should be wedded to camera systems and individual gear choices no matter what changes there are in our markets, and with our clients. The recent switch I made, from Nikon to Sony, is par for the course. I've heard it already. "Sony obviously paid Tuck to switch systems!" No, Nikon helped push the big button for change. And I'll tell you why. I was waiting patiently with my gaggle of Nikon bodies and lenses; waiting to see what Nikon would bring out this year to help photographers shoot 4K video.

If you are not working in the corporate commercial photography space the topic may seem like a tempest in a teacup. After all, who needs 4K? Where are you going to show it? Most people don't even have 4K TVs? Right?

No. Wrong. We're working on a project right now that will be projected at a trade show with state of the art, 4K projectors. Many of our major technology clients here in Austin have had 4K televisions in board rooms and meeting rooms for a good long while. I think what the naysayers meant to say is that there are very few middle class brides and grooms who are demanding 4K wedding videos along with their photographs. It's two profoundly different markets. Insanely different.

So, I was waiting to see what Nikon would introduce this year for photographers whose businesses have changed
to the point that 25 to 50% of their income is now derived from video projects, as well as video add-ons to conventional still photography jobs. I figured that they'd made some good inroads with the D810 and D750 as far as offering things like a solid 1080p codec, a flat profile (that I like a lot) and other features that helped them to gain a bit of credibility in the video space.

And then Nikon announced the 5D and the 500D... The 5D is out of the running for me because it's way too expensive for what I need AND you get a whopping three (!!!) minutes of 4K video before the camera stops. Seems to be an issue with overheating... You can go longer if you buy a $2,000 digital recorder to attach to your camera but why should we have to complicate our inventory and our work process in order to get Nikon's flagship camera built up to the point where the Panasonic GH4 and the Samsung NX-1 were over a year ago; stark naked? That's just f-ing crazy. It would be cheaper to just buy a GH4 for video and be done with it....

But wait! Take a look at the D500! It will record 4K video all the way out to 29 minutes. That's what we wanted; right? But if you dive down a bit you realize that Nikon's 4K video in the D500 requires a  1.3X crop of the APS-C sensor which is already a crop of 1.5X from a full frame sensor. It's starting to approach the crop you might get with with a micro 4:3 camera. The video I.S. is wonky too. All for only $2,000.

I looked at the specs and the performance envelope of Nikon's latest stuff, added my disappointment with my D810's on-again-off-again focusing performance, factored in the manufacturer's third recall of my D750, calculated the pain-in-the ass quotient of using lenses designed for PD-AF with live view, and finally; dear God! Why no focus peaking??? Once you've used focus peaking with some of your older (or new Zeiss) MF lenses you'd be hard pressed to consider a camera without that feature for shooting video!

If you compare video specs and video production handling between the new, top line Nikon cameras and something like the A7R2 from Sony you'd have to be a little crazy not to see that one company is dragging its feet in the hybrid, photography/video market while the second company seems to be inventing the new markets. A difference in mindsets between two centuries.

When you shoot for real clients you need to be able to change with the times and with people's expectations. I could keep making beautiful portraits on Agfapan APX 100 with my old Hasselblad but who would pay for the enormous difference in time, and the hand processing required to create the images and print them? And who would invent the time machine that would send me back to the golden era in order to buy up stocks of the now discontinued Agfa film (or paper for that matter...)?

Clients now expect different deliverables than they did just a couple of years ago. Web video, projectable video, 15 second clips. Even the way we get the files to clients has changed. We routinely deliver huge Tiff files on the web. Was it a stylistic choice for me to upgrade my broadband connection (again) a year or so ago? Not from my clients' points of view. They wanted the big files delivered quickly, not on a DVD delivered by a guy driving his car through rush hour traffic.

The same clients are now expecting to be able to choose whether or not they want traditional 1080p video or whether they might like to go with 4K. A lot of the decision making will depend on the client's adaptation of new technologies and where they themselves are in that evolution. The problem/benefit of living in a technology-forward town like Austin, Texas; and working for actual technology clients, is that they keenly understand the just how far out the limits of what we potentially can do are being pushed. And to stay ahead they want the candy that's out at the edge.

If the market stayed still I could have accommodated the foot-dragging of Nikon (Canon is another story since they have a full line of professional video cameras which can be fully implemented in 4K) and continued to adapt and make work-arounds for their admittedly, very nice 1080p video files. But the markets never sleep and I find that being on the cutting edge in this decade (as far as gear is concerned) is not a dangerous thing for photographers since the actual investment required in upgrading or changing is much less expensive, relatively, than it was during other periods of digital development, and yields more immediate rewards. In fact, I consider renting a lot of stuff just for single projects. In the past I might have tried to rationalize a purchase of the same stuff...

Sony quite obviously gets it; that much visual content is heading to video. Sony is aggressively pushing out 4K TVs and gaming to consumers and all their competitors are right at their heels. They will, in some ways, drive the markets and set the target media for our content. The price of fast adaptation in markets is instability. We are entering an era (in my business but not necessarily in the enjoyment of traditional photography) where new, disruptive technologies are being released with accelerating frequency. It should be part of my business plan to expect to update camera bodies on a 12-18 month cycle to keep delivering the benefits of using the systems. Always remembering that we also need to deliver photographs and that process has to work as well.

If you never, ever want to shoot video ever, and none of your clients has ever asked for it or extended an invitation to bid on it, you can use whatever the heck you like but I would ask you to consider your unique position in the overall camera market and to respect that the business I am in might have an entirely different set of expectations and solutions.

The interesting thing with the Sony line up is the integration across product lines. Without adapters I can use FE lenses on my a6300 and a6000 APS-C cameras (and shoot in 4K video) and I can use them on my A7R2 full frame cameras as well. But if I need to rent a Sony FS5 or FS7 dedicated video camera for higher end video projects I can use the same lenses on them just as seamlessly, and get the same benefits of automation and image stabilization. Wow. Three product lines. One set of lenses. Beyond brands, the ability of always "live view" cameras means we get improvements that really make a difference in our work, like face detection AF and even eye detection AF. Having grappled recently with recalcitrant AF in a traditional camera during a portrait session this alone is pretty huge...

Which brings me to the "WTF? does Kirk see in those damn Sony bridge cameras?" I think they are an extremely cool and efficient combination of features and performance. The perfect back up cameras for the rest of the Sony systems. Almost perfect, cost effective video cameras (they could be a tad better at high ISOs but..$1500). And a lot of firepower wedged into a small handful of well done design.

But the cost? Think about it for a minute. If I can use a Sony RX10iii to shoot a week of interviews; providing really good 4K video, and then I can use the same camera to shoot a few dress rehearsals at the theater, and I follow that up with one or two in-studio projects, I will have been paid enough to cover the initial purchase price of the camera and also make a profit on the jobs. The camera is mine to press into service on a number of additional projects through the year. I'll take the accelerated depreciation on the camera, in the year of purchase, to reduce my taxable liability and then, when a new model comes along, I'll sell the existing inventory for about 60-75% of its initial price. That's not nearly as incredibly stupid as it might initially sound and it's probably the reason many business, across many sectors, continually look new and shiny to their customers....

Many things are shifting in markets today. One of them is the passing of the idea that one locks into a camera system for the long term as a "smart investment." Finally, something my CPA and I can agree on. Another thing that's shifting is the reliance on very traditional camera solutions for new media. Sometimes smaller, lighter, better, faster is more effective than, "this is the way it's always been done."

Just to be clear. This blog is not saying that Sony cameras are better than anything else out there (although right now that's true for video...). I'm saying that they understand the needs of people who shoot video and still photography for commercial clients better than the competition right now. This could all change by the end of this year. If it does I have no allegiance to the brand and will continue to select the cameras that match my style and markets, regardless of brand. Wheeeeee! The camera systems are no longer long term investments, they are transient goods here to be of service for today's vision. Gone tomorrow if something better comes along...At least, as of this week, all of the cameras in my studio use the same basic menu structure (for better or worse).

P.S. Happy Mother's Day.


12 comments:

WJW said...

Kirk, when you mention "fellow photographers" do you mean other working pros?

As an amateur who uses photography for personal images and relaxation, the kind of changes you do don't make sense. Now if I happened to hit the lottery.....

As a professional photographer working in a fairly broad market, how could the changes not make sense? In a completely different line of work we always looked at three things before an equipment purchase: Will this improve our efficiency/reduce costs, does it do what we need now and what we expect to need over the life of the equipment, and does the return exceed the total cost of ownership? Some things we bought expecting to use them for 2 or 3 years and some we expected 20 to 30. Sometimes conditions changed and things we expected to last for many years were obsolete in a short time.

Sounds like you are doing the same thing in a fairly rational manner and adapting to things that are obsolete for YOUR purposes.

Dog Photographer said...

I love your blog and that you write about buying and selling cameras and the reasons why. I cannot afford to do this, so I a sure glad you blaze the trail for me. Your blog has become the first one I look at over morning coffee. Keep it up.

Fred said...

Kirk,

Sometimes the blog-o-sphere critics loose sight of the fact that your job isn't to please them but the clients who pay you for your work. If the clients are happy, you are happy, and your CFO is happy then there there should be a lot of interesting blog posts and I will be happy.

Oh, and the CFO's Mother's Day present will be along Friday evening :-).

Fred

David said...

Makes sense to business people and people whom get paid for their work. May not make sense to internet photographers, whom may not own a camera.

Paul said...

As someone that only presses the record button on my OM-Ds by accident, I don't understand the fascination for video but we all need to do what we like and if it pays the bills even better. I've read your blog for a while now and I've seen the gradual shift in your work towards video. We all need to make logical choices based on what we are doing not what fanboys the latest and greatest toy. For you the choice of Sony, including the compacts makes a huge amount of sense, but I think you need a couple more bodies for Ben :)

Gato said...

Good post. Some people need to be reminded that a camera (or system)needs to fit the job at hand. There is no one universal best system. And digital photography is a moving target. What is best for any one photographer could change with the next round of product announcements, or for professionals with the next market trend.

When people ask me what is the best system my first answer is "Don't get locked in, be ready to change." For the last few years I have been saying a digital camera system is a 2 or 3 year investment -- none of us can predict beyond that. Right now, with Sony coming on strong and the big two only giving us more of the same old stuff 2 years may be too long.

For a working pro like Kirk the cost of change is (or should be) built into the business budget. For a guy like me, mostly retired and mostly hobbyist/artist, it can be harder. My personal rule is don't buy anything that won't pay for itself within 2 years -- either in sales or in personal satisfaction.

George Beinhorn said...

Kirk, thanks for another very interesting read.

Video really has become a requirement now, as it's part of the communications landscape, and it's not going away. I had a vivid personal experience of this when the school where I serve as webmaster and all-round editor-writer-photographer produced a wonderful six-minute video. I was a bit nonplussed when the school asked me to put the video smack in the middle of the text on the home page. "But"...I sputtered..."people need to read the message without being distracted by a video, it's really important." Then I watched the video again...and I had to quickly send them an email, "WHAT WAS I THINKING?" Because of course a prospective parent would want to see a video that said tons more about the "feel" of our school, in a way that words could not.

On the issue of gear, couldn't agree more. Last year I became aware (thanks, Kirk) that Nikon DSLR development is being outstripped by mirrorless, at least for my purposes(all-around school photo guy). Couldn't be happier, and I'm very glad that Kirk is helping us stay up to date with the changes.

santo said...

Earlier this year I borrowed a GH4 as a 4K b-cam (wide, static) and loved it. I decided to get a G7 for that very purpose. Officially the G7 can only do 29 minutes of 4K, but our friends at Personal-View.com can sell you one with the limiter removed. Got mine and indeed it can record continuously close to 90 minutes (4K) with a 64G card. Yes no headphone jack, but the G7 body comes to under $400 if you subtract the kit lens. But the new 14-42mm kit lens is very small so I am keeping it.

Daniel Walker said...

There have been more changes in cameras over the last two years than the last ten thanks to 43 cameras especially Olympus and Pany. I would like to see that to continue. The big question is will consumers continue to finance these changes and when will Canon and Nikon finally get on the wagon.

neopavlik said...

Video wise I guess I'm waiting for something like the Canon 80D to become Full Frame and add 4K ; that'd be pretty sweet. But for the most part I'm still on the video sidelines.

Kepano said...

I thought Nikon was on to something when they introduced the D90, which I bought as soon as it was available. Soon after, Canon released the 5DMk2. We know who one the first round of the vDSLR war. Yet, I continued to hold out hope that Nikon would step up their video game as my HVX200 started getting long in the tooth. The GH2 was a revelation for me, and I finished holding my breath waiting for Nikon to figure out that video was important. Panasonic and Sony were busy making video work better in their cameras and Nikon drops the Df? WTf? They had no video business to canibalize (though Apple famously says they'd rather canibalize their own businesses than let others do so...). Yet they chose to double down on a single-purpose device (Df) as the preponderance of evidence suggested the market was moving in the other direction. The Df, to me, was Nikon's defining moment - retro styling for the sake of style while doing nothing to improve any aspect of visual storytelling. I don't know the sales numbers to say whether the Df was a flop or not, but it doesn't appear that Nikon has learned much from it. They continue to give us much of the same, which means they haven't given me much reason to upgrade.

I rented an a6300 for a job last week which required flying, so I wanted to pack light. The a6300's AF is really about as good as my D3s - that's saying a lot. If the next A7 iterations improve on that, coupled with the Sony's 2.8 zooms, I'd be hard pressed to hang on to my Nikon gear.

Kepano said...

Why wait? A7sII gives you FF 4K today. Other than a little thinner DOF, there's not a whole lot of advantage to shooting FF over S35. Most of the high end Canon, Panasonic and Sony cinema cameras are cropped sensors. The incredible Sony a6300 is a crop sensor camera.

I wouldn't use the lack of a Canon FF 4K camera keep you on the sidelines.