9.04.2018

I can't seem to get this image out of my head. It's the offices of a major, online, camera review site on the day of the Canon mirrorless announcement.

It's a nice office on the west coast. Another cool, rainy day but the people in the office don't care; they've got important work to do. As each person heads into the office they bring along backpacks, cameras bags and shopping bags filled with the accessories they'll need for a tough day in the trenches. They'll be writing copy about a new line of cameras and they aren't planning to slow down the process for anything.

We look into a typical "content producer's" backpack and find a large bottle of water and a thermos filled with espresso. They've got granola bars and trail mix (with genuine soy nuggets). They have Ace Bandages to wrap around their wrists to combat carpal tunnel syndrome. And they have empty plastic bottles in case there are calls of nature that must be answered before they've completed their hands-on review, eyes only preview, "10 things you NEED to know" article, comparison with the Sony A7iii and Sony A7riii, and their "My boss took this camera to the micro brewery just to try the video video".

There's also the "Five new ways to use technology you don't care about" and "Why you shouldn't fall behind in the camera buying revolution guide." One of the staffers took a math course in high school; he's the one they've assigned to write about anything NYQUIST-Y. He's spent weeks looking through old camera reviews so he can re-hash sly mentions of "the physics of the BSI sensor". They've also trained him to write words like: Delta, diffraction limited, edge effect, acutance, quantum transfer and so much more.

The big push today will be about the latest mirrorless full frame camera from Japan, and this particular review site took all the writers on staff (and some of the freelancers) to a team building exercise last week to set some goals and quotas. This time? Hundreds of articles, thousands of words. Seems the 800 pound gorilla of cameras will be announcing their very, very late arrival to the mirrorless party and the writers and marketers at the review site are hellbent on making up for all those lost years in the space of a week ---- with an endless cascade of mindless articles about whatever the big camera company announces. And some counterpoint (to keep moving that Sony product...).

Beholden to current camera maker superstar, Sony, the writers will be instructed to write "balanced" articles which have Sony cameras, and the new cameras being introduced by their competition, seeming to be fairly evenly matched; at first glance. Then the sly marketing hammer comes down. OOMMMGGG!!! The new emperor is wearing no clothes. Unbelievable! The new camera being introduced doesn't have two memory card slots. How can this be???? (Everyone with a camera needs a back up slot for the same reason that every passenger on a Boeing 787 is issued a personal parachute as they board. Once in a while planes crash. And that's sad. But once in a great while (cough, cough, user error, cough) memory cards fail and that's downright tragic).

The new cameras will have a better mount, and that will be discussed in a largely dismissive way, but soon the Sony will rise into the highest level of the camera pantheon when it's revealed (like a reality show reveal) that the newly introduced camera lacks (oh dear God!) built-in image stabilization. Sony to the rescue. The writers will imply that the unlucky camera maker is trying to drag us back to the (shudder) 1980's. Who would ever buy a camera with no built-in image stabilization? As if.

Meanwhile a solo blogger on a totally different site will write a few thousand words about the poems of William Carlos Williams and then discuss how the new camera release taught him once again about the subterfuge of iambic pentameter.

But back to the big site. Not a hundred monkeys typing for a million years. Just a handful of highly motivated content producers cranking out a flood of slightly differentiated articles meant to convey the idea that everyone needs to change cameras as often as they change their underwear.

By the end of the first day after the well hoarded camera information is released the writers are exhausted. Tens of thousands of words have been expended in the combined praise and trashing of the newly launched camera. Now they sit back and wait as the hordes of readers create the real ground swell of SEO, and freely produced content, by claiming that they will either rush to buy the camera, rush even faster to pillory the camera, or whine incessantly about the perceived shortcomings of the new camera. ("The neck strap isn't soft enough --- deal killer!!!, I hate the placement of the fifth function button ---- deal killer!!!, The micro texture of the lens release button chaffs my fingers --- deal killer!!! All contained in the contents appended to each of the (surely cynical) articles written by the staff.

The head technical guy is so busy responding to endless questions and taunts that he's locked into the computer in his quasi-cube. He's using that empty plastic bottle well so he can argue with the fervant about how many quantum particles can traverse the copper connectors on the sensors. And why that makes a difference for, well, everyone who will ever use the camera to photograph their child's first bassoon recital. But that's okay, he's young and his historic reference point about the mists of the past is the dark days of 12 megapixel sensors...

Oh, by the way, I think Canon is introducing their new mirrorless camera today. Do you think DP Review might have a few articles about it? Let's go see. 

A quick segue to a different site finds the inhabitants there arguing about the new Phase One camera and whether it will outperform the last Phase One camera when it comes to shooting fields of Andalusian grass in dimly lit meadows. And how large those images could be printed (if anyone cared to print them....).

But steady up and drink hardy my friends because tomorrow is also the day that launched a thousand YouTube sites with sassy young photographers busy conjecturing about a camera they've only seen in its prototype form. Watch as our heroes pull up the online equivalent of PowerPoint presentations re-presenting to you the same specifications you could easily read yourself on the camera maker's site.

With this oppressive avalanche of mindless pseudo camera reviewing is it any wonder that camera sales are dropping again like rocks in a competition sized swimming pool? Most consumers are so over the excitement of a new product announcement. They just want to go home and play with the toys they already bought.

I wouldn't feel right though if I didn't drop by and see what the tech-y guy who also has much to write about Apple computers says about the new camera. Oh. I see. He's predicting the future will be all 16K and  he vows he won't buy any new camera with fewer than 120 megapixels. He's out of the market for a while. But that's okay he's got to figure out how to get his Cray Supercomputer wedged into his photo-RV.

When Canon finally gets some of these new cameras into a store I guess I'll go by and look through the finder and see how the shutters sound. Then I'll go some place and have lunch. I'm also thinking of taking up smoking cigarettes. Anything to assuage the boredom of yet another niche camera or lens review. But, of course, it's blandly ironic that I'm writing about it, too. Yes, life is boring like that.

Sure hope those reviewers don't get their once empty plastic bottles mixed up with their  regular water bottles in the twilight of their journeys back home. Could be a nasty surprise. Almost as unsavory as discovering that the camera which held such promise is sadly shipping with ....... only one card slot.

Two major camera makers forget the dedicated parachutes. whatever will we do?

What I love about photography and what I hate about video. At least where client projects are concerned.



From "Tortoise and the Hare" at Zach Theatre.

Photography: You go out and do the very best image you can and after you've shot it the photo is more or less carved in stone. Sure, you can fix some stuff but it's pretty much done the second you deliver it. You get to move on to the next job. If you really, really screwed up you have to do a re-shoot. But if the client is just being indecisive you'll probably never have to do that re-shoot because they'll have to go through the whole process again. If it's a portrait of the CEO and the marketing people decide he should have worn a blue shirt on instead of a pink shirt anything they want to do to change the photograph after the fact will require them to have skin in the game. Wanna try making that pink shirt blue in PhotoShop? There will be a charge associated with that.  Wanna reshoot in order to change out a shirt or tie? Well, you'll have to get the CEO on board, schedule him, schedule me and, since we didn't dress the guy, we'll be charging for the re-shoot.

So. Usually a benefit of taking photographs is that once delivered the project is more or less locked. You get to move on.

Video Production: You start with a concept and a script and you get approvals at every step of the way while filming. You deliver the first edit and sometimes the path from there is right into the middle of a committee. "Can we take out the shot (incredibly shot and beautifully lit) of the CEO sitting in a meeting and replace it with a blurry snapshot we found of the same CEO standing at an shopping mall in some god forsaken city shaking hands with the mayor?" "We know it's kinda blurry and the color is really bad....can you fix that too?" Left to most committees the good content in a video will eventually all be sucked out of the project and replaced with crap that is just included to check boxes on a list. In some cases moving from a nicely paced motion project to a slideshow of snapshots.

Unlike photography clients seem to think that a video project comes complete with an infinite set of revisions and tweaks. It's our job, when providing an estimate, to let them know how many major and minor revisions are included in the your bid and, how much more revisions after a "final approval" will cost them. After our client sends us directions to "just make these XX changes" we consider (after making the changes) that they video they paid for is complete and any additional revisions or tweaks are to be billed in addition to our original bid. If they know the clock is ticking it helps most clients become more decisive and rational.

My (least) favorite is a request we once had was to change out a product shot for a newer, much less beautiful product shot. Why? Well, the product had "changed" and the product manager wanted to make sure we were using the absolute latest product in our video. Made sense until we asked, "What was it about the product that changed?" (we couldn't see a difference in the product at all...) And the product manager responded, "Oh, it's absolutely identical except for the type...on the back." That would be the back of the product, which didn't show to the camera. As in.....IT MADE ABSOLUTELY NO DIFFERENCE except that we replaced a really nice shot with a lesser shot.

I very much dislike the whole idea of "teamwork" when it comes to project approvals and think it may be the single most costly distraction in all areas of advertising commerce; even worse than focus groups. Can't imagine Picasso calling in his "team" and asking if the dove in his painting should have a more leafy branch in his beak. A singular vision is a benefit. Teamwork approval is a tragic flaw.

With some video projects you never know when you are truly finished.