A new discovery about the Sigma fp. Very useful in the time of Zoom communication, FaceTime, etc.

It's the times we live in. All of a sudden interactive video chats are everywhere. I have people who want to meet or chat via FaceTime, groups that want to stay all socially connected via Zoom (mostly swimmers) and even people (clients) who are interested in doing live casts on YouTube (we'll see about that...). And up until now I've participated by sitting in front of my iMac and taking advantage of the built-in microphone and camera. But the thing that always annoyed and embarrassed me was the thought that my video presentation and the audio that are supplied by the desktop computer probably look as crappy as everyone else's. (Well, my video feed is probably nicer than that of one guy who insists on sitting right in front of his window... and my audio feed has got to be better than that one woman with an old laptop, with two children under 5 years old playing in the same room...sorry!). 

I didn't think there was much I could do about the overall quality of my presentation without spending more money, and online video chatting isn't really where I was interested in spending ever diminishing cash. By chance I was over at Michael Johnston's blog and he was bemoaning his tremendous difficulties in getting up to speed with video (I assume he wants to be streaming) and it made me realize that I hadn't done nearly a deep enough dive into the capabilities of gear I already have in house. Maybe I could cobble something together...

There was some free time on the schedule, between my afternoon nap and happy hour, so I decided to re-read my camera owner's manuals and see if there was any mention of using the cameras for streaming. Nothing in the Panasonic texts. Then I chanced to look at the skinny, but decent, Sigma fp manual and noticed that I could make choices for the camera's USB connections and there it was. One of the choices was: Video Class UVC. 

The studio was quiet. Dark and cool. I fired up the iMac Pro and found the USB 3.x cable I always have strewn across my cluttered desk, waiting for a camera connection or battery recharge duty, and plugged in the Sigma fp. I'd already set the USB protocol to Video Class UVC and when I turned on the camera and opened FaceTime I just got the regular built-in camera feed. Then I noticed "Video" in the menu bar for the program and...ta-da!!! There was an available selection for the Sigma fp. I clicked on it and a few seconds later I was getting the feed from the Sigma fp instead of the built-in Mac camera. I could also chose from the menu whether I wanted to use the audio from the computer's internal microphone or whether I wanted to pull in the audio from the camera. Cool.

A look through the microphone bag languishing on the Metro shelving uncovered the Beachtek DXA Micro-Pro pre-amp/audio interface and an Audio Technica, dynamic, side-address microphone. I hooked the DXA to the camera's audio input and the microphone to the DXA, set the gain to high (it's an inefficient microphone) and...voila!!!! my feed both looked and sounded great. It also worked for Zoom. 

Now, if I add a couple of nice LED panels shining through a couple layers of silk diffusion and then do something to clean up the background, and maybe just a little bit of back lighting, I'll have the prettiest feed in my online social streaming groups and I didn't have to spent a cent. I mean, other than the $4,500 I spent on all the toys to get to this point. 

At any rate I now have a fully functional webcam and I no longer have to hunker down in shame in front of the monitor as I chat with my people. Nice when you find you already had the "ruby slippers" of streaming all along...

The Unexpected Content Deficit Disaster.

There is a flurry of articles floating across the web this week about...content. And the sheer lack of it for streaming and consumption. I just read a piece about Naomi Campbell (famous model) having to do her own cover portrait for Essence Magazine without the benefit of a photographer, make up crew, etc. She used an iPhone 11 and the photo was...okay...but it certainly speaks to the current situation. But the companies that are taking it on the chin are companies like Disney which had just launched its Disney+ streaming service that was projected to become an important part of the company's income going forward. The cold hard truth is that they've run out of new material.

Disney is fast-tracking streaming of their cinema version of "Hamilton" and skipping or paralleling the theatrical release in order to have any significant content for the mid-Summer season. Netflix, though still a darling of Wall Street, has run through everything they had lurking in the cupboards and are now trotting out "C" and "D" tier content that would never have seen the light of day if anything else had been available.



The painful reality is that the teams who produce "Amazon Originals" "Netflix Programming" and feature films from Sony, Universal, Disney and other movie giants are ALL on hiatus. Everything is shut down. Every stage is dark. And what that means for the general public is that the next few months to a year hibernating at home is going to get even bleaker.

This parallel epidemic of zero new content is also affecting all the TV programs which were supposed to be in production for the upcoming season; needed fodder for now even hungrier audience. But those shows are on a production halt as well. The pandemic is affecting content everywhere. No new gallery art shows. No new museum exhibitions. No new plays. Not even a revival. Just whatever desperate organizations can manage to stream on YouTube...

It's even hit the news shows. I was wincing a few weeks back as I watched the PBS NewsHour and saw poor Judy Woodruff (the anchor) trying to master the stay-at-home broadcast. It was a mess. I have no idea what camera she was using for streaming but the video was a disaster. Overexposed by at least two stops and I'm still not sure where the focus landed. Various reporters were cycled through, reporting from their homes in makeshift video studios that reminded me so much of public access TV shows that used to hit the airwaves a long time ago. I had to turn my chair around and look out the window while listening to the broadcast because the almost immediate decay of broadcast values and  technical proficiencies had fallen so far so quickly. Painful to watch...

What does this have to do with our flagship topic of photography? Well, it stings on several levels. First of all most of us are only human and we can only spend so many hours in the day crafting perfect blog posts, sorting and scanning virtuous old work, and looking wistfully at mountains of killer good gear, imagining its enormous potential for content creation. We do need other sources of entertainment.

But I feel as though I've already watched all 20 of the really good movies on Netflix and I've long since hit the bottom of the trough on Amazon Prime. While I'd like to see "The Mandalorian" on Disney+ I took a peek at the rest of their catalog and it reminded me of nothing so much as an electronic soporific.

So, there is that pain of not being able to find a nice and efficient source of entertainment.  Maybe Belinda and I should start taking violin lessons or learn how to yodel. But I don't think so...

Then there is the more insidious and creepy consequence of this content shutdown. Namely, that we're letting entropy force down the level of appreciation for craft, talent and technique to the lowest possible level that the general public will accept which means that recovering and going back to the true exercise of our hard won skills after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides will be difficult-to-impossible.

Once we've trained a nation of TV addicts that it's fine to watch badly constructed programming based largely on 4K video streams from iPhones held in wobbly hands how will we convince audiences and the people who pay for productions that there is real value in "better" material? Most polished content?

What we're seeing now on the web, on TV, and in print is a race to the bottom for production values. I presume that there are already some great movies that are edited and in the can but without open theaters to drive word of mouth marketing and massive ticket sales I suspect that the producers are "keeping their powder dry" and will release those properties when they can once again make maximum returns.

Added to that, even when the pandemic is resolved, most company's budgets will have been severely compromised and will take years to mend. How many will decide that since they were able to skate along with horrible content and miserable production value that they don't really need to spend the money on professional content providers? I think we're in for a spell of "the dark age of commercial content production" and it may last for quite a while.

My advice? Buy Apple stock. They're exponentially replacing full production crews with iPhones just as fast as they can make them. (Disclaimer: I am not making any serious recommendation about stock purchases and am not a broker or an employee or agent for Apple, although I do own some Apple stock).

Don't believe me? I just read that the very popular TV show, "American Idol" is putting their season finale together from 40 different celebrities' "shelter at home" locations using iPhone 11s for their primary capture tools. Each celebrity was sent up to three iPhones and a ring light set up, along with lots of instruction and video tutorials about how to make it all work. The segments from the "stars" will be shot in the phones' 4K modes and sent in to an editing team who will put the show together from those phone files. And this is one of the shows with the highest viewership in the country. iPhones. Broadcast television.


I think we just broke down the mighty wall of "Broadcast Standards."

So, if people drink more, and need escape badly enough, even dreck will sell. What chance would Leonardo Da Vinci have stood in this time period? Decay of western civilization indeed.

Other than that things are going pretty well around here today. Just tossing all the big camera into the trash compacter to make room for a couple of iPhone 12's. After that we'll try composting the lighting gear to make room for a cheap, LED ring light. YMMV.

Seriously though, what did we expect? At least vintage wine is relatively untouched by the decline...