7.01.2021

Stories Today: Roving Gangs of Skaters. Summer Time Out. More about cameras. Keep up.

 


Since it's Thursday let's start with cameras. The big news this week, splashed all over DPR and by nearly every still-breathing V-Logger, is the introduction of the (in my opinion) rather tame Nikon Z-fc camera, introduced with it's small selection of blah lenses. But, mid-summer it's at least something the reviewers can sink their teeth into and, if the commerce gods are willing, get a few affiliate link hits from. I like Nikon just fine and agree that this particular new APS-C camera was designed to appeal to a generation that seemed to love the film era Nikon FM and FE cameras. And maybe that's a nice thing.

It's a 24 megapixel, cropped sensor, mirrorless camera with an exterior finish that's heavy on retro dials and other controls a la the Nikon FM and FE but under the hood it's pretty much a Nikon version of a Fuji blend. A mix of the field dress from the XT-4 with a capabilities profile more closely aligned with the XE-4. Nikon users of a certain age will probably like it but the "deal killer" issue with Nikon's sub-full frame camera offerings is the paucity of APS-C designed lenses. If you want to go past the kit lens ethos you'll find yourself shopping the full frame catalog and paying the full frame prices. 

M.J. over at the Online Photographer site got the retro-bitch ball rolling by asking the question on every 60+ year old photographer's mind. To wit: If you are aping the style of a 1980's era film camera why would you have the nerve/temerity/lack of taste/insensitivity to include those nasty, nasty video features that no one, other than YouTube V-Loggers would ever want? An interesting question that is largely irrelevant at this point in the game but one that quickly uncovered just when, in the timeline, many in his audience stopped paying attention to current social media. And current video production styles. And....well...commercial imaging in general.

It's pretty well known in the history of digital cameras that the first inclusion of workable video in an interchangeable digital camera came with the Nikon D90 and was added more or less as an afterthought because the feed going to the camera's liveview was already.....wait for it.....video. Nothing really had to be added to the mix to allow Nikon users to have a nice still camera and to also shoot some occasional 720p video. It was a welcome addition for multi-platform producers because it was one of the first solutions that would allow for the use of a bigger sensor than had been used, up to that point, in dedicated video cameras and that allowed for a lot of imagery with very limited depth of field. Maybe that started the whole trend of rampant "bokeh-ism" in current video circles.

Canon followed Nikon with the intro of the Canon 5D mk 2 which added a bigger sensor, a microphone port and a few more video friendly items. That was ten or more years ago and these cameras, and various others like the Panasonic GH line, hit the market just as YouTube, was hitting its stride. People flocked to the still camera+video option for all the right reasons. Once you were through making your exciting video about your cat you could disconnect the microphone and go out to make photographs of your afternoon coffee, or the sunset, or that girl in the bikini. No extra expense for different speciality cameras.

Now I pretty much defy you to find a single interchangeable lens camera (excepting Sigma Foveon sensors) that doesn't include at least the ability to record in 1080p and provide a microphone jack. Most cameras, even the entry-level mirrorless cameras, now shoot in 4K and have both a mic and a headphone jack. But the addition of these features probably only adds a couple of US dollars to the selling price. It's not the huge and gutting financial obligation that stills-only users routinely bitch about. In fact, if the cameras weren't as popular as they are for shooting video the dirty, sad truth is that camera makers would be selling something like half the number of cameras they currently are, and would need to raise prices to compensate!!! Be damn careful what you wish for. 

When I read the comments questioning the V-Loggers' emphasis on reviewing video features on the new generations of mirrorless digital cameras, and about the (hated) inclusion of video on the cameras in general I was shocked at the perspectives of many. In their telling we are still using video to mostly make TV commercials and movies or documentary films. Many emphasize that it is impossible to do quality video without a big crew of people and lots and lots of peripherals. The idea that a single photographer could handle making both photographs and video seemed....intolerable to a large percentage of responders. And almost all agreed that the capability to shoot video in a conventional still camera was an evil thing that was being unfairly foisted upon them...

But here's the deal, the target for video has changed in much the same way the targets for still photography have changed. Advertising agencies are aiming more and more for the web and social media, and less and less at TV commercials and longer form video programming. Modern consumers in the fast growing and now financially successful millennial generation (the ascending, sweet spot of the markets) were raised on video in all forms, from TV to video games, to social media and beyond. They would rather see something explained via video that in any other format. They are not well known for their desire to prefer reading the printed word.

The bulk of what photographers are now asked to add, video-wise, to a conventional photography project are mostly behind the scenes video clips and fast, 6 to 15 second video snippets that are a quick hit for the brands. These are not dialog intensive or production extensive undertakings. In fact, when we're looking for behind the scenes stuff we might hand a back-up camera to our assistant and ask her to shoot some b-roll of whatever exciting thing there is to shoot for the client's social media. They call it, "shooting for social." 

To people in my age demographic (60+) who were not exposed to hands-on video production until very recently it all seems to be one more arduous thing to manage. A lot of trying to follow rules that have effectively expired. No wonder they fear and revile the process --- and the inclusion of the camera tools. While to my 20-something assistant it all seems as natural as picking up a phone and hitting "video." No pretension and no fear, just a routine sort of practice which they do every day. 

Media expert estimate that some kind of video is roughly 70% of advertising and marketing spend in our markets today. Much, much higher in cities like Austin, Boston or San Jose where everyone at work is online all the time. They aren't looking for long form reading material, they are looking for quick takes and immediate visual branding and that's driven by....video. It's more entertaining...

But I will also add to this an observation from a different side: I have a friend who has earned his living as a full time, professional videographer for decades and who routinely shoots for clients such as Dell, AMD, Purina, and many other large and financially solid corporations. He shoots with bigger crews when the projects call for it and he shoots solo when that makes sense. But more to the point he no longer owns a RED video camera or the Sony FS7 he used for two or three years. His sole kit now is comprised of three, off the shelf, Sony A7 series cameras. He uses an A7S3 for most of his videos and also uses an A7RIV and a basic A7III when he needs B cameras and even C cameras. His work has not suffered in the least but his bottom line is healthier than ever and it's easy as pie to replace cameras when necessary. He loves them. And he's a real life, working pro. With a track record. And a bank account.

In my career I've been through the grinder of progress. In 1985 we were shooting TV commercials with 35mm movie film and crews of 15 or 20 specialists. The process was amazingly difficult and expensive. Last year I shot a bunch of programming for Zach theatre and sometimes I used a moving camera on a gimbal and other times I used up to four digital cameras to shoot video from four angles simultaneously and all at a tiny fraction of the budgets we needed to do the 1985 style shooting. The videos we created over the course of a few days helped raise nearly $400,000 in one day to support the Theatre in the pandemic. It was all delivered on the web. 

Back in 1985 we bought a flight of TV media spots in the three networks in one market (Dallas) to place our expensive television commercials. It might have been seen by a couple hundred thousand people who happened to be tuned in at just the right time to see our fixed schedule spots. A week later the commercials were gone, the placements done and the creative product was back on the shelf. Now a one camera/one man crew who can tell a great story (like Casey Neistat who had his own YouTube channel with over 10 million daily viewers, and is currently worth $16 million dollars) can reach much, much bigger audiences and do so with the current camera gear as well or better than big teams could do twenty years ago with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of gear and vans full of production crew members. And people wonder why camera makers are eager to supply video in their products??????? And people wonder why video in a still camera is so popular?????? 

I'm behind the curve of current video language but I'm still fighting for relevance. It's sad when people give up on keeping up and have the mad desire to stop time right where they felt comfortable getting off the progress train. 

Sure, some camera maker will notice the often voiced desire of a small group to have cameras with no video capabilities. Maybe they'll make one. I can assure you that camera will be much more expensive than the competing models that come complete with video.....because it will be a specialty item.

I'm coming to understand that everyone has a different idea of what constitutes "real" photography and also "proper" video. But those definitions don't necessarily have universal buy-in. Not anymore. The markets shift and change and evolve. We at VSL are sorry to have to tell you this but "real" photographers are not just those who can still mix their own Dektol in the darkroom. The industry has either moved on or grown. Depending on which point of view is most comfortable for you. I'm going with "moved on."