1.30.2010

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