Here I am lying in bed at 1:30 in the morning. I am supposed to be in Italy, but a stupid old back injury badly flared up 24 hours ago meaning I was unable to fly. I feel bad letting down the students I was going to teach, but it is out of my hands.
Anyway, I can use that extra time that I now have to catch up on posts that I have been wanting to write but not had the chance to write. This is one of them.
“The state of play”
We are currently in the biggest state of flux camera wise that I have easily seen in the 5 years I have been freelancing, and of course much longer than that.
I would say that one of the first cameras to come along and change the industry, for better or worse, was the PD150. It gave broadcasters the ability to give cameras with pretty good quality to producers to go out and shoot stuff. It was the beginning of the age of the shooting/ producer/ director. The DVX100 to a lesser degree affected the market, mainly because it was the first affordable camera to give us 24p, and the indie film-making crowd was ecstatic. That was back in 2002. 9 years ago…and you know what? That camera is still bloody good today!
Where have we gone since then? Well the Sony Z1 gave us an affordable HD camera via the HDV format, and that became a de-factor camera for PD shooters. I saw it a lot on some of the broadcast series I shot. I would craft beautiful shots in the 5 days I was allotted for a show, and any pick-ups would be shot by the producer director on Z1s. Heart-breaking…and you know what, it has got worse! The advent of the very lovely – but only 1/3″ chip – Canon XF300 has meant professional cameramen are not even being used at all for a lot of broadcast TV shows in England. Producers are shooting them with these cameras. Really sad. People I know who have been shooting series for years have lost the contracts. This has felt like it has been on the cards for a while. Doesn’t make it any more palatable. Broadcast TV is in a very bad place right now. I am not talking about drama, but factual TV. Drama has never looked better. Check out things like Luther or The Shadow Line on BBC for example, the latter being shot on RED.
OK…so that is one side of the industry. Not looking so good for the jobbing cameraman. But there are still many people looking to get into shooting for a living, just not necessarily broadcast, and the whole which-camera question has never been more confusing… at least the prices have plummeted so much that, if you make the wrong decision, it’s not money down the drain.
Let’s take a fictional person. We are going to call this person Fred. Fred is 23. Just out of college. Maybe he went to film school, maybe he is changing jobs…it doesn’t matter.
Fred wants to set up a little company and make videos for a living. Ideally he sees himself making commercials, music videos and maybe one day even a feature film. But for now, he is happy to do corporates, weddings, anything to pay the bills and get experience. He is not interested in broadcast TV. He is after web content initially and then will go from there.
Fred represents a very large proportion of people I come into contact with. Lots of dreams, not sure how to get there. But he has ambition, talent and a little bit of money to start off with.
A camera is not the huge investment it once was. This business plan a few years ago would have been insane. First off, the internet market was simply not there, and secondly, cameras were not that cheap and certainly didn’t offer the quality we have on cameras now.
Let’s look at the options that Fred has…and this is where we see the huge state of flux we are in. It’s not insurmountable, as the camera options are for the most part relatively affordable, so if you buy something and it becomes defunct/ superseded, your investment will not be totally wasted as I mentioned a little earlier.
Before I go any further, the one thing I will say is your investment should always be in glass. Lenses that will be portable across different cameras. Currently, Nikon mount lenses are the most portable due to their manual aperture control on the lens body (G series lenses are not, but adaptors easily fix this as the apertures are not electronic). Canons will get better with the introduction of Birger’s mounts, but until they are out it’s simply Nikon lenses. My favourites being Zeiss ZF lenses.
But, Fred wants to buy a camera. He doesn’t want to rent. He wants to be an owner. So what does he buy? Now that is tricky…
Now the Canon 5DmkII revolutionised everything. It gave us a unique camera – a stills camera that shoots video with an incredible sensor. A FULL FRAME STILLS SENSOR that shoots video. Remarkable. It’s not been bettered by any camera in almost 3 years for aesthetic. No full frame video camera exists that shoots full HD other than that 5DmkII. Now every Canon that has come out since then has been an incremental improvement. As far as I am concerned, we are still on generation ONE of Canon DSLRs that shoot video. We still have the hideous line skipping, the bad rolling shutter, the aliasing and moire from hell. We still have no headphone jack, no proper control over audio…the list goes on. But we put up with them, because we love the image. But it really is time for generation 2. Canon simply needs to bring out a 5DmkII replacement soon. There is competition now, and it’s not from other stills manufacturers. More on that in a bit.
Nikon…what on earth is going on with Nikon? They bring out the first DSLR with Video, the D90, which sucked. They finally bring out a manual control camera, the very expensive D3s with astounding low light capability but only 720 24p. Then they bring out the D7000 with no metering, no 25p in full HD and a low bit rate. Shame, as the image is actually rather nice despite this. But still no full HD full frame video DSLR. Why? I am losing patience with Nikon! Fred is not even looking at them!
Panasonic….Now Panasonic I believe are actually on generation 2. Their Gh1 was nice but awful in low light and had a terrible bit rate. The Gh2 was a massive improvement. Audio meters on screen. Native 24p with 24mb/s, good in low light. Still no headphone jack and no 25p, but a huge step up from the Gh1. Much needs to be improved on it, and a lot of that is being done by the hacker Vitaly . But that is not a solution. We shouldn’t have to have hackers make these camera work to their full potential. They should do that out of the box.
So that’s the stills boys. Canon, the market leader, needs to up their game soon or they will loose ground. I adore my Canons. Shooting with them is the most freeing experience of my life, but how long will we put up with their shortcomings, when for not that much more money, you can get something which fixes most of these issues, and even the little consumer camera the GH2 betters it in many ways?
This brings us onto Sony and Panasonic’s video cameras. Specifically, the AF100 and the FS100 and to a lesser extent the F3. I say that because, yes, the F3 is a superior camera, but it’s in a totally different price bracket and way out of Fred’s budget.
You see, Fred was budgeting for around £2000-£3000 for the camera. That would have meant a 5DmkII and maybe a T2i as a B camera. But what if he upped his budget and went for a FS100 or an AF100? You solve the moire, aliasing and sound issues, which is a big deal. Worth the extra couple of thousand? Fred isn’t sure. He wants the full frame of the Canon 5DmkII still, but the FS100 super 35mm chip is tempting him with its amazing low light and no line skipping. It’s a different aesthetic, but it’s more of a film aesthetic anyway, and think of all that time he can save with sound! Same thing with the AF100. He likes the aesthetic even less, but it’s cheaper. It does all the frame rates and has ND. Wow and it’s pretty cheap!
That’s where this state of flux is. These two cameras are very tempting….although they still need LOADS of accessories. They need a rig, a Zacuto EVF and of course the basics, tripod, sound, lights etc etc…so not cheap.
Fred needs a camera today, and the way things are he is probably going to play it safe. He is most likely going to buy a Canon 60D, which is actually my second favourite Canon after the 5DmkII, and some Zeiss or Nikon lenses to future proof himself. Sensible. The 60D shoots great video, although it has more issues than the GH2. But he wants a good stills function, and the stills out of the 60D are superior to the GH2′s. He is going to stick with Canon, because that is the look he likes the most out of the DSLRs. He also wants to see how things pan out over the next 6 months, and after all he is shooting for the web, and DSLR stuff looks great not just on the web but on the big screen – trust me, it does! One golden rule to obey here is if you can earn money with a camera today, don’t put off buying one in the hope that something better is going to come out “at some point”. That “at some point” could end up being years, not months. Fred has made the right choice – he bought a cheaper camera and is going with glass he can use if he changes his mind and moves cameras.
Whether we see anything from Canon in six months I have no idea. But what I am seeing is that people who have bought Canons and have paid them off are moving up to the FS, as it solves most of their issues. Although they are having lens issues, waiting for that Birger mount!
This is what Canon needs to do with their generation 2, and it needs to be done soon. No line skipping. No moire, no aliasing, a headphone jack. Live, adjustable audio meters on screen. A much better codec. How about the 50mb/s 422 XF codec from their camcorders? That would be pretty sweet! Clean HDMI would be a nice bonus. I don’t expect SDI/ XLR or any video sockets like that, as it’s a stills camera first and foremost. But to keep that low budget indie crowd they need to bring out generation 2, soon. These are not crazy fantasy demands that should be held back for a Canon large chip video camera. Keep 10-bit, sdi, xlr, full hd overcrank etc for that. All we want in a DSLR is no image issues, a nicer codec, better handling of audio and better HDMI. Not that much really!
There are a lot of people looking at these relatively affordable large chip camcorders, having fallen in love with that look with DSLRs, and want to have an easier life….Personally I still adore the form factor of DSLRs, and of course my love affair with timelapse is not over, and DSLRs are the kings of timelapse. These camcorders just don’t cut the mustard for that. I also still shoot a lot on my GH2, as it’s so damn small and the image is just so stunning. I want my Canons to get better, especially my 5DmkII!! We haven’t seen the best of what DSLRs can give us yet – as I said, Canon is still on generation 1. I just really want them to hurry up!
The flux won’t go on forever.