Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Is the new way the old way?

This week let's think back to the good old days....the days when TV news shooters carried film cameras, mags of film, and separate audio recorders. 

Probably no one alive then wants to recall those days warmly.  But after having several conversations lately with people about "the new revolution" in video, I am transported back to those olden days of yore. 

Nearly every young producer or hotshot shooter today is haranguing me about shooting video with a still camera like the Canon 7D or the Mark Series.  Now, I will grant you, the large imager and beautiful Canon glass makes some very pretty pictures.  Just take a look at this clip, forwarded to me by another friend who is pushing me to adopt the "new" way of shooting:

Stunning depth of field...beautiful latitude, beautiful sensitivity.   You will get no argument from me that this device produces some truly impressive images. 

But please, stop telling me this is a "new" way to shoot.  It's not.  It's reverting back to 1967, when I was busy playing in my playpen, but when most shooters lived with film mags and audio recorders.

This "new" way of shooting requires several compromises.  The first compromise is shooting a highly compressed HD file to a compact flash card.  Depending on the compression you choose and the size of your card, you might only get about 15 to 20 minutes on a single CF card.

Sound like a mag of film to anyone?

The second compromise is the audio recording.  Although you can record audio on some of these devices, it is generally mono using a mini-pin connector.  So most pros use an outboard sound recorder like a Zoom or similar device. 

Sound like using an old Nagra?

And most pros recommend using prime lenses, so the ability to shoot on the fly in a variety of situations is compromised. 

Sound like an old turret lens to anyone?

Now, don't get me wrong.  I am not sitting around saying this new technology is a bad thing.  In fact, I absolutely love the images I've seen from these cameras.  But between the issues above, and many more (like the rolling shutter problem because of the CMOS chips used in these cameras), I just don't feel like it's the right moment to make a switch. But there is no doubt in my mind that the moment is coming. Soon.

But until then, don't tell me about this being a "new" way to work.  In fact, this is just about as desirable a way to work today as it would be for me to dig out my old plumbicon tube camera and portapack recorder.  Call me when the large imager is in the right form factor.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

I'm Alive, Tape is Dead.

It's been some time since we have posted here on The Media Doctor site...but we're back now with a vengance.  Let's talk about the Death of Tape.

For years now, I have been eagerly awaiting the death of video tape.  I have been so excited about solid state technology that I often tell classes at the University of Akron that I will have a party when the last piece of video tape rolls off the press.  Call it a tape-based funeral!  Free head cleaner for all!

But after nearly a year of working with solid state media, my opinion has changed.  Fact is:  tape is good.

What caused my change of heart?

Well, back in the ancient days of video tape, I would go out and shoot.  Then I'd capture the video into my trusty Mac Book Pro.  Then I'd edit.   Then I'd spit the edited version back out to tape.  My original tapes would sit on a shelf for years.  All was well.

Today I am shooting mostly on Panasonic's P2 format.  Cards are still ridicuolusly expensive, at several hundred dollars each, for maybe an hour or four's worth of space.  Total cost of several hours of DVCPro tape?  Maybe $60.

But that isn't the real problem.  No indeed.  The real problem is this:  once I copy all my P2 media to a hard drive, I need to re-use the P2 cards again almost immediately.  So I wipe them clean and start the next shoot.

And my investment in shooting the previous material is left to the whims of my hard drives.  And anyone who has used hard drives for years will tell you that as storage space has climbed and prices have plummeted, the trade off has been shortened drive longevity and stability.

So, this past spring, while shooting on location in Trinidad & Tobago, I came back to the hotel room each night and moved data onto several hard drives, making multiple copies.  Flash forward to a couple of months later and the drives wake up one morning all confused...."This hard drive must be formatted" says my Mac Book Pro.

WHAT!?!?!?!?!   $15,000 in travel expenses down the drain?  In a panic, I call the manufacturer, who tells me to buy a piece of software to rebuild my drive's file allocation tables.  If successful, I MAY get my data back.   

I do.  I make a total of SEVEN complete backups of the data on five different drives in three different physical locations.

And today I yearn for the days when those original tapes would be sitting safely on a shelf somewhere, ready to spring to life again for anyone with a working deck.   I hope we can avoid that tape funeral for a long time, even if I am living in the world of the hard drive.  It was a simpler time.