Be careful what you wish for… you might get it.

We’ve been wishing for ‘that elusive filmic look’ for a while now, making our videos look less like a security camera, more like a bit of cinema. We wanted progressive scan. We got it. We wanted wider latitude. We got it. We wanted 35mm sized film sensors for Depth of field, and now with the F3 and the AF101, we’ve got it. But it comes at a cost.

First off, big sensors require longer focal lengths to cover them. That’s why a 50mm lens on a DSLR is ‘normal’ but on a compact it would be telephoto. But the longer the focal length, the narrower the depth of field (for a given setup). Lovely blurry backgrounds to your talking heads, rendering a messy background into ‘art’. But suddenly, you have to keep an eye on focus. Your pin sharp subject leans forward, and is out of focus. Twiddle, twiddle, lean back, twiddle, twiddle. And of course, you only have to breathe near a long lens to make the image wobble, so engage Optical Image Stabilisation, or upgrade your tripod to something made of cast iron.

That’s just with a DSLR. The Sony F3 takes PL lenses. It starts off without a lens, at three times the price of an EX1, and then you need to buy glass. Not photographic glass, PL mount glass. You thought L-Series lenses were expensive? You’ll only get a clutch of primes and a couple of zooms. No long zooms like 18x, not even 8x. Sets start at around £20k. The film industry is used to this. Ex-DSLR shooters may have to wait (hopefully) for a Canon adaptor. Maybe.

Meanwhile, over in the Panasonic camp, the good news is that the AF101 will use photo lenses, the bad news (as DSLR shooters have found) is that most of them go from infinity to a foot in 45 degrees of twist, so you’ll need a Follow Focus unit to gear down the effect, plus scaffolding to hold it in place.

The Panasonic differs from the Sony in that it uses a 4/3rds format, smaller still than the 1.6 APS-C crop, which means you’ll need to buy a new wide-angle or two.

This is the joy of removable lens systems. You begin to collect glass. You’ll want a really wide angle lens, a standard ‘walk around’ lens, a portrait to long lens, and a very long lens, just to cover the usual range found on most ‘Corporate’ camcorders. At f2.8, these are neither small nor light.

With this, no doubt, in mind, Panasonic have managed to get a 14mm to 140mm 10x range lens (which is like a 28 to 280 in 35mm terms, so useful and not to be sneezed at), but at f4-f5.6 you’re using up the two extra stops of sensitivity that a big sensor gives you, and the smaller iris steals back the Depth of Field benefits of your lager sensor. No such thing as a free lunch: lenses with very wide ranges that cover large sensors are either the size of a pedal bin and cost more than a truck, or it’s a compromise and it ends up as something that barely works in daylight.

Of course, if you made the sensor smaller… But let’s not go there.

So, your lovely cinematic camera now travels with a bagful of lenses, some scaffolding to clamp a follow focus knob to it. Then there’s a need for a separate recorder for high quality image recording (no, AVCHD and 4:2:0 MPEG2 may not cut it for its intended use), you still may want a focus monitor…

In other words, you’re going to be your very own cinematic film unit, with Assistant Cameraman, Focus Puller, Clapper/Loader/Datawrangler and Gaffer. And a budget.

The F3 looks like an EX1, uses the same codec and the same workflow as an EX1, but it’s not an EX1. I’m sure it’s going to be very popular in the world of cinema where EX1s may have been used before. Would I earn more if I used this camera over current kit? Probably not.

The Panasonic is a whole new beastie – affordable, manageable, with that Panasonic ‘look’, takes any lens (albeit with the 4/3 crop), but it’s AVCHD, which I’m a bit leery of, so it will need an external recorder like a Ninja to do chromakey work with. And it’ll be swapping lenses all day, checking the gate so to speak, not the best run and gun camera in the world…

My point, I think, is that there’s going to be may whoops of joy and dancing and merriment over the release of both the Sony F3 and the Panasonic AF101 (and a Canon some day soon), but these are not for everyone. The recent announcements, far from sowing seeds of discontent, have made me love the EX1 and 550D even more.

But I could still find room for a Scarlet.

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Still Motion

The client saw me shooting with a DSLR, and naturally assumed I would have stills of the event. But shooting stills and shooting video are two very different disciplines.

So I’ve spent the morning trawling through my rushes, trying to identify good frames that would make a photograph.

A photograph is, for me, four edges round a moment in time. The framing, or ‘crop’ is the first cut – what do we see? Where are we? Then there’s the composition – what should I look at first? Where does the eye go afterwards? Then there’s the details – what is important to the subject? What has the photographer highlighted? Then there’s a multitude of aspects – mood, lighting, style, rendition, and the gestalt works as a study of a fleeting moment.

Your eye can travel round a photograph for quite a while, feasting upon it.

But I shoot video. I am looking for impact, motion, gesture, cadence, the reveal, the conceal, the trick of the eye, each shot may not be much on its own, but when put together as an edited sequence, their very juxtaposition is the value.

There is no time for the big panorama – we’re looking for lots of little details that cut together with a general view that explains them all. I don’t have the luxury of having the viewer concentrate on a single composition for a few seconds. I need to feed the eyes with a stream of visual soda.

So, basically, searching for ‘photographs’ from ‘video’ is a pretty depressing exercise.

I work with photographers a lot. There’s a lot of synergy between us, and what we’re each looking for is so totally different, but both reaching for the same goal.

The DSLR revolution has come about because big news agencies asked the stills camera manufacturers to enable their photographers to grab a bit of video to add flavour to reports. Photographers get a ‘movie’ button in the same way as HDV camcorders get a ‘stills’ function. It’s a convenience, a little trick that can help some situations.

This has highlighted a source of contention for some: ‘what sort of video are these photographers going to get? How do they think they’re going to compete with us video shooters?’. Well, it’s probably the same kind of photographs that we video shooters can grab from our still frames. It will be competent, technically fine, will fulfil the limited brief we’d have recieved. But somehow lacking in the absolute magic of video for video’s sake or photo for photo’s sake.

My learning point is to really emphasise to clients that if they see me shooting with a DSLR, I am not shooting photographs, I am shooting video. I am not a photographer. The stuff I shoot is for motion and montage and reveal. I can give you stills of video, but never will I really give you a ‘photograph’.

And the funny thing is, that with all the photographers I work with, who can shoot video and sometimes do, they say the same thing about their work: I can shoot some moving photographs, but I am not a videographer. My videos will stand alone, and I don’t know how they’d edit together.

It’s all a bit like cookery: we’re all making food, but there’s entrees and desert. Rather different techniques, rather different goals. But they work great together.

At least I found 68 stills from the rushes, all shot at 1920×1080, so it will do at a pinch, but if you want photos, hire a photograher.