The perfect camera is now spaghetti sauce.

Howard Moskowitz proved (and Malcolm Gladwell presented – which is fun, watch it!) that there is no single perfect spaghetti sauce. If you want to ‘own’ a market, you must divide and rule. This is the current strategy of Sony’s camcorder division as yet another brace of cameras is launched.

Essentially, once upon a time, a cameraman made a decision to become an ‘owner-operator’ – to invest in their own kit to increase their profitability. Video equipment is notoriously expensive – an entire industry has been built up to make a profit hiring kit to production companies and Directors of Photography. A digibeta camcorder – the mainstay of the television industry – will cost the same as a high end executive saloon car, with much higher running costs. To make the jump from renting to owning signifies that you have the clients and the diary full of bookings that says ‘I have passed from Journeyman to Master’ as your monthly work shows that it’s more cost effective to lease your equipment and hire it back to your clients rather than put equipment hire as a ‘line item’ cost on your invoices. If you don’t recognise the subtlety of that statement, take your accountant out to lunch. If your accountant is good enough, then the cost of the lunch is a mere single digit percentage of what you’ll save over your first year. I married my accountant, you may choose a slightly less drastic path.

So, where were we? Oh yes: buying cameras.

We’d look at the market, the requirements, the costs, and you’d end up buying a camera that will last you 10 years at least. a few $k for repairs and realignment, a few $k for insurance, a few $k for depreciation, and you\re done. The camera will keep you going for 8-12 years. We’re happy with that. It sucks a bit, there’s the cost of feeding your accountant, but hey. It all works out.

AND THEN IT ALL CHANGED!

Suddenly we’re in a maelstrom of change: cameras are no longer big fat sausages of technology, there’s a bit at one end made of glass, there’s a bit at the other end that stores stuff, and the bit in the middle is just a computer that crunches pixels instead of spreadsheets.

Suddenly, we must think about the glass up front – that defines our look, glass is the new film stock. Waddaya mean, changing the lens changes the look?

Suddenly, we must think about the storage at the back end – that defines our post, we can take quick and dirty 4:2:0 8 bit AVCHD or we can chew for hours on Red raw files. We can record to SDHC or SSD to record 7 hours or 10 minutes. Become an IT guru or else hand over your rushes to computer geeks and hope – they’re doing more with less than your JobFit clapper loader whose got a better understanding of the value in that there solid state device. You can now swallow your day’s rushes without a glass of water, and you’re handing it over to a spotty youth who has been raised in a world with Command-Z.

Suddenly, we think about our choice and have a major middle-aged moment: Who Moved My Camera? (if you don’t know the horror in that phrase, you have been freelance for too long).

Here’s the beef (and it’s a life lesson):

There is no perfect camera. You must own several different cameras. Just like you must do several different jobs, you must be several different people to your children and you cannot live on one meal for ever:

  • You will own a little go pro style camera, disposable, go-anywhere, waterproof time-lapse machine.
  • You will own a DSLR to shoot where you shouldn’t shoot, and darn! It shoots great stills.
  • You will own a ‘handy cam’ with insane steady shot and an XLR bridge to shoot where you can’t shoot
  • You will own a Big Sensor Camera With Interchangable Lenses to shoot sexy looking stuff
  • You will own a Black Sausage of Joy Camera to shoot when you really have no idea what’s going to happen
  • You will own a 4K 12 bit Raw camera for chromakey, talking heads, beauty shots and stuff for 10 years ahead

And yes, you may even own a big, bad-ass, gas-guzzling Alexa, Red or F55. Or you rent that one after all.

The point is… there is no ‘one’ camera. It’s a collection, a family, a grab-bag, a menagerie of cameras. Call yourselves what you want – videographers, one-man-bands, DoPs, Director/Editors, we’re all going to need more than one camera to make a business plan. To say a PMW500 would make us all happy is to not get it.

If you want as big a share of the spaghetti sauce market, you must have solutions for those who like it runny, chunky, herby, hearty, gloomy and spicy – and whatever else the market wants. If you want to meet your clients’ expectations, you’ll need DSLR, Raw, Timelapse, Underwater/crappy-weather, discrete, showy, small, large and so on.

We all have to own lots of cameras. Tell your accountants. Yay!

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