[ This guest blog was written by Clayton Moore.]
I learned how to edit on B&W reel-to-reel videotape using a stop watch. Sure, you say, that’s the equivalent to your grandfather saying, “I had to walk a mile to school in the snow.” Ok, fair enough, I won’t bore you with the old days of video. I’ll just skip to my time working for Apple Inc.
I started with Apple when computers were beige. Apple was circling the drain, it was two CEOs before Steve Jobs came back, and it was known as Apple Computer, Inc. I rode the roller coaster as Apple rose from the ashes and the computer was king. Soon, we shipped FireWire on the second generation of iMacs and every tower we made, and the desktop video revolution had begun.
My first digital video (DV) camera was a single-chip consumer model, Sony TRV-9 that cost $1,800. Soon, iMovie shipped for free on every Apple. Almost immediately, Final Cut Pro 1.0 was released. It was built on code that Apple acquired from Macromedia and the rest, as they say, is history.
Apple had built a strong, unique brand on its ability to separate itself from the pack. Depending on your reason to use a computer, it mattered whether the logo on your computer was a Windows/PC (HP,Dell, etc.) or an Apple. The Apple logo carried with it certain characteristics that were unique to Apple. I remember walking into a Gateway retail store and asking about getting FireWire on a Gateway computer. The sales people had no idea what I was talking about — and that was when Apple was shipping FireWire on every desktop out of the factory.
However, over time, as computers were becoming more common, Apple began to change its focus to mobile, consumer electronic devices, and eventually changed their name
from Apple Computer, Inc. to Apple Inc. Things were changing:
Eventually, what brand of computer you chose to use mattered less than ever before. Apple saw it coming, and It became clear that the power of its brand no longer rested with the common computer. Apple began to shift its focus away from the computer itself to the ecosystem first, then to content, and then to mobile devices.
Al Mandel (co-founder, Tenex Medical Investors) said it best, “The step after ubiquity is invisibility.” Computers had become the invisible appliance.
Recently, I was in an Apple store and out of 13 display tables of Apple products only one table held desktop computers. A Google graph of searches related to big names in technology shows a major decline of Internet searches over the last 10 years. To quote Robert X. Cringely (author of the best selling book Accidental Empires: How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make Their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition, and Still Can’t Get a Date), “…as technology has become more vital to our lives, we’ve paradoxically become less interested, or at least do less reaching out.”
“Most cameras these days are certainty good enough to make a motion picture with.”
— Cinematographer Bruce Logan, ASC, 2012
How does all this relate to camera technologies, specifically to the LSS digital cinema camera market? What about Sony, Panasonic, Black Magic Design, Canon, and more? There has always been interest in camera technologies but nothing like what we’re seeing today. What these cameras can do has ignited the imagination of filmmakers and hobbyists all over the world. People who were growing bored with the standard camcorder are suddenly inspired again. Websites dedicated to this technology are springing up, and online communities are on fire with people discussing and debating and sharing all the minutia of these new cameras and their accessories.
Canon first ignited this revolution back in 2008 with the 5D MKII and the affordable Rebel line. Back then, the gulf between the images a $1,000 body could take vs. a $40,000 camera body, was still pretty vast. Since then, however, as competition heated up and technology improved, the gulf has narrowed to such a degree that today a good director of photography (DP) can shoot, grade, and output images from a variety of cameras at all price points, and they’ll all look very close to each other. In fact it’s likely that the viewing audience would never be able to distinguish them and certainly would not be impacted in any significant way. The audience is what counts and when they cannot detect a perceptible difference, the game will have been changed forever.
In 2012, Zacuto Inc. (a U.S. camera products designer) organized and produced Revenge of the Great Camera Shootout 2012. Among the large number of cinematographers and directors in attendance was Francis Ford Coppola. During the event, they did a blind screening using cameras ranging from an iPhone 4s all the way up to an Alexa and a Sony F65, as well as a number of cameras in between.
In the blind test, the DPs for each camera were allowed to set the lighting for their cameras and to have their footage graded afterward to best show their cameras’ capabilities. Attendees watched each clip and rated their favorite ones. The results were all over the map, with a surprise at how well the Panasonic GH2 stood up in the pack. Not knowing what camera it was, Francis Ford Coppola made the GH2 his top pick. That was 2012. Now here we are in 2015 and images from affordable-by-the-masses cameras have gotten even better.
There are many aspects of cameras, like build quality and form factor. Online discussions break down cameras and their images into parts such as:
YouTube is full of sample footage and forums packed with test clips featuring the detail of images. At least, it was until now.
The honeymoon period for this technology has a clock on it. Just like computers became common place, very high quality images are becoming common place now. In other words, laying aside a camera’s physical features, just going on image quality alone, very soon it won’t matter much what camera you buy. Some say it’s that way already.
This is all good because now we can shift our focus from the cameras themselves and set our attention and creativity to the future of content distribution and the content itself. Now filmmaking for the masses can be about imagination.
Even more, we can face head-on the issues for the creative community that deal with how to make a living — crafting a world where people can devote their lives to their art and survive. So how do we ensure that really good talent has a voice in the crowd?
Discussions have already been warming up in these areas:
Don’t get me wrong, I still love cameras and cruise online looking for information, reviews and opinions on new products. But I can feel my own interest waning a bit already. Imagine a world where everyone could own an Alexa or an Epic. As it pertains to image quality, I think we may already be 95 percent of the way there.
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Clayton Moore worked for Apple Inc. for 15 years specializing in support for Apple Professional Applications. Prior to Apple, he worked in local broadcasting in Sacramento and sat on the Board of Directors for a local community cable organization for several years. More recently, he’s done freelance work for non-profit organizations doing promotions and communications. He’s also the head camera person for Video Streaming Services of Sacramento.
3 Responses to Is The Technology Honeymoon Over?
Clayton Moore may be the Lone Ranger in his assessment today, but by “tomorrow” his thoughts will be main stream.
I think he is largely correct. People bash Cannon but I have have their Cinema 100 mark II and it does everything I need for wedding video and documentary film. It is superb. Who needs 4k when HDR will be seen by viewers as excellent. He is spot on.
Input devices (cameras and microphones in particular) will ALWAYS have multitudinous ways of being operated, depending on preference and operator requirements. Just because one can purchase a sensor capable of capturing a highrez image doesn’t mean that cameras and mics will succumb to the utilitarian nature of computers. They will ALWAYS be sexy, and always be apparent…because they are the mediators between the real, analog world and the digital processes by which we save and manipulate it.