Keeping Up or Getting Buried?

Posted on by Larry

I’m a member of the IMUG mailing list, which has lots of interesting discussions on media, gear, and life. This morning, Carey Dissmore, Principal of Carey Dissmore Productions, Inc. and a co-founder of the IMUG, sent out a post that I found so compelling, I wanted to share it with you. So, with Carey’s permission, here it is.

There’s nothing brand new or earth-shattering about stating that technology moves really fast in this business. It’s been true of computers and software for awhile but it’s now also true of cameras and video formats.

I’ve often stated about any piece of gear: “It will always do what it always did”, implying another cliché “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. But that only works in a world that is standing still, and today we’re in a world that is moving faster (and becoming more fragmented) than ever, from a technology point of view. It also only holds until something DOES break, and then you’re really screwed trying to get parts (or the high, ROI-insane cost of said repairs) for old gear.

Nowadays, it’s getting very difficult to buy a camera, much less a cell phone that is NOT high-definition. It’s also hard to find one that shoots tape. The complete transition to a high definition, tapeless world is pretty much complete, and has brought radical changes to how we all do our work–not always adding speed or efficiency. This transition has also added a whole lot of media-management responsibilities at every step of the production workflow, particularly at the front and back ends of it.

So far I haven’t said anything most of us don’t already know. But sometimes it’s just good to talk about it.

But here’s the point: There are definite sweet spots (windows in time) to own and use gear. Implying all else is sour. Perhaps that’s a little strong, but let’s explore this a bit.

Bleeding edge/Early adopters: The pain of early adopters generally centers around infant hardware death, driver issues and software bugs. Being an early adopter can be a competitive advantage but tends to be most suited to those who are savvy enough to provide their own support–shops that are small and savvy enough to be flexible in dealing with hiccups and work around issues that arise. These are generally people who are already pushing the limits of their current technology pretty hard and need all the faster/better they can muster. Or they’re just tech geeks, or both, like me 😉

Both the single system owner and the large “sausage factory” ends of the production business can be really hurt by bleeding edge issues. What is a minor inconvenience for the folks above can be devastating. The single system owner has no alternative systems to work around the problem and the “sausage factory” mega-shop basically shuts down because the large staff of “working class” employees probably don’t have the training or the analytical & technical skills to work around issues. Result in either case: Production grinds to a halt.

(Almost) Everyone else: Just behind them is a broad swath of general adopters. Where exactly these folks fall on the adoption curve is determined by project and budgetary cycles, but they’re all still kind of “in the zone” with reasonably current gear.

Then there are the technology Luddites (both witting and unwitting)…

I’ll directly address the Mac users. In the Mac-centric video world we’ve been through a lot of changes in the past 5 years. We’ve been through the PCI to PCI-X to PCI-Express transition, which made a lot of us have to buy new video I/O boards. We’ve been through the PowerPC to Intel transition (software upgrades), (Snow Leopard as well). Rapidly changing and fragmenting standards in storage connectivity, the move to multicore, the move to 64 bit, the move to GPU-centric software. It’s a lot. Fall too far behind on eBaying the aging gear to flip to the new gear and this big ballooning monster of total obsolescence will build up and crush you. (aka “Unwitting Luddites”)

Upgrade decisions are often driven by how closely one’s ability to get clients and work is tethered to your ability to support the latest production standards. The hobbyist who makes side income has a completely different threshold than someone who’s entire livelihood depends on continuing to secure more work. And therein lies the rub, because the upgrade cycles have slowed down for everyone in this economy, while the progress of technology, formats, cameras, etc. has surged. This makes for some hard choices. Sometimes it feels like trying to outrun an avalanche, but it’s better than being buried by it.

But there definitely comes a point, despite one’s budgetary challenges causing delay of investment in new gear, where you are expending so much time and effort to bootstrap old gear, trying to make it work with current standards, while being unaware of how much of the tangible (and intangible) benefits are to be had with upgraded kit. Somewhere in that mix also lies opportunity cost of jobs you could be getting if it weren’t for old gear. Tough to manage it all sometimes, but this is a terrible place to find oneself.

That doesn’t mean I’m not all about “bang for the buck” aka “value for money” and “the right tool for the job”. There IS such a thing as overdoing it. Everyone’s needs are different. A honest assessment of the work you do (and are likely to get) is required to match the right gear to it. For example, there are a lot of people in production who would do well to look at iMacs on “value for money” standpoints. iMacs don’t have the expansion options of the MacPro towers, but can do a lot for less depending on the kind of work you do. They can also be great support systems as long as you already have one MacPro configured with the necessary video I/O, which nowadays is more about driving displays than capturing anyway.

Now please excuse me, I’ve got an avalanche to outrun!

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Thanks, Carey, for writing this and allowing me to share it. As always, I’m interested in your comments.


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