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posted by - Thursday, 10 December 2009

Over Thanksgiving weekend, there was a discussion on the Cinematographer’s Mailing List (CML, cinematography.net) about new camera technologies and future trends in our industry. Neil Smith of Hollywood DI asked me to give Abel’s perspective on what’s to come. Since writing my response, numerous people have commented on it and suggested we re-post it for others to see. It is presented here for you to read and draw your own conclusions.

From Neil Smith, Hollywood DI:

Mitch, I’d be interested to hear your views on how you see the industry changing over the next 12 months … you guys have been in the game a lot longer than most of us and have never ceased to adapt and change and continue to deliver great products and services.

My response:

What we see as the big change in the industry is how the market now leads the manufacturers. Unlike what so many sometimes think, the manufacturers have always tried to listen to their customers to develop products with which everyone will be happy. Focus groups and meetings with large clients worked well in the past, but the business of Image Capture has expanded at an exponential rate. And there are also forums such as this that communicate in minutes what once took months. There are different markets and different ways to serve them. And these markets are letting the manufacturers know this, and the manufacturers are responding. And sometimes a manufacturer just might know something and drop a product that makes everyone stop and take notice.

“Horses for Courses” is not just a catchy turn of phrase. There really are appropriate tools for given clients and given jobs. No one camera head is best and no one recording media is best. What’s interesting now is that we are quickly getting to the point where professional-level product is available in all of the shapes and sizes that people could ever want. One job may call for a relatively small sensor (which means a certain kind of lensing and physical form factor) while recording to a cheap and easy in the field media. Another may require a large sensor with a media that is quickly and inexpensively duplicated on set. A given production might need to record in a format that allows for maximum flexibility in post for adjustment and refinement. Still another may need to output in a form that is instantly available for finished use.

Not every production is shot on a studio backlot with a full camera truck, DIT workstation and a bunch of lighting and grip trucks. And not every job is a kid running around with an HDSLR in a backpack. There is validity to them all, and there are now products being made for them all. The task is to see where the crossovers are so that the most work, and the best work, can be done with the fewest and most appropriate tools. Tools that work for a major broadcast network are not necessarily what is most appropriate for a studio shoot, and neither might serve a sports cinematographer, or a timelapse guy, or a nature doc shooter, etc., etc.

A few years ago we had a client shoot a feature doc on terrorism. The main camera was a Sony F900R, but a JVC HD100 was used for segments where a large camera would be a real target for life-threatening concerns. If that same movie were to be produced today, I could imagine a large sensor camera being used for interviews and beauty shots here in the US, a 2/3” camera used for much of the field work around the world, and an HDSLR used for shooting in war-torn danger zones. And the finished product would likely be better for it.

Think of the camera heads as “image capture devices.” It’s great to be able to choose the most appropriate one for your needs. Then think of the actual recording media (tape, card, hard drive, etc.) as “intermediate media.” The raw material is only going to live there temporarily until being moved into the post environment where it can be stored, altered and archived as needed. So both the Image Capture Device and the Intermediate Media should be the ones that work best for a client’s given job and workflow. One is not better than the other, just more appropriate. And that’s the new world that we are moving into.

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