Revolutionary Technology: Cameras

Roughly stated, our basic philosophy as a company is that traditional media business models have entered a terminal phase.   We know this because we come from flagship media organizations and can see the writing on the wall.   Of course, everyone else can too.   We are establishing a new kind of business with a contrarian philosophy, but it is built on equal parts business theory and technical/operational expertise from different specialties.   On our homepage and here on the Production Directorate Blog, we tend to focus on the changes and ‘disruptions’ to the media business because those observations and trends are accessible to a wide audience.   While no technological revolution is more relevant than the internet and digital age, the real explosive power comes when that revolution is paired with technological advances in cameras, audio equipment, post production software and other essential components of media production.

The image of a cameraman, audio engineer and producer as the core of a television crew is starting to be as antiquated as a cockpit with two pilots, a flight engineer and a sextant for celestial navigation.   Many of the programs you watch on television were shot by a one-man-band producer/shooter/audio engineer.   It makes a producer’s job description vastly more technical than it once was, but it improves a significant amount of inefficiency in the process.   If a camera operator doesn’t know how to produce and a producer doesn’t know how to operate a camera, there will always be a barrier to an effective workflow.   The other critical component to all of this is post production — editors are typically the highest paid people in the production process because their level of technical expertise is similar to what’s required of a pilot.   Up to now (and still) the workflow has been modular — producer tells cameraman what to shoot, producer writes the script and tells editor how to implement it.   A producer now has to at least be a functionally literate editor if he or she plans to stay employed in the coming years.  We’ll discuss post production technology in later posts.   The key point here is that television shoots and film shoots have often been conflated in terms of process.  This made sense when TV was mostly shot on sound stages (and it is important to mention that the production style we’re talking about here does not include scripted shows still shot on studio lots).  Today, we are in the middle of a massive transformation — film is going in one direction, and tv/web/documentaries are going in another.   It is exciting, liberating and totally chaotic.    Inexpensive (by professional standards, so around $5,000), lightweight cameras were the first keys to unlock this revolution.  Here’s a rough snapshot of the evolution of the industry-standard in prosumer cameras:

  • Over a decade ago, the Sony PD-150 started the trend, and many of those are still in use, especially by local news and smaller organizations.
  • After that, Panasonic came out with the DVX-100 series.   Like the PD-150, the DVX is shot on DV tape, just like many consumer brands.   The DVX is still the workhorse of many productions.  Its key innovation was a 24P setting (24 frames-per-second/progressive mode), a frame rate effect which adds a sharp cinematic look and quality.
  • As things have moved from SD to HD, HDV technology has slowly started replacing the DV formats of earlier cameras.   HDV brought the first all-digital, tapeless processes (though some HDV cameras, notably the Sony Z1 series still shoot to tape).   The Panasonic HVX-200 has become the HD successor to the DVX.   Its HDV workflow is all tapeless and records to P2 Cards.

For the next evolution, all eyes are on the Red Scarlet.   The company’s Red One camera was a major game-changer when it entered the market — the first reasonably priced (again, that’s by professional standards) camera good enough for big-time cinematic films (again, this is a broad summary — the Red One is amazing for a number of reasons).   But for non-film projects, the Red One is a bit too pricey for most budgets.   Last year, Red announced plans for a killer prosumer camera, the Red Scarlet, for 2009 delivery.   It has been pushed back and the price has gone up, but, like with the Red One, demand for and interest in the Scarlet remains massive.   We’re very excited to see what it can do.  Production values now only accessible to the highest end cameras and lenses will soon be available for most professional productions.

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