Tuesday, November 11, 2008
A Milestone In Time
Full HD video comes to digital SLRs
The Canon EOS 5D Mark II is certainly more full-featured in its video capabilities, and for nearly 2.5 times the price it should be. Canon positions the EOS 5D Mark II video capabilities for photojournalists and other professionals for whom light weight, speed and agility are all primary considerations. Instead of lugging an extra video camera, shooters can simply switch over to the video mode and shoot full 1080p-quality video. Of particular note here is the availability of an external mic jack that supports stereo audio input sampled at 16-bit 44 kHz—close to the same audio spec you find in pro HD video cameras.
The Nikon D90’s D-Movie mode is described as the high-end version of its consumer camera line. Really, this is selling the camera short. It’s much closer to the low end of its professional line, with a 12.1-megapixel DX sensor and a fairly complete arsenal of D-SLR features you’d expect. At first glance, the D-Movie mode may not look like much: The video is 720p (the lower resolution of the two HD formats), it lacks manual control for shutter and ISO in Movie mode and has a tinny-sounding built-in mic with no option for external audio. But it does sport clean, vibrant video and 35mm depth of field, and it can be pressed into service for higher-end projects—even digital cinema if you run a separate audio system and synch the two in post. Of the two cameras, the D90 is the only camera that sports 24p, a frame rate used in digital cinema that gives movement an aesthetic seen in big-screen movies (see the sidebar “On Set With The Nikon D90”).
One particularly interesting feature not obvious in the specs is that both cameras shoot video in low light extremely well. In fact, many of the videos available online (see the sidebar “See For Yourself”) are shot only in available light, some at night. The clean image and extremely low video noise can cause even hardened video-production shooters to salivate.
And while still photographers may take it for granted, videographers appreciate that both cameras use solid-state memory for recording and storage, with a completely tapeless workflow.
How Will These Cameras Impact Professional Photography?
How meaningful these video D-SLRs are to you depends on what type of shooter you are and, to some extent, which camera you’re considering. Following is a breakdown of key areas. Stock Photography.
Stock photography has gone through huge changes in the past decade. With the advent of online stock-photo houses and a huge influx of photographers shooting stock, prices have dropped like Wall Street on a Monday afternoon. Increased competition and desire from buyers for more unique looks create a need for innovation in a crowded market.
How much of an impact will it have? There’s a definite role for video D-SLRs in the stock-photography market. “Although we’re best known for stock photography, we have a huge and growing stock-video business,” says Jim Goertz, Director of Video Content Development for iStockphoto LP. “We’re seeing more content buyers, designers really, putting together multimedia campaigns and looking for both still photos and video that match. Today, the photographer is using strobes to shoot, and then the videographers come in with continuous lighting and a different camera. The content is similar, but there are differences. Video D-SLRs now offer the opportunity to match movie and still photography precisely—color, lighting, time of day, everything. It’s a huge leap forward for the stock industry.”
When asked about timing, Goertz replies, “Many of our top photographers already have their movie D-SLRs preordered.”
Commercial Photographers. The high-speed, high-quality, client-centered and demanding business of commercial photography is merciless when it comes to evaluating and selecting gear. Typically, only the high-end equipment will suffice.
How much of an impact will it have? “For pros, conceptually, it’s interesting,” says Chase Jarvis, a commercial photographer based in Seattle, Wash., and with a studio in Paris, France. “Look at any news site, and it’s [stills] and video. These new cameras are game-changers, for sure.”
Jarvis provided some of the first online footage and information behind the Nikon D90 and its D-Movie mode. The convergence of video and stills excites him: “Never has there been a more interesting time to be a photographer or videographer.”
Adds Jarvis, “For my work, the quality isn’t yet there on these cameras. I shoot stills with the Nikon D3, and for video, I use high-end cameras such as the RED ONE or the Phantom high-speed HD camera. But I do think, conceptually, this is really, really interesting.”