For years, professional still photographers used still cameras and pro cinematographers used movie cameras. Then came digital, and with it a conversation began about the possibility of "convergence," meaning a single camera that could do still and video capture. Early on in the digital age, video camcorders added the ability to grab a still, but the video resolution was so low and the technology was so fundamentally different that those early stills from video were all but completely useless. The drive to convergence continued, but video camcorders were so entrenched in physically small low-resolution sensors, there didn’t appear to be a real future for high-end photographers.
Then everything changed.
In 2008, three huge developments occurred, and suddenly it seemed that convergence had taken a leap forward by an order of magnitude. The Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Nikon D90 and RED ONE all became available. The Canon and Nikon, of course, were primarily still cameras, and the RED ONE really was a motion-only camera when it came out, but from both sides—the still that can do motion and the motion that can do still—the vision of a new way of creating photographs emerged. By the end of 2008 the world had seen Reverie, a short film made by Vincent Laforet with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, and Jim Jannard, the founder of RED, had declared that the company would follow a concept of the DSMC—Digital Still & Motion Camera—for all future products.
For photographers, a certain amount of chaos has ensued, but people always say that the Chinese word for chaos is made from the characters for crisis and opportunity. Still photographers quickly saw the opportunities that were opening up in motion. Some, like Laforet, have made a full push into narrative filmmaking, while others, like tabletop beverage-shooting wizard Martin Wonnacott, have been able to offer clients motion vignettes that show, for instance, a drop of condensation flowing down the side of a drink-filled glass. Still photographers began signing up for classes and workshops on motion editing and shooting in droves.
Convergence took a hard turn, introducing leading still photographers to start thinking in terms of motion. Canon EOS 5D Mark II users, in particular, began to see that they had a single device that could shoot beautiful, hi-res still shots, then with a flip of a switch, they could go to moviemaking. And the 5D Mark II’s price made it incredibly accessible to a lot of photographers.
Then everything changed…again.
In 2010, RED introduced the Epic, and with it, the DSMC potential hinted at with the RED ONE was fully realized. The Epic, which became available in 2011, is a motion camera that can shoot 5K at 120 fps and, true to Jannard’s declaration about still and motion capture, each of the frames from the Epic is a full-res still photograph. With this camera, a photographer could be shooting continuously until the storage media was full, and each frame would be a 13.8-megapixel shot (yielding approximately 55 MB TIFFs). If the Epic didn’t set the photography world on fire, it was only because of its price tag (more than $34,000, body only), not because of its abilities. Top professionals like Mark Seliger have used the camera for cover-quality photographs.
Technology may be a rough-and-tumble world, but one thing you can count on is that prices will drop and capabilities will increase over time. In late 2011, RED announced the Scarlet-X. The camera can shoot 4K motion (up to 25 fps), and you can go to a 5K mode at 12 fps. With a price tag of $9,700 ("Brain" only—about $16,000 well-equipped), it’s not cheap, but for a working professional, that cost starts to make one think about the possibilities.
Carlo Dalla Chiesa With The RED Epic
Using a RED Epic camera, Carlo Dalla Chiesa, co-owner of Smashbox Digital in Hollywood, took this photograph. He was testing the camera for making large prints and working in the camera’s 5K video mode. Essentially, he was taking 13.8-megapixel images at 24 fps. This type of workflow is at the heart of RED’s DSMC (Digital Still & Motion Camera) philosophy. (Note that the photo is shown here in its uncropped and proper orientation. On the cover, we had to make accommodations for the DPP logo and cover lines.) This way of working presents some new challenges for photographers, but on the whole, the enormous potential benefits are much greater.
Dalla Chiesa mentioned that in addition to having to think about lighting differently, one new challenge is not having a physical cue for a model to hold and break a pose. We’ve become used to the pop of a flash or the click of a shutter, but during a still + motion shoot, neither of these exists. A photographer becomes a bit like a film director, encouraging a model to move, but slower than he or she would in a movie shoot.
In the next issue of DPP, we’ll have a portfolio article with Carlo Dalla Chiesa where he discusses his philosophy of photography, as well as what he sees in store for the future.