Photography has changed.

September 23rd, 2008 by Chris

Of course you know that digital photography is a disruptive technology which is eliminating the previous paradigm of amateur and professional photography. This tsunami of technology has gone so far that even the venerable Kodachrome is going the way of the dodo. In the last 6 years Kodak has discontinued manufacture of all but one speed of the famous film, leaving only 64 speed film in production. The last production batch of ~20,000 rolls has an expiration date of 2009. Kodak might choose to make more, but then again, they may not.

Yes, this is old news. You almost certainly knew about the disappearance of film in the modern imaging world. That’s not what this post is about. This post is about the recent announcements by Nikon and Canon that their next SLR cameras will have the capability to capture full motion video. “What’s the big deal?” you say, “my point and shoot camera can do that now!” Sure, and it might even be reasonably high resolution… The writing was on the wall when the last few models of both Canon and Nikon’s SLRs added “live preview”, the ability to compose the shot using the LCD, rather than the SLR viewfinder. Again, this is a feature that point and shoot cameras have had for years. Why is this a big deal? (If you’re impatient, please don’t skip out without watching this video… more about this at the end of the post!)

Recall that SLR cameras allow the photographer to view the world through the same lens that will be used to take the picture (thus single lens) through the use of a reflective prism and mirror (thus reflex). When the shutter is released, the mirror swings up out of the way, the iris sets aperture and the shutter opens and closes to expose the image. Digital cameras use a Charge-Coupled Device (CCD) to collect the photons and capture the image instead of film. Some of the SLR cameras offering “live preview” use a secondary sensor to provide the LCD image, but most use the primary sensor by holding the mirror up and keeping the shutter open. This gets us back where we started…

Once you have the ability to read images from the CCD rapidly without opening and closing the shutter each time, you’ve converted the digital camera into a digital VIDEO camera. Since you’re shooting with the high resolution CCD of an SLR camera, you can shoot extremely high resolution video AND use the myriad of high quality lenses available for your SLR. Nikon struck first with the D90 model. This camera retails for about $1000 (body only) which is a bargain considering it is a 12.3 Mpixel SLR AND a 720p HD (720×1280) video camera.
Canon has now returned volley (in a major way) with the release of their entry-level professional camera the 5D Mark II. This is an amazing full-frame 21.1 Mpixel machine with the ability to record 1080p HD video (1280×1920) up to 4GB per clip with ISO settings from 100 to 6400 ASA (and several expanded modes). It will probably sell for under $3000.
This is a world changer for photography. I am not exaggerating here.

Consider this: You are an NBC executive who has the exclusive rights to provide video coverage of the next two Olympics. You paid $2.2 BILLION for this right five YEARS ago. Of course the contract and pool photographers from dozens of different countries and representing hundreds of different companies are now standing at the side of the venue with a 600mm lens shooting 1080p HD video (not to mention the fans). And there is NOTHING you can do about it. Oh sure, you can declare martial law and prohibit all such cameras from the venues, but is that really practical? Of course not. By 2010, EVERY professional D-SLR will have this capability, you can’t tell the entire industry to roll back to pre-2008 camera technology. It just won’t fly.

To prove the viability of shooting a high quality video on a small budget ($5k not counting the camera and lenses), Vincent Laforet was able to get his hands on a brand new Canon 5D MkII fresh into the country to shoot a short film video. It is being hosted by Canon because it’s just that spectacular. This was shot with a $3k camera over a weekend! He’s just posted a “making of” video as well.

Edit: An interview with Laforet on PDN discussing how he put together the shoot.

The lines between still photography, video production, photo-journalism and video-journalism are now SO blurred as to be no-longer unique. Photography has changed.

2 Responses to “Photography has changed.”

  1. Robert D. Says:

    It seems that you were impressed, so this begs the question, you buying a 5D2?

  2. Chris Says:

    It’s a pretty sweet camera body, but I think my hobby has to start generating revenue before I can afford a $2.7k camera.