Just how good is the gear we use?

Two things I saw yesterday made me realise just what has been happening to the tools of our trade. To the question "Just how good is the gear we use?" The answer seems to be "Very good indeed"

As a relative newcomer to video, I get all the help I can. I make a lot of visits to the site of Phillip Bloom. Phillip is a cameraman and director of photography, and a great advocate and user of video in DSLR's. He was recently invited to the Skywalker Ranch, home of Star Wars creator George Lucas to put a Canon 5D Mk II & 7D through their paces to assess their usability in future film projects. There is an account of his experiences here:- http://philipbloom.co.uk/2009/12/12/the-tale-of-lucasfilm-skywalker-ranch-red-tails-star-wars-and-canon-dslrs/

Its a fascinating piece and I recommend you read it. The end result is that Lucasfilm were very impressed & were happy that the footage shot would stand up alongside the cameras they use already.

So, sitting on my shelf is a Canon 5D MkII. A camera I now know is capable of shooting a Hollywood movie !!! This made me really sit back and think about just how far image-making equipment has come in recent years, and the true impact of the digital revolution.

birmingham university chemistry department from soundimageplus on Vimeo.

Shot on a Canon 5D Mk II. Next stop - Hollywood!

To an extent I'm not surprised. This has already happened in music. For many years I worked in recording studios, running one and also teaching recording technique and music technology. I saw the digital revolution change everything in that world - to the extent that I now have a multi-track recording facility sitting on my iMac. Artists and producers now turn out best selling singles and albums from their bedrooms, garages and lofts. No longer is the ability to make quality recordings restricted to those who can afford to hire expensive recording studios. The music business has been turned on its head and in the process become much more accessible. No longer do bands and singers have to rely on the unreliable and patronising taste of a record company. They can record their music, shoot the HD video & post it on the internet. The laptop album & movie is already a reality.

To someone who grew up in the analogue world and looked on enviously at the creative possibilities that the successful could enjoy by having the money to afford the best equipment, this has been a revelation. Photography was different, in that the gear required to shoot a Vogue front cover cost nowhere near as much as what you would need for your concept double album. However film-making for the beginner was restricted to the grainy world of super-8 or second hand 16mm.

We now take for granted the ability to shoot high-resolution images and movies and even complain that the advances come too slowly. We expect to be able to do more and more with gear that constantly reduces in price. By constantly looking for the next innovation we often forget what we have already and just how good it is.

The second thing I saw made this point very strongly to me. The two albums that I had printed from the recent weddings we shot as a company came back from the printers yesterday. We don't produce conventional albums with prints but make digital story books, which give more freedom in terms of layout. The A3 books that arrived yesterday were just stunning. Most images were shot with the Canon 5D Mk II, though many were heavily cropped. Some were shot on a Panasonic G1. All the images looked really good. The images shot at higher ISO's were no problem and there was no discernible difference between the Canon & Panasonic shots.

So how many more pixels do we need? There are rumours about the future Canon 1Ds Mk 1V having 35MP or thereabouts. There is a Hassleblad MF digital camera + back that offers 60MP.
Just what form of media is it that can make use of this size of file? 48-sheet billboard posters use A3 size files, something a 12MP sensor can provide. For the majority of commercial use we already have more than enough MP. The problem is now the quality of the media that we view our creations on. Can print get any better? Is there more to be got from HD TV?
It strikes me we may be at a watershed. I certainly couldn't handle a larger or sharper HD TV screen. Do we really want to read an A3 sized magazine with A2 double-paged spreads. Just how close do we want to get to our computer screens and how big do we want them to be?
A lot of future development will be in terms of size (smaller) and portability. The gear we can use at the moment is only limited by our imaginations. I for one am determined to use and appreciate it more.

D & B