Monday, September 11, 2006

Are Consumer Digital Cameras Really Preparing the Next Generation of Filmmakers?

The idea of the digital revolution is not a new concept. For years, digital products have been tested, sold, and then redesigned to keep up with the progressing technology. Now, high-quality digital consumer cameras are available to anyone who can afford the moderate price tag. Part of the marketing of these new cameras is that they allow anyone to create a decent image with mostly automated functions that have glorified the "“point-and-shoot" method of filming. This advancement in technology has helped many aspiring storytellers get their ideas out into the mainstream. Consequently, the dependence on an instant image has given amateur filmmakers a false sense of security and the misconception that a cinematographer is unnecessary.

When examining a line of consumer cameras available from Panasonic there are many similarities between the models. Each camcorder comes equipped with a L.C.D. monitor, an image stabilizer, and the guarantee of a "“quick and easy" shoot. The L.C.D. monitor allows the filmmaker to see exactly what image will be captured by the camera. A user can turn dials and push buttons until they like what they see, without any knowledge of what those dials and buttons actually do. The image stabilizer has an equally convenient purpose, creating a fixed image even when the camcorder is handheld. Digital cameras on the professional level, however, are not made with the same convenience in mind. They are designed much like film cameras, exploiting different variables to create many ways of viewing a single scene. If not familiar with the aperture, focus, speed, and lens of the camcorder (all of which are automated on consumer versions), operators will lose all of the precious time and money they have saved by using digital instead of film. But even background knowledge is not enough. The variables that are used by cinematographers in film are the same in digital; however digital photography has a different set of properties that make it, in some ways, harder than film to master.

Each camera has an optimum aperture, for example. Cinematographers know they must stay close to this setting for best picture quality. Most film cameras have an optimum aperture, or lens speed, between T1.2 to T2.2. Yet, digital camcorders, such as Panasonic's AJ-HDC27H model, have an optimum aperture of T12. At this higher setting, depth of field is very sharp, which can provide many problems creatively when trying to direct audience attention. Everything will remain in focus. A talented and knowledgeable cinematographer is needed to overcome this set back successfully. Because of the sharpness provided by depth of field, the image created by a digital camera will appear flatter and more two dimensional than 35mm. Here, cinematographers are needed to create the illusion of three dimensional space through creative lighting, color, and prop placement. Film cameras have a much larger light latitude than digital, so camcorders are much more sensitive to light. Extreme highlights, easily captured on film, must be professionallynally measured and planned for the prefered outcome.The work of cinematographer, Robert Rodriguez (Once Upon A Time in Mexico), is a great example of these elements coming together (see above).

There are so many different aspects and variables that go into making an image. Aperture, lens, and camera speed all have a huge impact. Current consumer products are great for home video, but the easy automated settings keep amateurs from learning the basic filmmaking. Throughrough the "point-and-shoot" method, they are not able to learn the tools to work at a professional level. Digital filmmaking has proved to be a challenge even for the professional, and consumer products are increasing this challenge through lazy (or "quick") film capture settings.


At 7:07 PM, Blogger R2K said...

Hmmm : )

I have yet to see anything great. I dont think it is a matter of the camera, I think it is the slower apprentice process that went along with the older technology. Any dude with a cell phone, even if that cell phone can take high def video some day, is still a dude.

Most of the stuff I see (and I do see lots) is just goofy or overly artsy stuff.

At 10:32 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

I definitely agree. The influx of these products have allowed for the rise of "untalented" filmmakers who are just looking to entertain themselves (search youtube under "I'm bored" and see what the results bring you).Yet, I decided to write on this topic because of a friend of my boyfriend. He is currently a film student at Cal State Northridge, and by all means a serious and talented filmmaker. I had classes with him in community college, so if your wondering...I have seen his work. When I asked him about his projects at Northridge and what mediums he had used, i.e. 16mm, 35mm, etc. he said simply that he was only using his Canon XL2 because when he starts working, really working, in the industry no one will be using film anymore. This really startled me. An XL2, though sold under the heading of "Professional Grade" it is nothing more than a glorifed consumer camcorder. It even has a mode called "cine mode" which supposedly gives you the look of film through the touch of a button. But when has cinematography ever been as easy as that? That camera is a sercurity blanket, and even if "film is dead" when this student looks for a job, he is not going to be prepared for the real digital cameras productions will be using.These cameras will based off of film cameras (of all things), but because of his shortsightedness he will be unprepared and not know how to get the look he wants.

And this isn't even the only time I've encountered people who think like this. Another student, who I have worked with personally, is also a talented filmmaker with a LOT of vision. He was wanting to submit a sci-fi film for a online film festival and asked for me help. He explained thelook he wanted, so I explained to him the types of filters, gels, and so on that he would need. But he stopped me, and told me that with his GL2 (another digital camcorder from Canon) he could just color correct while he was shooting. He didn't really think he needed a cinematographer. But once again, at the high end of the camcorder spectrum, he won't have these conveinences.

These students are equipped with the newest technology, they paid hefty prices for it (around $4000), they have vision, but they don't really know the importance of cinematography. And when they get a "real" job they aren't going to know much about the process of creativly lighting a set, or reading a lightmeter, or processing readings to get the image you have preconcieved which is a large and integeral part of the film process.


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