What’s wrong with this picture, er, I mean, this video…


In the midst of the packing and last minute details for an assignment I’m leaving on tomorrow (note to self: no more blog posts about Photoshop or plug-ins…whoa…you guys are tough, tough, tough), I took stock of my upcoming shopping list for gear, gadgets, and software.

And none of it was for still photo stuff.

I should be upgrading to CS5, but all my cameras are covered by the version of Adobe Camera Raw in CS4 so what I’m really getting ready to plunk down near four figures to upgrade is to Final Cut Studio from Final Cut Express, and not from CS4 to CS5.

And yes, I’d like that tiny new 85mm Nikkor DX  VR macro lens, but what I’m actually buying next is a fairly pricey little Sennheiser wireless mic setup. And I’ve been hitting the videography blogs with alarming regularity.

What the hell is going on? Hit the jump to find out just who, or what, has hijacked my brain.

Like a lot of editorial shooters, I’m totally swept up in the multimedia vortex. Truth be told, I’ve been in there for a while, and I’ve enjoyed the added dimension of dealing with audio in my multimedia slideshows, (even though I’ve yet to find a reliable market for these gems).

But, I put off learning about video for as long as I could (poor baby, I thought the learning curve of basic Photoshop was brutal… that was, of course, until I met Mr. Final Cut, who is a truly tough mofo), but the day has come.

And I’m excited by the possibilities. If the above cartoon (and Malcolm Gladwell, who floated the 10,000 hour formula in his excellent book, The Outliers) are right, I’ll probably be a grandfather (take your time, boys, no rush to reproduce! Dad doesn’t fancy grandfatherhood just yet.) before I get close to a decent fraction of the required hours, but there’s the thrill of total authorship that drives us old editorial shooters, who are all-too-used to getting our vision pawed over by layers of editors and writers before it sees the light of day.

But, I’m noticing a disconnect.

While magazine and editorial shooters are all about learning video, and the documentary and indie film folks are absolutely head over heels in love with big-chip, soft-bokeh, fast-prime-lens DSLR videography, lots of photo enthusiasts could give a hoot about the video capabilities of their SLRs.

At least that’s the feeling I’m getting at recent seminars I’ve taught recently in Houston, Philly, and San Francisco for National Geographic Traveler.

So, while it’s going to be quiet around here from me in these next 10 days, I’d love to hear from you, regarding your thoughts on DSLR video (or any kind of video) and how you think it will impact what you do. Or not….And go Celtics!

This Post Has 26 Comments

  1. Bob, love your thoughts on photography. My next purchase will be a full-frame camera, and I’m actually considering the D700 rather than a 5DMII BECAUSE it doesn’t have video. I have no interest in video and would rather not pay for those features – seems every Canon now & will have video capability. I’d rather get a Flip or other small HD video recorder for occasional clips.

  2. A few weeks ago I was photographing an ichneumon wasp going through its egg laying routine. When I had photographed the complete sequence, the wasp stayed on the log and began searching for another location. I thought that it would be a good time to take a video, but the act of reaching for my P&S camera scared off the wasp. At that moment I realized how convenient it would have been if I could just switched my DSLR to video mode and continued shooting.

    This was not the first time that being able to switch from still shots to video would have allowed me to communicate a more detailed picture of what was happening in front of the lens.This enthusiast will certainly get a video-ready DSLR for my next camera purchase.

  3. I think that video on a DSLR is a good idea, despite those die hard photographers who think its a waste of space.
    For me I think that being able to shoot HD video on my Nikon gives me even more reason to bring it along. Rather than having a camera for photos and another for video, I can do both with one system. Of course the HD video on my D90 not’s great, but its not terrible. I would of prefered to be able to switch between AF and Manual. But course I guess if you want better quality or control or options you’ll to invest in a better video camera, but for now I’m happy with the D90.
    So to answer your question sir, I would say that I do in fact see it impacting what I do. Since I enjoy both photos and videos.

  4. Bob – As a dedicated old goat (just turned 80) and one who has been taking still photos for 70 of those years, I could not possibly care less about DSLR video. There is more than enough remaining to learn about still photography, and achieving some measure of consistency and success, to allow myself to be sidetracked from something I love to that which means nothing to me. Perhaps the necessity and pressure-to-learn because of the requirements of your profession, has built a reservoir of information and expertise that amateurs do not need, therefore we see no reason to deviate from experimenting with stills while you see it as an exciting new field.
    I could also be completely full of crap. Whichever and whatever, it will be interesting to follow the replies to your comment and question. Keep up the good work, there are those of us who read your blog and enjoy your images. As far as any DSLR video impact to what I am doing…I’m sure you have the right answer. OGR

  5. Bob:

    The Image Doctors Episode #117 covered DSLR video in a way that (unintentionally, I think) finally made me realize why I have no interest in it. (I own a D300 but have briefly played with a D90).

    The distinguishing characteristic of DSLR video is shallow depth of field. In order to obtain and maintain focus you need a near cinematographic style of preparation of the scene. You need extra (expensive) equipment, you need to block out the scene, etc.

    If I were a film student I’d be thrilled with the possibilities. But not so much for me, thank you very much.


  6. Hi Bob,

    I am still terrible at video. I decided to stick to photo unless I had a clear plan (or at the very least, a shoot list) before I started packing the video toys. Did you buy anything since NAB like a Zacuto viewfinder? They are great.

    A few things on the D90 some nikon rep passed to me, it isn’t in the manual but a few tips on getting around the auto-everything video
    1) aperture can be set if on aperture priority before going mirror up, however it will be stuck on f/2, 8 or whatever you were at during mirror up; no aperture changes until you mirror back down. This has implications if you mount your field recorder on the shoe of course.
    2) set your AE AFL button to toggle (not hold down) your autoexposure, this will keep the video exposure from changing wildly during recording.
    3)Unfortunately shutter and ISO is all manual.

    Hope this helps, wasn’t sure if you were aware of the above..very little re Nikon video on the blogosphere, maybe be of some use to your other readers. Looking forward to your work. This a personal project?

    1. Skunk: Good tips, thanks. Most of my video thus far has been for the Jonathan Krist Foundation projects. Bob

  7. Bob,
    Video has come upon us. People need to see motion (some do). Consider, though, the length of your Amish slideshow with audio overlay. Consider next, what would have been covered in the same amount of time if done in video.

    Using stills, each frame tells a complete chapter in the overall story. Adding the continuum of sound adds another dimension that transverses the collected sum of the still shots, unifying the whole.

    Video will have its place — it already has, but I think a well crafted slideshow with audio — conversations, comments, ambient sound, commentary, etc, is actually the newer media that has quickly been overlooked with the advent of the older medium of video (formely known as film, and commonly used for “newsreels” as part of the double feature and Saturday matinees at the movie theater).

    Just a thought, or two…
    Good hunting to you,

  8. Hi Bob,

    It took me a while to buy the 5D MarkII because I thought I was paying also for a video which, as great as it may be, I’ll probably never use. I finally bought it because it is a great camera but after a few months I have not even tried the video. I do wish they would make a top-notch camera without the video and therefore maybe smaller and cheaper.

    I think video and photography are very different things and every minute I spend learning video and everything around it or actually “filming” is time I am taking from my photography. If I am trying to record the voice of someone I am not trying to take the best photo I can of that subject.

    I guess all this frenzy about video comes as pressure from the publications online? I mean, good quality video has been available for a long time. Why weren’t photographers doing video then? I still hope there will be a place for pure still photography. Actually, maybe if a lot of photographers move to video the photography market will get a bit less crowded.

    Anyway, go Lakers! (sorry)


  9. Hi Bob,
    I assume that going from stills to digital was a big change and i can say that making videos with a camera is even harder. i got the chance to make both (photo and video) because i have never been able to choose, i see the “blogosphere” battle making video or not which camera is the best manual focus etc… so as YOU help me with your blog on numerous occasion i hope it will help you a little.
    First of all we can say that unfortunately for Nikon users Canon cameras are not better but easier you can go on 1080 hd nikon not yet (it will come) but the most important is that the codec for the video is quicktime h264 so you just have to drag the video in final cut pro and work immediately, for Nikon it is MPEG so first you need to convert to PRO RES 422 in order to work. Another major problem is that video camera had the automatic focus and camera not but when i was working with a real cinema camera i can tell that a 350 000 $ camera couldn’t focus either so my advice put the camera on the tripod try before shooting put some mark on the lens and shoot it will be smooth or use a wide angle, you can buy a zacuto it will focus as you zoom (need a bit of money i know).
    Second part the software as you could say Final Cut Studio is for me the best solution easy to start but as any software you need time not 10 000 hours but i would say using it on a regular basis will be a plus.
    For what ? Many of my few clients asked me to make a little film with the pictures, a corporate film used to be very expensive and many smaller companies couldn’t afford, now you can make small clip for the website or make a dvd.
    Now what i can say is that every hours you spent developping your skills making pictures you ll have to spend making movies and that’s the problem every photographer thought that because they got hd you’re going to make a beautiful film for example REVERIE made by an excellent photographer is a “photographer film” if you have nothing to say then say nothing every pictures need a purpose so is film.
    I recommand starting reading Film books for educating not the image but the purpose with using a zoom instead of a travelling they’re not saying the same to the audience and most important things whatever you do focus on THE JOB the editor he makes or break the film, you shoot a bad film a good editor can make a so so film, you shoot an average film he could make history, every good director are a good editor (Kurosawa, Scorsese, Spielberg, Lucas, Coppola, Ashby etc….)
    Hope it helps and my english is readable
    See You and thanks a lot for what you share

  10. I have nothing against video, and if that’s where your market is heading and you want to head that direction too then more power to you.

    Personally though, video is just not the same as still photography. The skill set is different, as well as the audience.

    It’s like saying that writing a novel and poetry are going to merge at some point in the future because novels sell better today. Two different skill sets, two different audiences, two different purposes.

    From a gear perspective, that’s what attracted me to the Sony A900. It’s a photographer’s camera. No frills, no video, no endless menus. Just stunning image quality and ergonomics that just “get out of the way” and let me concentrate on the creative process.

    And while I personally have no interest at all in video, I’ll still enjoy reading your posts about it!


  11. I hope Nikon continues to offer at least one pro camera without video for the forseeable future. I have no interest in video. There is a video camera in my house and video in my iPhone. I rarely ever use them. Just not my bag.

    And I resent that I cannot buy a D90 or D300 without video. The D700 has hung on, but for how long?

  12. Problem is in reality there hasn´t been the big buzz that the hype of the convergence promised and while a lot of people on the net are promoting it (mostly to promote their own seminars of the “convergence” or to showcase products of their sponsors)it will take time for it to take off if it ever does.

    Now everyone is saying are directors, doing short films with lots of thin DOF but the content of the video are not that good, notice how much time has passed until someone has used one of these cameras for something like the season finale of House?

    Also people aren´t factoring the huge amount of resources needed (lighting, processor required, HD space, software, etc. $$$$).

    Good for those doing it, but I pass for now.

  13. Bob,

    I have the 5D Mark II and while I don’t use the video function a lot, I do use it. Sometimes for work but mostly for fun. While I was in Bangkok photographing the Red Shirts I shot 3 or 4 videos in my downtime to show my wife what it was like. But when it was time to work it was all stills. I also used it in Bali for a funeral. I forgot my sound recorder but I needed audio for a slideshow so I recorded about 3 minutes of video with the 5D MkII and used the audio (through it’s tiny, not very good built in mic). It came out okay. I wouldn’t show it on the big screen, but for the web it was alright. (the podcast is on my podcasts page)

    I still (no pun intended) find it hard to switch between shooting stills and video on a news assignment and don’t use the video function much for that. But when I am shooting a dedicated video and I have time to block it and set it up I use the 5D MkII, when it’s something happening on the fly I use a dedicated video camera. Interestingly, in Thailand, an Australian crew was using just the 5D Mark II for television video. Outfitted as a “frankencamera” (separate sound, Red Rock micro brackets for holding it steady and focusing etc) I said that was nearly as cumbersome as a regular video camera and he responded that it was but it was also 1) much cheaper and 2) much better quality video.

    I didn’t buy the Mark II for its video capability, but I’m glad it’s there. I won’t buy another camera that doesn’t offer HD video.


  14. I find the whole fashion of still photographers rushing to become videographers interesting and puzzling. For several years before returning to still work I submerged myself in learning and producing video. As anyone who has done this will know, the process of learning to properly shoot, edit, color grade, mix sound, and produce media is difficult and time consuming. To do it well takes many talents, but most importantly a keen sense of timing and pacing in the story telling process. While there may be an editorial demand for short videos, I believe that a well made still can tell a story with as much power and with far more succinctness. Whether it is Cartier-Bresson, Adams, Haas, or Krist, the power of the single photograph is what I love and all I need to say what I want to say. Thanks,Bob. I always enjoy your thoughts and work.

  15. Bob,

    Got nothin against video. Love going to movies and eating big buckets of popcorn. Just don’t see myself as the next Otto P or Steven Speil. In fact, lately I’ve been going old school dinosaur and shooting film. Yes, they still make the stuff and it’s good. Different too than all that perfect, grainless digital all the cool kids are shooting.

    Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t lost my mind, I’m still committed to digital, too. Gotta be if you want to make a living, right? In fact, while I’m typing this I’m burning a disk from a job I shot this afternoon. AD is waiting with baited breath for me to deliver it to his door. Two hour turn around. Can’t do that anymore with film, least ways not around this town.

    Always said, just cuz you got a tool doesn’t mean you’re a carpenter. My dad will attest to that fact. Different skill set. Could learn, but just don’t have the burning desire. Heck, I’m still learning this still stuff ; ). So until they pry the Leica from my cold dead hands I’m staying put shooting stills.

  16. We look to you for the greatest in Travel Photography and tips on how you get it done in the Camera and with Travel photography and as a great human you get the job done.

  17. Hey – anything that keeps Bob busy, while I try to catch up learning digital. Bob puts a lot out there. I think that it will take a bit more of a time lag for the market for video (accompanying stills) to develop, but, if you’re as far along as Bob (and some of the other bloggers here), than, go for it, especially if it presents the kind of challenges you might relish. As for myself, not yet. If I hear that Nikon comes up with a better video offering with the next DX camera, than, I’d try it out. I don’t want to spread myself too thin. That would be a mistake, as I read in a lot of your responses. But – I want to keep an open mind. I think that the fun of just pairing music with a slideshow would be superb. Than, recording voices as background would be nifty. Than, than … So, I can see the temptation. But, back to grounding myself digitally before I get too swamped. Gee, it was a big transition for me to drop film, though, now that seems a century ago.

  18. What is the meaning of bokeh oh great one? 🙂

  19. Bob … what’s better about the Sennheiser mic compared with the Olympus one you’ve been talking about? I’m in the market for a microphone to record audio for stills sequences, but don’t really know where to start finding out what I should be looking for.
    Thanks very much for your interesting and informative blog! David.

    1. David: The Olympus has two stereo mics that record in a wide pattern and have to be held in front of what you’re recording. The Sennheiser setup I mention is a wireless mic. You put the the mic on the subject, and it attaches to a transmitter on his or her belt. The receiver (presumably on your video camera) receives the signal and in turn is plugged into the mic jack on your camera.

      So the wireless mic does not require you to be right in front of the subject to get clean dialogue. You can shoot your subject doing his or her job, walking about, or riding a bike, whatever, and you get good quality.

      BTW, in the end, I settled on a Sony wireless mic, on the recommendation of a Japanese videographer who used one on me during a recent Nikon assignment I was shooting (and being filmed shooting). It was a little more than half the price of the Sennheiser, and he swore by it. So I took his advice and saved a couple hundred bucks.

  20. Dear Bob,

    As another working, writing, lecturing photographer I know that learning new stuff keeps my brain wired and my market moving forward. I applaud your leap into video. It is a big learning curve but I for one would love to see what a gifted artist like you will do with it. It’s not a binary universe. You can still do still photography. You’re just adding to the visual (and aural) toolbox.

    You might look at Dirck Halstead’s Platypus Workshop. It’s eight days of intensive video/edit training by someone who’s trained some pretty successful folks.

    Best of luck. Let us know where to tune it.

    Kirk Tuck

    1. Thanks Kirk…I’ve been enjoying your pieces that you’ve done with Will as well! Bob

      1. I’ve got to give Will van Overbeek most of the credit. He’s amazing. And fun….

  21. That wireless mic looks sweet.
    Darn it all. Now I have audio, video and still to tempt me to buy more than I can really afford.

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