28
Apr
09

the inevitable convergence

I just finished an interesting project extracting still frames from a training video I did for BP in 2007.  The “shots” were needed for a print piece, and fortunately were all of a very small size.  Once exported as stills from Final Cut, post-processing the frames was pretty simple.  However, at 720 x 480 pixels, the quality of standard NTSC video frames is very low resolution by still photo standards.  After being de-interlaced and tweaked in Photoshop, the images are only just good enough to be used at very small sizes in print.

I was reflecting on how very different the situation would have been had the original footage been captured today.  In the last year, high definition video cameras have become common.  Most will produce a frame grab that is generally acceptable for many small print applications.  Granted, there are other limitations to the camcorder form and function from a still photographer’s point of view, but the images can work in a pinch.

Enter the current crop of DSLRs with HD video capability, in particular the Canon 5D Mk. II and Nikon D90.  These cameras capture high-quality HD video, and high resolution still images as well.  There are some compromises, but both cameras represent what the big manufacturers obviously perceive as a growing demand for both still and motion capabilities in the same platform.  The jury is still out on the prescience of their vision, but for now many wedding and event photographers are in hog heaven.

There have been reports of some disappointment in the 5D Mk.II, especially after all the pre-release hype.  But the camera does a respectable job (when fitted with a good external mic,) and if used cleverly can do things you could never accomplish with even the best camcorder.  In particular, the ability to use high-speed lenses on a big frame for selective focus effects.  It just can’t be done with a sensor the size of your fingernail.

And then there’s the soon-to-be-released Red Scarlet.  Here we have a super-configurable system that can produce extremely high resolution images at rates up to 100 frames per second!  And it’s beautifully modular – pick a “brain,” batteries, grips, viewers, even high-end lenses.  This may prove to be the ultimate in still/motion camera convergence.

But what’s it mean to old-school types like me?  I think it’s terrifically exciting to see technology pushed to the extreme.  Do I want to try out a Red Scarlet?  You bet I do!  But would I buy one?  In a word, no.  Price is certainly a consideration, but this is state-of-the-art gear we’re talking about here and “the best” is often the best investment.  And while not inexpensive, a Scarlet system could be pretty competitive considering its impressive capabilities.  I’m just not hired enough to produce video or shoot high-speed action to make it pencil out.  And with rental units likely to be available, I’m covered.

However, anyone who shoots mainly video will probably be wowed, and possibly in a big way.  Red is the company that took the Hollywood movie production world by storm a few years back with the now-famous Red One.  Sports and action photogs should love the Scarlet.  Wedding and event shooters (who are increasingly expected to provide both stills and video) could find it interesting too.  My son Nate, both a photographer and videographer, thinks it’s totally sick (his words.)

And I think that’s the hingepin in this whole convergence idea.  People in his generation were raised on video.  For them, it’s the default visual medium.  So it’s fitting that the latest technology should offer up tools that cater to the most “current” thing.  I think by the time Nate and his colleagues reach their mid-career points, they will be working routinely in both still and motion formats.  They will value the ability to do both on the same, familiar platform.

Today, some photographers are wary of embracing the inclusion of motion capture capability into the professional’s toolbox.  But it appears more and more that this is the wave of the future.  Back in the late 1700s, Thomas Paine said, “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.”  Better watch your back!

10
Apr
09

words & pictures

The great Jay Maisel likes to say “Don’t put words in your photographs unless you want people to read them.”  Typical dry Jay humor.  But he goes on to explain that, as we scan a new scene, the human brain tends to direct our eyes to word patterns first.  So what he’s getting at is this: be careful of stray words or letters in your carefully composed shots.  A point well taken.

But sometimes there is visual “wordplay” in our everyday surroundings.  Anyone who lives in an urban area knows how true this can be.  There are literally thousands of signs, scribbles, grafitti and such almost everywhere you look.  And some are worth photographing.

This one was almost too good to be true:

Urban Virgin

Then there are those that are so generic they could be right out of an SNL skit:

Movers

There’s some history here, now forgotten:

Shoes For Industry

I think there’s a bigger project in here somewhere…

01
Apr
09

BikeTown USA

Portland is a major bicycle metropolis.  We’re well up in the top ten worldwide in regular bike use by our citizens, and in the US, I believe we’re No.1.  So you see a lot of bikes on the streets, in various states of glory.  I’ve been photographing this variety over the last few years.

This one has definitely seen better days.  I thought the rusty chain looked vaguely like a trail of blood…

Bleeding Bike

This one drifted out of the darkness like a ghost.  The white-on-white color scheme stopped me cold on my walk home.  Portlanders like to give their bikes unique personalities.  Techie note:  It’s astonishing the results you can get with a modern DSLR in “available dark.”  Shot late at night, hand-held, illuminated only by the dim light through a store window behind me.

Ghost Bike

And even when you don’t see them, you see them…

Bike Shadow

24
Mar
09

First post jitters…

Things are tough.  Especially for self-employed “creatives.”  With all the bailout money out there, most of us are getting zip.

On the other hand, I recently traveled to a place where none of it seems to matter.  (The trip was over a year in the planning – today I probably wouldn’t have considered it.)  But Antarctica was majestic and scenically overwhelming as expected.  And it is also a very spiritual place.  The bottom of the world is truly another world.

More on that later.

photo © Tom Hassler 2009




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