There are two new videos on the web showing off the video capability of the new Canon 5D Mark II. One is by Michael Reichmann of The Luminous Landscape, a longtime Canon fan and an advocate of the coming confusion between still and moving images. Well, "confusion"—that's editorializing on my part. Michael R. calls it "confluence" or "synergence" or some such word, and says that the DSLRs with video are "confab-cams" or "jumbo-cams" or...well, crap, I can't remember anything these days. Watch the video. You'll see. (It's near the bottom of the linked page, although the whole page is interesting.)
The second 5DII video is by New York Times ace photographer Vincent Laforet, a name you should recognize—he's one of the top editorial assignment photographers working today. The guy's a monster in that field. I have to warn you (and I hate to say it—along with Joe McNally, Vincent Laforet really is one of the assignment photographers whose work I admire most, and I've featured him in "Random Excellence" in the past—) but the video itself is dreadful. It's overproduced, heavily stylized in the familiar empty, unfilling fashion of television commercials, full of tired fashion magazine mannerisms, and short on even the most glancing implication of substance (mannekin people, vague tropes of romance, yatta^2).
I don't know if I'm even allowed to say that. I know it's just supposed to be a "test" of the equipment, and the honorable tradition of "test shots" is that they're allowed to be lousy or good or whatever and you're not supposed to say. Still, video traps you, which is one of the things I don't like about it; I had to watch the thing, and you will too if you follow the link to see the 5DII's video quality, so I just thought I'd warn you. (I hope V.L. doesn't read this; I don't need another famous person hating me.)
It does bring up an interesting point, though—will having video capability in good still cameras mean that great still photographers are going to get sucked into becoming bad videographers? (Remember '80s typography, when every cool cat with a computer got Pagemaker and suddenly every hip magazine went all to hell?) Just a thought. Here's hoping Mr. Laforet sticks to his strength: stills.
Oh, and something funny about Michael Reichmann's video: I have my computer hooked up to a hi-fi amp and speakers through an outboard DAC, and in the middle of Michael's presentation a dog starts barking nearby. When that happened, my dog, Lulu, went racing all over the house, barking frantically, looking for the intruder she could hear but couldn't locate. It sure made the video more exciting, but I'm glad that Canadian canine quieted down before Michael's video ended because Lulu might have hurt herself. (I love that dog.)
Featured Comment by Stephen Gillette: "I cite Michael Reichmann's recent paraphrase of the talking dog joke: maybe the dog doesn't have much to say...but...he's a talking dog! Vincent Laforet's video struck me, too, as a slick assembly of clichés. But guys, this dog was talking! Laforet was very skillful in using a huge arsenal of Canon lenses, seamlessly and to great effect. The flowing images are, for me, absolutely delicious. Empty calories? Yep! But who cares, really? Cinema quality, shot with a DSLR. Yikes."
Featured Comment by François Colou: "Hi, I'm a video guy and I find the video quality excellent. The color gamut looks wider than most camcorders. However the image is very contrasty with crunched blacks. Nothing bad, it's probably an aesthetic choice, but having the 'video signature' in the highlights and being shot at 30 frames per seconds, it doesn't look like film.
"The optical quality is very good too and very new. We've already done some Scheimpflung effects on videos, but it was done in post and the result was not as natural as those.
"They have used a gyro stabiliser, that's how they got those fluid motions, a very expensive solution. It will be interesting to see how next generation Pentax and Sony cameras manage to do video with sensor stabilisation. it would be a must for those wide angle shots in a car.
"I agree with you Mike, the directing of the spot is very bad. The camera positions don't have any signification. Worst, there is not a single cut that means anything. I'm sorry for the editor, who probably had to do with uneditable footages. No comment on the actors' performances.
"A modest word of advice for photographers tempted by video: if you don't master editing, and if you don't know how to choose a point of view that makes sense in a story, don't pretend being a director. Just do it for fun!"
Featured Comment by Bernard: "The video quality looks very usable, but you still need a seperate sound crew, lights, grips, fluid heads, and a thousand other things to make a movie. Even then, you won't have lenses that you can attach a follow-focus mechanism to, so shooting will be much more difficult than with a 'real' video camera. Is there any way to feed timecode information to the camera, or are you going to need to slate and manually synch all of your shots? Still, I wouldn't be surprised if someone used an SLR to make a great indie film. Anyone who's ever shot with a Bolex knows that equipment limitations are part of the fun, and can help drive the creative process."
Featured Comment by Vincent Laforet: "Mike—not to worry—I definitely don't 'hate you' as a result of your post. And I really don't see myself as 'famous' either—but thanks for that compliment and the others at the very least.
"Listen—the film is what it is: something that I could realistically produce with less than 12 hours notice. In fact the most apt way of describing the video I've heard is a 'cologne commercial.' The sole purpose of this little short film was to demonstrate the image quality of this camera in a way that did not make people fall asleep. Let's be honest—did you prefer the video release by Canon of the squirrel?
"I respect what you have to say—and am not at all blind to the difference between this short film—and the relative depth of the work I have done in the past during such events as 9/11 and Katrina. But you've got to realize that while I respect you wanting me to stay boxed into 'what I do best'—if you and your readers don't at the very least—try—your hand at video—these economic times and the trends in the business will make it increasingly difficult for anyone that 'just' shoots stills.
"Okay—the only thing I will criticize you for is your statement of 'I hope V.L. doesn't read this....' While blogs are incredible tools (and I love them) I assume that everything I write about it, on any topic, or on anyone—will be read by that person...the web is just too public a place and too easily searchable...."
Mike replies: Actually, I'm more than happy to have you see it, Vincent, and thanks for your reply and for being a good sport. I will look forward to being among the audience of your future work in video (although you'll have to forgive me if I continue to prefer non-moving pictures).
The more I think about this, though, the more examples I come up with of great photographers at least taking a detour into moving pictures—sometimes extended ones. Cartier-Bresson was an assistant to Jean Renoir early on, wasn't he? And Sheeler made films, and Robert Frank, and William Klein, Ralph Steiner, Strand—the list could get pretty long. And while none of the ones I can think of were ever great filmmakers, surely that's because I'm thinking from the perspective of still photography—someone who know films well could probably come up with examples of great directors who made an early start as still photographers, but just aren't remembered for that now. (Wasn't Arthur Penn a still photographer?)
At the very least, though, I wonder what effect it will have on concentration. I can't even shoot B&W and color at the same time—surely switching back and forth between video and stills while covering an event isn't going to be either conceptually or logistically easy...?