Sunday, January 27, 2013

Some Cons of Shooting With Pro Gear

Back in the mid-90s, two video cameras were released that shook up the world of videography like no other vidcams before them. They were Canon's XL1 and Sony's VX1000.  Both cameras were released as "prosumer" cameras, meaning they were aimed at higher-end, yet not traditionally "pro," consumers... hence the term, "prosumer."

Both cameras had many professional camera features, the most popular being their wallet-friendly, three-chip, image capture technologies. What that meant was, for the first time, broadcast-quality video -- albeit minimally-acceptable broadcast-quality video -- could be produced with cameras with price-tags closer to consumer, non-broadcast video cameras rather than via the hefty costs of their full-tilt, professional, 3-chip, vidcam cousins.

Canon's XL1 and Sony's VX1000 sparked a revolution in independent, video-based movie-making and some industries, like the adult film industry and a few others, jumped on these new cameras so quickly and so completely that, for a while, one of the hardest things to find at photo and video retailers, leastwise in and around the City of Angels, was blank tape stock for them.

An interesting and ultimately important element which differentiated these two cameras, one that had a big impact on their successes, had little to do with which was the better camera. Most experienced videographers considered Canon's XL1 to be a superior camera to Sony's VX1000 for a variety of reasons, especially since the Canon had interchangeable lens capability which the Sony did not. Yet Sony's camera beat Canon's in sales and it did so in a fairly notable way. (Which is not to say Canon didn't sell a whole lot of their XL1s... they did.) Certainly, Sony's VX1000 was more popular amongst shooters in the adult industry -- an industry where shooters soon were expected to own their own cameras, leastwise for lower-budget productions -- and probably likewise amongst more than a few independent low-budget and micro-budget film-makers of all sorts. You know, those legions of guerrilla film-makers who inhabit the jungles of Hollywood:  A place where a popular and often-seen tee-shirt around that time read: "What I Really Want to Do is Direct."

The Sony, as it turned out, became more popular amongst those who really wanted to direct because the Sony did not appear to be, at a glance, a professional-looking camera... and yet it was one.

That might sound strange, especially considering the inflated egos of a lot of people who really want to direct, but the problem with Canon's XL1 was that it looked so damn professional-- So cool! So sleek!  So professional! Sony's VX1000, on the other hand, did not look like pro gear. It wasn't particularly cool looking or sleek. Leastwise, not at a quick glance.  Yet, for many guerrilla-style shooters, it made more sense to keep their egos in check because of the fact that the Sony did not look like a pro camera. Appearing like a lower-end consumer camera, at least to most people's eyes was, in fact, a big plus!

What the "big plus!" meant was that, in a city like Los Angeles and it's surrounding cities and burbs, a locale where movie-making is so often seen on the streets and where every cop patrolling those streets is, beyond crime-fighting and traffic enforcement,  also looking to insure movie-makers, no matter how small, amateur, or independent, have the proper permits and such -- The city always wants its money! -- shooting with Canon's XL1 became a potential production-stopping liability. The camera's cool, sleek, professional design virtually guaranteed that most cops who spotted anyone shooting with one, even if it were just one person shooting another on the street, would stop and ask to see a permit. For whatever reasons, the same two people shooting with a VX1000 stood much less of a chance, practically none at all, of having the cops stop and ask them for their permits. (Permits being something guerrilla filmmakers don't often bother obtaining because, well, because permits cost money. A fair amount of money.) Yep. It was all about perception, make that other people's perceptions, people like cops.... and it was also about money. The city's money. 

Today's professional digital still cameras sometimes have similar problems. Not so much with law enforcement, although that sometimes is still a problem, but with the public in general.  (FYI: I've never had a police officer ask me for any sort of permit while shooting photographs on the street.) But I have had members of John Q. Public suddenly become benign inquisitors or worse: not so benign inquisitors.

It's like this: Occasionally, not as often as I'd like, I go out and do a bit of street photography. But it's been my experience that, when I do, and when I do using my Canon 5D, I attract so much more attention than I do when, for instance, I go out with my little Leica D-Lux 3 digital point-n-shoot. Given the right conditions, I can use my little Leica to produce photos that are as good as those I shoot with my 5D, but that's not the point I'm making.  Anyone who shoots any street photography knows that being a "low-profile" shooter, a fly on the wall,  can often be a big help in getting many shots. Shooting with cameras like a 5D, or nearly any other dSLR, is not very conducive to remaining low-profile or fly-like. In fact, it can draw much unwanted attention.

Certainly the fact that my little Leica is, well, quite little, goes a long way towards helping me maintain a low-profile shooting persona, fly-like or otherwise. But it's not simply a matter of size that matters, although I think it mostly is a size thing. (I guess size does matter.)  My little Leica, even if it's noticed by people I'm pointing it at, and probably because of it's small size and lack of external, professional-looking controls and accessories, doesn't seem as threatening or as big an invasion of their sense of privacy as it does when I point my Canon 5D at them. It's a lesson I've learned well, especially that time when a group of angry homeless people in downtown LA chased me and my 5D off with threats of violence. They might not have liked me pointing my little Leica at them but, if so, I bet they would have merely perceived me as some errant tourist unfamiliar with the local natives or some rude shutterbug. In that case, they likely would have told me to "fuck off," but in a far less threatening way.

Still, I prefer shooting with a dSLR over a point-n-shoot no matter how good that point-n-shoot might be. I suppose I could shoot with my iPhone but, for whatever reasons, shooting with an iPhone doesn't interest me much nor does it get my photo juices flowing. That's why I'm considering purchasing a Fujifilm FinePix X100, albeit a used one in excellent condition. In fact, even though I'm not in a huge rush to get my hands on one, I'm currently bidding on one such camera on eBay and have a few others on my "Watch" list. So, if I can score a barely-used one at a really good price, I'm probably going to get it. I might then sell my little Leica and recoup some of the costs of the X100.  Or, I might not. I like that little camera.

Much like my 5D, the X100 is a high-tech digital SLR. Actually, it's a digital rangefinder but I figure with it's retro, analog, SLR/Rangefinder look -- most non-photographers don't know the difference between an SLR and a rangefinder anyway -- it's not going to call too much attention to itself like my 5D does when I'm roaming about shooting with it. It might garner a bit more attention than my little Leica does, it is a bigger camera after all, but I doubt it will call that much more attention to itself than my Leica. Who knows? If I get an X100, I might find myself more motivated to haul my lazy ass out the door and pursue other genres of photography which interest me, you know, beyond shooting pretty girls. Leastwise, that's my theory in spite of my laziness when it comes to shooting for me versus shooting for money. (A syndrome that often exerts quite a bit of power and sway over me. Occupational hazard I suppose.)

The kind of artsy semi-nude portrait at the top is my friend, Kori. I snapped it a few years ago when I still had my studio and Kori was still doing some modeling. (Click it to enlarge it.) Kori is now happily married, she's a Mom, and she works full-time so she doesn't have much time for stuff like modeling.  BTW, in spite of my general practice of not using cliché props (which I mostly consider boas to be... cliché that is) I still had her wear that (real feathers) feather boa which, at least, wasn't a faux, costume store, boa. It's also a genuinely old vintage boa so it gets props (no pun intended) for that.


ray maki said...

Check out Amazon for the x100. They have some refurbished and used for decent prices.

jimmyd said...

Thanks, Ray. I will!