I’m bloated and uncomfortable. There’s a sharp pain in my gut. I’m searching site after site trying to find something to ease this discomfort. I have a bad case of G.A.S. The dreaded Gear Acquisition Syndrome that all of us experience. In this series of articles I will be talking about my process of researching gear, weighing the pros and cons of different systems, dealing with costs and calculating ROI, expecting the unexpected, and learning from past experiences of buyer’s remorse. Lastly, this will give all of us a chance to chime in about our experiences of buying into new camera systems, moving to new genres of work, or hearing about each others success and failures when dealing with G.A.S.
My History With Video Thus Far
This is going to be the third time in my career that I’ve emphatically stated that I’m diving into video. The first time was some fourteen or fifteen years ago when I was working with the Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar. Two people in particular were my inspiration; Dirk Halstead and Brian Storm. These two guys were New Media prophets at the time. They talked about a day when we photographers would have one camera that could shoot video and stills and capture audio. They talked about new markets opening for this kind of story telling. We would one day have a rig that allowed you to sell stills to publications, sell video to networks, and create audio stories for outlets like NPR. Then, one day, we’d be putting all this shit on the world wide web. Not only was this technology coming but it would be expected of us to do it all.
After Dirk and Brian gave presentations about these topics I distinctly remember the majority of photographers talking amongst themselves saying that these two guys were fools. This was never going to happen. Very few people got excited about this new horizon at that time but those few that did have gone on to be leaders in the New Media industry that is alive and well and moving forward today. People like David Leeson who helped lead the photo department of the Dallas Morning News to video very early on in the genre of New Media.
So, like any good photographer who has ambition, I got some credit cards and bought some new gear. I went with the New Media camera of choice at the time which was the Canon GL1. In addition to this camera I had to upgrade my computer. I purchased a 400 MHz Mac G3 (blue and white). That was a screaming machine for its time. I think it had 32 megs of ram and a 6 gig hard drive. Then came the accessories. A Sony minidisk recorder (because I couldn’t afford a DAT machine), a few microphones, a steady cam sort of thing, a new tripod with fluid head, batteries, charges, cords and cables, media, etc, etc, etc. I bought a small Sony camcorder to be my second / backup camera. iMovie 1.0 was out and I was off to the races with dreams of becoming one of the first great New Media journalists. That never happened. I started shooting wedding videos. Here’s a screen shot of the homepage of my wedding video site circa 2002. My online demo real was 320×240 I think. Fun times. I’d show you some videos and photos from this time in my life but they’re on a ZIP drive.
Fast forward to 2008 and here comes another photojournalist with a Canon camera who changed our industry. Vincent Laforet and that damn Canon 5D Mk2 and his short film Reverie. I know that Vincent has been to many what Dirk, Brian, and David were to me. What did we finally have? One rig that can do stills, video, and audio. What are we all expected to do these days? Stills. Video. Audio. Entire news departments have moved to these kinds of rigs. Why? For multimedia on the web. I hear a collective “I told you so!” coming from Dirk and Brian.
I, like many of you, rushed out and bought a 5D2. We were off to the races to become the next movie director, documentary maker, or whatever. Everything could be pushed to the web and the world was ours to take! Then most of us quickly found that it was not so easy. “You let me buy these dreams Canon. Knowing they were lies.” 🙂
Suddenly a cottage industry of “shit-to-bolt-onto-your-camera” popped up. DSLR video was getting expensive and becoming a royal pain in the ass once you started adding rails and follow focus rigs and audio and sliders and jibs and on and on. I started watching people build the biggest, ugliest, and most expensive Frankenstein camera rigs on the planet. I went to one of Laforet’s workshops soon after buying my Canon gear and I quickly realized that I didn’t want to do this. I mean, I wanted to shoot video. I wanted to work with motion again but not like this. Please note that is not a dig at Vince. I’ve known him for a long time and he’s a loved and trusted friend to Meg and me. I respect him so much but all that shit he uses? Not for me. 🙂
What did I do with my Canon video gear? Not much. I shot two freebie music videos for friends and a few BTS things for clients. It was a pain to deal with the limitations of the 5D2 and throwing that footage into my aging MacPro at the time brought it to its knees. So what did I do? I went out and bought the run-and-gun ENG darling; a used Panasonic HVX200. What did I do with that HVX? Not much. Not enough to justify the cost.
What I figured I needed was the right camera for me. That’s it! I had yet to find the right camera! I needed to buy something else!!! Here we go! I sold the HVX and thankfully got all but $100 back from what I had put into that system. I then bought my current goto video camera, the Canon XF100. This was the first video camera since my GL1 that I didn’t completely hate using. It has AF. It has onboard XLR inputs. Zebras and focus peaking. Onboard audio monitoring. Yay! Well, low light isn’t that great and it’s a bit on the large side so I don’t travel with it very much, but I have put it into use more than my other video cameras of late. It’s currently the camera I use for DEDPXL blog posts. It’s not perfect though. Not perfect for me that is. I need better low light performance and smaller form factor for travel. I need. I need.. I need… I need a new camera! GAS!
It's at this point I stop what I'm doing and ask myself...
Why do I need this new camera? What makes this different than all the other times I thought I needed a new camera as much as I think I need a new camera now? Stop. Breathe. I need to think about the time, resources, and headaches I put into video in the past and I need to honestly assess where I’m going with it now and if it truly justifies the time and resources and headaches I’m going to put into it again.
1. Nearly every meeting I’ve been in for the past two years I’ve been asked this one question over and over; “Do you do video?” My standard answer is “No. But I can put a crew together for you and I can direct.” Of course I have no reel to show for this. So how many video jobs do you think I get from that? I have an email in my inbox right now wanting to know if I would be up for shooting some video for a local company.
2. I’ve talked with many, many photographers who have told me that video is becoming more and more a part of their business and their income. I know a few people who are working more in video than in stills now or the income they are making from video is surpassing what they make with stills. Think about this as well: A lot of companies have moved photography in-house or they are using any ol’ person they can find who has a DSLR. From Tom back in shipping to Lisa in accounting, stills for newsletters, social media, web sites, and the like are being given to just about anyone who has a camera. Do you really see this happening with video any time soon? Video is such a massive pain in the ass and requires so much more than a “nice camera.” Video still requires a specialist and still requires a budget. I spoke with one photographer recently who said they are fighting for every low paying photo job they get. The video work they do has less competition and better budgets. Hmmmm.
3. Research shows that video is becoming more and more and more important for companies, brands, publications, etc. More and more and more people want video for the web. I’ve sometimes thought that I’d just be the pig headed stubborn stills shooter and draw a line in the sand and emphatically state that I DO NOT SHOOT VIDEO. I shoot stills. Hire me for that. While I’m still getting hired just for that I realize that I’m leaving work on the table.
4. As I grow this site, DEDPXL, more of the content I want to produce and publish will be video based. Just as I see other companies want more video content, I want more video content for my company. YouTube subscriptions are becoming more important for generating traffic and higher search engine rankings. When I’m looking for anything from a blender to a camera bag to a lens I find myself searching YouTube for product reviews, descriptions, and tutorial videos. Not only do I want to produce more video content, I am also consuming more video content.
5. I need it for the children! For the children! Our oldest son, Caleb, is in his last weeks of 9th grade and his last weeks of public school. He asked Meg and I if we would consider homeschooling him so he could get an early start in a career somewhere in the creative field. Caleb has been into video for two years now and is a talented shooter and editor. When a fifteen year old shows you a video because of how well it was edited that is a sure sign they are on their path. He’s been very beneficial to me during the launch of this new site and part of his homeschooling curriculum will be working and traveling with me. #childlabor!
Here are a few defining philosophies I have ::
1. If I’m going to do video, I’m going to do it right and not hack it together. You can give me the flint from a Zippo lighter and a Coke bottle and I can make a picture. While so much can be done with DIY components in video I have zero desire to paddle my way through DIY waters. I want some solid gear but that does not mean I need the best. I don’t need Red cameras and Zeiss glass and all of that but I do need a solid working kit of gear that gives me options and is capable of 95% of the work I’ll be doing. I want to own a core amount of gear and rent the rest.
2. I honestly don’t give two shits about bokeh and movements. With the boom of filmmaking for the masses there has been a race to the shallowest depth of field. The silkiest slides. The jaw dropping jibs. Those damn dollies. I call it visual masturbation. I’ve watched more and more people buy more and more shit so they can shoot at f-.05 and perform more movements than Beethoven. Hell, in addition to being filmmakers, people are now learning to fly quadcopters so they can fly these f*cking cameras over, and into, everything. While all of these aspects of film and video have their place, I don’t think they are the end goal.
The end goal is telling a story.
3. I want to focus on the content and let the technique always be secondary. As soon as the technique gets in the way of the content then the technique has to go. I also want to focus on what I can do well and what I suck at and I’m going to increase my knowledge in all of these fields through online classes and workshops. Then I’ll hire people to do the rest. At the end of the day I want the simplest kit of gear I can build that isn’t A) an iPhone and B) doesn’t overwhelm me with all the crap that has to be built in order to do my job.
4. The greatest and most far reaching piece of video I’ve ever made was a little video called Transform. It was shot with a Flip Mino HD camera and a tripod. That video has had 100k views on YouTube and over 300k views on blip where it was originally posted. I have to remember that content is key and I can’t get too caught up in all the fluff. Fluff can diminish content and fluff can be expensive. Whatever I do moving forward has to have some part of Transform in it. Whatever that fire was in my gut needs to stay with me.
5. I’m going to take my time finding my voice in video. I’m not going to rush. While I’ll be producing interviews, educational content, reviews, etc., I’ll also be working on some personal video projects to prepare my reel. I hope to start showing that reel in… two years. I’m going to be patient but hard at work all the same.
Part Two of this series is going to cover the camera systems and lenses I’ve researched and which ones I feel fit my needs. I’ll talk about my personal process of digesting a lot of information and how I distill the important things from the fluff. I look at the specs but I’m also looking for something deeper from people reviewing and talking about camera systems.
Part three will focus on accessories because video f*cking loves accessories. Mics. ND filters. Monitors. Cables. Lights. Batteries. Tripods. Jibs. Steady devices. Cages. Bags. I’m distilling what’s important, what isn’t, what I need to own, and what I can rent when needed.
Part four will cover the gear needed for post production. My little Mac Mini is NOT cutting it for video. If I’m going to produce more video content then new camera and new computer will be going hand in hand. I’ll talk about the 10 seconds I actually thought about building a PC and then talk about the new Mac Pro vs. iMac, monitors, drives, card readers, etc.
Part five will be a thorough review of all the items once they arrive and have been tested and how I budgeted, paid, and calculated the ROI for this stuff.
Heads up… I’ll be having a big yardsale on ebay next month. 🙂
Do you have a story about moving to video? Have a story about buyer’s remorse? Are you also in this place where you’re researching gear and you’re getting lost in the sea of information? Share your experience below with the rest of us. We all have so much to learn from each other.
(I’ll be updating this post with relevant links as I post the articles.)