BitDepth 806 - November 01

Cinematography with a DSLR was key on the agenda at this year's PhotoPlus Expo in New York.
Opening at a digital camera near you
Vincent Laforet (black shirt, pointing), whose short film Reverie made the potential of film-making with digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras clear, speaks at a seminar on digital film-making at PhotoPlus Expo 2011. Photography by Mark Lyndersay.

The annual PhotoPlus Expo has turned out to be a valuable harbinger of the state of the photography business. Over the years, the big players have tended to remain the same and Nikon, Canon and Sony were the photography vendors making the biggest splash on the exhibition floor in this year’s show, held from October 27-29 at New York’s Jacob Javits Conference Centre.

The litmus at this year’s event was reading lower than I remember, with the booths from even these vendors shrinking visibly from the bold display space of 2006. On the margins of the still busy exposition, there were some intriguing little surprises that point to trends likely to intensify in photography over the next few years.

One development was the amplified presence of Chinese electronics vendors who entered the US photo market with cheap versions of photo goods like flash triggers through third party vendors and brands, their small booths full of curious interpretations and knockoffs of useful photography tools. 
Some products, like battery powered studio-class strobes that might well prove to be real competitors in the market place if these companies work to improve their sketchy branding.

The other tremor making its presence felt among the products on display was HD video captured by digital still cameras (DSLRs).
Pausing for a moment at the Red Rock booth, struck by a particularly curious display rig with video monitors and microphones, the salesman immediately asked, “do you have a DSLR?”

He didn’t ask whether I had a video capable still camera or HD-DSLR. We’ve moved beyond that now, and the question is not whether you can shoot video, but whether you choose to. If you do, the next expensive decision is whether you to do so with the professional add-ons that bring Arriflex capabilities to humble HD-DSLR’s.

Nine seminars and a keynote event at PhotoPlus were dedicated to the subject, and many suppliers, most notably providers of light modifiers were offering products built in the expectation that they would be serving both still and video markets.
The tools all seem a bit crude, but they point to a future for photographers that could scarcely have been imagined as recently as three years ago.
Shane Hulburt, a cinematographer with Terminator Salvation to his credit, couldn’t find any rig gear that met his needs and proceeded to design his own line of DSLR rig for a manufacturer (view his 5D short film here:

Hulburt, who predicted some fundamental changes in the cinema industry driven by the new technology during his keynote presentation, is finishing a new low budget film, Act of Valor, 80 per cent of which was shot on Canon’s 5D MKII.
The film, which seems to be part gung ho military propaganda and part proof of purpose for the new technology leveraged the entirely different financial scale of the cameras. Hulburt bought more than a dozen “crash cameras” sacrificial capture devices that he shot at, exposed to blow back from rockets and dunked in a muddy Cambodian river. 

The cameras died, but the memory cards delivered startling footage to the film’s editing room.
Beyond bringing adrenaline rush imagery to the screen, and Hulburt’s relentless pacing of the stage during his presentation suggests that this is no small part of his style, there’s the entirely different scale of DSLR photography.

Hulburt lit a street with lights that might have been more appropriate for a medium sized room had he been using film and while the camera equipment alone for the US$200m Terminator film required a 10 ton and five-ton panel trucks, his entire gear list for Valor fit into a single one ton truck.

Film may not be quite dead at the movies yet, but Hulburt’s aggressive use of the technology illustrates an essential point. Feature film quality digital capture is now available to anyone who’s interested.

Related posts from PhotoPlus 2011...
BitDepth#807, Douglas Kirkland
Jack Hollingsworth seminar notes
Art Strieber seminar notes
Creative longevity seminar notes
Blake Discher seminar notes
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