June’s issue of the British Journal of Photography includes a feature on the use of DSLR’s in video production and argues that the development is leading to a democratisation of film making.
Now I am on seriously dangerous territory commenting on this issue. My track record is not good. In September 2008, when Canon announced the 5D MkII, I questioned the relevance and purpose of including video capture in the OCA student forums. Tutor Joe Fox, who clearly understands these things better than I do, disagreed and argued that this was just what newspapers want – the ability to send photojournalists out with one bit of kit to capture both stills and video. And so it turns out. Apparently Canon now believe that 40% of 5D sales are motivated by the video capacities. And I can see the point when I see the quality of the close ups in the interview Mark Lomas filmed of Jacqueline Wilson. (For the those interested in the technical details the close ups were captured using a 70-200 f2.8 which gives fabulous depth of field when opened wide but at the cost of requiring lightning fast focusing if the subject is moving.)
So is it a democratisation? If by that we mean, it is easier for more people to make and distribute watchable videos, I don’t think so. The examples used by the BJP do not actually support this thesis. I would be happy to accept that there is change going on. The barriers to entry are now much lower; the kit even before DSLR’s entered the fray was getting less expensive and digital editing is clearly easier. The real driver of democratisation has to be distribution and that is where the likes of YouTube and Vimeo have had a far bigger impact. However video production still takes time and while it doesn’t require full BBC location crews, time always costs someone – even if it is only in lost earnings. Which is why the best quality content on the web has often been made for a client.
What video capable DSLR’s are doing is making it possible for photojournalists to become film makers and while this doesn’t come with the lovely warm sounding tag of ‘democratisation’, I think this is more important than has perhaps been realised so far. Having access to film makers enables newspapers to monetise their content. It doesn’t take much web experience to learn how to filter out banner advertising on static web pages. After a while you just don’t see them – and advertisers know it. Put an advert in front of a web video and it is rather more difficult – you sit there expectantly waiting while the virtues of product x are extolled before you can see the video report. Papers like the Guardian and the New York Times which are investing in video are doing it because it offers an alternative to the paywall model being adopted by Rupert Murdoch’s Times. If DSLR’s are a key facilitator in that process maybe they are serving democracy in rather a different way than envisaged by the BJP.