It's early November 2008 as I write this, and trying to sum up the year at this juncture feels a bit like trying to predict the weather in Nebraska. In the U.S. we began 2008 with one question: Can we elect a president who is genuinely committed to reversing the course we're on? Two days ago, the voting populace responded with an emphatic "Yes we can." But practically every question that's arisen in the meantime remains unanswered.
The pundits say the defining issue in the election down the stretch was the candidates' perceived ability to counteract the worst economic crisis in 80 years. Although for much of the planet it seemed that we woke up on Nov. 5 to a vastly different and tangibly better world, the afterglow made that world feel closer than it actually is. One thing we can say for sure about this post-Election Day world is that we've elected a genuinely inspiring man to a miserably unenviable job.
It’s probably safe to say that for most small business owners—regardless of how you feel about the election—2008 is ending not quite as well as it began, unless you made some substantial, recessionproof leap in your work or your business that’s propelled you up the ladder in your market, or unless you made some change that’s helped your studio adapt to the existing market conditions.
In any event, you’re probably spending less time reminiscing about 2008 than you are worrying over what business you have (or don’t have) on the books for 2009 and where your work is going to come from in the coming months, especially if your usual referral sources or repeat clients are feeling the pinch as well.
But unlike Big 12-country meteorologists, it’s not my job to predict the unpredictable, but I think there are a few things we can say for sure about this year that's not yet over, and these pertain to products and trends that have had a demonstrable impact on the way videographers have done business thus far this year.
On to the business at hand. As we did in 2005, 2006, and 2007, we’ll focus in this article on two things: the products that proved to be the game-changers for our columnists and contributing editors this year and the biggest trends in the industry as they saw them. One of the big trends in event videography has been a move toward more subjectivity in the work that videographers do—that is, to lend a unique perspective to the event being shot rather than simply documenting it with a reporter’s objectivity—so what you’ll see here may be very specific to a given videographer’s experience in the business this year. And it will almost certainly turn up a few products you won’t see in any other end-of-year list.
Most Welcome News: Blu-ray Defeats HD DVD
I’d like to start my Best of 2008 wrap-up by issuing a special thanks to the consumer electronics industry, specifically Toshiba, for letting go of HD DVD and finally leaving us with a single HD optical disc format that we can use to deliver our content. The withdrawal of HD DVD also enabled the manufacturers of software packages to focus their attention on a single format for authoring and burning. While Blu-ray Disc is not as prevalent as DVD quite yet, we’re a lot further along than we were when there were two optical disc formats duking it out, when neither one was looking like a clear winner. So thank you Sony for pushing on, and thank you Toshiba for letting go.
Soon after Toshiba threw in the towel, every software package that authored DVD knew what direction it had to go: author HD video to Blu-ray. By and large, that’s the way it has progressed, with numerous manufacturers providing software packages and computer companies integrating Blu-ray playback or even dual-layer burners into desktops and laptops. There is one glaring exception: Apple. Despite CEO Steve Jobs standing on stage with a Sony FX1 HDV camcorder and the president of Sony declaring 2006 as the year of HD, Apple has never built in or offered as an option any HD optical drive. And even with the mid-October announcement of a new laptop line, Apple still says Blu-ray has no place in its road map as yet. In fact, HD authoring in DVD Studio Pro remains limited to putting HD content on a standard DVD in a way that some HD DVD players would play it.
To make a long story short, Apple bet on the wrong horse. Even worse, when the other horse won, Apple did nothing—no update to its consumer or pro DVD authoring packages for Blu-ray Disc burning and no Blu-ray drive offerings. For a company that has focused so effectively on the media professional, Apple missed the boat big time here.
Biggest Trend: Flash Media-Accelerated Same-Day Edits
The biggest trend I saw in 2008 was the advancement of the same-day edit (SDE). I know SDEs have been with us for a while, but the prevalence of nontape capture options on pro and prosumer cameras have made SDEs much more viable for a broader range of videographers than ever before. Flash media only makes the emergence of the SDE as a staple of weddings and other social events more inevitable. Now that we know we can turn something around so easily, we must try to offer it as an option to our customers.
Best Products—Hardware: Second-Generation Panasonic AVCHD Camcorders, Third-Generation Sony HDV Cameras
Panasonic’s first attempt to offer an AVCHD camera suitable for event videographers, the AG-HSC1UP, was a barely tweaked consumer AVCHD camcorder with several physical limitations and a maximum data rate that was about half of the format’s maximum of 24Mbps. The shoulder-mount AG-HMC70 takes the same core components and addresses the many physical shortcomings a tiny camcorder has by growing it to on-shoulder size. This version boasts XLR inputs, easy audio control, external battery, discrete audio and video I/O, and more. However, it may still have a limited data rate.
The even newer HMC151 (Figure 1, below) is not a shoulder-mount model but a mid-level prosumer handheld which keeps the professional I/O we need, gives us a much larger 53mm lens, and provides the potential to use all 24Mbps of AVCHD to record. If these new Panasonic models deliver the high-quality images we’ve seen in the HVX200 and the usability of the very first DVX100 DV camcorder, and if Panasonic combines these features with the highest-quality AVCHD recording possible to SD media, then the company will surely have a winner.
In 2008, while professional and consumer camcorders—such as Panasonic’s AVCHD lines—were turning to flash media, hard drives, and optical recording, Sony made a bold statement with its third generation of HDV camcorders that continued to record internally to tape, including the HVR-S270, the first HDV model to boast a shoulder-mount chassis and record to full-size tape. The same optics and chips were also found in the S270’s smaller brother, the HVR-Z7. Sony did similar handheld/shoulder-mount tandem releases with the VX1000/DSR200 and PD150/DSR250 DV-series camcorders. This enables studios to have a big “main” camera and smaller “auxiliary” camcorders that produce the exact same focal length and image. Detachable lenses also appeared on these Sony prosumer camcorders for the first time. But most importantly, it was the addition of an external compact flash media recorder that made these camcorders so powerful. The ability to record to two different media, and in two different formats (you could choose SD and HD) at the same time, provides great benefit to today’s busy professional. Those who don’t fully trust flash media can still have the comfort of a very inexpensive and instantly archivable tape backup while the flash media gets copied and edited in minutes.
Let us also not miss the important fact that Sony uncharacteristically went with nonproprietary, standard compact flash media. This allows end users to choose the price/performance ratio they are comfortable with. When it comes to flexibility, capability, and longevity, I can’t see any other camcorders that compare.
Best Product (Whose Time Has Come … Almost): RED ONE
Maybe a $17,000 camera will not have an immediate impact on the way you go about your video business—even if it is one of the most capable cameras ever, and my pick for the best product of 2008. The big RED ONE (Figure 2, below) is really a powerful, software-enabled, digital image capture device as much as it is a camera. It doesn’t even come with a lens—or viewfinder, for that matter. It does come with one amazing 12-megapixel CMOS sensor, or image chip. Often referred to as the Mysterium chip, it has more than 4500x2500 active pixels! It captures images with the aspect ratio and depth of field of the best 35mm film frame.
As such, top filmmakers, independent documentarians, broadcast TV producers, and, yes, event and wedding videographers have a whole new way to create digital images and content. With its ability to “dial up” various resolutions, image qualities, or compression algorithms, RED (and its REDCODE codec) can meet the demands of any format or production workflow.
RED is the baby of Jim Jannard, founder of Oakley, Inc. Recently, he’s written on his blog that little sister Scarlet—unveiled in a tantalizing prototype at NAB and thought to be almost as good as RED but priced at just $3,000—is “all different now.”
His latest vision is of a souped-up, HD-capable DSLR—basically, a killer still camera with awesome video capabilities: think the Canon 5D Mark II or Nikon D90 and add full-motion HD video capabilities, tools, and controls.
Whatever it is, and whenever it comes out, it will probably be my “Best of” pick for next year. For now, the impact and importance of RED ONE are enough for me to pick it this year.
Best Product: Sony’s CMOS HDV Camcorder Lineup With Exmor Technology
I couldn’t decide which of Sony’s new HDV camcorders to pick as my product of the year, so I decided to pick the entire line that features CMOS sensors, enhanced by Sony’s Exmor technology, which uses column-parallel analog to digital conversion and dual-noise canceling. The XDCAM PMW-EX1 and the HDV HVR-Z7 were the first out of the gates and are joined in their respective XDCAM and HDV product categories by the XDCAM PMW-EX3 (Figure 3, below) and the HDV HVR-S270, HVR-Z5, and HDR-FX1000. The Exmor CMOS sensor allowed Sony to improve low-light sensitivity, eliminate vertical smear, and offer true progressive scan video. The cameras themselves all have exciting new features including tapeless SxS card recording on XDCAM and CF recording on HDV models (optional on the Z5 and FX1000); a variety of different lens options from fixed to interchangeable, with 12x, 14x, or 20x zoom; and the highest-resolution LCD and EVF on the market.
Biggest Trend: Event Video in Growth Phase
Together, as event video producers, we define our industry. With every passing technological advancement, business success story, and new business startup, the event video industry is becoming more and more sophisticated. In its emerging phase, the event video industry was dominated by and benefited from wedding videographers and the formation of the Wedding and Event Videographer’s Association (WEVA).
Now in a growth phase, the event video industry is much more balanced and includes niche markets such as dance recitals, cheer competitions, funeral videos, and conference video production. It can even support specialized microniches such as unicycle Glidecam operators and wedding dress trashing. With event video businesses becoming less seasonal through market diversification, the event video business, like the high-definition video we now utilize, has never looked better.
Best Product: Joby Gorillapod
When I first saw the Joby Gorillapod at PMA 08, I knew I had to have it! It comes in five different sizes (prices range from $24.95–$139.95). I own three: Gorillapod original, SLR, and SLR-Zoom. It is a flexible, bendable tripod that you can attach to your GPS, cell phone, photo camera, or video camera. These legs grip to railings and trees, and it can sit on rocks, chuppahs, balconies, etc. I use the small one for my digital still camera; it’s great for when you are on vacation and want to get family shots without asking someone (who most likely won’t be able to frame the shot properly). At weddings, I use the mid-size SLR for my “chuppah camera” (the Panasonic PV-GS150). It attaches discreetly to the chuppah, so I can get a great view of the couple. I use the SLR-Zoom to hold my Sony PD150.
Joby’s newest product is the Gorillapod FOCUS (Figure 4, below). Reportedly, it will hold a camera up to 11 lbs. The FOCUS would be useful for videographers who have the need for an extra camera but can’t afford an additional shooter, especially in places where a tripod wouldn’t be feasible or may be too obtrusive.
Two of the biggest social networking sites on the web, Facebook and LinkedIn, help you connect with colleagues, friends, and potential clients. LinkedIn is a more business-oriented site where you can list your business information, recommendations, and business history and connect with others. Like LinkedIn, Facebook has been around for years, although I—like many, many videographers who suddenly are all over Facebook—never utilized it until this year.
Biggest Trend: Social Networking Sites
Until recently, I thought of Facebook as a place where teenagers hang out and post pictures of their parties (which is certainly part of what it is). I was completely surprised to find friends and other wedding professionals I know with profiles on the site. It’s been a great place to keep in touch with them. Another benefit of Facebook is that I’ve been able to connect with bridal consultants, DJs, band leaders, photographers, and even former clients via Facebook. When you become friends with other people, updates to your profile, comments you make, etc., are sent to those friends via a “news feed.” You stay fresh in their minds, helping you avoid the “out of sight, out of mind” syndrome that can make referral sources dry up.
You can upload photos and videos (what a great way to show off your work), as well as other fun applications. Best of all, both sites are free to join.
Best Product: Thermaltake Hard Drive Dock
Since we had already moved to HD shooting and delivery, all those HD-related “toys” weren’t really new for me this year, so I can’t make them my “Best of” pick. What I did uncover is a new tool that will help me declutter my edit bay. It’s called a Hard Drive Dock (Figure 5, below). There are a few companies that produce them, but the one I have settled on is the Thermaltake brand. A hard drive dock is similar to an external enclosure because it enables you to plug extra drives into your system.
The reason I am excited about this new “dock” is because it isn’t an enclosure. You take a bare SATA OEM drive, which are available almost anywhere, and just plug it into the top. It will even accept SATA 2.5" laptop drives. Any SATA drive you have laying around can now be used without extra enclosures. The back of the dock includes interfaces for USB 2.0 and eSATA. eSATA is one of the newer external interfaces that allows for desktop speed from an external drive. When dealing with larger HD files, this can prove beneficial.
The dock I like is a single stand-alone unit for one drive. If you need the power of a RAID for uncompressed HD material, this will not work for you. But for most event work with two to three streams of data from multiple cams, it can keep up with no problem using the eSATA interface. The dock will work with drives up to 1TB in size. I have started replacing all my varied external enclosures with these new docks. I plan to put two at every workstation in my edit bay. The beauty of this plan is that you have a dock for storage and backup at each workstation. They stay permanently attached to the computers so you don’t have to constantly swap power bricks and cables on the front or back of your computer. This will enable you to route the cabling and hide it away permanently without cluttering you desktop with frequent drive swaps. Another added benefit is that the bare OEM drives take up less storage space, stacking easily on a shelf in your studio. Have you ever tried to stack multiple external enclosures of different shapes from different manufacturers? That can be a challenge. Clean up your desktop and clean up your shelves by using the Hard Drive Dock.
Best Product: Eiperle CGM Final Cut Pro Plug-ins, Volume 4
My pick for the best new product of 2008 is the fourth volume of plug-ins for Final Cut Pro by Eiperle CGM. One of the first companies to make plug-ins for Final Cut, some of its most popular early plug-ins were adopted by Apple and included in version 3 of Final Cut Pro. If you’re new to CGM, you may want to take a look at the XXL version which includes all four volumes and includes some great plug-ins, many of which I use every day. Volume 4 (Figure 6, below) adds some great transitions, including a couple of great blur transitions (blur wipe, blur dissolve), switch off (which gives the appearance of a TV turning off), volumetric light dissolve (blows out the color and dissolves to white—an effect often seen in movie trailers), and fold-up (which resembles the pages of a book turning). Color Nicer is a filter that helps remove the pixelation that sometimes happens in HDV footage. Or if you like, there is a filter that can introduce satellite TV pixelation, make your video look more like handycam footage, and more.
My past experience with the CGM plug-ins has been great, and new updates are delivered to your email box as they are made available. CGM volume 4 is available directly from CGM (www.cgm-online.com) for $179 or $369 for all four volumes.
Best Product: Sachtler SOOM Camera Support System
Although dozens of good products were introduced in 2008, there was only one that really stood out: the Sachtler SOOM Camera Support System (Figure 7, below). Its innovative approach to the millennia-old tripod design allows the SOOM to adopt the “Camera Support System” title, which suggests more versatility than a mere tripod can offer. The SOOM performs all the functions of a standard set of sticks, plus, through a Transformer-like reconfiguration (as Shawn Lam described in June’s In the Field), it becomes a monopod, an 8"-plus supertripod, and a low-rider minitripod. The system can be purchased as individual components or as a complete package, with or without a head. Now that’s the way to sell a tripod!
The system has many nice features, such as a pneumatic vertical damper that cushions the head/camera when lowering the center shaft, the multiple foot options, and the ability to use any head via the 75mm bowl.
Biggest Trend: Going Green
I’ve been a big proponent of the “Green” movement and happily, I have seen a real interest in not only the video community becoming more aware of the environment but the general population as well. Decreasing our consumption of natural resources, recycling, and reusing materials is a benefit to not only the earth and future generations but to our pocketbooks too. Yes, there are monetary benefits to being environmentally aware. I’ve personally been able to decrease my home/office electrical consumption by more than $60 a month (discounting air-conditioning) through a combination of several energy-saving methods. That’s about 30% of my total electrical bill! And I haven’t had to do without anything; I’ve just become more conscious of the amount of waste I generate. Today (and in the future), going green is just plain common sense.
One More Trend: The Lure of HD Versus Fiscal Reality
As over-the-air broadcast becomes all digital (February 2009) and the price of HD comes down (now that Blu-ray has become the standard), more HD products are becoming available and more SD video producers are jumping on the bandwagon with HD. But as we live through uncertain times with the economy, be very careful not to bite off more of the HD pie than you can chew. The widespread buzz of decreased bookings may find many otherwise successful producers going the way of foreclosed homeowners if they’re not able to afford the payments of all that cool equipment. If you can put off investing in HD, do so, but only until you know that you have the funds to invest in the technology. I doubt that many prospects will decide not to hire you simply because you don’t use or deliver HD.
Your prospects may be in the same financial boat, and those who haven’t invested in HD consumer electronics equipment yet probably won’t do so until the economy turns around.