Bigger is Not Always Better

cellphoto.jpg
Now, here’s a professional cell phone…

It’s a funny thing with the cameras.

The small cameras are regarded as ‘toys’.

Only the big cameras are ‘real’.

This is contrary to how we think about every other piece of digital technology.

No one looks at a wafer-thin laptop and says, “that’s not a real computer. That’s a toy. I mean, its fine for Freecell, but if you want to write an article for say, The New York Times, then you better use a mainframe”.

When it comes to cell phones, we are always eager to pull out the latest, fastest and smallest.  Look at how small my cellphone is!

When it comes to cellphones, we don’t scoff at small cellphones and say ‘well, that’s fine for the amateur, but when it comes to making ‘professional’ calls, I use this’, and take out one of those brick sized things from the 1980s.  No one in their right mind would say, ‘well, your blackberry is fine for calling your mother, but when you have to talk to The White House’, you better use this rotary dial big black phone.’

All that would be insane.

But it is just that kind of insanity that permeates the ‘bigger is better’ thinking at television stations.

Yesterday, we watched a ‘reality show’ on ITN in Britain.

It was a dumb show, and part of it involved people running into their homes, up the stairs and into a closet to find some piece of junk that had been hidden there.  (I am sure it will soon appear on US TV somewhere).

In any event, each time the players ran into the house, they cut to a ‘hand held’ shaky camera that chased the person up the stairs.  In one of the iterations, they held on the first camera long enough to see the second camera chasing the player up the stairs.  This poor bugger was running up the stairs with a ‘professional’ camera the size of a Volkswagen!  What is the point???

Coming into Brussels last night, we passed the display above.

Now THERE is a cellphone the camera pros can really sink their teeth into.

Throw that onto your shoulder and you can feel like you are making some real important phone calls!

Me, I am sticking with the blackberry.

Thanks,

33 responses to “Bigger is Not Always Better

  1. seems about right for the size of their head.

  2. But sometimes bigger is better.

    I was shooting a cycle race. It meant 6 hour days on the back of a motorbike turning and twisting trying to hold a 20kg camera steady. The opposition network shooter turned up on the back of a Harley with a small Panasonic P2 camera, an HVX202.
    I have to admit a twinge of jealousy… or maybe back pain when I saw him.
    But that night as I watch on side by side TV’s I had nothing to be jealous off.
    His pictures sucked. The lightweight camera jumped around, the steady shot actually making it worse. The high contrast of the day showed all the limitations of a small lens on a small camera. Anyone with eyes could see the difference.
    I didn’t think anyone would though. I was wrong. The next day the race organizers were ecstatic with our coverage and wanted to talk to us about buying the footage.
    Throughout the week I was approached by officials, support team members, competitors and even members of the public all amazed at how much better our stuff looked. While I was given unheard of access to all parts of the race there was talk of banning the Harley as it made too much noise and the race organizer said the pictures weren’t worth the hassle of letting them on the road.

    The right tool for the right job.

  3. members of the public spent the day watching the race and then rushed home to compare the coverage on the different TV stations?

  4. whoops – Pencilgod I meant.

  5. gosh that is so embarrassing – no insult intended – I’m sure you’ve got a huge one

  6. members of the public spent the day watching the race and then rushed home to compare the coverage on the different TV stations?

    whoops – Pencilgod I meant.

    I literally have tears running down my face laughing my A$$ off on that one…

    Nice one Peter😀

  7. sorry boys
    but I think that one called for a bit of editing on second thought. maybe not. Who knows… certainly skating around the edge

  8. Michael, I tried a few days ago to explain to you the digital advantages of having a customizable image control, but apparently went right over your head, too difficult for you I guess. When you told me that you knew well how to use a densitometer I knew right then that the all digital conversation was outside your area of understanding, and from this post apparently I was right. But even by your standard making comparing cameras to cell phones is as dumb as it gets. Are there digital adjustments to be made to phones and computers to improve the performance? Of course not, in digital imaging however adjustments will make the difference between good and lousy images. Now if all this is too difficult for you and your followers to comprehend, then let me put it in a way that even you might understand. Since you have not be able to come up with a single buyer for the work of all those VJ that you’ve been promising (and charging) a bright career with their toy cameras, maybe the reason that nobody is making any money is because the quality is so lousy that nobody wants it. Think about that.

  9. The lens is the thing. I shoot with a $26,000 lens right now.

    No matter how hard you discuss and debate the pros and cons…. I can honestly tell you the lens does make a great deal of difference in the quality of picture and ability to get a larger variety of shots.

    Lets just say apples and oranges.

    I won’t tell you your oranges are not as good as my apples and vice versa.

    It’s how you use the tools you have.

    I know how to use both tools. But those who do not know how to use a large camera – well – should not claim they are not superior…. because they are in some instances.

    Small cameras are better for getting some shots…up close and personal particularily.

    Large cameras and lens have their pros….especially those outstanding high quality lenses.

  10. Peter there is this amazing piece of technology called the “remote control” and while we in the TV biz may watch TV’s side by side the viewers at home can and do flick between channels to see how something they are interested in was reported. Amazingly when the content is the same or similar they actually noticed the difference in quality. Even more amazing some felt the difference was so great they came up to the guy with branding all over his camera to tell him they liked his pictures best. Golly!

    Cliff as I said the right tool for the right job and once again Cliff you have proved you are a right tool.

  11. Ok let’s look at the tech for a moment.
    Is it really small cameras that let there be VJ’s?
    Small cameras have been around a long time… (VJ’s have been failing a long time, sorry cheap shot) but that’s not what makes the VJ model possible.

    I don’t think Michael will disagree with me when I say what makes VJ almost work are the dramatic dropping in post production costs.

    Before an edit suite would cost a small fortune. Putting a trained operator in that suite cost an arm and leg an hour. It was uneconomic to use small cameras with poorly trained operators because the time spent in post fixing their work was prohibitive. Shooting ratios mattered. Time was money.

    Now thanks to cheap post the spray and pray shooting style is no longer a problem.

    In bad production houses it works like this:

    You save money on researchers and pre-production staff by just sending the “doing it for love and peanuts film school dropout” with a cheap handycam for days on the off chance they wave the camera past something good. You then ingest Gig after Gig of pictures, hire a student job search person to log it all and then put a Geek who actually pays you for the editing experience to take months to get a show together.
    And a TV masterpiece is borne.

    Michael tried to adapt this cheapass way of working to the VJ. So the badly paid no-lifers involved becomes one and the same person. It hasn’t worked yet.

    Blame the VJ on cheap editing not small cameras.

  12. Dear Stephen
    I agree that the drop in costs is what makes the VJ model work, but I take issue with a few things you say:

    1. Small cameras have been around for a long time. Well, kind of, but they have gotten much much better. And even cheaper. When I started this, the small cameras were Hi-8, marginal at best. Now they’re HDV, and they’re gonna get even better. That trend is inevitable.

    2, Editing. In the old days it did indeed cost an arm and a leg to edit. Now, it can all be done on a laptop by anyone.. and it is. Look at all the ‘edit houses’ that have gone out of business. (Why you can’t see this will follow suit with cameras is beyond me… however).

    The difference here is not cheaper editing. It is something much more interesting. Certainly it now costs next to nothing to edit. But what is really happening is that the person who shot the piece is now editing it. There is nothing to teach you good shooting like editing your own work (I am sure you will agree), and after a few years of shooters cutting their own stuff, you will see how fast the learning curve rises. It has to.

    I credit (or blame) the VJ on the cheap edits. And the small cameras. They go together.

  13. “Cliff as I said the right tool for the right job and once again Cliff you have proved you are a right tool.”

    LOL!

    So true!

    Yet another Rosenblum fan who, in the end, has no job as a VJ.

    Maybe Rosenblum should hire him as a teacher! It would finally take him off that long, and getting longer, VJ unemployment line.

  14. >>>>
    You save money on researchers and pre-production staff by just sending the “doing it for love and peanuts film school dropout” with a cheap handycam for days on the off chance they wave the camera past something good. You then ingest Gig after Gig of pictures, hire a student job search person to log it all and then put a Geek who actually pays you for the editing experience to take months to get a show together.
    And a TV masterpiece is borne.
    <<<<<<<<<

    The VJ instruction at the Travel Channel Academy is exactly the opposite. People are taught to think first about what they want to shoot, find the shot that is going to work, then just get that shot and move on. Students are told explicitely not to just shoot and shoot.

    If Rosenblum’s 5 Takes shows were shot and edited the way you describe they would never be finished. Each one hour program was turned around in 2 weeks from arriving at the location to air — and that included having to pass DCI broadcast standards technical quality control.

    I’m not sure where you are getting your information, but it’s not correct.

  15. thanks for clearing that up pencil.

    I have a remote – but it’s a pro shoulder mount model – so all my channel surfing has to be carefully scripted and rehearsed.

    what you may be missing is that VJ is not changing TV. The catalysts for change are the European (mostly British) viewing audiences who have grown to distrust the over-produced over-glamorized schlok churned out by the media monopolies.

  16. Actually, as Rosenblum pointed out, the VJs on 5-Takes NEVER appeared on camera. The people on camera, in his words, are NOT VJs.

    He was quite clear about this in an earlier posting on this blog.

    VJs acted as the crews and were NOT in front of the camera according to Rosenblum himself.

  17. Here is the quote itself as he clarified who wasn’t and wasn’t a VJ.

    “As for 5Takes, they were participants in a ‘reality’ show. They were not employed to gather news. They were selected from thousands of applicants in auditions to spend 8 weeks traveling the world with video cameras – then they went back to their jobs as airline stewardess or mother of 8 kids or whatever.”

    https://rosenblumtv.wordpress.com/2007/10/24/the-talent-trap/#comments

    NOT VJs.

    Instead they were “reality show participants”

    Big difference!

  18. Yes
    That is all correct
    the people who participated in the 5Takes series, were effectively, well, participants, like any reality show. They blogged and vlogged, but they did not create content for the on air show.

    The show was, however, produced by VJs. It was shot on Sony Z1s and cut on FCP on laptops that were along on the shoots. All shooters were also cutters and went back and forth between the two jobs.

    What is the issue here?

  19. My point was that pencilgods description of Rosenblum style production is wrong. It is not consistent with the reality of what he teaches at the Travel Channel Academies, or how his programs were produced. It’s the opposite.

  20. $ – was that a comeback? I expected as much from someone working for the fake news org.

  21. Steve – none of the detractors have actually experienced what is taught via Michael’s material so they make uninformed comments basing their comments on a narrow minded world view. That’s why they have no credibility when they comment here.

  22. No I haven’t done Michaels travel Academy but I can read the blogs of his students. Among other things they talk of 20 to 1 shooting ratios. Nuts. The NPPA course works on a 4 to 1 ratio which is tight but teaches you more about thinking before spraying. Also I have had the benefit of talking to Michael over 6 + years that’s longer than Cliff went to school… I think I know how it works by now.

    In 2000 we did our own reality/travel show called The $20 Challenge
    http://www.pacific-crews.co.nz/Television%20Production/Television%20Production
    … page need updating…

    Shot with five full camera crews, sound men, three researchers, production assistant, producer, director, full edit suite, front man and office cat. All were paid full rates.
    Expensive but the show still made a lot of money back, rated highly and even won awards. http://www.pacific-crews.co.nz/IM_Custom/ContentStore/Assets/5/60/c48c9479e5baaad4165078a4c1dd3704.jpg

    The $20 Challenge NZ was awarded “Best Entertainment Show” at the NZ Television Awards.

    It was licensed to 11 countries and made even more money. It’s still running 8 years latter.
    Now Michael can tell you how well Take 5 is doing.

  23. Stephen, when we do productions, we shoot around 4:1.
    But the people who take the academy often have never piCked up a camera before in their lives. Trust me, I have been doing this for 20 years. On the first week of ever shooting, 20:1 is about right.

    As far as 5takes, it went 4 seasons, which (13 shows per) and that on cable I will take. As I own the format, I can pretty confidently predict you’ll see it soon on another channel – and one that has a demographic that is more amenable to a concept that is so web-driven.

  24. 4:1 on a handycam? I’d normally be happy with 6:1 given the limitations on one of those puppies. If you students came out at 12:1 that would be a good start… but 20:1 is a bad habit to begin.
    Reality TV is some of the hardest stuff to shoot well and I’ve done more than enough of it. I’ve shot it on big cameras, I’ve shot it on small cameras, I’ve even shot it on both at the same time
    If I have any choice I’d go for the big camera because it does twice as good a job with half the effort.
    The right tool…

  25. We find even on the reality shows that when you edit what you have shot, the ratios become very very tight.

    As for the academies, the 20 mins to cut 1 is about right. The good ones can do 12, but on the first few shoots, as I am sure you can imagine, we get lots of mistakes. The 20 gives us and them a good margin to assure they get a good cut.

  26. I meant to pick up on this:

    “The difference here is not cheaper editing. It is something much more interesting. Certainly it now costs next to nothing to edit. But what is really happening is that the person who shot the piece is now editing it. There is nothing to teach you good shooting like editing your own work (I am sure you will agree), and after a few years of shooters cutting their own stuff, you will see how fast the learning curve rises. It has to.”

    It sounds right… it should be right… if the world was a fair and just place forcing the guy who did the shooting to edit their own steam pile of mistakes would soon get them to shoot better… right?
    Well no, not always.
    I really don’t understand this but in the real world some of the worst cameramen I ever meet endlessly repeat the same mistake over and over in the field and instead of becoming better shooters they get better at hiding the mistakes in editing. They use the edit process like a crutch to hide the fact that they can’t actually shoot.
    In every shoot and edit newsroom I’ve worked in they are there, scrapping by as long as nobody else has to edit their mess.
    Sometimes the world doesn’t work the way you think/hope it should.

  27. Many years ago, I got so frustrated with a crew at cbs that I booked them to spend a day sitting in the edit watching a great editor agonize over their stuff trying to rescue it. I think it was probably the best. How else could they get better?

    The next day, predictably, the ep went nuts and told me never to do that again.

    Too bad.

  28. So Michael you want to take that crew who shoot so bad even you can see it, who care so little about their work that they have to be booked to visit an editroom, you want to take them and wave a magic wand at them an say “Now you are VJ… go forth and report/shoot/edit.”
    How do you think that would work out?

  29. I have worked with many cameramen. Nothing works so well as 1) forcing them to edit their own material and 2) showing their stuff to everyone. When we do the bootcamps we do nightly public screening/critiques. A few group screenings and a few self edits and you would be surprised at how fast people improve

  30. “Many years ago, I got so frustrated with a crew at cbs that I booked them to spend a day sitting in the edit watching a great editor agonize over their stuff trying to rescue it. I think it was probably the best. How else could they get better?”

    After nearly four decades in this business I have yet to hear a producer take the blame if something did not go right on a shoot. ALL well educated and trained photographers know the importance of “Shooting for editing” it’s the bible of shooting. A good photographer will have the program layout in his mind and be able to work all main scene, transitional and continuity shots, all this while still maintaining the quality and composition. But in order to be able to do all this we have to know what the program is all about it and this is where communication is paramount. One of the eternal problems in this business is the lack of communication between the producer and photographers. The buzz words “Reading his mind” is becoming increasingly popular, this is when producer assume that the photographers know what the producer’s needs as they feel that they do not have to explain it to anyone; the reality in most cases is that producer do not know what they really need and rely on the photographer to come up with enough material to put a program together. This problem is more frequent with young inexperienced producers, or even worse those who think they are experienced. One of producer’s greatest assets is to have the ability to select good people to work with, somebody that they can click well together. Until such confidence is established the producer should watch what the crew does like a hawk, this is why they make monitors. Finding problems after the facts is too late, not only is a job ruined but so is the working relation.

    This is a job and not a hobby, we as photographers have to work everyday or as many days as we can get, once you get the confidence of producers is usually more work that one person can handle. The success of repeat business depends on the ability to provide what I said above, shoot for edit and create the program in the camera. This also means understanding very quickly what the job is all about and shoot it so the producer will end up with exactly what they need; very little more but nothing less.

    There are two ways that producers approach this. Producers often assume the role of directors, they will call every shot and all the photographer has to do is to make sure that each shot is properly done. When I work this type of producer I will do only what I’m asked to do. If the producer is good he will have every cut needed to assemble a program. Unfortunately many are not good and this is when problems will appears in post, and of course they’ll blame the photographer. Smart producer will first establish a confidence with the photographer, this might take awhile and it might never happen, so it’s time for the producer to move on to another crew. But once mutual confidence is established, smart producer will take full advantage of the photographer’s experience; in few words let him do his job. On most of my jobs we have a quick meeting in the morning with the producer, 10 minutes is all I need to understand what’s needed for the job, I’m then on my own while the producer main job is to make sure that everything ahead of me is smooth and ready to go; this is team work. Could I edit what I shoot? You bet and better than anybody else could, do I want to do it, only if I get paid the same as my camera work, but the would not make economic sense either for me or for the client, as my rates are at least double of what an editor gets paid.

  31. If you have to “force” the cameraman to edit you have already lost.

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