2011.07.04

Collaborative. Digital. Action!

In 2008 Canon released the EOS 5D Mark II. This was the successor to the synonymous (Mark I) camera that made full-frame DSLRs accessible to people unwilling to spend a small fortune to get one — the EOS 1Ds usually costs around $8,000 when a new revision of it is released.

But it was also the beginning of a revolution that went well beyond still photography, redefining an ‘art’ that was, until then, totally barred to mere mortals; a revolution in cinematography. 5D Mark II, and a year later 7D, featured HD video recording capabilities with quality that rivalled that of high-end professional digital camcorders. Canon had a winner in their hands, even though, by their own admission, they never meant to create a tool for cinematographers, but allow photojournalists to take short videos. Many of the limitations of the 5D Mark II were removed by community firmware, such as Magic Lantern and Canon itself paid some more attention to later versions of the official firmware as well as the 7D.

An increasing number of (largely independent) cinematographers choose DSLRs to shoot shorts or complement the production of features. They’ve got the flexibility, the lenses, the features and the quality. Sure, there are still missing features and you wouldn’t expect a 5D Mark II to replace RED or the higher-end cameras out there, but for stuff that remain within the limits of HD they’ll do just fine — with superb results. The increased power of software in post (for syncing, grading, etc.) largely negates them.

The HDSLR (a misnomer that has somehow prevailed since 5D Mark II appeared in 2008) revolution is a bottom-up phenomenon; Canon never intended or expected it to happen. But the company is not standing idly by. In 2010 they commissioned a collaborative film contest titled ‘The Story Beyond the Still’, whereby different people collaborated by filming/producing a single chapter in a six chapter story. The winners were picked by a commercial Los Angeles-based director, Vincent Laforet, the film was edited and the final cut appeared in the famous Sundance Film Festival (and, of course, Vimeo) in January 2011. You can watch the final, complete film here (or below); despite the fact that the characters are played by different actors in each chapter, that they were completely shot using Canon EOS 5D Mark II and 7D cameras, despite the fact that this is not a high-budget production, that it is the result of a collaborating community and not the work or vision of a single person, makes it — at least in my eyes — a unique achievement.

But it is much more than that; it is a prime example of how technology is making moviemaking accessible to a much larger number of people. We live at a time where anyone can cheaply create professionally looking films on a shoestring budget, distribute them for free on a website like Vimeo. Films that are artistic expressions in the truest sense, totally unrelated to the laws of the market, totally untouched by commercial concerns of profit, censorship or the star system. Films that compete on those classic values that made early cinema so intriguing, rather than the annoying techdemo exhibitions that define modern Hollywood.

Beyond The Still is not such a film. It is by no means a masterpiece, it doesn’t try to be and it probably couldn’t ever be one. It is, however, a fantastic example of what is possible with modern, accessible technology, love for film making and a collaborative spirit. It is proof that in 2011 independent film makers have little to be jealous of their commercial counterpartsm especially when it comes to the most fundamental aspects of film making: cameras, editing and distribution. I, for one, am looking forward to a world with more independent films, of higher production quality and fewer ‘stars’. Vimeo, and apparently Canon, seem to agree — even if their immediate goal fully remains within the realm of profitability.

You can watch the 38 minute film below.

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» Back to the future.

I’m lost for words. This is unbelievably cool: recreating the same photographs, with the same people, twenty+ years later. Check it out.

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»  So long.

The quintessential photo from this summer’s trip to Kythira (clickety click on the image for a ‘moderately’ higher resolution image) and a pretty good time to take a break.

Kythira Panorama (from Agia Moni)

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» At this point the megapixel race should probably stop

One thing that bothers me with professional photographers, is that often they are completely clueless about the physics and technology aspects behind their gear — they typically possess a very superficial understanding of it all, defined solely by the tech. slang of the trade, enthusiastic peers and the press. Much like a new linux user learning how to pay a visit to a web forum, mailing-list or irc channel and thinking he or she has become linux masters.

Along those lines is the now so common megapixel myth: that higher pixel count automatically translates to better pixels. The 50D review, and indeed the camera itself, provide a pretty compelling demonstration of why, even with the best lenses out there, a very high pixel count can suddenly make ‘optical resolution’ a much more familiar term to all those that seem to focus only on the electronics; if the top lenses, beasts costing thousands and weighing kilos, are barely sufficient to provide adequate pixel detail at 15MP and an APS-C sensor, you can easily imagine how bad so many compacts sporting 10 or 12MP may very well be with their subpar, mediocre lenses.

If anything, the review demonstrates that the 50D probably represents the last of a series of cameras that came before it; for in the future Canon is most certainly going to shift its focus to other areas of the camera besides pixel count; features that are hopefully going to make its successor a much better camera overall.

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»  Taking over Hollywood

It may be the case that the Red One camera has been around for a while, but it’s only lately that some of Hollywood’s leading directors have started to use and promote it. And that’s only three years after the company was established and less than six months since the camera has been available to the general public (although apparently there’s a considerable backlog before you can get your own Red, even if you’re willing to spend the $17,500 it costs to buy).

After Soderberg, a known fan of digital technology and longtime user of digital video along with or instead of film, Doug Liman jumps on the Red bandwagon and talks about the camera and how its changed the way he films.

Wired had a great article on the Red recently. You can find more clips from Red (at 720p) on the Vimeo Redusers group.

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2008.08.27

Canon EOS 50D

It’s been almost four and a half years since I got my venerable Canon EOS 20D. And, in DSLR time, that’s quite a lot.

The 20D was a fantastic camera for its time, highly valued by both amateurs such as myself and pros (mostly as a second body). Sadly, most updates to the series by Canon have left me cold: The 30D was a very marginal improvement to its predecessor and the 40D, while impressive on its own, paled in comparison to Nikon’s D300 (even though the latter was significantly more expensive).

Canon seemed right on the path of losing the DSLR crown and while the figures still showed that it was the undisputed king in terms of sales, it’s the mindshare that matters most and betrays the trends of things to come.

And then it happened: for the first time in the short history of Digital SLR cameras, Canon, the market leader, the innovator, the king of DSLRs ever since they started becoming the tool of choice for million of photographers, in sport, studio and landscape photography, flinched. The Canon EOS 50D, was announced yesterday, just a short 12 months after its predecessor, the 40D. 12 months instead of the customary 18 that underlines most of Canon’s release cycles for the series, all the while Nikon upped the stakes with D90 and the D700.

The Canon EOS 50D looks like it might become my next camera; given my investment in Canon glass, it’d make no sense to switch to Nikon now. It’s price (£1200, according to Amazon UK; that’s around €1,500 at the time of writing) is quite steep for a body-only mid-range prosumer DSLR camera. I’m sure that the price will come down very quickly, especially once Canon releases the long awaited successor to the ageing EOS 5D and the rest of the market adjusts to its release.

This is a welcome step for Canon; a rare, wise and humble step by the leading camera manufacturer, but also a company that has been consistently outsmarted by its arch-rival in the past few years; a company facing intense competition by ‘challengers’ in the form of Sony and Olympus and a company that probably has the unique position to massively fuel competition in the SLR market segment.

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2008.05.01

Breathtaking.

Just back from a trip to Kythira, my usual destination whenever I get the chance to get some time off. Here’s a picture I took that I find more or less representative of the state of nature on the island during Spring — it’s every bit as beautiful as this HDR photo alludes. Kythira was forested to a very large extent in the 1950s and despite several ‘wildfires’ since then it still boasts a very impressive natural scenery — especially considering its size and location (typically Hellenic islands are barren, dry and very rocky).

Sadly, and even though Spring is by far the most beautiful season in Hellas, the weather these past few days was not that great. The pic was taken during a very short sunny spell on Tuesday afternoon which was soon followed by a massive group of dark, ominous and fast-moving clouds; as you can probably imagine: it was quite windy.

For more of my pictures of Kythira check this page. Click on the image for a larger version.

Mitata Valley, Kythira, Hellas

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2008.04.20

The Gevende Gig in Athens.

This past Thursday, the 17th of April 2008, Gevende performed at a packed ‘An Club’ in Athens, supported by Night on Earth and Sugah Galore. Overall, this was an excellent gig and I’m pretty sure most people had a great time. Here are some photos from the event.

Night on Earth

Night On EarthNight On Earth

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