The New World of Video


The other day I was in HMML’s basement studio photographing some rare books for our newsletter. The camera we use for digitizing books and taking studio pictures is a Canon 5D Mark II, a 21-megapixel digital single-lens-reflex (dSLR) camera. For our purposes it’s ideal—the image quality is excellent and the resolution provided exceeds what we need for our publications.

That same day, I was told that a video crew was going to be onsite for a few hours to get some interview footage of Dr. Getatchew Haile, HMML’s cataloger of Ethiopian manuscripts and a world expert on Ethiopia’s Christian culture. I figured that once the crew started setting up their gear, it would be good to get some snapshots of the activities for HMML’s website and archives.

The project was extensive. We’ve had a number of video crews visit HMML, but this group had the most gear and put together the most sophisticated interview setup that I’ve ever seen here. Dr. Haile has been interviewed many times before; he patiently waited amid a media frenzy of setting lights, adjusting sound levels and getting the composition just right.

Dr. Getatchew Haile, HMML's Regents Professor of Medieval Studies and Cataloger of Oriental Manuscripts, surrounded by video technicians in preparation for his interview.

I thought that with the amount and sophistication of the gear on display, they must have been using an absolute top-of-the-line video camera, something far beyond the usual small cameras that have become popular for “gun and run” video production. I ventured into the interview set to see what was perched on the tripod.

It was a Canon 5D Mark II dSLR.

The same model camera I was using for studio still photography has become the new darling of filmmakers wanting cinematic image quality at an affordable price. I had played around a bit with HMML’s camera in video mode but had never watched one being used by professional videographers on a real shoot.

For viewing the video image, the crew had attached a small LCD monitor to the camera’s accessory shoe—this was much larger than the Canon’s built-in LCD screen and could be pivoted to any desired angle. The camera itself was mounted on a standard fluid-damped video panning head for some shots and on a side-to-side tracking bar for others.

To my eye, the image quality was superb. I remember how years ago I worked on videos with a friend of mine. In those days, we struggled mightily with a camera costing over $8000 (in 1980s dollars) to get an image that doesn’t even come close to that produced by the Canon, which can be had for under $3000 today.

Videographer watches the moving image on a small LCD monitor attached to the Canon camera's accessory shoe. Camera is mounted on a tracking bar, allowing a smooth side-to-side motion of the camera during the video take.

Such is nature of digital imaging technology. The trend continues towards better image quality and more capability at ever-decreasing costs. This is disruptive technology: It shakes up existing industries (such as the makers of traditional video and motion picture film cameras) while simultaneously enabling more people (like myself) to try new methods of visual communication. For HMML’s future video projects, it might well be that the best video camera available is the still camera we’ve had downstairs all along.


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