The big camera debate

Some veteran TV photojournalists have argued for years that bigger is better when it comes to video cameras. Only a heavy professional model could produce rock steady, broadcast quality images, the long-timers said.  Or at least they used to.

Oscar Valenzuela of KGMB-TV in Honolulu has been in the business more than 20 years and says he never really thought smaller and cheaper would take over. Until now.

At a recent police department stake-out, Valenzuela and his behemoth camera were set up next to a photojournalist from a competing station and his “baby-cam,” a Sony EX-1.

Right there in that precinct, at that very moment, change had finally come to pass.  We are now officially in the transition to what I believe is the job/appropriate equipment. These new smaller, lighter cameras can even shoot HD, on memory cards,  and can last a lifetime on one battery.

As if the presence of a “baby-cam” weren’t evidence enough of a sea change,  what happened next certainly was:

That’s when the intern from the other station arrived at the last minute, pulled out her cell phone from her purse and recorded video of the suspect, same as the rest of us, as the patrol car pulled into the garage. (along with the newspaper guy who took pictures and video with his Nikon DSLR camera!!!).

Need  more evidence? How about this story from KOB-TV in Albuquerque, N.M., shot almost entirely by reporter Jeff Maher using a tiny Flip camera?

Think we can agree that the big camera debate is over?


8 comments for “The big camera debate

  1. April 27, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    This is shameful self-promotion of the kind I’d ridicule in others, but I feel I can say a hearty ‘Amen’ to that.

    This story, of the G20 protests in London, was also shot on a Flip camera (and later edited using Blender, a piece of free and open source software):

    The really important thing was that we (me and a colleague who was liveblogging with a Blackberry) could get right in amongst the protesters, and speak to them without shoving a giant camera and mic in their faces, which not only gave us more physical agility (to move through dense crowds, climb over barricades etc) but made us more approachable. I don’t believe we could have made this report with more expensive equipment.

    There is a minimum level of production value that viewers will accept, but we’re fast approaching the point where you can exceed that level incredibly cheaply.

  2. April 27, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    Thanks for sharing the story, Rich. Your video quality is amazing–was that an HD Flip you were using? The relatively poor audio quality remains the biggest drawback to Flips and their ilk, but surely it won’t be long before someone puts out a version with an external mic input. We’re waiting!

  3. April 27, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    Sadly not – our budget only extends to the basic Flip Mino (640×480 resolution). But if we did have HD cameras we’d have to downsample to that resolution anyway, otherwise it would chew through our users’ bandwidth (and ours!) – I would guess that 18 months from now the cameras and the bandwidth will be sufficiently cheap that it won’t matter.

    That’s the other great thing about these cameras – the tech is cheap enough that you can upgrade regularly, whereas if you invest in expensive gear you can’t justify replacing it when a lighter camera with better battery life comes along.

    I’ll be a happy man the day they make one with an external mic jack! They probably never imagined they’d be widely used as equipment for professional newsgatherers – hopefully they’ll cotton on soon.

  4. May 1, 2009 at 9:42 am

    The argument for bigger cameras has less to do with weight and more to do with lenses. I own a $3000 camera with a decent lens but it doesn’t even come close to the focal control that you can get with a $30,000 news camera.

  5. Oscar Valenzuela
    May 5, 2009 at 4:56 am

    Hey thanks for the link. I’m an old timer as far as TV news but a newbie at this blogosphere. I’m having a blast reading all of the posts and comments from friends, co-workers and everyone else out there. I think we’re onto something here ;].

  6. May 5, 2009 at 6:33 pm

    Interesting – I just wrote a post on this over at THE ONE MAN BAND REPORTER:

  7. May 7, 2009 at 9:51 am

    I am on a one year adventure using nothing but RST – Really Simple Technology – point & shoot cameras and software that came with the computer. While I’m learning videojournalism, I’d rather concentrate on the story than the technology.

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