The Cat is Out of The Bag: SLRS Now Shoot HD Video

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Nikon's D90

Nikon D90

So – IT happened – Digital SLRs can now shoot HD Quality video – and the repercussions this will have on our industry are going to be pretty fascinating to watch in the upcoming years. While most newspaper photogaphers will be thrilled not to have to carry both SLR and video camera systems to perform their new duties, sports photographers may find that these cameras create serious headaches for them going into venues with broadcasters who own exclusive rights to the video content being broadcast from that very venue.  These will be very interesting times that will lead to some very precedent setting debate.

I had a very strong feeling that this was coming down the pipeline and mentioned it in several previous articles over the past few years, including  the “Cloud is Falling” article that I wrote a few months ago.  I should mention that never had I heard anything coming out of either a Canon or Nikon rep about video – it was kept TIGHTLY under wraps – until Nikon revealed the Nikon D90 yesterday.   The buzz about this upcoming announcement was circulating amongst a few people “in the know” at the Olympics – I hadn’t heard any solid information on the details of this camera but did know something was coming out  – and I was expecting it to be announced at Photokina in about a month from now.  The rumour going around was that one or more manufacturers might be releasing a camera that could shoot both video and still images – but not simultaneously.  This first amateur camera can neither autofocus, nor simultaneously shoot stills and video.   That – my guess is  – will be what the professional cameras will do – and soon.

Here are a few more details from Gizmodo:

“It shoots 1280x720p video at 24fps with a 16:9 aspect ratio for up to five minutes, producing around a 600MB file. It’s essentially recording the Live View feed (which gets its own button) so focus is locked because the mirror has moved out of the way, and you get mono sound. The major appeal is that it’ll work with any of your lenses, so you can do wacky HD clips with a fisheye lens on the (relatively) cheap or be artsy and use a shallow depth of field.”   And the price is only: $999 which is kind of a bombshell in it’s own right.  That price is an industry changer in my opinion – very much in the same way that the RED camera sells for 5 to 10 times less than it’s competitors.

And a little more of the same from Nikon: “For the first time in digital SLR photography, Nikon introduces the addition of the D-Movie mode, allowing consumers to create their own HD movie clips (1280 x 720) with sound from their D-SLR camera. Photographers will appreciate the cinematic qualities that come from the 24fps frame rate, which matches theatrical film, whether producing vacation clips or creatively melding stills with video. Additionally, the large size of the D90’s DX-format sensor, combined with the optical superiority and broad selection of NIKKOR lenses, provides shooters with the ability to capture amazing perspectives not possible with typical camcorders. D-Movie clips also benefit from Nikon VR image stabilization, which is automatically activated during recording to aid the low-light capability that trumps many other hybrid devices. Users can record movie clips onto an inserted SD / SDHC card, created as Motion JPEG AVI files that are easily edited with widely available video editing software. The D90 also features an HDMI terminal, allowing viewing of both pictures and movies on High Definition television”

So – here we are at a crossroads.  I see this as all positive – I’ve always wanted to shoot more video/film – but didn’t want to make a new investment in lenses and gear… now I no longer have to… think about it.  Although I have no insider knowledge on what Canon is working on at this time – common sense would lead me to believe they’ll have an answer to this soon enough.   I say this, because the rumors being traded back and forth at the Olympics, from non-Nikon or Canon people – was that Canon was going to be the one making this type of announcement first… we all in fact knew that some big announcement was coming from Nikon on Monday (this past Monday – it came out Tuesday as it turned out)  so who knows…   The reason we are at a crossroads is the following:  TELEVISION and their fear of the traditional print media tresspassing on their turf.  A turf they have paid for – and are unlikely to share for free.

Given that all of these rumours were going around quite a bit in Beijing – I sat down with two very influential people who will each be involved at the next two Olympic Games.  Given that NBC paid more than $900 million to acquire the U.S. Broadcasting rights to this past summer games, how would they feel about a still photographer showing up with a camera that can shoot HD video?

I got the following answer from the person who will be involved with Vancouver which I’ll paraphrase:   Still photographers will be allowed in the venues with whatever camera they chose, and shoot whatever they want – shooting video in it of itself, is not a problem.  HOWEVER – if the video is EVER published – the lawsuits will inevitably be filed, and credentials revoked etc.

This to me seems like the reasonable thing to do – and the correct approach.  But the person I spoke with who will be involved in the London 2012 Olympic Games had a different view, again I paraphrase: “Those cameras will have to be banned.  Period.  They will never be allowed into any Olympic venue” because the broadcasters would have a COW if they did.   And while I think this is not the best approach – I think it might unfortunately be the most realistic.  Do you really think that the TV producers and rigths-owners will “trust” photographers not to broadcast anything they’ve paid so much for.  Unlikely.  Remember that every two years – photographers are allowed to go and see the dress-rehearsal for the Opening Ceremonies at each Olympics and every time we have to sign releases promising NEVER to publish those.  We are granted access so that we can better prepare to shoot the actual thing.   Nonetheless, someone did publish these pictures in Athens for example… and once those promises are broken, it gives TV the excuse to shut us down (although they haven’t – and did let us shoot dress rehearsals this year.)  But do we really trust all of our breatheren to ahere to these “restrictions” – forever?   Well – I don’t.  And that’s why I think we’ll have problems – big problems – coming down the pipe with these cameras for the photographers who shoot in “closed” events where someone has bought rights to said event.

So tell me what you think in the comments below – I’m quite interested in starting a bit of a back and forth on this topic – and it will very likely change the face of our industry more quickly than anyone expected, and continue to blur the distinction between a still photographer and videographers/filmakers.