RedShark Replay: This article was first published back in 2015, but while some things have changed for the better, some of them haven't. It's one thing for cameras to be modular, that's a good thing. But should we really have to design our own custom rig for every new device?
If there is one word that I think sums up the thinking behind modern camera design it is modularity. When the Red One was released into the world it was seen as a revolution. It was conceived as an infinitely configurable camera, with a number of add on modules available for it. Since then many cinema style cameras have followed suit. Add on recorders have become normal, with Sony’s latest cameras being designed to take additional modules that blend in seamlessly with the body design. Arri’s Alexa has taken things further and designed so that the sensor is field replaceable, and the recording media type is also upgradeable. However modularity in video cameras is not a new idea.
Not so very long ago Sony’s DXC-D35 series was bought as a camera head to which a matching recording “dock” could be mounted. With the plethora of formats available an ENG shooter could dock either a DVCAM, BetaSP, or Beta SX recorder thereby being able to shoot any format required by the broadcaster. Panasonic had their own variation on this concept too with the AW-F575. The concept never really took off at the time, but the thinking behind it was sound.
There are lots of advantages to modular design. In the examples above it allowed the camera to record multiple format types. These days this isn’t such a problem because all newly released camcorders record to a file system, and most NLE’s will take most formats depending on the age of the software.
Cameras such as the PMW-F5 can be enabled with Raw recording and higher bitrates through the use of the optional modules. On paper modularity sounds like a very good idea, and there have been some good examples in practice, but on what road has the concept currently taken us?
Move your lenses over
A few years back you would purchase an EX3, a PDW-350 or equivalent and that would be the end of that. You would move your old lenses over if you had some and needed to, put the camera on your existing tripod and away you would go. With the exception of newcomers such as Red and the aforementioned Sony dockable cameras, modular cameras were in the minority.
So how have we now arrived into a situation where we have to purchase an equivalent in price to the camera itself in additional accessories simply to get a workable system?
Unfortunately we have all become unwitting participants in a game. Some very vocal people out there in forum land ensured that we now have to purchase a Mechano set whenever we get hold of a new camera, and the manufacturers love us for it.
The quest to look as if we know what we are doing and the image that we present has often come top of the table in some peoples eyes. Separate sound recording on every single project? Well, that’s how feature films work, and therefore so should we when we are interviewing John the farmer for a community information film. Matte box? All the big boys have one. Cage and rails? Who cares if we don’t actually need them, but hey they make our cameras look cool whilst giving ergonomics that should have been designed into the camera in the first place!
The focus on such things mainly arose from the DSLR revolution. Such cameras were never designed for video. However there are some additional factors in play.
We are all familiar with value. We place value on things every day. We value our cars, we value our houses, we value our lives.
We should also be familiar with the way that value works in business. Many of us will be familiar with the way that well known branded products cost more to buy than a lesser known make. This is particularly the case if the brand in question has purposefully placed themselves in the minds of consumers as being the top tier.
Prepared to pay a little more
Often such products may not cost any more to manufacture or develop than a lesser brand. In fact sometimes over time a company may lose their focus on quality but still retain high sales values based on their past reputation. Consumers still purchase those products because they value the brand, and they are prepared to pay a little bit more for them.
Indeed in order to make more money a lot of focus should be placed on making sure that your customers and clients value your skills and services. If you are successful in doing this then you will be able to command higher rates because the value that you bring to them exceeds monetary value alone. If your client base does not value you then they will not be prepared to pay anything like as much and instead they will be focused entirely on monetary outlay.
This very human trait plays right into the camera manufacturers hands.
There was a time when we had film cameras, ENG style cameras, and prosumer style palmcorders. It was nice and neat. In the video industry you were considered top tier if you were using a Digibeta, or eventually HDCAM and SR. Even a DSR500 was out of bounds for many.
Still, such cameras produced footage that distinctly cried out “video”. Harsh highlight cut off, overt digital edge enhancement, and limited dynamic range amongst the drawbacks. While many of them started to offer film style gamma curves and increasingly added more configurable settings, the average indie filmmaker a wanted something more. Much more.