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Does size really matter?

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Does size really matter?
on Jan 29, 2007 at 8:12:07 am

I'm thinking about purchasing my first camera, as I'm starting a new endeavor in video production. I have been looking very closely at the Canon XH-A1. It seems like a lot of camera for the price ($3,500). However, several years ago, I was working for a live-event production company and I was shooting with this huge JVC KY-27 (ENG Camera). This camera always had an impressive "look" and it seemed to portray a very professional image. When I showed up on site, It made me look like I really knew what I was doing even if I didn't (this was my first job out of college).

All these new HDV prosumer cameras look like they produce great quality footage (better than the old KY-27). However, they are all very compact and small. My question is do clients expect and want to see a big camera when you show up to shoot a gig? My market will consist mainly of weddings (hopefully few), web-based real estate video, small business promotional videos, etc.. Do you think that it is a liability shooting with a camera as compact as the XH? Does size matter? Any advice or feedback would be greatly appreciated.

Also, am I making a mistake if I purchase the Canon?

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Mark Suszko
Re: Does size really matter?
on Jan 29, 2007 at 3:36:31 pm

I think in part this is the reason a lot of the prosumer users load up their little cameras with oversized matte boxes, French Flags, focus-pulling attachments and extra external monitors with suede sunshade eyecups, etc. none of which they usually actually NEED to use. It's "pimp my camera" to make it look more "pro".

When I see one of these outfits being used to shoot something that requires none of the accessory stuff, I wanna ask the guy where his spinning rims are.

Don't fetishize the camera: it is your TOOL, not the Goal.

I think if the clients are looking to be impressed by the prop usage of the camera, you've already lost the gig or never had it. People that shallow and gullible, you don't want for clients anyway. It's not what the camera looks like, but the pictures that you make come OUT of it that matter. That's the professional difference you bring to the job.

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Tim Wilson
Re: Does size really matter?
on Jan 31, 2007 at 9:14:53 am

[Mark Suszko] "I think if the clients are looking to be impressed by the prop usage of the camera, you've already lost the gig or never had it. People that shallow and gullible, you don't want for clients anyway"

If you avoid shallow and gullible clients, you'll have none. I really mean that. In fact, I'd argue that the best way to LOSE a job is to tell the client that, even though he has the same camera as you do, YOU use it better than HE does.

I think it's vastly better to NOT have the same camera, and to HAVE the kinds of tools that clients don't. Lighting and lens selection, filters, etc. are among the tools we use to get the more professional look that clients will never take the time to get.

At the same time, if the camera's TOO big, clients will laugh in your face. Here's an actual conversation I had with one of them about my $29K BetaSP camera in a PR ENG situation -- I was getting paid to cover an event that the local affiliates were covering for the air. "What's that monstrous thing? The guys from NBC and Fox over there have cameras that fit in the palm of their hand. Are you just behind the times?" This was just a couple after I got laughed at by other pros for buying a camera from the UVW series.

Appropos to the next part of the discussion, which I ultimately find much more interesting, is that my UVW rig cost more than most because I chose an especially nice Canon lens.

[JLN2112] " I making a mistake if I purchase the Canon?"

All cameras are not created equal. Canon's image quality surpasses anything I've ever seen in a small camera. Not shocking if you think about it, since the top of the Canon line is cutting edge, high-grade medical optics.

One of the advantages of that is the technology that goes with it. Their optical stabilizer is awesome . It completely blows away electronic image stabilizers, and as a result is actually useful. Ditto their auto-focus. There are three different kinds of auto-focus on this camera, including one that's optimized to not be distracting, and another optimized for rapid adjustments - ideal for doc and ENG work. I still prefer manual focus, but, again, this is the first AF I've ever seen that's actually useful.

Lots of other pro features, including genlock and XLR audio. The viewfinder will take your breath away.

That said, the G1 is also worth considering. The HD-SDI output gives you uncompressed output along with embedded audio and full SMPTE timecode -- totally worth it if you have an AJA or BMD card with HD-SDI. (Yes, also FW if that's the way you go.)

The H1 is fully twice what the A1 is, but still worth a close look. Its larger form factor says PRO camcorder without looking ridiculous (point very well taken, Mark), offers computer software (PC) to take your custom settings to an entirely different level, and interchangeable lenses, obviously especially useful if you've already invested in Canon lenses.

They're all tasty, so let your budget be your guide.

I don't mean to disrespect smaller cameras from Sony and Panasonic -- you're quite right that image quality is quite high across the board these days, and there are reasons to consider units from these folks. I'm also not comparing the A1 to Sony's CineAlta and XDCAM HD or Panasonic's Varicam. But you didn't ask about those. :-)


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Frank Otto
Re: Does size really matter? IS More Staff/Crew/Stuff Better?
on Feb 6, 2007 at 7:57:52 am

Times don't change. The client still has this ego thing about how their production "looks" - not the finished product, but the production itself.

Decades ago, I bought Thompson and Sharp cameras for magazine and ENG work. I bought them, not because of name/branding but because the technical specs and prices matched my needs. But the market demanded SONY...or they'd go somewhere else. I did what several other guys did - bought SONY logos from the parts depot and slapped them on the gear..."yup, it says SONY on it", and didn't lose a client. They saw SONY, they thought "professional." It went the same way for years, Sony, Ikegami, least most of that has worn off - now it's format snobbery wars.

In my curent gig, I'm the in-house video guy, from full motion graphics to commercial shooting to...a lot of stuff. When we set up to do a commercial shot on property (I work for a group of resort/hotel/gaming establishments), we truck around a "grip" cart that carries significant gear/lights/stuff, including a jib arm which we use a lot. It really impresses the rubes - er, guests who see gear strewn all over, bright lights and a camera on a jib arm being flung about. But, it's only two of us doing ALL the work. I do 90% of the setups by myself, including operate, light, dress set/props/food styling while my partner does fetch, admin, sign, babysit and direct. We're both award winners - both ex-broadcast and agency guys, so we know what we're doing and how to get it done fast and right. We do nice work - not cutting edge ( that's just not the market we're in )but hip and solid.

Except we get no love from our Execs...they like our work, but we're "just the in-house guys." However, they LOVE our agency. When the agency comes in , its a three day shoot, twenty good looking actors/models, D.P., 1st AC, gaffers, grips, Director and AD's...right on down to the craft service table staff. Not that we don't request that, but "that" just isn't going to happen, along with pre-production, time and a host of other things we could use to make the product better and reduce our stress.

And no quibbling about costs...even though we produce product at about a 15:1 ratio of output to the agency's output and cost 1/10th of their costs. We prove quarterly that they don't need all that crew...but somehow bigger equates to more professional for our senior management. Even if the end product never sees air because it's too cutting edge...

Come to think of it, all our management drive SUV's too....hmmmm....

When I ran my own shops, it was always more than we needed because "that's what the client is paying for....they need the show, they need to be part of the show or they don't feel they're getting their monies' worth..."

The new question for me is: what do you do as the in-house guy when you know that agency is over priced vs. product use/life and management doesn't care..."they're profesionals..."

I know that Nick is in the other camp...he makes his living being the outside professional so his take may be much different(note, I didn't "quote" professional, I have respect indeed for Nick's business accumen - when I was in his role, I ran my shop in a similar fashion)...I'd be interested in his take on this...or anyone who has an opinion on this subject.

Or am I making sense?


Frank Otto

"Design is a process by which you create something for a client who has no idea of what they want until they see your design - then they know what they want, but your design isn't it."

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Re: Does size really matter? IS More Staff/Crew/Stuff Better?
on Feb 7, 2007 at 4:14:57 pm

Hi Frank.

As an outside guy, I think your description is pretty well spot on, for some buyers. I think there are people who get seduced by what they see as the glamor / status and the perks that can come from a lavish production. And hey, if you have the budget and can commission a top-of-the-line outfit, then why not do that - surely they'll do a great job. And if tney don't, no-one will be asking just why you commissioned them - fun, quality, protection - why would any client do otherwise? The reason why not, of course, would be budget - we can't afford it. So of course, as a buyer, when you go to a cheaper outfit, your expectations are lower all around.

Worse, if you don't have the savvy to see and judge what's on the screen on its merits, quite likely you'll see it as better if - no, because - it cost more ... a self-fulfilling spiral. We learn what's good by what we pay a lot for - do we escape that trap ourselves, from the production end?

Early days as a freelance writer and director, I worked for a whole lot of different producers, with very different approaches, different markets. But it was only when I lost a pitch (on a great idea) to what the buyer told me later was a poor idea and twice the budget, but included client trips into the Caribbean for a shoot, did I start to wise up just a little.

So if I'm hearing you right, do the great work because you want to, you can and you know the difference, but don't expect the buyers to understand it unless 1> you tell them, loud and clear, or 2> they are those rare kind, expert buyers who know the market and understand your work.

In the meantime, let's all keep on plugging away with the well-known brand names - "my animation is great because I did it on Maya / wrote myt script in Final Draft / did my finishing edit on a DS Nitris ..." - and enjoy the merry-go-round.

All best!

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