The game has officially been changed. The past few months could easily be described as a paradigm shift in the world that is digital photography. The battle has always raged on for more megapixels, faster frames-per-second, better low light performance and so on. Which is all fine and good and helps photographers like myself who need tools with features like these to do their job better. But now, in the age of mind-blowing timeframes for technological advances come two cameras that look innocent enough to the average consumer, but offer the possibility of completely altering the way journalists work.
Both Canon’s 5D Mark II (announced Yesterday) and Nikon’s D90 (announced August 27) now offer the feature of high definition video recording. Yes, regular old still cameras record HD video, that’s not a mistake. And I’ll restate again, this may not seem significant to the average consumer, but to those of us aware of the massive changes that are occurring within the journalism industry, It’s a really big deal.
Print journalism is dying. Although there are many small community newspapers still turning a profit from a loyal and non-tech-savvy reader base (the Lethbridge Herald is one of them), the only other publications that are doing really well are the big guys. The New York Times, Globe and Mail, and the National Post are the papers (read: companies) that are succeeding because they have adapted, somewhat successfully, to the changing times; the crazy gold rush of online, instant, multimedia based, citizen-journalist powered news.
The New York Times ‘gets it’. The window of a browser open to the Times website reads ‘Breaking News, World News & Multimedia’. Most of the NYT photographers go out into the field not only with Digital SLR cameras, but also with Hi-Def video cameras because the New York Times is more than just a newspaper; it’s a News Community. This community includes video slideshows, photos, text, and perhaps most importantly, video. People surfing for their news online are likely not content anymore with just reading text on a site, they want video and audio so they can make their own judgments and experience the scene or story for themselves. Slowly but surely, more news agencies and newspapers are catching on, and this is where the new cameras become so important.
The ability to take one piece of gear out to do two jobs is not new. Half of the things I carry in my camera bags serve more than one purpose (bless you nylon zip-ties). But to have a single ‘unit’ that can shoot (in the case of the Canon) 21 megapixel stills and capture 1080P video at 30 FPS as well as the audio to match it is, as I’ve said, game changing. It is of particular note that the 5D Mark II will ship with an external mic jack for audio capture as well. External Mic’s are usually the end-all-be-all in criteria for cameras suitable for pro use, and here we have the 5D MKII, a photo camera, shipping with everything one would potentially need, to shoot a complete video. These features give photojournalists the option of capturing anything they’re covering in both video and still forms, with just one piece of gear.
Another scary thought is that of photography as we know it, dying. A still from a 1080P camera (like the 5D MKII) already has enough resolution to run at a decent size in a newspaper. A photographer I work alongside at the Herald was shooting with a 2.3 megapixel camera up until a few weeks ago. What happens when 2K and 4K video resolutions become mainstream? It means there may not be a need for a still photo because a single frame from the video would warrant enough resolution to do just about anything one could need (including print in a paper, easily).
We’re not there yet, but the convergence of video and still cameras has begun, as many before me had posited. The bottom line is, we’ve reached a point now where megapixels don’t matter much; every camera has more than acceptable resolution for just about any task. But what happens when video cameras start shooting the same resolution we need for still-capture media, or, what happens when still cameras start shooting video?
The game changes, that’s what.
Next week: Social Mesh Networking and Natural Disasters.