Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Question of Weaponry

In the daily camera scrum, no one issue sparks a firefight quicker than the VJ debate. You know the scenario: All-purpose journalists with writer’s eyes, magic laptops and shrinky-dink lenses are threatening to take the ‘crew’ out of news crew. Only a couple of stations have bought into the idea so far, most under the tutelage of one Michael Rosenblum. To hear him tell it, this amalgamation of skills is an embittered industry’s only hope. His detractors cite his methods as the unforgivable dumbing-down of electronic newsgathering. Your humble lenslinger is somewhere in the middle, fiercely proud of his hard-earned solo skills, but still not sure he’d want to sit through an entire newscast of his own b-block masterpieces. Besides, at my shop, we produce far more varied fare: breathless live remotes from smoldering wreckage and political melees, esoteric think-pieces wrapped around invisible ideas and continuing team smotherage of the daily uproar. Chances are, your favorite station does too.

For now, anyway. Who knows what station group will be the next to buy into the VJ model, slash their staff of drama queens and A/V geeks until only the most dedicated or sloppy remain to forge a whole new newsgathering idiom. There’ll be plenty of help. Ever newer firms are clamoring to turn anyone with a pulse into a newfangled VJ, one who, ‘with a DV camera and laptop, can effectively do the work of three people without compromising story quality.’ Best of all it only takes a five day workshop to master these newly-forged paradigms of visual storytelling, lightning fast sessions that transform any old Joe into an instant auteur. And you wonder why that photog with the decade old tripod-scars is offended…

You’d think we TV news photogs would all be in favor of smaller, lighter cameras. You’d be wrong. Most who hold the heavy glass prefer it that way; trading a little lower back pain for a focal tube worth grappling with. I’m fortunate enough to sling an 18 pound (or so) Sony XDCam, a rocket launcher of a video-camera. Shoulder-mounted on a classic chassis, the ergonomically taut optical disc recorder boasts more drop-down menus than most third-world defense systems. With it, I can incite a riot at ground level Mardi Gras or silently lay crosshairs on the crowd from some far off balcony tripod’s perch. It is a precision instrument that takes only seconds to power-up but a lifetime to master. It’s this question of weaponry that, for me, renders the VJ model mute. Quite simply, I don’t wanna take a toy into battle. I can dig the solo groove, squint ad peck at the magic laptops, even buy into about a third of the hokey proclamations of the discipline’s loopiest prophet. But dude, hands off my glass.


Anonymous said...

Interning as a new high school grad in a 170ish market, I was lucky enough to have a great ND that let me take gear out on my own with my car to cover VoSOTS, write and edit them for air. That same week a not-so-great affiliate just rolled out with the "new" 'Sony Handycams'. They looked like a soccar mom group. No one recognized her as a news VJ once she stepped away from the van. Yeah, I too don't ever want to be sent out, as a crew or solo, with a 'handycam'. This is my freshman year in college, I really hope within four years they aren't the norm.

Chicago Dog said...

Heya LS -- have you ever played around with the target="_blank" tag within your links?

As my own personal preference, I like having them so the original page people wander away from remains open instead of having to navigate back to it.

Keep up the wordsmithing!

Weaver said...

As the master of my own personal
$300 handycam I have to say that, other than the occasional instance that I want or need to be less conspicous, I don't want to be fumbling around with the minute controls of consumer gear even if it does weigh a fraction of what a Pro Camera like our XD cameras.

If I was made of money I might be the only dad shooting home videos with a $30k XD Cam.

And even though camera makers like Sony do make cameras with pictures that rival their big brothers there are plenty of reasons why professional video cameras are a little bigger, weigh a bit more and have easy to manipulate buttons.

Ease of use by a professional, the weight to help hold it steady and size to allow the manual controls to be spread out allow better video to be gathered and manual changes to be made quickly on the fly. With tiny, menu heavy consumer versions there's no way to keep shooting while manually adjusting for continuously changing shooting conditions.

Simply put, a bigger camera helps us do our job better, a mini-camer is just a cop-out.

I think the 16-18 pounds of the XD Cam is probably ideal. The Betacams we had before the XDs were roughly 25 pounds.

(Sorry for such a long comment Stew)

canuckcam said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
canuckcam said...

On the OnQCo site:
- (Calendar menu photo) I found this to be a trend - why do people grab at the viewfinder on a shoulder-camera?

- (Sign Up page) ... interesting. The big photo for the signup page is of a guy with a full-sized shoulder-cam complete with a (gasp) filter wheel. Although it looks like a smaller camera, that ain't a 2/3" lens.

- (About Us) ... the pictures look like they were taken with a P&S digicam, one with a flash. There's just an inferior quality to them. Compare those photos to, say, the backpack picture on the Services page. Lit, nice, crisp, sharp.

I think this battle has already been fought - the same paradigm shift from shoulder-cams to handy-cams is the same as going from SLRs to P&S cameras in the print world. At the end of the day, both make a picture.

In the end, SLRs are still king, although there are print reporters out there with P&S digicams, everyone knows the type of camera that gets "good pictures."

Colonel Corn's Camera said...

I can't understand how VJ's are becoming popular in an time when TV is about to make the jump to HD. In the past 4x3 SD has been forgiving to less than quality video. When everyone goes HD, the shit coming from a XL1 or a PD150 is reallly going to look like dog shit.

VJ's and HD are not going to mix. Why would anybody want to watch junk on a higher quality television. We might as well shoot all of next years blockbuster movies on 16mm and use an old Mac and video toaster to produce the special fx.

vj's can't possably survive in the HD world.

turdpolisher said...

Well said Mr. Slinger,

Full crew, or back back jorno. I'll take my Panny 700 over a baby cam. Better pics, convenient switches, some heft to hold it steady, and it just looks good on my shoulder.

Lex said...

Having had to make do with "cheapest available" technology at home and at work for most of my life, I must say I appreciate the rare opportunity to bring quality equipment to bear on a task.

I'll be taking a Nikon FG20 and a lens the size of a champagne bottle to my daughter's soccer game in a couple of weeks ... just because I can.

Widescreen said...


I am going to play devils advocate here. I think your argument about camera size/quality is a valid one but I feel it is a separate one from the VJ debate.

The argument over VJ’s should be about quality but not the quality of the camera. A Sony XD or a new P2 does not make a good cameraman. The camera is only as ever good as the operator behind it. Experience and natural talent does, but it does not make for someone who can write either.

I have seen some amazing pictures shot on handycam, mostly by overseas VJ’s. It was also the content and composition that supplemented it. Having a bigger camera will not make for better pictures. You could argue the quality may be better, after all, your talking about a proper lens and pick up devise, but don’t forget, all the features of a Sony XD have already been tried and tested in the domestic market.

The issue here is that people who are not camera operators are being turned into one, but then neither were either of us before we started. If I went to the library and pulled out some of my early stuff, I would be embarrassed to think it had my name on it.

We are now going down the VJ path in our regional areas. Because we have radio affiliates, they are taking those reporters and giving them a camera and laptop. It’s not ideal, but I can’t stop it either. In fact two networks here, ABC & SBS both use VJ’s on shows that predominately source stories from overseas.

Fumbling with small and unfamiliar buttons is all about reassurance. Familiarity with your own camera is what generates the comfort zone you feel when you pick it up. If you had to use a smaller camera for a period of time, I guarantee you would soon become comfortable with it. It may not change your personal preference, but it will alter your level of comfort.

I’m not sure how Colonel can say VJ’s cannot survive in the HD world. Why not? How does HD affect it? It does not. A bad shot is a bad shot, regardless of whether it’s shot on VHS or HD. The HD debate is about image quality which is different again.

Personally, I prefer a bigger camera. Part of that is my comfort zone. But if I was given a quality camera that was smaller and had all the right features and components to do the job, why not. Why bust my ass lugging heavy gear when smaller lighter gear can do the same job. Sony is about to put out a small HD handycam that does everything your XD does. I played with it in Sydney a couple of weeks ago and it crapped over anything out there on the market. Why are they doing it? Because of VJ’s!

Matt W said...

$, or lack of. That's what it's about.