So whats in the bag?

Strangely enough there is a vast and diverse answer to this when it comes to Video Journalism. Veteran VJs like Scott Rensberger will use a full-size ENG (Electronic News Gathering) broadcast camera and yet will tell me “the camera doesn’t matter – the quality matters. The quality of the pictures is only partly down to the technology – how the operator uses it is far more important. You can give the best camera in the world to an inexperienced operator and get crap pictures, just as you can give a camera-phone to a pro and get really good newsworthy (though not necessarily highest quality) pictures. The camera is simply a tool to capture the pictures. The skill is knowing how to get the pictures the TELL THE STORY.”

There seem to be FOUR key vj schools of thought. Each of these is partly informed by the requirements of the end product…ie. using a full HD spec broadcast ENG camera to shoot pictures for a newspaper website is like driving in a thumbtack with a sledgehammer! In a simplified world the four categories are (roughly) :

1. The Machomen (and women 🙂 “I like it big -it gives me credibility” oddly a lot of professionally trained cameraman still dismiss any camera that weighs less than 20KG fully laden. Is it a freudian size complex or is it like asking them to give up their corporate 4×4 for a smart car? Perhaps its a little of the former and a lot of the latter 🙂 Seriously though they have a point: the large ENG cameras have a lot of high quality glass (lens) and usually a bigger sensor (CCD / CMOS) which generally mean the asthetics of the picture ARE better. Downside – the gear weighs a tonne. At least half the pro cameramen I know suffer from back-problems!! Does it help in making the STORY better – maybe with a matte box and filters?

2. The In-betweeners. These users like something that feels/looks like an ENG camera but is somewhat smaller and lighter -its has half the credibility, about half the weight but still looks “professional”. Ive trained VJS on the SONY PMW EX3, with an Anton Bauer Dionic Pro battery pack- they are a great camera – full HD, solid state, interchangeable lens mount etc, etc but carry it in its petrol case for 25 mins and Id hate to see the handheld camerawork after that! These users are often surrounded by a peer group of Machomen – hense the requirement for the bigger cam.



3. The Pocket shooters. For these users the camera REALLY IS only a means to capture pictures. Lens ehh-ok ish. Manual functions-yes (usually shoot on AUTO everything though) HD sure-its there and it will take balanced XLR mic inputs too – so its NOT a domestic / “pro-sumer” camera its really a small entry-level broadcast camera. Its small enough to fit into a handbag / satchel. Light enough to be held handheld for hours on end and the pics really are good quality. The VJ camera class of choice – sometimes – remember the point I made above-is “horses for courses”.

4. The Photogs. With the introduction of the Canon 550D and the Nikon D90 DSLR cameras can now shoot HD video on a stills camera. If you add an XLR to Mini-jack balancing unit you can plug professional mics into the camera. The glass is fantastic as you’d expect from a digital stills camera. Using the manual zoom is a bit tricky and holding the camera static for long handheld is tricky too but there are a growing number of young documentary makers who now swear by the DSLR as a video tool and with further development that number is sure to increase. Its worth noting that depth-of-field is fantastic on a DSLR and progressive HD really gives a graded documentary feel. Have a look at some of the submissions on the Vimeo- Canon-Story beyond the still competition channel…

Note: every VJ should add a GOPRO HDHero to their camera bag – these inexpensive HD cameras are revolutionising high-octane sport video and are slowly making an imapct in VJ photography.









Several people have commented that they find the FLIP camera more useful than the GOPRO – as with the debate above different cameras are better for different situations. Ive had a chance to play with a FLIP and was both surprised and dissapointed that it can only shoot 1080 60p – ie HDNTSC. You could transcode it to 1080 50p in Media Composer I suppose but what a bummer – C’mon CISCO – theres plenty of PAL legacy users out there to justify a firmware update!!! Let me know what you think…. FLIP or GOPRO  HDHero??


About vjmentor
Innovation Lead, RTÉ | VJ & MoJo (Mobile Journalism) Trainer -Circom Regional | Photographer | HDSLR shooter| Views are strictly personal, not those of my employer.

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