What Camera…?

Probably many of you have read Vincent Laforet’s post from 3 weeks ago, What camera did I use to make this still picture? which has a photograph of a young girl at the top and invites you to zoom into the image actual size, asking you to guess what camera the picture was taken on.

The answer, which he reveals a couple of lines down the page, so I’m not really spoiling any secrets, is that it is a frame grab from a RED EPIC M digital cinema camera at 96 frames per second. As someone who wrote about RED cameras quite a few years ago I’m not surprised, though the quality is pretty breathtaking.

Laforet goes on to ask:

a lot of “big” questions… such as: “Does the challenge of capturing “THE DECISIVE MOMENT” still exist when you can capture a 14 megapixel image at 120 frames per second? ” For someone who idolized Henri Cartier Bresson and worked on mastering the capture of that “decisive moment” for most of my career – it is not a question I ask lightly. “Are the days of the “still camera” numbered?”

To some extent Laforet himself acknowledges that he is rather jumping the gun – this is a large and heavy camera which works best on the kind of support that an elephant could sit on shown in the picture of it lower down the page, and it costs in excess of $30,000. Of course technology always advances to bring things down in price and size, but I think we will be waiting rather a long time before something like this becomes both affordable and portable.

Cartier-Bresson and the other photographers of his generation took their pictures with a screw mount Leica (or a Contax rangefinder),  cameras not dissimilar in size or appearance to the Fujifilm FX 100, and later with the larger but still relatively diminutive M series.  These cameras were built around movie film, though they used twice the film area of 35mm movie cameras. But way back then it was possible to get fairly similar quality from movie cameras to that given by what were then called ‘miniature’ cameras.

So while there are perhaps particular areas of still photography – if I were a cricket photographer I’d be thinking seriously -  where cameras like the RED Epic will find a niche, until they reduce in price to a fifth or less of the current wedge and will fit my pocket the FX100 and other similar still cameras are likely to remain the instrument of choice for those seeking the decisive moment.

Of course we will see a greater use of video in covering news, with quite a lot of it taken using the video modes of DSLRs, although many videographers greatly prefer to use dedicated video cameras.

Technology is of course changing, and perhaps more rapidly for video than for still photography at the moment. Earlier this year I splashed out on a new video camera which cost me around £25, though I paid almost as much for a high speed SDH4 flash memory card to fit it.  It’s a very basic model – no viewfinder, fits on a key ring and is around 2″x1.3″ by 0.6″ and from memory weighs around an ounce but gives surprisingly good 1280×720 30fps video and sound. It isn’t easy to know exactly what you are recording and I haven’t yet really found a use for it – most people seem to use them as webcams, or helmet or dashboard cameras, although flying them in radio-controlled planes is also popular – but it really is amazing. Several people have made video reviews that give you an idea what it can do – such as this one, and there is a good FAQ on the same guy’s blog. But again I won’t be giving up the Fuji or the Nikons any time soon.

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