Oh No!!! Only three days till Christmas and Kirk's still using that cheap Olympus lens! That won't do....
The new Millennium Falcon of cameras. The EM-1.
I'm being silly this year and doing silly awards for cameras I think brought cool stuff to the table. I've already made a plug for my favorite economy priced camera, the Panasonic G6 but it's only going to appeal to the kind of practical people who make their own coffee at home and drive no nonsense cars for ten years at a time. It's a sensible choice. There are lots of other cameras this year that deserve some kind of mention for moving the game forward for their loyal band. In the Canon camp I think the full frame 6D camera is a great way to get into a professional system at a much lower cost than ever before. As a high ISO machine it's pretty much right there in the top ranks. And I'd say the same thing about the Nikon D610. It no longer seems to squirt industrial waste onto the sensor like the camera it replaces and that, coupled with great sensor performance, is a good thing. Even the Pentax K3 deserves some kudos for being a rock solid and very advanced last decade sort of camera.
But the reality is that there are two cameras that have captured the fascination of the camera cognoscenti and the battle between them for dominance is as unexpected as can be. After handling and researching both cameras I am even more fascinated by the logical results of an in-depth comparison. There is a clear winner if your objective is to find a camera that feels like a perfect artist's brush or a well broken in pair of running shoes. There is a different winner if you are in a race for bragging rights for maximum horsepower and maximum straight-line acceleration. But the Devil is in the hairpin turns...... (enough car analogies, it brings out the real car nuts and then things heat up quick....).
The two cameras I'm talking about are the two cameras that come from antithetical extremes of camera philosophies and yet the same company makes the sensors inside of both cameras. One is the highest res tool one can buy today in the FF format while the other is perceived as the lowest pixel count class of what might be considered as professional quality instruments. I mean cameras. I'm am, of course, writing about the Olympus OMD EM-1 and the Sony A7r.
On paper the Sony has everything but in reality it's all a compromise in terms of usability. The Olympus camera seems like a staid upgrade of a decent predecessor but one cobbled with a low pixel count, and much smaller, sensor. One is priced like a pro-tool while the other is priced just in the middle of the hobbyist-indulgence category. But in real world use the Olympus is a svelte, alluring seductive temptress that combines a tactile rightness with a wonderfully muted and understated shutter noise and action. It's EVF finder is probably the best in world and all in all the files are just what most photographers are looking for. Right and thick and ready to be used with little heroic effort. It's the charming kind of package that emulates what the introduction of the Leica M3 must have been like to image makers working in the 1950's. Quiet, quick and disciplined.
I first used one at a dinner with the president of Olympus USA while I was in New York and, like some insidious addictive drug once I got some on my skin I've been orbiting closer and closer to the camera with each passing cycle. In point of fact I had no interest in the camera before I used it in the flesh. None. And now I'm making lens buying decisions with the near certainty of that camera's acquisition in my overall plans.
My experience with the Sony A7r is quite the opposite. I learned about it ahead of the initial announcement and my excitement built by the day as my introduction to the camera at the Photo Expo show drew nearer. My first thoughts were that this camera would be a wonderful partner to the Sony a99 I already own while adding more resolution, sharpness and more lens flexibility at a much lower initial price. In fact, I had liquidated my cropped frame Sony cameras and lenses in anticipation. And then the day came. I was supposed to be in the Samsung booth but before the show started I walked over to the Sony pavilion and played with the product. It was then that my whole plan began to fall apart like wet cardboard box.
Lou. Still Photograph. Old School. H-blad. Film.
Stop! Move your fingers away from the keyboard and calm down! Read the headline one more time!!! I'm not saying that hobbyists, amateurs, lovers of the print, keepers of the absolutely still flame of the still frame must have anything at all to do with moving pictures. I am ONLY making the prediction that working (paid, vocational, commercial) photographers in most modern, major metropolitan markets will need to embrace various forms of video in order to survive financially.
I'm not predicting that the still headshot will go away but I could make a pretty good argument that it will happen as the adjunct to a video interview, or vice versa. I'm not making an argument that we'll stop documenting commercial processes but I can make an even better argument that we'll be doing that still documentation in parallel with video documentation and right now you have a choice as to whether someone else in your market makes you their photo "bitch" or whether you control the entire piece of the action in the near future. Video and stills aren't really different things altogether. For procurement they both are filed under, "marketing." Not like toilet paper or toner cartridges. Clients don't see a big separation just two variations of one thing called "content."
There's only one major driver pushing this. It's the relentless increase in web bandwidth. That's where the advertising is going and if companies are paying for web placement then for the most part they are aiming for the most bang for their buck. For generations increasingly raised on video games and television the most obvious bang is coming from motion/video. It's not an emotional argument it's a math meets data points argument. And it holds water. Wherever the bang is that's where the bucks are....
At this juncture clients know us (speaking collectively about commercial photographers....) as people who are good at lighting, working with talent and composition. No one has actively sold them against using photographers to also do video. Our blind spots are the need to keep the images actually moving and the ability to edit in time. Another hazy (but learnable) spot for still camera jockeys is sound design but that's secondary and, when you start getting jobs with decent budgets it's a hire-able position. So, until someone actively points out our blind spots it's time to jump in with both feet and learn to be good video producers. And editors. And sound guys. In addition to being great still photographers.
Why? You might have lots of loyal clients but here's what's going to happen going forward: Bob Smith is your friend and client. Bob shoots a project with you every year. You go out for five days and shoot beautiful portraits of Bob's company's people in wonderful locations. Bob's company pays you nicely! But this year Bob's boss, realizing that YouTube channels are essentially free and also that video files can be sent to clients, placed on the company website and even provided (to the culturally slower potential clients) on DVD for barest fractions of the cost of a printed annual report or other four color printed brochure. And the difference in mailing costs is even more dramatic (especially since, in most cases, the digital distribution is essentially free....).
Bob's boss insists that in addition to the still photos his real interest this year is in a video "version" in which each person will be interviewed and their work processes shot as "B-Roll". Bob comes to you and asks you for a bid to cover both halves of the project. He is a savvy enough client to realize that your new DSLR will also do nice, clean video and he wants to work with you because you represent the known commodity instead of the scary and much less desirable "great unknown."
You are a purist and have NO intention of getting caught up in "This Video Fad." So you calmly explain your position of purity and career focus to Bob and suggest that he hire a video crew to do "that video part." Bob sighs and works his network, gets suggestions and hires a really nice little company that is thrilled to do the video part of the project. Bob accepts their bid and off you go. But to save money and cut down on the amount of time valuable employees will be in front of cameras Bob and the video company decide that everyone must work together so they'll be setting up the lighting they need and shooting the interviews and you'll need to "hop in there after they finished but before they break everything down" and get what you need for the stills."
Once on location you find that the light the video crew needs and the light you want to use for your branded version of still portraits is profoundly different. A meeting ensues in which you argue for your case in lighting. And you argue from the point of view that your images are the platinum target of this exercise while the video is just the whipped creme on the top. Bob's boss, who is spending five to ten times as much money on video compared to what he is spending on your photography disagrees. Bob suggests that you be a team player and learn how to modify and leverage the light the video guys are using.
While you are clearly disgruntled you finish the job professionally. So does the video team. Your face to face time with the client is over until the next project comes up but the video teams is just getting started. They will work with Bob for the next few weeks getting the project edited and treating Bob like royalty. They'll develop a good working relationship because they are good marketers. And Bob's boss loves the final product. Yours, of course, but theirs even more.
Next project rolls around and you don't hear from Bob..... You hear from one of the guys at the video production company. The initial project went very well for them and Bob and his boss have been finding more and more ways to make additional video work in their business. Now they have a relationship and have settled in comfortably with the video guys. Bob's asked them to handle production of the project you used to work on directly with Bob. Only now you'll be working as a sub contractor for the video team.
First thing to go wrong? Well.... you and Bob both understood the copyright laws and the SOP of the still business and you always owned the rights to your images and protected them so you could make more money from additional uses. But the world of video has operated in quite a different way with the clients getting ownership of the finished product at the end of each project. The video company wants to use you to make the stills but they want you to sign a "work for hire" agreement. You balk. You go back to Bob for recourse only to find that, "Bob's hands are tied on this one. The boss decided to use the video company as the sole point of contact in these projects."
You need the work so you hold your nose and sign the WFH contract, at a reduced rate from previous years, because they told you that was all they had budgeted for the still work this year. You are unhappy and you grouse but you do the project. While on the project you find yourself assisted and art directed by a nice young woman who is constantly wearing an unprofessional looking dinky mirror less camera around her neck. She pays keen attention to the way you work with the talent. She's there to help. Right now she's helping you. She'll even run and get you coffee or pull your batteries off the charger and bring them to you. In the future she'll put her on the job education to work helping the video production company do more projects like this. Ones that you were not "grandfathered" into.
The next year there is no call from Bob and there is no call from the video production company. You finally pick up the phone and call the producer to find out what happened to the project. He tells you that after the "paperwork" issues that came up last year everyone involved thought it might be easier/more cost effective/more fun/more streamlined if they just took the whole project in house. You are incensed and call Bob. Bob hems and haws and finally says that the CEO really liked the still images he's getting from the in-house photographer at the video house. Raves about how much he likes her "eye". You make an impassioned technical plea based on your envious inventory of Nikon D800s and massive investment in the world's greatest glass but Bob counters by letting you know that the millions of hits they get every year on the video work has overshadowed the effectiveness of the 5,000 copies of the $30 a piece brochure they used to send out every year. Sales are up so much as a result of the metrics generated by the video placement everywhere that, well, the print portion of the project is gone. The still images all just go to the web.
"From what we can see the photographer from the video company is using cameras that are more than good enough and she uses the video lights well." So well, in fact, that she was able to use her little mirror less camera to do some side interviews and behind the scenes video as well as portraits on the last project. "Keep in touch. I'll call you when something right for your talents comes up."
Of course it could have been played in a different way from the start. The minute clients started thinking about video you could have been on Lynda.com learning from a sea of great tutorials about how to shoot video with your DLSRs. How to move the camera. How to do basic editing. How to work with sound. And, since video is free now in terms of your own production you have ample opportunity to practice your stuff and work on editing. You don't even need to master incredibly complex video editing programs all at once. All the really matters is a nice, clean edit with a good story line. You could pull that off with your free copy of Apple's iMovie.
When Bob approached you about video you could have said, "Yes! Of course! Glad to help!" And the minute Bob got off the phone you could have hired a producer to help you bid the project, hire the crew, rent needed gear and help complete the project. If you weren't up to editing just yet you could hire an editor help you. You could have had both sides of the bid. And kept the client. And kept your business and rights models intact. And, as you spend quality time with Bob and his boss you can make them happy with your growing range of skills while at the same time reinforcing the value of your still work to them.
2014 will see the real introduction of the newest Power Mac computers which will come ready for the new 4K video (both in terms of editing and display). It will see the introduction of the Black Magic 4K video camera at a price point of under $4,.000. And it will see an ever increasing demand for video content from everyone from mom and pop businesses to the biggest corporations in the world. The growth numbers for video on the web are gigantic and accelerating. It continues to be a viable market in part because it requires both time and skills.
In forward markets (smart, highly educated markets driven by young client companies) we see a new power base growing around smaller content companies. They market scripts, motion, stills and web integration both to larger ad agencies and directly to clients. They are currently eating every part of the advertising market they can find. Could I suggest that joining this club by creating your own content company, based around stills+video, is a lot less bloody and frustrating for you than trying to grow a business playing sub-contractor to another group of photographer/videographers who were a bit faster on the draw?
2014 will be the year of capitulation. You'll learn to offer video. Or you'll learn to say, "Can I have a name for that order?." You may shake your head, confident that your little niche of still photography is immune. Believe me, it's not. It may just be a bit more insulated. This is the year the friction of the market eats through the insulators.
To the hobbyists, collectors, and enthusiasts. Yours is a totally different calling. You needn't change a thing. See how smart you are not to be in a business like this?
Disclaimer: It is very hard to accurately predict the future and so all predictions are opinions. The above is the opinion of the VSL senior research staff. It does not have to be your opinion. Your reality may vary. Your perceptions my be different. That doesn't make this content wrong. Don't like the prediction? Neither do I. But I'd rather have the diagnosis and the tools to manage the condition than sticking my head into a sand pile and pretending that nothing will ever change. Just do the research...