Do you know what video looks like?

The 80’s brought us great things. Leg warmers, Indiana Jones, Thundercats, Pat Sharp’s hair… and the video camcorder.

In 1983 Sony released the first consumer camcorder – the Betamovie BMC-100P. It was cumbersome, but for the first time it allowed people to cheaper capture moving images directly onto relatively inexpensive tapes. Before the Betamovie, there was only film which cost money to both buy and develop.

The Betamovie allowed for instant playback and above all it was cheap. Videography was born. With it came an aesthetic that has become known as the video-look. Made up of lines or pixels – an electronic image with none of the organic qualities of film. It’s that look that filmmakers working on video have been trying to shed since its inception.

The past decade has been good to videographers. We’ve seen the rise of HD camera systems which let us get closer to the picture quality of film – but there was still the problem of the aesthetic. There is much less control of the picture in video – the biggest difference being the use of film lenses and control over the Depth of Field.

Simply put, the depth of field is the area that your camera sees as being in focus. With film, it is easy to get a narrow depth of field and therefore focus on just one particular object or person in a scene rather than everything being in focus at once.

What’s with all the technical jargon? Why’s this important?

It’s all about storytelling. Video, like film, is a visual medium. The more control you have over your image, the better you can tell the story. With a shallow depth of field, you can more easily draw a viewer’s attention to what’s important in a scene.

A few years ago, a solution to this problem began to appear. Called the 35mm adapter, these devices attach in front of the lens of your camera. To describe how it works, I turn my entry over to Wikipedia:

“A DOF adapter focuses an image onto a translucent screen (similar to how one would look at a focused image through a system camera’s viewfinder) located between an external lens and the camera’s main lens. The camcorder is able to frame this intermediate screen by focusing in macro mode. The principle is similar to pointing a video camera at a movie screen. The lens attached to the adapter now takes the job of the camcorder’s focusing and aperture mechanisms. The camcorder’s only responsibility at this point is to record what is being projected onto the focusing screen”

It’s a simple but effective system that produces gorgeous film-like images on just about any type of camcorder right up to professional broadcast models. It finally put professional lens choices in the hands of the independent and corporate film-maker. Although there is obviously extra cost involved in buying a camera AND an adapter AND lenses — it is still far cheaper a solution than shooting on film.

There’s just one rather big problem: Light loss.

I’ll save the boring science bit on this one, but basically by the time light has travelled through the film/photography lens, the adapter and the camera lens it’s a lot less bright. This means you need more light to actually be able to create a usable image – a big problem for the low-budget filmmaker or documentarian. If you’re filming indoor practical locations with no studio lighting – it might just be too dark for the adapters.

Enter the HD-shooting Digital SLR. In late-2008, Canon released the 5D Mark II. A full-frame digital stills camera that could also shoot full 1080p HD video with professional lens options… in any situation right down to candlelight. Although it has its problems, it finally put a usable tool for creating video with a film-look in the hands of the masses.

Doubters to this claim only need look at the work of Philip BloomStill Motion or our own Clothes Show Live TVC to see the beautiful images this camera can capture. We’re making a big investment in the technology over the next few weeks to build an in-house shooting kit based around the Canon 7D. With the RED Scarlet on the horizon and constant new developments from the DSLR manufacturers — it’s going to be an exciting year for video in 2010.

Still know what video looks like?

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