I spent this morning looking at a new camera from Canon. It’s fancy, it has all kinds of great features and it satisfies a number of requirements I have for a camera. Do I need it? No. Do I want it? Kind of. I do not believe that it has been released yet but given how the world of cameras works there are many, many reviews of this camera on YouTube. And I doubt I will watch any of them (but if I did it would most likely be Gerald Undone or Potato Jet).
I have not been writing about cameras as much as I used to and, in part, this is because I’ve stopped paying attention to the new models. I’ve discovered that for all of the interest I may have in new cameras and amazing features I do not need anything more than I have. Which is somewhat disappointing as the most popular posts I have all concern cameras. Only I’m not writing here to be popular. I’ve been vocal about trying to figure out why I am write here and my absolute confusion as to what I should post on this site. I am not certain of the answer still. I am certain that I do not what to be a reviewer or someone who chases after what is popular.
All of this thought about the new camera (The Canon R5C) made me think about how different things are now compared to when I first started learning about cameras online. When I bought bought my first proper camera (the DVX 100B) there were not a lot of websites reviewing these cameras. There certainly were not thousands of people on YouTube putting out weekly reviews. What was truly different then was that the cameras I was concerned with were being reviewed from the perspective of how good they were for making films.
By making films I mean feature films being the purpose of these cameras. It was exciting and interesting and all of these famous filmmakers were extolling the virtues of having less expensive cameras for making movies. Steven Soderbergh was shooting films on a prosumer Canon camera (which I shot my first music video on) and Sidney Pollack accidentally did the same (Sketches of Frank Gehry). A new company called RED was going to make a camera and their goal was to have it be inexpensive enough that anyone could make a movie with it, removing the largest hurdle for making movies (I should point out that Jared Land also created DVXuser.com a website/forum that was instrumental in providing me with information regarding filmmaking gear).
Now when I see reviews of new cameras nearly everyone is talking about whether it would be good for YouTube. Or weddings. Or some other thing that is not making feature films. Which makes absolute sense as there are millions of people making YouTube videos now. More people are making a living from creating videos for YouTube and other social media platforms than they are from making feature films. It’s just that these same people absolutely do not need amazing cameras to do what they are doing.
About a year ago I found myself watching video after video from YouTube filmmaker Peter McKinnon. I had heard about him for a while and never really found myself watching what he made. For some reason I watched one of his earliest videos and liked it. So I started from the beginning and watched what he made in chronological order. The videos were interesting, they were fun and it was a good way to pass the time in the middle of a pandemic. Then I came across a video where he visited the YouTube studio of someone who went by MKBHD. I had seen his image before but did not know him. It was a decent video, not overly interesting to me but there were two points where it had my attention fully.
The first was when Marques Brownlee was discussing the “sound traps” in his studio which allowed him to record anywhere in the giant space and still have great audio. That was news to me, I had not heard of those before. The other was when he was trying to convince Mr. McKinnon to invest in getting a Red camera. In case you don’t know until two years ago Red cameras were expensive. That initial dream of making affordable cameras for filmmakers never really happened. The least expensive model now sells for about $6,000. The cameras that these two were discussing were all at least double that amount.
I’m delving deep into this one episode but the reason is the arguments presented – shooting in 8k resolution was “future proofing” and that these cameras were vastly superior – were not really valid to Peter McKinnon at the time. He was using a Canon 1DX mark ii (I believe) a $5,000 camera geared more toward still photography than video. Still, an excellent camera and one he had been using for quite some time to make his successful YouTube channel with. I watched a few more videos of Mr. McKinnon’s and what appears on screen? A Red camera.
I just wrote three paragraphs to say something that should be one sentence – if you are making YouTube videos where 90% of what you film is yourself talking to the camera don’t spend a lot of money. Despite so many of these people promoting their Aputure lights and Sennheiser microphones if it’s just your face talking at the camera you don’t need expensive anything. Good lighting will make a better looking image just as a good microphone will make your voice sound better but at the end of the day it’s just a person talking to a camera. If people are willing to watch you do that then you can certainly save thousands of dollars and have it look and sound a bit worse.
I seem to have gone off topic here, I apologize. My frustration regarding the world of YouTube, cameras and making short or long form films/videos/content is that all of the focus on gear seems driven by the companies making and selling it. That so many people have a business that consists of reviewing filmmaking equipment on YouTube speaks volumes as to how weird this has gotten. I find it incredibly difficult to find people making actual films whereas if I want to watch a review about the new Panasonic S5 mark ii there are dozens that will come up with my first search.
There seems to be a disconnect between making films and making content and it’s interesting to see that few people make both. Which is not to say that I have not found people that do (Mark Bone in particular comes to mind as does Brady Bessette) but it certainly is rare. In a previous post I shared a clip from a podcast from Corridor Digital with Freddie Wong who had been part of a YouTube channel (RocketJump) and decided to leave in order to make films. I am happy to report he has done this and below I am sharing a video he made with Aputure and his director of photography Bongani Mlambo. It’s short and it’s interesting take a look:
I feel like I tread and retread this ground often with little positivity to add. I’d like to end this post by saying there’s nothing wrong with using great gear. I found it interesting to see videos from Peter McKinnon last year where he started purging all of his large and expensive gear (The Red camera included) because he doesn’t need it. What I like about the above video is when they speak about gear used on this shoot (the video is on the Aputure channel so…) they aren’t talking about using the biggest and best gear. They are highlighting products from this company and explaining why they chose to use what they used. Somehow the feeling I get from someone saying, “I made this and here is how I did it,” is more palatable than someone saying, “If you are going to make something, use this,”. Perhaps that is just personal preference.