Now is the era of media and technology convergence – where devices have developed to perform more than one job.
There used to be a clear distinction between professional cameras designed for taking photos and cameras designed for moving images.
More and more, however, we have seen more devices that are capable of both – shooting still and moving images almost to the same level of quality.
Partly, this is due to the emergence of digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras. With a simple flick of a switch, you turn the camera from one that shoots stills, to one that can shoot high-quality video footage.
These new breed of cameras are incredibly powerful. I once interviewed a director who made a film partly set in nightclubs.
Nightclubs are notoriously hard to replicate artificially, so to engender the authenticity he desired, he grabbed two digital SLRs and went into a club in Edinburgh and simply joined in the party, occasionally taking out the camera as though to take stills of the revellers on the dancefloor.
The resulting footage was part of a UK-wide cinema release, those party people now the size of a multiplex screen.
However, one issue has persisted: the length of time you can film each shot on these cameras, which has often been limited to 12 minutes. In earlier models, this was sometimes to do with the rather modest four gigabytes of storage on the cameras, or the cameras overheating as they were unable to process lengthy high definition video.
However, as technology has improved, more recent models have been redesigned to overcome heating issues, and storage capacity has also improved. This limit, therefore, is now somewhat arbitrary, and interestingly less to do with the file size of the footage and storage capacity of the camera, or the processor overheating. The limit is entirely a legal constraint. In 2006 the EU made the decision that – for tax reasons – these high-end digital cameras were to be classified not as cameras, but as the argument was made that they could also be hooked up to the television to record TV.
The main manufacturers of digital SLRs tend to be Japanese companies such as Nikon and Canon, and that meant a 5-12% customs tax on their imports of those cameras into the EU including (at that point, of course!) the UK.
In response, the manufacturers, therefore, limited the recording time on these DLSRs, so that they might still be considered cameras, and prices could stay down as they could skirt under the new customs duty.
A new and very recent development is that the World Trade Organisation may now override the EU’s call. Their idea is to add video cameras to something called the Information Technology Agreement, with the USA notably keen to push that through.
This would obviously free up SLR manufacturers to loosen the recording limit, something filmmakers are obviously very keen to see, in an environment where web videos are now ubiquitous, and the need for a visual presence key to any business.
Canon has already made the first move. Their 5D Mark III model already extends that single shot limit from 12, to around 30, minutes. The Mark III will set you back around £2700, but for that you get a professional camera that can handle both stills and longer high definition video.
The likelihood is that this will improve professional web video – and indeed cinematic -production capabilities, and only add to what we are able to manage at Hyperfine.