Monday, 4 September 2017

My time at university as a film student

I started university at a very interesting time for film/video technology. It was 2009 and I had only been using a solid state video camera for 9 months. This was around the time when 35mm DOF adapters were the craze and the must have accessory for getting that coveted "film look". Many people were still using mini-DV camcorders, the same format that many of the early high def camcorders used. There were no separate tapes for high definition, HDV was a format that simply recorded high definition footage onto a standard mini-DV tape. My only experience using HDV was in sixth form that year when the school bought an entry level "professional" Sony camera to use for the newly founded (and short lived) school television channel. At the time, I had just about forgotten how awkward and annoying tapes were, since I had transitioned to the SD card format only three months prior.

However, when I started my film technology course at university, September 2009, they were still issuing first years Canon XL1 cameras. This camera was used extensively in Danny Boyle's 2002 movie 28 Days Later so it was interesting to make use of the same technology. The footage from the camera was okay with decent colour thanks to the 3CCD spec but the picture was 4:3 only. Its saving grace was the ability to changes lenses, something that was quite rare for the format. Despite this, we only ever used or had access to the default lens. Another interesting implication was when our lecturer told us not to use Sony brand DV tapes...Even though these were the only brand sold in the Student Shop. So there we were, a class full of students, eagerly waiting to take these cameras home for testing but unable to do so because of dodgy tapes. Thankfully, I had an unused Panasonic tape knocking about in storage at home so didn't have any issues. However, I believe some students took a chance and used the Sony tapes but later encountered problems with corrupt video/missing audio. 

In second semester, we had the opportunity to use a slightly better video camera, whose name escapes me. After first year, we never touched tape again and it wasn't missed. We now had access to the infinitely superior solid state high definition Panasonic HMC-151. During 2011, the DSLR revolution had begun, and my fellow third years were spending their students loans and grants on Canon DSLRs and lenses. That coveted film look was now a doddle with a T2i and 50mm 1.4 lens. Because it was now so easy, our lecturers sighed at the sudden influx of shallow depth of field films that saturated assignment submissions that year. Apparently a poor narrative could be forgiven when the background (and actors' ears) was out of focus. Gone were the days of complex, cumbersome, expensive and exposure darkening depth of field adapters. You could now make nice looking films using equipment worth only a few hundred pounds.  

I'm no stranger to the DSLR craze. I used borrowed ones for assignments before finally getting my own in 2012 and made good use of it for my Final Year Project film. I still use it to this day, for corporate videos with a shoulder rig to make up for that fact that it's not a proper video camera. It seems many of the major camera manufacturers became aware of the DSLR's popularity and subsequently released dedicated video cameras that offer the same large sensor and interchangeable lens capability as their DSLRs. The DSLR video revolution may be over soon but it's still a preferred solution among many film makers. Will it head the same way as mini-DV? A few years ago, I felt nostalgic about the tape format and dug out my venerable JVC camcorder. I thought it would be quite interesting to apply my current cinematography and tech knowledge to try and make something with this camera again, hopefully producing something better than my 12 year old self.

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