|An NAB attendee tries out the new 4k Black Magic Cinema Camera|
The 5D's full frame size sensor not only fulfilled the dreams of video camera enthusiasts whom longed for shallow depth of field and low-light sensitivity but it also dramatically changed the aesthetic of much of the content we now view. During the early 2000s, television dramas were still often shot on celluloid. Am I not the only one surprised to learn that Lost was shot on 35mm film! Perhaps not so surprising since at the time shooting on 35mm would have made a lot of sense aesthetically if producers were hoping to achieve a cinematic look. Even in Cinema it was not until the early 00s that the first big releases of digital cinema were produced. Some of the earliest examples were: Once Upon a Time in Mexico and Star Wars Episode II : Attack of the Clones.
In 2004, we began to see television shows like Desperate Housewives shot using a combination of film and digital cameras, including the still used Arri Alexa. Conveniently and/or coincidentally, reality type shows like Desperate Housewives were prominent during this time and the documentary style of these programs allowed audiences to be more forgiving of their crude digital aesthetic.
Contrast the quality between two low light situations from season 1 and season 9 of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations:
Camera sensors like the one found in Canon's 5D which is similar in size to 35mm film has altered viewer expectations. It has become commonplace to see images on television that compare to cinematic images. The emphasis on resolution, dynamic range, and depth of field have become some of the key areas where camera manufacturers are working hard to develop.
Dynamic range is probably the most exciting frontier right now and the ability to shoot in a raw format is key. RED was the first camera producer to build a camera that shot raw at a price point that independent filmmakers could budget for, starting around the $6-10k range. Then Blackmagic Design released their cinema camera. Its $2,999 price tag shook the industry a year and a half or so ago and just this past month they released a 4k version of their cinema camera at $3,999 and a "pocket" version at just $999. All three cameras shoot raw while the resolution and sensor size varies.
|Playing with the Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera|
It was hardly surprising that Blackmagic used a '60s style test set that resembled the set of Mad Men (an exemplar of modern quality television, shot on an Alexa) at their booth at NAB. Today's television viewers are accustomed to high production value programs that mimic the look of film. Digital video technology has enabled creatives to produce this aesthetic or perhaps the technology has even dictated a certain aesthetic.
For now, for people who love the look of film, this is a good thing. It seems to me that now more than ever filmmakers have greater control over the look of their work. For instance, the limits to which colorists can control the look of video has been greatly extended with the use of a raw format. There is much more aesthetic variety in even the commercials we see on TV now. I was stopped in my tracks when I saw this commercial aired. It is beautifully shot and colored and well, honestly, unexpected for an Oscar Mayer commercial:
Optimistically speaking, what this new technology offers us most generally is greater aesthetic freedom. And while I am enjoying this period of what some call a television renaissance or a period of quality television, I fear that what we might be experiencing is perhaps a period of aestheticism. It will be fascinating to see over the next few years how imaging technology allows for high and low art to merge, collaborate and intermingle aesthetically.