A few years ago, a little company with a little consumer camera made the pro video scene. They showed their wares at NAB and placed them in the hands of a few shooters with massive Twitter audiences. Initially, GoPro was seen as a novelty, a cool little tool that delivered good video and nice stills. Since then, GoPro has upped their game by making steady improvements to performance while still keeping costs low. The size and price of the camera empowered filmmakers to achieve incredible effects shots for a fraction of the cost. No dolly, Steadicam or follow focus was needed, and if you thrashed one, it was no great loss.
I've found freedom using the GoPro for time-lapse capture on the hood of my car, traveling across the U.S. in winter. This is something I would never try with my EOS camera simply because of the additional gear, technical logistics and hazards it would pose to my camera. With the GoPro, I fixed the camera to the hood with a suction-cup mount, set it to capture an exposure once every two seconds, and now I have a nice bit of original content that fits with some other projects.
The problem was if your "A" or "B" cameras were ALEXAs or EPICs, the drop in image quality would be a factor to contend with in post. Post houses can make it happen, but it's costly. Until recently, massaging the footage to fit in with your other coverage could cost as much as getting another cinema camera. To overcome this, GoPro partnered with Technicolor. Technicolor adapted their CineStyle color profile (originally developed for the Canon EOS 5D Mark II) for the HERO2. They did this for the same reasons Canon did: to enable colorists to match GoPro footage with footage from other cinema cameras.
GoPro's latest, the HERO3 Black Edition, boasts full 4K resolution that brings it out of consumer land and into the world of motion-picture production. The democratization of filmmaking continues. Sounds great, right?
Now that you can feasibly cut in short GoPro shots to your professional edit timeline, is "good enough" technology going to cut it with cinematographers? Could a smaller, inexpensive, full-auto camera hurt the art of cinematography?
After talking with a few DPs and camera manufacturers, the answer is "possibly." Let's face it, if you're a manufacturer and potential customers are just as happy with the feature set of a camera that costs pennies on the dollar of your camera, why would you spend a dime on R&D? Why strive to exceed your previous benchmarks if something much more simplistic and inexpensive will sell just as well? In any event, the HERO3 Black will disrupt the cinema camera market; however, manufacturers have proven themselves to be resilient in the face of new technology.
But for me, the real issue is the camera's full-auto matrix. If one eliminates the need for trained individuals to achieve the right lighting and focus, is there a need for a cinematographer and his or her crew? Of course, this notion is completely far-fetched, especially since GoPros are primarily used by snowboarders and skateboarders to capture dynamic action shots to upload to their social-media sites. Who would use a GoPro as an "A" camera on a real movie? Well, consider this. The idea that GoPro may ascend from a mere effects camera to an "A" camera is less far-fetched than the notion of a consumer camera entering the arena of motion pictures at all. And that was the case less than five years ago.