First, let’s define who you are. Are you a working professional in production? A hobbyist? A newbie who has just stuck their foot into the water? A line that has become blurred over the past decade or so is the one between professional and hobbyist as far as gear and what each person needs a given piece of gear to deliver to them as a result. There’s also the process, how the gear interfaces and performs for the user. Generally, let’s define a professional user as one who’s producing content for paying clients. It’s really pretty simple, clients hire you, pay you, you produce professional content for them, etc.
A hobbyist is pretty much self-explanatory, you produce content for fun or possibly for an occasional side gig like shooting stock footage. A hobbyist generally doesn’t have a paying client or client team, deadlines and an approval process, things that pros deal with on a daily basis. Being a media pro or a hobbyist, generally one isn’t better or worse than the other, although making a living producing media becomes more and more difficult with each passing year, but that’s a subject for another blog entry.
When you’re using gear for professional work, generally you want to purchase or rent the most professional gear you can afford on your budget. Professional gear is often, but not always, defined not only by its end output, but by the ergonomics of its design, how easy it is to setup and use under stressful or adverse conditions. Generally, a professional level device will also offer high-quality output, codec options, maximum interfaces and options for accessories and so on. Most importantly, we expect pro level gear to be more reliable than consumer gear.
Back in the era of film cameras, there seemed to be only two options, pro and consumer. When we look at film cameras before the age of video, consumers used something small and simple like a Kodak Box camera. It used a simple wind up motor, had a fixed focus lens and very few controls other than a way to set aperture/exposure and a record button. A pro level film camera of the same era had changeable lenses, a much more sophisticated mechanism with more options for shutter angle, focusing, film transport with removable magazines, etc. It was a more sophisticated device for a professional. In about the 1990s, when video was well entrenched, we started to see a new type of device, often referred to as “Prosumer.” A prosumer device, as you might have figured out, was a blend of a consumer device and a professional device. It had more features and options than the consumer device, but generally still lacked the build quality, robustness and full feature set of a professional device.
Why focus on this in 2018? Because all around us, in the video market, the lines have become even more blurred. Take a camera like the Panasonic GH5. Is it a professional video camera that takes stills? A still camera that shoots video? Is it built to professional standards? Does it shoot professional formats to pro media? Can it take a beating and stand up to operational abuse like a pro camera generally can? You’ll have to reach your own conclusions, but I can tell you that the GH5, as an example, is often used in broadcast and even to create feature films. The GH5 is a perfect example of a prosumer camera that has transcended the definition, largely because Panasonic has crammed so much amazing technology into a small, very capable camera that costs less than $3,000. Comparing the GH5 to a costly professional camera like the Sony Venice, Canon C700 FF or Arri Alexa is interesting. The much more expensive cameras look better, but the gap is surprisingly small if the operator knows how to shoot and light well. But generally, the much more expensive pro cameras will be built more ruggedly than a consumer or prosumer camera.
There’s another way to look at how a camera’s classification can become important. Take GoPros, Garmin and other action cameras. They fulfill a very specific function, photographing sports or other activities under adverse conditions, under and around water, snow, mud, hanging off of the side of race cars, planes, boats and in other adverse conditions. Action cameras are an amazing feat of engineering but most are constructed for the consumer market. Unfortunately for the working professional, relying on action cameras can be a frustrating experience.
On a project I have been shooting, we’re shooting outrigger racing boats. We’ve been affixing between six and 10 GoPros on the boats for the past year. We’ve learned that relying on GoPros for professional results in this application has been challenging. If you mount a stock GoPro onto one of these boats, the first challenge is water drops splashing onto the lens of the housing and drying and, in doing so, obscuring the view of the talent who’s on camera. We tried half a dozen solutions, ranging from Hydrophobic drops that we place onto the housing all of the way to dedicated glass hydrophobic lens port covers. We had varying results with each solution, and it took testing to find out what would repel the water drops the best.
The next issue is battery life. The stock GoPro battery on the Hero 5 and 6 only records about 40 to 45 minutes. Our subjects have to paddle out to the starting line, which in itself can take almost an hour for certain races. The races themselves last 2 to 3 hours and the boats never stop to allow us to change the batteries. We purchased extended batteries from a company called Re-Fuel. These larger batteries allowed the GoPros to record up to 4 to 6 hours on one battery. Unfortunately, the additional heat the larger batteries put out caused the Go Pros to heat up, fogging up the housing and, at times, overheating the camera and causing it to shut down. We had to switch from our older Hero 4s to Hero 5s and 6s to mitigate the overheating and fogging issues since the Hero 5 and 6 don’t use a housing.
The latest issue is that GoPros can only record to 2.7k or 4k resolutions to 128 GB UHD Class 3 micro SD cards. This allows for approximately four hours of recording, but we’re shooting an upcoming race that will last six hours. 256 GB Micro SD cards exist, but according to GoPro, none of them are rated to or will work reliably in the camera. So, we’re stuck with the 128 GB cards. With all of these issues, we typically have two to four of our 10 GoPros that will malfunction, shut down prematurely, run out of battery or card or the lens will end up with various smears of dried saltwater that obscures part or all of the frame, even with the hydrophobic covers placed on the lenses.
Go Pros are wonderful devices but are decidedly built for a consumer, not a pro. We have a difficult job requirement, but unfortunately, there aren’t really any pro level action cameras, they’re all essentially consumer cameras. Hence our dilemma, we have to run a consumer camera in a high-level professional application because there isn’t really any reasonable alternative.
If someone built a robust, pro-level action camera, even if it sold for $1,200, about three times the cost of a GoPro Hero 6, it would have an audience of people wanting to buy it or rent it because GoPros aren’t robust enough to count on for professional applications and use. The bottom line is that as a working video pro, you may have to use consumer or prosumer devices to do professional work. It can be by choice, but sometimes, you don’t really have other alternatives. Cross your fingers when you use these devices!