Ryan E. Walters, Cinematographer

Cinematic Excellence at 24 Frames a Second

Dear Camera Manufacturers (An Open Letter For The New Year)

Over the last several years I have noticed a disturbing trend among camera manufacturers that seems to be influencing more companies, and setting a standard for how cameras are designed and released to the market. And it is not in a positive direction. As we begin this year with a clean slate, I want to see this trend reversed. So camera manufacturers, here is my letter to you, from an avid user of your products, and constant contributor to your bottom line...

Dear Camera Manufacturer,

Wow, what an amazing last decade this has been! It wasn't that long ago that you were making tape based 1/3" CCD cameras that would be lucky if they recorded more than 6 stops of dynamic range. They were the ugly, redheaded step-child of the motion picture business. More of a curiosity than a real tool for professionals. Times sure have changed, haven't they? Thanks to your continual innovation, and development of technology, you have almost single handedly killed film- the oldest and most reliable motion picture capture device known to humankind. Whether or not that is a good thing will always be up for debate. But the fact that the vast majority of content these days is being shot on digital cameras that you produced, and that so many professionals now shoot on digital speaks to the profound impact that your work has had on the industry.

In fact, I want to take a bit of a walk down memory lane, back to one of the first digital cameras that began the digital revolution in the first place, the VX1000.

I wasn't one of the lucky ones who got to use this revolutionary camera. No, my first camera was the VX2000. But I do remember those days like it was yesterday. You were excited about the advancements you had made, and I was more than happy to put my hard earned cash on the counter to acquire it. In fact, you were so eager to make sure that I had a good user experience that you rigorously tested your camera, and made sure that it was ready for prime time. You cared so much that you even did little things, like make sure that all of the features worked when the camera first shipped. If the camera had a zoom lens on it, I knew I could use the zoom buttons to zoom the lens. If it could record audio, I knew that when I reviewed my footage, I would hear audio. And other crazy little things like being able to monitor the image using the external ports on the camera straight out of the box when you first shipped it to me. Yeah, those were really good times!

I know these days are different. You are essentially putting super computers onto sensors, and adding a lens mount. That is no small task! And you have done an amazing job at accomplishing it! I also appreciate that you continue to give me "free upgrades" to my camera via firmware downloads. That is awfully considerate of you. :) However, I really would appreciate it if we could return to the earlier days when all of the features worked correctly in the first place. The promise of "Someday it will work, when we get around to fixing the problem with a firmware update" just doesn't bring the warm fuzzies to me that I used to associate with your brand, and with the experience I had using your earlier cameras.

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And then remember how you had to compete with those "other" manufacturers to stand out in the marketplace? Do you remember how you managed to differentiate yourself? That's right- you not only took the time to listen to user feedback, but you implemented it into the camera design. And I loved you all the more for it!

You began to craft the tools we needed with the connections we wanted in order to make them useful in real world applications. With the DVX100, you gave me things like 24p, real professional connections like XLR's, the ability to adjust scene files, and you even gave me cine-like gammas! I was so enamored by your product that I bought two of your DVX100a's. And from what I remember of your marketing campaign at the time, you were not touting these cameras as professional cinema cameras- they were consumer/prosumer grade. But you still gave me all of those features! So what happened? Why are you reverting back to headphone jack connectors for the audio in port on a $10,000+ cinema camera? When I bought my DVX100a's they were about $3,000 each, and they had full XLR's with phantom power, not these 1/4" non-powered connections.

I understand that this may be your first camera. And I get that you may have come from another field, and you have built your company from scratch. I commend you for that! That is no easy task! I know you have assembled a very talented team. But the motion picture industry has been around for about 100 years, and there are thousands of people who you can call upon who would gladly help you avoid many of these issues during the design stage. Please tap into this wealth of knowledge and experience. The wheel doesn't need to be reinvented from the ground up, but it does need updating. You've asked for, and listened to, my feedback before. What has changed? Was it something I said? I honestly just want to help you make the best product possible. After all, I'm the one using it. And the more I enjoy using it, the more I'll recommend it to my peers.

As you grew in your design and manufacturing abilities, you upped the ante yet again by focusing on ergonomics.

You gave me the XL2, and those lovely Canon skin tones! I couldn't wait to sell my DVXs to get ahold of this camera! From the moment I unboxed it, I could tell this would be a camera I would enjoy shooting with. It sat comfortably on my shoulder. The EVF was clear, crisp, free of rainbow artifacts; it didn't have any strobing, and yet it didn't weigh a ton. This was a camera that was meant to be used day in and day out. And I put it through its paces. If you want me to be consistently using your product, and recommending it to my peers, ergonomics go a long way in shaping my perception of what you make. It still blows my mind that I have to buy a rig that costs as much, if not more than, the camera itself in order to make it tolerable to use. Bricks are great design ideas for buildings, doorstops, and paperweights- not for cameras. I know you can do better - I've experienced it firsthand!

Not one to stand still, you continued to raise the stakes and push technology forward with the ability to record HD footage to solid state media!

Although I was disappointed that you took a step back in the ergonomics department with the HVX200, I was willing to trade that for the time I saved in post, even with the high cost of your proprietary P2 cards. The fact that I could record 4:2:2 1080p to an internal card in the camera and then not have to spend countless hours ingesting tape after tape was unbelievable. The first time I copied a P2 card to my edit system, I was jumping for joy, and was so grateful to you. You literally gave me my evenings back! I can't thank you enough for that. And while I appreciate that you continue to keep things tapeless, I have a question. What is up with this fascination lately of building cameras that can't record their own codecs? Has there been mass miscommunication in-between departments? Or has the tough economy meant that you've had to lay off a whole department, not allowing you to correctly design a camera that can record it's own codec? I don't understand how this got overlooked? You're not getting kickbacks from companies like Codex, are you? I know they make a great product; don't misunderstand me. And the camera does look pretty cool with all those extra cables and parts hanging off of the back. But when it gets right down to it, I'm MOST interested in a camera that can record the format it is creating. I've seen you do it. You can't fool me, I know it can be done. :)

I really do appreciate all of the hard work you have put in to developing new technology and continuing the advancement of motion picture capture. In fact, it is precisely because I care so much about the future of motion picture capture, and the fact that I want you to be around for the next 100 years of filmmaking, that I have taken the time to write this letter to you. These days, as the end user, I feel like I'm in a constant game of bait and switch. Please return to delivering a product that is ready to use; not something that is half-baked, not fully functioning, and is really your beta test program. If it doesn't work now, then it isn't ready to announce or to ship. I'm a grownup; I have self control, and I can wait. :) Please return to using industry standard connections. If the body has to be 1/4" bigger, and it goes from weighing 3 lbs to 3.5 lbs, I'm ok with that. Remember, I'm used to working with the much bigger and heavier cameras you used to make. Please move away from the brick design. It is not wasted space if the camera is easier, and more friendly to use and work with. And finally, I beg you to make sure that during the design process, you are creating a camera that has all of the necessary parts to make it function out of the box. Research and trial and error are great during the design and testing phase, but not so much when I'm out in the field. It is very frustrating when I can't get two separate pieces of camera gear created by two independent companies to talk to one another and each company's tech support is pointing the finger at the other company. That's just not cool...

Remember, I'm on your side. I've loved using your product in the past, and I want to love it as much today as I did back then. You've done an amazing job at advancing technology. Just don't forget where you came from and the values you had at the beginning of this digital revolution. We're in this together!

Well, I have to run. It is time for me to get out there and shoot. ;)

An Avid User & Financial Supporter Of Digital Cinema Cameras,
Ryan E. Walters

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