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Choose your weapon: SLR versus video camera for filmmaking

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#1 adamhanlon

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Posted 09 February 2015 - 02:31 PM

Wetpixel posted Jonathan Bird's excellent article listing his thoughts about the advantages of video camera over SLRs for filmmaking on the front page. The aim in doing so was to create a debate about the relative merits of each type of camera.

 

http://wetpixel.com/...-for-filmmaking

 

Hence I started this thread to allow the discussion to spill over. Please feel free to list your thoughts and comments about the issues raised:


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#2 Oceanshutter

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Posted 09 February 2015 - 07:21 PM

Looks like I need to stop filming or just switch to a Go Pro.....

 

I am sure Jonathan Bird is a well respected underwater filmmaker.  But for him to dump on an entire group of videographers is a bit juvenile.  I will first off state, that I am very self critical of my own footage, and realize some of the short comings it has.  But having said that, I think the quality DSLR's put out are excellent.  And to be honest, I think 99% of the world would be hard pressed to tell the difference between a RED and Canon DSLR.  Looking at Mr. Birds shots on his website, I believe I could get 95% of them with a DSLR.  And on top of that, I could get some shots he couldn't....Not only that, but looking at his footage, I would have to say that I prefer the look of a DSLR compared to his.  I am sure with his type of shooting, he has picked the right tool for the job he needs to do.  But I don't get slamming everyone else who love to shoot with DSLR's.

 

Some of these are my opinion, but a few things stuck out to me....

 

  • SLRs typically have lousy audio interfaces, minimal audio controls and substandard audio quality. Audio needs to be handled separately. - Last I checked you don't really need great Audio underwater.  Sure topside interviews might miss it, but I don't think the majority of people do that.  An Zoom H4N can do the trick....  
  • The DSLR has awkward ergonomics for video. Again, you can work around it, but it’s a pain.  - This is true....But guess what, ever think you need a smaller housing to fit into tight spots?  I do all the time.  A huge camera wouldn't work in a bunch of shots I've.  To me this is a wash....And you can get a DSLR housing ergonomic...it just takes being creative.  

  • SLRs have sensors designed for still photos, with 16+ megapixels.  - Again, what he says is true....but today's technology is so good, that it is hard for anyone to tell the difference.  Sure if you want to get technical, he may be right.  But is this really noticeable in the end product?  Again 99% of people won't know.  Just go film!

  • Amateurs are now happy to shoot video with a GoPro or the video mode on their point and shoot because it’s small and convenient. Sure, the video is awful, but as they aren’t working for National Geographic, who cares?  This statement kind of pisses me off.  I don't shoot for NG, and I am not satisfied with a GoPro...He is demeaning anyone who doesn't shoot for NG, should be shooting a GoPro.

  • A large sensor on an underwater camera is great for light gathering but extremely hard to get in focus. Depth of field is working against you here. When you see your work on a large monitor, you will be shocked how much of it is totally out of focus.  -  Actually, with a Wide Angle lens its really easy to focus.  My guess is some of his stuff if out of focus too....Macro is where is gets a little harder.  I agree macro on a traditional video camera is easier...but I will stack my macro up against anyones.  OF course his is more documentary, and mine is more artsy...again  what are you going for?
  • One of the greatest gifts of underwater video cameras is the URPRO “flip filter” to selectively add or remove filtration for natural light white balancing.  Again, this is my opinion against his, but personally I hate red filters.  They don't seem natural at all to me.  You can pick it out on any shot that uses them.  I prefer a good ole' Manual White Balance with a DSLR.  The picture in my opinion is much better.
  • Dedicated video cameras have par-focal zooms with macro. You can shoot everything from a nudibranch to a whale shark with the same rig on the same dive.  The real question is how often do you do that?  I tend to go on dives and have a plan with specific things I want to shoot.  If I am in Lembeh, and a Manta swims by...oh well...I am there to shoot something specific.  If I am socorro, I am not there to shoot nudibranchs..I can't even think of a specific dive, where I have really regretted a lens choice....Do you homework and you will have the right lens on.
  • Can you get decent underwater video from a DSLR? Sure, sometimes. If you are shooting video where color isn’t that important (or you have some big lights on the rig), there isn’t a lot of fine detail that will suffer from aliasing and moiré, and you get it in focus, it will look fine. But in the vast majority of situations, a video camera in a proper video housing will produce a superior image.  -  Naaa...color isn't important.  This is a ridiculous statement.  I have had Howard Hall compliment my films saying that he thought that the color I was getting out of my Canon was better than his RED EPIC...certainly you get other advantages out of the RED, but I thought that was a great compliment.  Even if it didn't, for him to say that, to me tells me that the color is pretty good.
  • If you really want to shoot decent video, think seriously about a dedicated video camera in a dedicated video housing.  - How about everyone just go out and shoot some video of some awesome stuff underwater!!  Pick the right camera for you, and don't listen to people pigeon hole you into their opinions.

Video Cameras have a lot to offer, but so do DSLR's.  DSLR's are cheaper for similar quality video, backup cameras are easy, smaller, easier to travel with, great optics, and certainly more flexible.  Me personally, I am waiting to upgrade my Canon 5d Mark II, which by the way still produces awesome video!, with hopefully a new Canon DSLR that can shoot 4k at 30 fps.  I think Canon WB's is fantastic, and their lens selection is second to none.  Heck, if the sony a7s did internal 4k and could WB, I would buy that today.

 

To be honest, I read this article a few days ago, and it kind of made me angry.  Stop telling people what they are doing is wrong, and just encourage people to pick up any camera they can get a hold of and start being creative!  If thats a go pro, or a photographer with a dslr that might try video and end up loving it...great!  But don't make people feel like they can't get great video unless you shoot what the "pros" do.  BTW, there's more than a few pro's who shoot dslrs..

 

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#3 r4e

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Posted 10 February 2015 - 02:14 AM

I respect Jonathan's views as a professional who needs to rely on the production process - i.e. efficient work and less missed shots.

 

However, I personally moved from a video camera (Sony MC50E for semipro use) to a DSLR (Canon 5DIII) for the following reasons:

- Overall better image quality

- Less noise

- Better colors (but only after learning how to do it properly)

- Sharper video

 

Yes, I occasionally make the mistake of shooting out of focus footage due to the clumsiness of focusing. However, I plan to solve this By a) back button focus, b) external monitor and c) perhaps Magic Lantern.

 

I DO miss the optical image stabilization of my previous video camera. It is more difficult to avoid shake with a DLSR housing even it is almost perfectly balanced.

 

Even though the 5DIII is quite sensitive, I am still bothered by noise in the darker areas of the image, especially since I prefer to shoot with lights off-camera. Denoisers do help a bit though.

 

Since Jonathan recommends a video camera for the "advanced" user, I wonder what options are there between the image quality of a DSLR and a RED, and, have an ergonomic housing available - not just a piece of plastic pipe. In this forum there has been some concern about FS100 suitability in deeper/darker waters. There is not much information about FS700. And cropping factors and limited battery life eliminate some other choices.

 

Conclusion/question: is there any good video camera available for "advanced" u/w use?


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#4 thetrickster

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Posted 10 February 2015 - 02:27 AM

Wow, talk about upsetting the Apple cart!!

I agree its as if he has an agenda against still camera manufacturers...

 

You hear the same sort of negative comments when Pros are paid to endorse certain products / brands... but he seems to be going after the whole still camera market! :)

 

Line skipping - Gee where has he been, even the GH2 didn't do that...

 

Flip filters? Didn't understand his point at all!?

Flat port - yep can add a URPro filter to it.. Dome no, I can't - but neither you can on a Gates with a dome either...?

 

Before I got my GH3(now 4) I did a lot of looking at the camcorder market, as I'm one of those 'GoPro' semi-pro users - who hated the results from the GoPro.

My first port of call was the Gates housings and the Canon XA series of cameras. The XA20 was just realised when I looked and I contacted Gates about a housing - would be 8-10mths away. For a camera that was already outpaced in codecs (35 Mbps MP4 vs 100Mbps) and low light by a DSLR - for only to be told it wouldn't be underwater for another 10mths - I looked elsewhere...

 

Sure the GoPro was smaller than my current Rig (MUCH MUCH smaller!!) but it had no creative aspects and awful for underwater use in anything but Caribbean gin clear water.

 

Camcorders sure do have many benefits - the AF, that silky smooth focus pulling that no DSLR (when I looked) could do, ND filters, global shutter, dual card recording and lots of other very useful video features. But they looked so dated compared to the GHx series and others.

 

However they are stagnant... when you look at the side by sides with similar vintage DSLRs / Mirrorless cameras, the 'still' cameras are knocking the socks off these semi-pro camcorders for video quality.

 

Personally, I feel i've got much better quality and value from my gh4 setup.


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#5 adamhanlon

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Posted 10 February 2015 - 03:09 AM

Glad to see the discussion has started!

 

I think it is a good point that some video cameras have had color issues (FS100). I like the colors that come out of some SLRs, so I am not sure this really represents a serious issue.

 

Are not the flip filters in Gates housings located within the housing, so can drop down in front of the lens, even when used with a dome? My HVX200 housing's one is certainly like this. 

 

I think the key difference is the size/bulk and inertia mass of video housings vs. still ones.

 

It is very difficult to get still housings weighted and trimmed like you can video ones. This means that it is easier to get smooth, stable footage from them. It is not impossible to get steady footage, but it is much harder :)

 

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#6 Nick Hope

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Posted 10 February 2015 - 05:10 AM

I've noticed more muffled swearing on my GH4 footage than my Sony Z1 footage.

#7 biminitwist

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Posted 10 February 2015 - 09:50 AM

Not coming from a DSLR background I find the form factor and versatility of my "prosumer" camcorder to do what I need.

I would never remotely want the issues associated with a camera as mentioned in this and other articles.

I'm sure people are getting great results from these new cameras, a friend is very pleased with his GH4 in a Nauticam housing but after shooting side by side I was much happier with my video.

For me it is just far more versatile. It is too bad there is not more support for the mid range camcorders from housing manufactures.

Interesting article.

Thanks.

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#8 kc_moses

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Posted 10 February 2015 - 10:54 AM

I have mixed feeling about the article. I don't think Canon C300 or Red is for Advance shooter, they're more for professional.

 

I was looking at Sony AX100, with a Recsea housing, the total cost is about $7000. You pay that money, just use it and may be add a diopter here and there.

 

I did the pricing on the GH4, with port, gear, arm, float. It come close to $7000 to cover macro and WA, but the process is overwhelming (coming from a point and shoot person). Balancing on the GH4 (or any Camera system) is tricky too, how much Stix float do you need? If you use different lens/port, the camera become off balance. If the arm is too wide, or too forward, the camera tilt. This is where I feel that I favor camcorder.

 

Most of us travel would also do top side photos, so a gadget that can do two jobs is great, especially airlines try to squeeze money out of carry on luggage these days. Camcorder housing are huge and expensive, there is no camcorder housing that's less than $1500, and you're at the mercy of housing manufacturer whether if they will make a housing for the camcorder that you want to get (BTW, how come Nauticam doesn't make housing for camcorder?)

 

I think the article is overly generalize about either use goPro or high end camcorder. There are many of us who are in between, and debate if we should use prosumer point & shoot, compact mirrorless or get the full frame system. Those decision are made base on budget, dive experience/skill, photography/videography technical skill.

 

The way I would sum it up is:

- Vacationing video for family viewing, yeah, goPro is mostly good enough.

- To put video out on the web for public viewing, trying to be creative/artistic or even enter video contest, camera or something that fit the bill would be the way to go because of equipment budget.

- Stock video, National TV documentary or anything highly commercial, use the RED to your heard contain, after all, it shoot more than 4K.



#9 Interceptor121

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Posted 10 February 2015 - 02:50 PM

I think this is a good article overall but tries too hard to justify the author's own bias

I have been shooting underwater video with compact Sony RX100 and Panasonic LX7 for over 2 years now and the results are not awful, though I am not planning to do competitions. I run my blog site almost entirely focussed on underwater video with compacts and I get around 50,000 hits per year so there is an audience out there.

The high quality compacts have eliminated the entry and mid level camcorders it is true but other than some ergonomics I don't believe at all the image quality was ever great with those devices more importantly a compact camera is small both on land but especially in water.

 

It is true that DSLR make it harder to focus etc but having less depth of field is actually quite nice depending on what you shoot and the quality is not lacking

 

More importantly the article misses completely micro 4:3 as a category and this is strange considering that BBC is using those for the oceans project and so are doing other media houses with the GH4.

 

I can zoom the whole range in a wet wide angle lens with the GX7 and then use diopters for super macro the lenses are stabilised so some of the advantages of camcorders are not exclusive anymore


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#10 Oceanshutter

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Posted 10 February 2015 - 08:13 PM

I've noticed more muffled swearing on my GH4 footage than my Sony Z1 footage.

Nick, it wasn't muffled, I could hear your swearing in anilao from here. ;). But you bring up a good point, I think people coming from a video camera background would be frustrated going to a dslr style camera, in fact just the other day, I mentioned to a fellow uw video person they would hate a dslr because of their style of shooting animal behavior. They would miss more shots than they are used to.

I think my issue with the article is Mr. Bird is basically saying you can't be a serious uw videographer unless you shoot with his approved cameras. Which is just not the case.

Another similar article was published a couple years ago from John Ellerbrock from Gates published in Alert diver magazine. He did an excellent job with the pros and cons, and was less biased even though he has something to gain from promoting video cameras. Much better than this particular article. Here is his article. http://www.alertdive.../?a=art&id=1173

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Edited by Oceanshutter, 10 February 2015 - 08:16 PM.

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#11 SimonSpear

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Posted 11 February 2015 - 02:19 AM

Well this was enough to bring me out of hibernation.   

 

I've got to be honest I'm still scratching my head over what I just read.  The internet polarises opinions for sure, but there are SO many inaccuracies that you have to wonder what purpose there was in writing this?  Is it just an anti DSLR bash or an attempt to justify a "small sensor good, large sensor bad" decision?  Are we talking about underwater filming here, or all filming?

Just a few points:

Audio - apart from a few niche situations who is worried about this for underwater use?  Audio on the newer mirrorless cameras and DSLR's is absolutely fine and certainly comparable to the results you'd get from a camcorder's internal microphone.

DoF - not an issue for WA if you choose the correct lens.  For macro we tend to like the shallower DoF and anyway you'd get a similar effect to this using a video camera with diopters.
 

Blue Planet - was filmed mostly on 16mm film.

 

Moire and aliasing - this has NOT become worse on the latest DLSR's, it has virtually disappeared from them.  The first generation were pretty bad at times, but this was never really an issue underwater where you rarely get straight lines or patterns like brickwork or roof tiles.  You did have to be very careful when shooting in a swimming pool though.
 

Colours - Oh my.  The Canon DSLR's produce the most amazing colours underwater.  Far, far better than ANY video camera I have used before or after.  
 

Macro vs WA - If you want to do this properly you will always have a dedicated set up for macro and wide angle on a video camera.  If you want to swim around and film what you come across then a video camera offers an advantage.  Also you can get decent range of zoom through with dome ports on most WA DSLR zooms, which is at least comparible to what you'd get from a standard dome port/dome on a video camera housing.  
 

Documentaries -  Most documentaries these days are filmed with large sensor cameras.  Smaller sensors are now more or less confined to ENG, but even then there are plenty of guys out there using F5's, FS700's, C300's, FS7's for traditional ENG work.
 

Stability -  Yes DSLR housings are not normally initially well balanced, but this can be resolved very easily by adding buoyancy in the same way you'd add trim weights to a traditional video housing.  The only time you should be getting shaky footage is if you can't hold the camera still and if that is the case then you'll get this regardless of what you are using.

 

Cost -  There is a big difference in the set up costs for a DSLR vs a comparable quality video camera.  The DLSR can often be 50% cheaper, which is a big decision when negotiating budgets or when it is coming straight out of your own pocket.

 

Is the article saying that large sensor video cameras are ok, but SLR's with the same size sensor are not, because.......they have a large sensor??  

 

Is the article really supporting the FS100 as a viable alternative to a DSLR for underwater shooting?  Seriously??? 

 

I will admit that filming on a DSLR and getting good results is more difficult than filming on a video camera where you can just set everything to auto and press record.  If you tried to do that on a DSLR you'd be wasting your time so you do need to learn how to film with full manual controls to get the best out of them.  I've seen some truly awful underwater footage filmed on a RED, footage that you'd be utterly embarrassed to show others that you'd shot, while on the flip side I've seen jaw droppingly awesome footage shot on a first generation DSLR.   I've seen awful footage shot on a EX1 while on the same dive amazing footage shot on an GoPro1.   

 

DSLR's and mirrorless cameras have a significant place in the current filmmakers arsenal.  I film on both traditional video cameras and DSLR's and have no bias whatsoever as they both have a role to play.   They are tools to be used as we see fit and we certainly shouldn't be excluding one OR the other.  

 

 



#12 SwiftFF5

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Posted 11 February 2015 - 04:39 AM

I think that SimonSpear has really nailed it - its not so much the tool that you use, but the "tool" holding that camera that determines whether you get good video or not.  That said, the last time that I was purchasing, I ended up with a Canon camcorder because I really wanted to focus on video and not still photos.  That was a decision that dictated which tool was appropriate <u>for me</u>.  I'm still learning, and hopefully getting better at this whole video thing, and I'm inspired by some of the really great shooters here.  I'm learning from you folks every day, and that's why I keep coming back here.


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#13 Oceanshutter

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Posted 11 February 2015 - 02:46 PM

Well this was enough to bring me out of hibernation.   

 

 

 

 

I was really hoping you would comment on this Simon, as I knew you had experience with a wide range of cameras.  You nailed it right on the head.  Thank you for posting!

 

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#14 ScubaBob

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Posted 11 February 2015 - 04:25 PM

This has been a fun read so far :) After spending 10 years using camcorders for u/w filming I made the switch to (mirrorless) DSLR for video and I have never thought once about turning back. I agree with many of the points of Simon, Dustin, Interceptor and others on their reasons for using compact M4/3 and DSLRs cameras for video in lieu of using dedicated camcorders.

 

The article by John Ellerbrock (linked to in a post above by Dustin) is a much better read on this subject. This article feels like it definitely comes from very early experiences of using still cameras for video, and does not reflect the current technology of today. John is obviously faced with where to spend his company's time doing R&D - and they have kept their focus on camcorders (in the enthusiast/prosumer categories). That being said, John has complimented me on my GH2 footage in the past, so I know he recognizes what can be done with these cameras.

 

A lot of it comes down to personal preference. If you want easy point and shoot, with little to no time spent preparing for a shot and little time spent in post, don't get a GH4 or 5dMIII! However, if you want more creative control, then a mirrorless or DSLR might be the tool for you.


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#15 CheungyDiver

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Posted 11 February 2015 - 11:08 PM

Hmmm...Interesting article. I guess if you win an Emmy you can whinge a little. I shoot mostly video for over ten years and I have yet to find ergonomically a SLR/ DSLR or P&S, UW housing combo do what a well configured camcorder& housing  could do in term of convenience. That is not to say a SLR/DSLR housing combo is useless. Far from it. But I need to tack on "stuff" to make it more camcorder-esque that is all.

 

Technology marches on especially with full frame read out of sensors like APS-c or Full frame. DoF is not really a handicap for most of the pro-cameramen asking me about camera kit. In fact some wants shallow DoF. Shooting animals I could understand a smaller sensor helps. Par-focal zoom wide lens- hell yeah. Who does not like such convenience. A piece of Fathom glass cost an arm and a leg.  If image quality of the SLR is what you after then a little inconvenience is tolerable. I have no idea why it has to be one against the other. I have tried quite a few of (almost all the popular cameras) the DSLR/ SLR/ camcorders and including those from Red and Arri - and seriously the DPs I know never once mentioned that it should be this or that equipment for their UW footage. They will asked for UW equipment with the camera they are happy to shoot with. These are tools so right tool for the job. If the camera is not the right one for the "look" or frame rate then rent one that does.

 

For hobby I think any of the 2014 and this years camera/videocamera can produce astonishing results which only a couple of years ago one would need to fork out colosal amount of dosh for the kit.

I say let there be more variety of the good quality kind.

 

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#16 Interceptor121

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Posted 12 February 2015 - 12:24 AM

Personally I think the conclusion in that article is wrong on a number of account. In the non pro segment I have operated a sony rx100 and panasonic lx7 exactly like a camcorder with wet lenses and shooting macro and wide in one dive. In the 4:3 segment I am just about to do the same with the GX7 where I can zoom through a wet lens with no soft corners. I could do the same with the GH4 and with the 14-42 pretty much use it as a camcorder. True only difference is depth of field that is less however other than macro where this becomes a challenge (forget about zooming in from close to macro the focus won't hold) at wide end is irrelevant as depth of field is pretty big and for close up less depth of field actually is much better to isolate the subject. I am sympathetic with people switching from small chip camcorder to SLR as they have a hard learning curve but there are plenty of option. I have few professional studio videographers that got in touch with me to buy an RX100 or LX7 and the four third segment has just been approached with an SLR angle until now except Peter rowland that uses wet lenses nobody else does until now. It is also true that unless you go to raja ampat it's rare to see barracudas schooling and a Pygmy on the same dive so the one size fit all is also a bit overrated. Shooting SLR style is very technical exactly like shooting stills is but it doesn't have to be that way for 4:3 so advanced compacts four thirds and go pro take the consumer segment and maybe a bit of semipro/pro with GH4 and entry level camcorders are dead. To the comment of scubabob Gates should spend their R&D resources looking at how they are going to survive otherwise they will be out of business in 2 years best case. I have seen this happening in other industrie s and would not be the first time

Edited by Interceptor121, 12 February 2015 - 06:04 AM.

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#17 adamhanlon

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Posted 12 February 2015 - 01:01 AM

This is great debate...

 

I should point out that Gates had nothing to do with the article:

 

 

 

Gates should spend their R&D resources looking at how they are going to survive instead of coming out with this kind of articles

 

Is incorrect, as they did not, so can we please leave them and your opinions on their business model out of it :)

 

The purpose of the article is to stimulate debate and Jonathan set out to polarize opinion. It seems it worked!

 

I think it is a long overdue discussion. 

 

Personally, I think the "traditional industry" is missing a trick here. GoPro is getting vast numbers of people filming underwater. Some of these people will recognize its limitations, and will move up to something "better". Perhaps LX100 or similar? The next step is probably to micro 4/3 or SLR and then eventually on to video/digital cinema cameras. 

 

We are creating a whole generation of people who will know how to use all the tools effectively and perhaps more importantly, will be able to film and create stories. This is where the industry should be....

 

Adam


Adam Hanlon-underwater photographer and videographer
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#18 Interceptor121

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Posted 12 February 2015 - 02:37 AM

Yup sorry I cross read two posts no association between the two.

Still companies like that should wake up as the market share is dropping as you said as well

Gopro users have moved to panasonic smaller sensor lx7 and sony rx100 so far. I don't see them playing with a port system at all

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#19 SimonSpear

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Posted 12 February 2015 - 07:00 AM

Gates tend to concentrate on housings for high end large sensor cameras and traditional broadcast video cameras which I'm sure there will continue to be a market for rather than chasing sales in the higher volume DSLR or the consumer video market.  Average 'Joe Diver' going on holiday a couple of times a year is definitely not their target market and while I don't claim to have any knowledge about their business model they certainly appeared to be doing very nicely when I last visited their factory.   

 

I also think John's Alert Diver article from a few years back was far more balanced and factually accurate than this one was.



#20 Interceptor121

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Posted 12 February 2015 - 09:36 AM

I think there is a fundamental issue with that strategy. In the past someone would start with a camcorder and then get a pro video camera so the sales pipeline comes from the bottom. Today people start shooting using gopro and digital camera from there try move to 4:3 and then to SLR. The move to a PRO camcorder is not natural so even if you focus on that segment you will feel the pressure as your customer age and are not replaced by new comers

Edited by Interceptor121, 12 February 2015 - 09:37 AM.

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