Is It Technically Perfect – Who Cares?

I have had a few emails today regarding my earlier Facebook post. I was questioned as to why the images did not look like they were shot on Alexa or Canon 5D (two of the camera’s I used for the shoot). My response is….what should images from the Alexa and Canon 5D look like? Is there a rule for using those camera’s or do they have a very special signature that says…this image was shot on a “this or that” camera. It seems most these days regard a good image as something with shallow depth of field and sharp as a tack.
 I am afraid that does not sit too well with me as I would rather see a good image as something that captures mood and emotion, tells me something about the subject thereby progressing a story and also tells the viewer something about me as a photographer. A good image is independent of the recording medium and, unlike most, I do not see camera manufacturers as the guardians of photographic physics….I can manipulate the parameters of a camera, and therefor an image, in myriad ways using photographic knowledge rather than a poorly translated user manual.

A further question might be “when was the last time you walked from a cinema extolling the virtues of the fine grained 100ISO stock that was used?” or “thank god that was shot on Cooke instead of Zeiss lenses”. For me the current perception of what makes a “great” shot is all a bit of a mystery as it is more to do with the capabilities of the equipment than the vision of the cinematographer. Sure I want technically great gear but the camera is simply a tool I use to capture the images I see in my head….it is not the solution to all my photographic problems, nor should it be, and it does not dictate my shots to me.

Maybe I do not want crystal clear sharp shots, maybe I want everything soft and diffused, because that gets the mood of the scene over, it is not unusual for me to have 2-4 filters plus the Varicon in front of my lens….whatever it takes to make the shot. Heaven forbid there may even be times when I want depth of field to infinity, rich saturated colors and razor sharp images….the story determines that for me not the camera. If someone likes the shot great, if they hate it great but I do not want them to be middle of the road or assess the image based on the perceived virtues of one camera over another.

It wasn’t too long ago that we defined video as representing reality and film as representing fantasy. Now it seems fantasy is all about the sharpest images possible and 2K, 4K, 6K resolution when in reality, the majority (and I might add the vast majority) have never seen what film REALLY looks like….the only ones who do get to see what film looks like are DP’s and Colorists in a transfer suite and, in that environment, film looks surprisingly like video. The “fantasy” look of film is nothing more than the abysmal resolution you perceive in a cinema when watching a 35mm frame, held in a poorly registered gate, beamed at lower than optimum footlamberts through two angled panes of glass across a huge space then magnified onto a screen full of holes which is vibrating due to the speakers behind it. So what does it mean….the look of film everyone is so desperate to emulate is 180 degrees from the raw output of our modern camera’s.

So when someone says the images don’t look like they were shot on this or that camera my response is a hallelujah moment. The viewer will have to respond to the image on its merit rather than “that was shot on the Alexa? oh it looked fantastic”….or the classic “that is a beautiful shot, what camera did you use?”.

I was also told the GoPro was not a good choice to intercut with the other two camera’s….”because it has such massive depth of field”….I am glad the writer told me that or I would never have known (yes that was sarcasm). Well I have news…depth of field is not only a function of chip size….it’s also a function of aperture and focal length and, knowing that, it is possible to control depth of field, even on a GoPro. For those who know what I am talking about I need say no more…for those who don’t, its time to put down the user manual and read some books on optics….or perhaps visit some museums to look at Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Rubens, Bierstadt, Constable, Wyeth……..


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