When Smaller is Better

Posted April 11, 2017
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There is an old expression in the photography business that a person seeing a great photo is not supposed to ask ‘what kind of camera was that shot with’.

The point of the story is that a great photographer is a great photographer, no matter what gear they have.  The camera does not make the photographer.

This may be true in photography (I am not so sure), but in my experience, the kind of gear you carry can have a HUGE impact on the quality of your work as a VJ.

A small story:

In 1994, I was in London setting up Channel One. 

It was the UK version of the very successful NY1, an entirely VJ-driven TV station reporting local news 24-hours a day.

When we started Channel One, we used the smallest cameras you could get in those days – Panasonic MiniDV cameras.  Panasonic had, in fact, built them for us.  We had serial numbers 000001-00000030.  Cool!  

When we started the training at Channel One, everyone was equipped with the small VJ Cams and they made great pieces. The cameras were small, unobtrusive, easy to carry around all day – in short, they made reporting on your own fun.

When the ‘new management’ came into Channel One, they immediately announced that henceforth, all the VJs would carry giant ‘professional’ betacams – along with stick mics, big professional tripods with Sachler fluid heads, big professional batteries and so on.

In fact, they loaded the VJs down with so much gear that they had to also provide a small cart so that people could drag the stuff around with them.  It was, in a word, idiotic. In another word, it was destructive to the entire concept.

The tech people argued that the technical specs on the betacams were ‘professional’ quality. Maybe so.  But no one ever called the channel to complain that the blacks were getting compressed on their TV sets. No one cared.

Once burdened down with all that gear, the journalistic quality of the pieces suffered.  The VJs now set up a tripod, did a stand up, did a few interviews, shot some b-roll and went home. In short, same old crap local TV.  Creativity had been crushed.

Was the ‘professional’ gear better?  No doubt, from an engineering point of view. It was also vastly more expensive.  

It was a case where everything hinged on the gear. Not the best gear – but the lightest and easiest to carry. This is why we love iPhones now.  30 years later, and we are still having the same conversation.

PS – when I told the head of Channel One that he was going to kill the station with the betacams, his answer was, “I will not have my people laughed at on the street”.  He clearly preferred to have them unemployed.