PDN Photo Expo & Shoot NYC – What the PR People Didn’t Want You to Know – Part 1

I always go with a purpose just like any self-directed New Yorker to the PDN Photo Expo at Javits Center. This year I added Shoot NYC at The Terminal Building off 11th Avenue so my plan became even more specific than in previous years.

My targeted areas of interests in order of magnitude:

Finding affordable equipment appropriate to my small business seminar, Using What You Have and (Still) Produce Great Video to Increase Sales for the Web & Beyond.

Looking for any new or interesting gear or anything that might suggest trends, e.g. the use of constant lighting, in the photo industry.

See if any blog story ideas I’ve been mulling over were worth pursuing, e.g. how to improve camera image quality without having to step to a full-fledge DSLR (digital single lens reflex)

Personal quest, my grail was to find the most affordable and durable remote controlled mono lights. After a couple of years of owning Alien Bees as a means of learning how strobes work, I’ve decided that my increasing decrepitude requires something that will keep me off ladders as much as possible. Remote control is what I need.

Part 1 – Finding Affordable Equipment

Death to Camera Auto Functions

One of the overriding themes of my seminar is that you are smarter and more capable than any of the auto functions on your camera. I dramatically demonstrate what happens when the auto iris function of a Flip camera determines the exposure agenda: my wife in front of a window becomes a silhouette against a perfect exposed streetscape. What’s important to you and your viewers I ask? The streetscape or the person in front of the window?

Canon XA10 Sideview XLR Inputs

One camera that appears to fit the bill of empowering the camera operator by allowing him or her to turn off and decide the appropriate setting for the focus, iris, and sound levels is the Canon XA10 HD Professional Camcorder. I’ve determined that B & H priced at $2,000 is as far as a small business owner might go. The price is in the neighborhood of a large flat screen TV so that’s a benchmark. I have no data to support this view, but I don’t want readers to believe I just pulled a number out of a hat.

Next to image quality, audio is the other distinguishing characteristic I emphasize in my workshop. My view is that if you rely on the camera’s idea of what works in any given situation you end up with the sound version of the silhouette. AGC, automatic gain control, like auto iris, which favors whatever is brightest in the scene will set your audio levels to accommodate whatever is loudest. You’re on a noisy street, what’s more important to your viewers, the traffic or the person who is talking? The XA10 has two balanced XLR audio inputs which allows for a range of quality microphone input options.

I’ve operated a number of broadcast cameras when I worked as a DP Video–sounds better than shooter. From what I’ve seen since starting my seminars last year is that higher level, more expensive cameras, tend to rely less on software menus and can be controlled with switches and buttons you can touch without having to look at them. The XA10 has it’s audio functions out where you can get at them without touching a screen menu and scrolling.

Accessible XA10 Audio Controls

I don’t believe this camera represents the perfect tool for small businesses using video to promote themselves. (I make my observations without the benefit of ownership.) There are issues of camera design that might be problematical, for example putting the XLR, audio-in connectors on top of the camera instead of at the back. Putting the positioning aside, there should be enough here to manage the limitations of letting the camera determine what you should see and how you should hear it.

Efficient, Low Cost Lighting for Photographers & Videographers

I preach the idea that if you can’t afford one purchase option there is always another, albeit with compromises in picture, audio or auto control functions. If the Canon XA10 HD is too rich for your blood then you can take a step down and lose the XLR inputs and the accessible auto control, but hold on to same sensor size with Canon VIXIA HF G10 Flash Memory Camcorder which knocks off about $700. You also get stuck with 1/8″ (3.5mm) Stereo Mini input which is fragile, and requires an adaptor if you want to input XLR, balanced audio. Unbalanced audio using the mini input connector is more prone to the dreaded RF, a catchall acronym for a wide variety of buzzes and hums.

I haven’t seen enough on the personal level or in the trades to determine the future of constant lighting versus strobes in photography, although from a cost and electric efficiency basis I anticipate continued adoption of lights based either on LED (Light Emitting Diode) technology or compact fluorescent lighting. ( Note that these fluorescents bear only a limited resemblance to the lights in your kitchen.) Seeing a lighting instrument’s effect on a subject requires a whole lot less guessing as to where the light is going. Constant lighting was for the most part equated with hot lights containing energy hungry tungsten filaments or even HMIs, which, while they consume less energy putting out a lot more light per watt, are expensive and require specialized ballasts.

Westcott T6 Head with Lamps

I saw a lighting demonstration with a model by photographer James Schmelzer using Wescott’s compact fluorescent lighting system: the Spiderlite TD6 light head with tilter bracket. What I found most interesting is that Schmelzer demonstrated how you could use this light for both hard and soft lighting purposes which was not something I expected being that there was no light housing or lens. The differentiation between the two kinds of light is a function of how quickly the light goes from highlight to gray shadow to black. Black means no light at all. Photographers call this the shadow transfer.

I haven’t seen enough of the compact fluorescent lights to know if they will have sufficient throw, the photographer’s expression for reach, but I see an application of Wescott’s two instrument, single 85 watt fluorescent bulb, home studio lighting kit B&H priced at $299 as appropriate to the audience of my video image workshop.

Part 2 – New & Interesting Photo Gear, Trends and Story Ideas (in progress)

Part 3 – My Personal Quest for Remote Controlled Strobes (coming soon)

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