Pro Tools

A new generation of hybrid still-video cameras will soon bring amazing, low-cost image-making tools to the masses on a level undreamed of even a decade ago. Before the revolution is finished, still photography and full-motion video will merge, creating a new category of imaging for the multimedia age. The camera gear will also be much simpler to use, allowing photographers with minimal skills to get extraordinary results.

This summer, Cannon showed a prototype of its "Wonder Camera," a new type of consumer camera that shoots high-definition video and allows very high-resolution still frame image grabs. Sony has done the same with the introduction of its NEX-VG10E, a $2,000 camcorder that works with interchangeable lens, offers DSLR-quality stills and records with a film-like image quality.

These cameras, plus the first professional models scheduled to come out by year's end, can shoot still and full-motion professional high-resolution video images simultaneously with the same camera. That means still photographs can be selected from a constantly moving image -- a bit like picking the best shots from a chain of high-speed, ultra high-definition pictures.

Much of this innovation was driven by the recent introductions of a new generation of DSLR cameras from Canon and Nikon that merge video and stills. Leading current models are the Canon EOS-5D, Mark II, and the Nikon D3S.

These hybrid cameras have full-frame 35mm-sized sensors, which improve low-light capture and permit a shallower depth of field than with a standard video camera. They are increasingly favored by episodic TV producers due to the cinematic quality they can produce.

Both companies are poised to introduce much lower-cost models that offer the same capability. But since the DSLR form factor is not ideal for video shooting, these cameras have to be properly outfitted for video production. Because of that, expect to soon see the DSLR "engine" transferred to the form factor of the video camera. That's what happened with Sony's NEX-VG10E, which is based upon one of the company's still camera models.

Most of these consumer cameras are borrowed from a concept revealed by RED Camera of Lake Forest, Calif. in 2008. RED, who makes a well-respected high-end video camera used for motion picture production in Hollywood, has worked for two years designing the DSMC, for Digital Stills and Motion Camera system.

This fully professional camera, now coming in a new low-cost design for photojournalists, can shoot still and full-motion high-resolution video images simultaneously. The RED concept, like the others, is designed for the multimedia era.

RED's system can be scaled - using a wide range of modular accessories -- to handle like a news camera, DSLR or digital cinema camera. In creating the camera configuration of choice, the user selects a RED camera "brain," or core component, that varies in resolution. From there, displays, eyepieces, grips, mounts, and lenses are added to build out the camera's functionality.

We may not all be famous for 15 minutes, but we can certainly all take our stabs behind the camera.

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