Still Photographers with DSLRs and FCP

Over the last few years many stills photographers, photo journalists, wedding, portrait, pet, fashion, and glamor photographers, and every other kind of shooter, has discovered video. This has happened for two reasons, one, most stills cameras can now shoot very high quality video, and two, the new capabilities add a new marketable product for them.

Nikon introduced the first video capable DSLR in 2009, but it really wasn’t until Canon brought out its video DSLR and Vincent LaForet promoted it with his outstanding photography (even if in a pretty meaningless little video) that the possibilities really became apparent. The large sensor and superb glass make what B.T. Corwin calls “lickable” images. The image is so sharply glossy while providing for great depth of field control that everyone wants it. The image quality is unsurpassed and simply cannot be equalled in video cameras of comparable or even higher price. Because of the limited size of the sensor and the limited lens options video cameras just can’t produce a “lickable” image.

The downsides of the DSLRs also fairly quickly became apparent. While the form factor of a stills camera is great for taking an image of a single moment in time, having to hold the camera steady for any length of time makes it really unsuitable for hand-held work. Then of course there’s the audio, or rather then there isn’t audio, not so as to be useable. The controls are impossible to work with for fast shooting. They really are horrible video cameras, but you just can’t ignore the extraordinary image quality.

Workarounds and add-ons have become the norm, Magic Lantern firmware upgrades, Zacuto viewfinders, Beachtek mixers, Zoom recorders, fluid head tripods.

And then there is editing. Many shooters soon discovered that taking the picture is no longer the end of the process, in fact it is only the beginning. Software is needed. Every digital shooter has a computer, but whole new software packages have to be added and learned. A few try iMovie, but soon run into its severe limitations. On the Mac the only real options are Avid Media Composer, Premiere Pro, legacy Final Cut Studio, and Final Cut Pro X.

FCS is end of life and no one knows how much longer it will install or run on this or the next computer or operating system. Both Media Composer and Premiere, in addition to being expensive, have a steep and perilous learning curve, especially for someone new to the concepts of editing. FCPX on the other hand is relatively inexpensive and really easy to use and learn for most people. Also DSLR footage can be imported into FCP, most can be edited natively in QuickTime H.264 or optimized to QuickTime using the ProRes codec. Optimization does make for very large files, but it does allow great control for effects and color correction and enhancement.

I have been teaching this application since it was first introduced. With Dirck Halstead and B.T. Corwin I have been giving Platypus Workshops ( around the country and overseas for almost a year. The Platypus Workshops are aimed at professional, experienced photo journalists adding video journalism to their repertoire. We have found that all of them take to FCPX effortlessly, understand and appreciate the organizational tools, have no trouble grasping the concept of the storyline and connected clips, and working with a narrative storyline and added B-roll. Teaching students with preconceived ideas about editing applications, those coming from other applications, find the transition more difficult, but for those new to editing, learning FCPX is fast and effortless.

If you’re a stills photographer make the transition to adding video to your work, I strongly urge you to download the trial version of FCPX from the Apple Store and see how easy it is and how quickly you can put together high quality, professional looking video pieces that can increase your value as a photographer.

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