Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Connectivity In The Modern Age....

Today is a day when i feel that my side of the news industry is a dinosaur, lumbering behind a sprightly pack of smaller, lightweight creatures and sharper teeth. As a TV News Cameraman, i am still lumbered with a camera the size of a truck battery, and just as heavy. Whilst my counterparts in the print and web news skip around me with lightweight digital cameras, i unlock the tripod legs and snap my camera into place, giving my shoulder a well earned rest.

The lumbering beast...

By the time i have my pictures on tape, neatly boxed and ready to be shipped out to the studio, the photographers have snapped their pictures, loaded them into their Macs, edited them and filed them to their respective papers. Pictures start to appear on news websites within minutes of them being taken. By this time, i have boxed up my tape and marked it accordingly, my pictures stuck to tape with nobody to take them to where they need to be.

Sometimes, TV News can be a frustrating business. Yes, i can go live into a bulletin, but not without the help of a satellite truck or at the very least a Bgan unit. Without them, i rely on taking my pictures to the studio myself, thereby leaving the place i need to be, or get someone to pick the tape up from me and take it to the studio. It's frustrating because whilst the news is speeding around the world via the web courtesy of the photographers, my news is still stuck in my sweaty little palms until i can offload it to the studio.

News on it's way...

Upload it to my laptop and 3G it to the studio i hear you say. Well, i would, but where i am today, the 3G signal is weak to non existent. Even the photographers are on the edge of being able to send a single JPeg let alone 30 to 40 seconds of Broadcast quality video. So i wait. And i suspect i will still be waiting in a few years time until this country wakes up and sorts out good 3G internet connections for the rural parts of this country, at a speed that can cope with the modern digital data that is in every day usage right now.  Until then, the TV News has to wait for a courier.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Broadcasting, Bitrates and Bollocks.

So now the updated BBC Approved HD Camera list for 2011 is out, i find myself looking at comments, articles and tweets about the merits of having a broadcasters 'elitist' approval list for cameras. Surely, with the plethora of cameras filming in perfectly good HD out on the market, who gives a shit...?

Kraft cheese slices fit perfectly if folded... Panasonic P2.

Well, if you are a freelance TV News Cameraman like me, you will come to realise that if you want to get hired, both you and your camera, you will have to conform to what your client wants. That's right, your client. That is what the BBC News and other broadcasters are to me, my clients. Valuable, fee paying clients. Time was, not so very long ago, all news broadcasters were filming on Betacam SP. ITV, BBC, you name them, they all went with the same format. And believe me, it was the best of days as a freelancer because we all knew what was required of us, no matter what channel you worked for. But look at the broadcast TV Camera market today and you will find a multitude of cameras, DSLR'S, Handheld cameras, shoulder mounted cameras, formats, recording bitrates, hard disks and other bollocks that have flooded the market. And the updates and changes are coming thick and fast for many of us to wonder whether it is worth buying a camera before it goes out of date.

Personally, i welcome the approved list. It lets me know what is required of me when working for the likes of the BBC, but the BBC only. Sky for example went with the Panasonic P2 Format quite a while back, it looks likely that at the BBC, Newsgathering are going with the Sony PMW 350. So which camera does a freelancer buy...? I can't afford both, but the BBC, which is my biggest and most regular client will likely win me over. So, i have read other articles, asking what is the point of the approved list.

'My camera records stunning pictures but it isn't on the approved list...'

My DSLR is the dogs bollocks...' etc, etc.

They all have a point. Many small HD Cameras out there today are taking stunning pictures, better even than my DVCam unit that i film with today, or my Digibeta for that matter. But it matters bugger all to me because the people at the end of the phone, my client, wants it filmed in DVCam. So DVCam it is until they tell me that they want it in HD from a particular camera, and in a particular format, with a particular bitrate.

Digibeta... rapidly going out of date. If not already.

In newsgathering at least, if you film something that is news worthy and the broadcasters want to broadcast it, it won't matter what you filmed it on. It never has. Film it on an old Hi8 for all i care, it will get broadcast if the story warrants it. But if, like me, you rely on a steady, daily stream of freelance work from a broadcaster, then you had better get to grips with what they require. I could shout all day about having a particular camera, but if my local BBC Region require me to film in a particular format then that is what i will supply. It's either that, or watch them hire someone else....

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter

Friday, 15 April 2011

A problem solved.

Today started out like any other news day, a sports job at Newbury racecourse. The Queen was in attendance, and I couldn't be late. My reporter had travelled from London after a breakfast news shift, he had been on the go for about 7 hours already. Time to film the news. Except I couldn't. My camera, with brand new PAG batteries, decided that this was the day to go gaga, and not respond to my on switch and pathetic pleadings. I begged, I caressed, I gently spoke to my camera to no avail. It was dead.

So there I was, sweating and swearing a lot. I could see the Queen tapping her toes and looking at her watch, thinking "is that twat ready or not?" alas, your Majesty, I was not. So, the Queen decided that enough was enough, and got on with the day. Me..? I phoned in to the news desk to report my embarrassing foibles. Another cameraman was now on his way.

I, on the other hand, trudged back to my truck, wondering what the hell was going on. Anyhoo... To cut a long story short, the replacement cameraman tested my new batteries on his camera. No problem. I tested his batteries on my camera. No problem. My camera at least was not the problem. Seems that my new batteries were not at one with my old camera. A few phone calls later and I found myself off to PAG UK, with a lot of questions and a burning desire to find out why I had just lost a good payday as a freelancer.

On turning up at PAG UK, I was pleasantly surprised to see not only a company rep, who was as miffed as I was that his product was causing problems, but the battery designer himself, a man who I suspect spends a lot of time on an electrical workbench, poring over technical drawings and scratching his head a lot. They disappeared into the workshop. I was made a cup of tea by the delightful receptionist, and left to ponder my failings.

No sooner had I supped my first gobfull of hot and wet, the boffins from the workshop returned. Turns out that their new batteries think that my camera has shorted, due to it drawing fifty Amps on firing up, and settling down to a lower amperage at working speed. The batteries however, are designed with a little doodah that thinks fifty Amps is too much, and cuts out after forty Amps, in two or three milliseconds. Hence, a refusal to let go of it's life giving juice to fire up my camera.

So there you have it. Everything works fine, but for a tiny little doodah, that decided that I would not work today, due to my camera start up amperage. And the Queen..? Well, she sent a footman over to tell me that since I had kept her Majesty waiting, I would not be hired to film the upcoming wedding video for her Grandson. Ahh well, such is life.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter

Thursday, 7 April 2011

What does a cameraman do when reporters have gone into court..?

You know, there are occasions when boredom does things to a cameraman. You find yourself loitering the streets in search of a few seconds of news and the wait goes on... and on... and on. Court cases are the prime example of when boredom sets in and you find yourself doing stupid things with your iphone and an editing app. I got some funny looks too. Not because i was hanging around street corners with a large broadcast camera... Oh no. I was the wierdo gabbling into a phone, held at arms length whilst trying to drink a cup of tea. The things i do for your online entertainment...

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

A little bit of solitude.

Sometimes a man can have too much on his mind. And sometimes a cameraman can have too much on one shoulder. Either way, the burden can sometimes weigh you down. I occasionally get to a point where my brain is so full of various imagery, thoughts and wild ideas that I have to take a break. Even only a few quiet hours sat in the middle of nowhere, with a flask of coffee is enough to unburden the brain and give my right shoulder a rest.

The trouble with being a freelance news cameraman is the fact that when we have a quiet few days, our thoughts sometimes turn to other things. I could become a Pig farmer for example. I could turn my hand to converting barns into houses, or write a novel whilst growing my own vegetables in my garden, or open a new lap dancing club next to my local religious establishment. Living other peoples lives through a viewfinder does that to a man. I've thought many times what I would do in the event of broadcasters not requiring the services of dedicated local freelancers anymore. Would the Army welcome me back with open arms? I doubt that the uniform would fit, and age has crept up on me like a thief in the night and robbed me of my washboard stomach and yes Sir attitude.

Nope, what I need is a quiet few hours in the company of my own thoughts to chase away the unrealistic, the unacceptable and the downright stupid ideas that clog my cerebellum and just stare out of the window for a while. No radio, no chatter, just the warm sun on my face and pleasant countryside surroundings normally does the trick of re-establishing the cameraman psyche. The trouble is, I have a reoccurring idea that I could become a novel writing Pig farmer, living in a barn with lap dancing club attached, eating home grown spinach soup. I would probably love every minute...

If only I could teach the Missus to Pole dance....

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter