postheadericon TECH TALK: RIP mini DV...

One of the things that I remember the most about last week’s jaunt to Bangkok, besides the tasty fruit and the insane scene at Pantip Plaza, was the absence of MiniDV cameras for all the outdoor shooting that you see in and around the huge downtown mega malls.

And I am not talking about tourists snapping clips; I am talking professional filmers just like my bro Sanzip. There they were, out filming sexy Thai models sprawled atop new car hoods as well as shooting crazy young-girl bands blaring out bubble-gum pop...and all these BKK shooters had one thing in common, none of them was using a MiniDV camcorder of the type that has reigned the proconsumer kingdom for decades.

It seems these devices are now officially dead in the eyes of professional videographers. But before I highlight why I’m personally rejoicing the fall of the miniDV, here’s a bit on what is now reigning:

The DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera has dominated the still photography market for years, and in just the past few, has managed to eradicate the competition in the video market as well. Here is what happened: major makers of DSLR cameras such as Canon and Nikon, began beefing up their chips and on-board software to handle video as well as stills. But the killer for digicams (that use MiniDV tape to store video) was the inclusion of bigger image sensors, loving known as CMOS sensors.

Most digicams (affordable by small studios and average citizens) uses a 1/2.5” sensor, making the image surface size 25mm2. But most new DSLR’s have a minimum sensor size of 22.2” with a surface size of 329mm2 or more. Without getting too technical, that means that a typical DSLR will give you lower noise, higher sensitivity, and an increased dynamic range for your vids. Arguably more importantly, large DSLR sensors give you a shallower depth of field at any given aperture. A lower depth of field allows shooters to get that appealing effect when the subject is in full focus, but the background is completely blurred out.

So in short, digital still cameras can now take superior video over video cameras in the same price range. So it has been a no-brainer for any shooter to make the switch. For the price of one good mini-DV cam, you can almost buy two DSLRs, and take great looking HD video at 1080p. Plus, as an added benefit, you don’t have to drag around another camera to take stills – you get a two-in-one special with a good DSLR.

Now onto why I am jumping up and down with joy over this bold new move by camera manufactures. Both Canon and Nikon have made quality lenses forever, and the lenses that used to fit on your old film camera back in the day, may just fit on your brand spanking new DSLR video rig. This gives you some creative options once reserved for use by the folks in Hollywood/Bollywood, who slap on different lens all the time when shooting a full-length feature.

My family’s music studio (Phoenix Studios Nepal) has a collection of old EOS film lenses that fit nicely on the new range of Canon DSLRs. So instead of getting a new Canon XL2 MiniDV cam to replace an aging XL1, we decided to invest in DSLRs, and take advantage of all the still photography lenses that we have lying around in dusty drawers. And that’s working just peachy for our new line of music videos.

This is one of the few advances in technology that have leap-frogged over another lately that actually can save consumers money, instead of the other way around – and without any sacrifice in quality.

I must be dreaming. No more hunting around for a firewire cable when wanting to offload videos to computers. No more worry about recording on a tape that might not last. Everything is now recorded onto fast SD chips that are reusable and fairly cheap. Cheap enough to even use as archive media instead of cluttering up precious HDD space, or having to maintain a huge tape library. But the firewire-lessness of DSLRs is what makes me smile the most. In the past 3 video cameras I’ve owned, the first thing that broke was the on-board firewire plug – difficult to repair and the Achilles’ heal of any video camera made recently.

So here’s to the end of an era, and may the MiniDV now rest in peace.

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Jiggy Gaton
lives in Kathmandu and is an aging technologist - has been since the days of Woodstock - so in the words of Roland The Gunslinger "he is from a world now gone by." However, Jigs is extremely up-to-date on all things tech and is also available for hire.
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