The newspaper Tageswoche (“The DailyWeek”) has posed the question as to the significance actioncams have for professional film and video production. Videothink supplemented this interview on this topic with Kristian Widmer, producer at Condor Films, with an overview of the key data about the two currently most important action cams.
Moreover, at the end of this article you will find an addition (as of February 9th 2016) with the first available information about the EagleCam that has been developed by the Fraunhofer-Institute.
Interview with Kristian Widmer
Tageswoche: Are action cams an important milestone or a temporary phenomenon?
Kristian Widmer: The Soviet filmmaker Dsiga Wertow not only already developed the so-called unleashed camera back in 1920’s, he also experimented with removing the camera from the tripod in order to be able to record realistic action. The technique of occasionally throwing the cameras through the air was also frequently enjoyed for surrealistic films. The World Wars also significantly advanced the development of handy film cameras. The Arriflex handheld camera and the Siemens 8MM D-Schmallfilmkamera, for example, were used daily by the German propaganda companies and by all the troops, whereby the camera men were instructed not to stage. At the end of the 60’s, the unleashed camera then experienced a second bloom in theory and practice (also by Jean-Luc Godard). Seen in this way, you can rightly state that modern-day action cams are no more or less than the third phase of a decade-old development in the acquisition and production of moving images. Therefore, even if it sounds strange, they are nothing new.
How has your work changed compared to past practice (film-related, aesthetically, technically, with regard to prices, opportunities etc.) since the small action cams have been introduced?
The largest and most significant difference is that today, the development primarily concerns non-professional film productions Another novel aspect is also that today’s action cams are at home in the binary (digital) and no longer in the analogue world. The development is therefore somewhat comparable to photography: never before have there been so many cameras in the world – because nowadays high-quality cameras are installed in all mobile phones and tablets by default. The action cam’s technical limitations will become superfluous in the future. However, the more important limitation will remain: the requirement of experience and talent of the person behind the camera! For professional film production, action cams do not denote a huge novelty but merely another camera type which can be used similarly to analogue film cameras in the past. And, like the former analogue “action cams” (which, for example, were attached to crashing cars at ground level for stunts as for the film series “Mad Max”), which were always applied driven by content-related dramaturgy, this is also still true for today’s digital action cams. And, like before, we still accept inferior technical quality for a few seconds of unusual images (that is still true today for action cams from a professional view).
Where are the limitations of modern-day action cams?
Once ideal light conditions no longer prevail or perspectives should change (normal every 3 to 5 seconds for most films), the action cam still reaches its limits today. Although these are merely technical limitations, which will probably become superfluous in the future, the more important limit will remain. As always, when making films, this results from the need of experience and talent in handling the technical options. An action cam alone does not make an interesting film, nor does it automatically provide an experience! All mountain bikers in the Alps have an action cam attached to their helmet. Parachutists and paraglider pilots generate hours of material with action cams. But, as it used to be with family film recordings on Super-8, the material soon becomes dormant on a hard disk somewhere. 99% of the videos generated with action cams are not postproduced. Editing and adding sound to films is time-consuming and, without a concept and dramaturgical knowledge, it delves no deeper than playing back mercilessly subjectively filmed situations, which then quickly develop the same charm as the epic slide shows from our uncles and aunts after their holidays in more or less exotic foreign countries. On this case, the only thing to do, despite 4K resolution and sound system, is hitting the fast forward button on the remote control!
The 2 most important action cams:
|Actionpro X7||GoPro Hero 4 Black|
|Weight||107g (including casing)||167g (including casing)|
|Resolution||1920 x 1080p||3840 x 2160 (4K)|
|Frame rate||Not specified||R30/25/40|
|Rechargeable battery life||Not specified||Approx. 60 min.|
|Purchase price||€285/CHF310||€ 530.-/CHF 580.-|
|Remote control||Under development||WiFi Remote (optional)|
|Interfaces||Mini USB, WiFi and others||Bluetooth, WiFi and others|
|Waterproof||Up to 60m depth (with casing)||Up to 40m depth (with casing)|
|Photo function||Yes (incl. serial images)||Yes (incl. serial images)|
Does this simplicity of the action cams also increase the danger for the users to expose themselves to increasingly dangerous situations?
This question doesn’t arise for professional film production with its content-related wish for expression (script, storyboard), implemented with the use of adequate technical (camera) means, whilst taking all possible safety measures into account. The production of a film must never endanger life and limb. Taking such risks would be highly unprofessional. Moreover, using the digital animation options, it has also long been possible to put the impossible on the monitor or the large film screen so as to go unnoticed by the audience. This may be different in the amateur area or in the hands of semi-professional filmmakers, in particular if the extreme sport carried out as a leisure time activity is also simultaneously a means to an end as a motive. ActionPro or Hero as a model name of a film camera is not targeted as a purchasing argument at people who wish to film their offspring or pets.
How frequently and for which customers / purposes does your company use action cams?
Action cams are used extremely rarely; on the one hand because our customers focus on top technical quality in this area. On the other hand because so far Condor Films very seldom receive ideas which already take the strengths and weaknesses of the digital action cams into account during the concept phase and would therefore justify the use of action cams. In the area of image and product film segments, we use action cams for our tasks every couple of months, but only for a few seconds and sequences and always dependent on the scenes. This also applies to our TV department Faro TV: here, too, only short sequences / a few seconds per episode are normally filmed using action cams: for example if we wish to show a cat’s view from a cat carrier at the vet’s in our animal series “Animal Friends” on TV. Or if our editors deliberately want to catch the view of a person involved in our TV-Show “Observer” as realistically as possible and with an “amateur camera look”. If things become more spectacular, or in an enclosure with wild animals, our directors and camera men do without action cams surprisingly often. They then, as for lions and tigers, set the professional camera to automatic and place it in the hands of the keeper or trainer who can get up close to the animal who is accustomed to him, or lays the running camera on the ground in the enclosure, allowing the animal to approach the camera in peace and quiet. This permits spectacular, top notch shots. Action cams are also an exception to the rule for feature films, as for documentaries.
When it boils down to it: the action cam is a tool which is more in the filmmaker’s toolbox for the professional – and, like all tools of the trade, this tool should only be used for the purpose for which it is conceived and made.
Questions: Ch. Spangenberg. The TagesWoche is a Swiss newspaper from Basle. It is published online daily and once per week Fridays as a printed issue.
Addendum, 9th of February 2016:
An action-cam of very special built has come into operation for the feature film „Brothers of the Wind“ starring Jean Reno (Directors: Gerardo Olivares, Otmar Penker, Producer: Walter Köhler). The Fraunhofer-Institute required two years to produce the small camera with high-resolution that has been developed especially for this film. Strapped to the head (!) of a Mongolian eagle, the EagleCam delivers fantastic images from the flight-view of the animal for the big screen in cinemas.
Eagle Cam specifications:
|Camera head||3cm x 3 cm (!)|
|Battery life||120 min.|
Our Videothink interviews can do all but one thing: bore. In our interview section directors, creative heads, key people in the film world and other exponents of national and international moving image communication have their say. The articles so far, aside from Kristian Widmer, portray: Wigald Boning, Juerg Ebe, Jörg Buckmann and Patrick Merz, Movie Director Markus Welter and Adrian Teijido (Director of Photography, about his work on Netflix’ Narcos).