(October 31, 2007--October 31, 2007) Look carefully. The picture that appears on the front page of tomorrow’s Chicago Tribune may not be a “photograph” at all. It might be a frame-grab from a high-definition digital video camcorder.
Either way, readers will not be able to tell the difference, and there is no reason they should need to. A great, high-quality picture has value because of its content, not because of the camera that captured it. As valuable as that image may be, however, imagine how much more impact it can have when it is not only seen in print but also displayed as part of a motion-video sequence on that newspaper’s Web site.
Photojournalists capturing images for Chicago’s largest paper are doing that very thing today, having added a new item to their camera bags: the Canon XH A1 HD camcorder. The reason is today’s leading newspapers are more than print. Nowadays, the Chicago Tribune’s photojournalists not only capture news stills for the print edition, but also motion video for the Chicago Tribune’s acclaimed website.
“Our Web site has become a real priority, as the shift of news consumption goes in that direction,” explained Torry Bruno, associate managing editor for Photography at the Chicago Tribune. “It’s something our photo department has dabbled in for many years. The idea of convergence is one that’s been around for a long time.
“The first priority for most of our shooters remains still pictures for the newspaper,” Bruno added. “That’s still our bread-and-butter, still the primary source of the company’s readership. But is there a way to capture great images for the newspaper while also capturing great moving images for its Web site? This has been our challenge. The selection of the camera to answer this need was a major consideration.”
Choosing such a camera, one that can capture both high-resolution digital stills as well as high-definition motion video, soon led Bruno and colleague Tom Van Dyke, an award-winning photojournalist for nearly 25 years, to the Canon XH A1 HD camcorder.
“The Canon camcorders were a natural evolution because our photographers have been using Canon Mark II’s for many years now,” Bruno related. “Also, the Canon XH A1 HD camcorder just felt familiar and comfortable, and it’s a nice transition for photographers who are used to the Canon still camera. I think Canon had still-camera photographers in mind when they designed the XH A1.”
“When this camera came around and we saw that it would produce a six-meg still, we said ‘Let’s look at it; if it can produce that kind of file, then we are interested,’ ” recalled Van Dyke.
Currently the Chicago Tribune owns two XH A1 HD camcorders. One rotates through the paper’s staff of photographers while the other is being used exclusively by Van Dyke. He reports that he continues to travel with both a still camera and the XH A1 HD camcorder in his car, but he finds he’s increasingly capturing both stills and motion video with the camcorder. Its use, he observed, has been an interesting experience.
“It is really different,” Van Dyke noted of his new image-capture tool. “Still photographers are concerned about missing ‘moments.’ The essence of what you’re doing (as a still photographer) is capturing the decisive moment. With video, however, you’re concerned about sequences and transitions and the audio narrative. So you find yourself wanting to work like you did with a still camera. But then you realize that you can’t create quality video working exactly like a still photographer.
“What is unique,” he continued, “is that video sequences contain moments that you haven’t really chosen as a still photographer. When you see these moments replayed, you have the ability to control them frame-by-frame. To me, it makes me almost a better still photographer because nobody possesses perfect timing. We all strive for it. But in reality, you are lucky if you get one decisive moment in a roll of film. When you are shooting video, the moments are all there.
“I can work with the video camera like I work with a still camera,” he explained. “And that is where still photographers have an edge. Most still photographers know how to work with light and you can work with the XH A1 the same way.”
The XH A1 HD camcorder captures still images in full HD (1920 x 1080) resolution in either video color space or digital camera color space. These stills are stored to a memory card (SDHC, SD or MMC), which can also be used for camera-to-camera transfer of custom settings. Still images captured in video color space include time code and camera set-up metadata. Still images captured in digital still color space include EXiF metadata. Also included are numerous advanced still camera features, such as auto exposure bracketing, selectable metering modes, continuous shooting, and the option to use select Canon EOS System Speedlite flashes. As a world leader in optics, Canon has equipped the XH A1 HD camcorder with a Genuine Canon 20X HD video zoom L-series lens (incorporating Fluorite and Ultra-Low-Dispersion elements) as a standard feature. An optional 0.8x HD Wide Angle Adapter is available as well.
“I’ve fallen in love with the wide-angle adapter,” Van Dyke remarked. “And, curiously enough, when I was pressed to shoot stills on a recent assignment, the images from the video camera actually worked better because I was using the XH A1 as my primary tool, so the content of the images was superior; go figure.
“Opening up to f 1.6 is pretty amazing,” Van Dyke added regarding the XH A1’s 20X HD zoom lens. “That’s faster than any still lens I have in my bag.” He also likes the fact that the focal lengths of the lens range from 32.5 to 650mm. “Having that kind of lens in a such a compact unit with that kind of quality and brightness is great.”
Van Dyke noted that the arrangement of the XH A1 HD camcorder’s focus, zoom and iris rings, allows for smooth manual adjustment (in 1/8th-stop increments). “To have a camera where you can control the aperture without going into the menus – to have the focus ring handy, the zoom ring handy – that’s what Canon has kicked up for a low, low price. I’ve had other shooters envy this arrangement, which is superior to anything else I’ve surveyed. It’s an incredible tool,” he explained.
“The camera is much better at focusing and determining the exposure than I am,” Van Dyke added, referring to Canon’s Instant AF next-generation auto-focus technology. “Much to the horror of video professionals, I use the Instant AF and auto exposure almost exclusively.” He noted that he will override those features when he’s creating a composition with artistic lighting.
For those seeking a particularly innovative “look” to their videography, the Canon XH A1 HD camcorder features Total Image Control of more than 23 independently adjustable picture-creation variables. Advanced Image Enhancement and Auto Exposure modes, as well as Canon’s Console software package provide a wide array of creative choices.
Integrating Canon’s XH A1 HD camcorders into the Chicago Tribune’s photography operations is helping to enable the newspaper to present its readers with what is literally a new point of view, Bruno believes; one that’s different from the video they see on television.
“These cameras make a difference in the way the staff shoots,” he explained. “They can shoot from their waist. They can carry on a conversation with the subject, look them in the eye, and occasionally gaze down at the viewfinder to check framing. I think this camera is in the right place for what we are doing.”
The viewfinder Bruno refers to is a high-resolution 2.8-inch widescreen fold-out LCD that the XH A1 HD camcorder comes equipped with in addition to its EVF (electronic viewfinder). Users can set the LCD to display 22 levels of shooting data, or none at all, depending on preference.
“The things we can do with the Canon XH A1 really optimize what we’re trying to get into with the convergence of still and video images,” he observed. “The Internet is changing the way we think about all of this stuff.”
Bruno sees a broader competitive environment in the multimedia world driven by the Internet and other new digital content-distribution channels. It is, he said, an environment in which it’s important to be fresh and innovative. “What we find is that our photojournalistic approach is what is making us distinctive,” he said.
“We can’t operate like TV and compete with them,” Van Dyke added. “But while there’s talk among newspaper photographers about being able to compete with expensive live news trucks by working with a laptop and streaming live HD camcorder video, I don’t think anyone has done it yet. But the tools are there, and the pieces are there just waiting for someone to put them together.”
Van Dyke cited the example of recently flying to Texas to shoot a story, editing it on a laptop, and e-mailing it back to Chicago in time for the Sunday paper deadline.
“What’s significant about that is the picture editor on duty had the confidence in the technology that we would have a front-page picture for a million-circulation newspaper – on deadline,” Bruno noted. “Out of that single camera, we got a five-column front-page photo and a video piece on our Web site. This is an opportunity to take storytelling to a whole new level.”
About Canon U.S.A., Inc.
Canon U.S.A., Inc. delivers consumer, business-to-business, and industrial imaging solutions. Its parent company, Canon Inc. (NYSE:CAJ), a top patent holder of technology, ranking third overall in the U.S. in 2006†, with global revenues of $34.9 billion, is listed as one of Fortune’s Most Admired Companies in America and is on the 2007 BusinessWeek list of “Top 100 Brands.”