Why Superior Euro Equipment?
Yesterday I received your February 1995 issue and your “Viewfinder” article caught my eye. The issues you deal with in your article aroused in me the urge to respond because each and every one of them is a pearl. But it seems to me that, like many others in this country, you missed a very important point.
I grew up in one of the European “markets” and spent the earlier years of my video production career there. Therefore I am familiar with the European video market and find myself qualified to respond to your article.
I must stress at the outset that I agree with everything you wrote in your article. The consumer video products aimed at the American market are indeed substantially inferior to those aimed at the European market. But while greed and strategic considerations of manufacturers of video camcorders and VCRs can’t be ignored, the real reason for the inferiority of such products in the American market is far deeper than that.
I remember noticing this phenomenon while I was still working in the European market, when the video medium took shape. Every new video product or model arrived first in the American market. The first color cameras were all NTSC; the first color VTRs were all NTSC; everything new in this field was available, at the beginning, in NTSC. How jealous we were! We received all the specs about a new product and had to dream about it for anything between six months to a year before we could get it in PAL. It was very frustrating.
When we had the opportunity to ask why it was that the Americans were getting all these new models before we did, the reply was that the American consumer market is a huge one, so the manufacturers were “testing” their products there and only after a product had proven itself there would they release it in Europe.
But then, when the European twin arrived, we would discover that it was much superior to the American version–at least according to the specs we had. When I had the opportunity to inquire about this, I was told that while the Americans were lucky in having the products first, Europeans were lucky in getting improved equipment, based on the experience gained in the American market.
But still, the reason for superior European equipment is much deeper than this. Manufacturers of consumer video equipment simply do not consider the American consumer to be very sophisticated. The claim is that they have spent a fortune on market research and concluded that the Europeans are much more intelligent than the Americans when it comes to coping with electronic equipment. They claim that Americans are afraid of buttons; therefore, the
fewer the better.
The bottom line to all this is that, greed and twisted strategies aside, American consumers should look more at themselves and learn to be consumers before blaming the manufacturers for their misfortunes.
More Mobile Shooting Ideas
After several cross country trips to Alaska and to several national car shows, I was eager to read what your article “Buckle Up and Shoot” (January ’95) had to say.
My approach is quite different. I never use a tripod, and my shots are quite steady. There are several reasons they turn out so well.
- I use a 7-hour battery pack and keep the camera at my side.
- I prefocus to exclude auto parts but don’t use too much telephoto; this helps to prevent “jitters.”
- Always use manual focus set on infinity. Also, I prefer shooting at high shutter speeds (1/500). Why? It allows you to view your shots (even over bumpy roads) in a relatively smooth slow motion. Slower speeds do not view well in slow motion.
- Autofocus often causes the lens to read the windshield, resulting in blurred videos. Another good reason to leave it off.
- You might be amazed at how steady you can hold a video camera. Mine is a large Canon A1 but I am able to get steady shots over mountain roads. Your arm does a great job absorbing shock.
- Aiming is quite easy. Just use your natural ability.
- I keep windows up to keep out noise. Also, I tend to narrate as I shoot.
- When I shoot wildlife, I stop and turn off the engine to reduce noise and vibration and rest the camera on a towel on the open window.
After being a still photographer for 35 years, it’s a joy and a challenge to make quality videos. As you can see, I try to use the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid).
These are good tips, Guy, with one exception–you should never try to hold and operate your
camcorder while driving. Doing so may impair your ability to pilot the vehicle, potentially causing physical harm and damage to car or camcorder. Perhaps a better KISS principle would be “Keep it Safe and Simple.”
Copy Problems Solved
In a recent letter, some unhappy novice asked, “Why is it that my originals look good but the copies are just plain bad?” I smiled to myself and thought, “Welcome to the club.”
As a hobbyist, I’ve been buying consumer stuff since the days when Panasonic made a two-piece camera. It was heavier than a mother-in-law’s conscience and if you hadn’t seen the originals, you couldn’t even recognize what was in the copies. Things have improved, but copies are still the bane of our existence.
Proof of that can be seen now that cable TV has begun using commercials made on consumer equipment. Obviously these guys must be working with top-of-the-line gear, but the end product is actually embarrasing to look at.
I had decided that I was buying into a lost cause when a miracle happened. I purchased a Sony SLV-R1000 VCR mostly to accomodate the LANC on my Hi8 camera. But also my AG-1960s were getting on in years. The new VCR came with a wonderful and unexpected bonus: it actually made good copies. No longer do dark suits have huge white borders. Wooded scenes do not look like they were painted with a wet broom, and you can actually tell the difference between the bride and the groom even if neither one is in white.
In due time, the industry may even give us something that makes our 400 lines look as good as the (snicker) 250 used by commercial TV. But for now I’m ecstatic. Please spread the word.
Video and Literacy
I am a reading teacher and deeply involved in increasing the literacy level of the students at my school. The number of students who do not learn to read by the third grade is directly correlated to high school dropout and probably prison conviction, both of which are reaching epidemic proportions in our state of California.
I work with students each day who have great difficulty attending to the visual detail of print. And when I say difficulty, I mean they know a word or a letter for one or even 2 days and then they have forgotten it. I work with these students every day, for 30 minutes in a one-on-one tutoring situation.
While the increase in viewing of TV and videos by children is only one environmental and social change that has drastically changed in the last 20 years (or is it 10 years?), it’s one that parents can easily control.
If they were aware of the negative consequences in terms of neurological functioning, they might not rely on the TV as an easy way to occupy a child.
La Honda, California
Praise for Mr. NTSC
I was just reading your article on resolution in this month’s Videomaker magazine (March 95) and it was an
excellent and different way to present an explanation. I don’t know if it was the exchange of information back and forth between the two characters or not, but it was very easy for someone without technical training to understand. I know that I (and I would bet most of the general public) thought that the claims of “700 lines of resolution” (and so on) was a claim of how many lines from top to bottom a piece of equipment could provide.
No address given
No More Camera Tariffs
Several years ago, I wrote about the problem videomakers face in certain countries where expensive permits are required for the “privilege” of photographing “national treasures.” I am sorry to report that this practice has now spread to our own shores. On a recent trip to New Mexico’s Acoma Pueblo reservation, I discovered that the use of any camera was prohibited without a $5 permit. Other Pueblo reservations in the state charged as much as $10 for a permit sticker.
Private photographers often spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to travel to these tourist areas. They boost the local economy with big bucks for lodgings, meals and services. At Acoma, we purchased local pottery, rugs, refreshments, etc. But the instant I aimed my camcorder at the church, two men descended upon me as if it were my intention to blow it apart. They wanted $5 so that I could take my pictures, show them to my friends and interest them in bringing their cameras to Acoma. When I failed to make them understand that I would not do that unless they paid me $5, I just put the lens cap back on the camcorder and called it a day.
Neponsit, New Jersey
Too Many Acronyms
I am an OAN (Old-Aged Novice) who happens to own a computer and a camcorder which, until recently, have been used separately. This is mainly due to the fact that I have been very low on the learning curve for both.
Becoming a little adventurous, I wondered why I couldn’t edit my camcorder tapes using my computer. In looking for help, I soon found out that living on an island with few computer stores was something of a disadvantage and I was not going to get much help locally.
Having almost given up on the idea, I stumbled on your magazine quite by accident. I thumbed through it, liked what I saw and bought it. I have since bought two other copies, which I also found very interesting.
From these magazines, I have managed to pick up a lot of information but not without some frustration. My problem? The extensive use of acronyms and abbreviations in all of the articles and most of the advertisements.
I had a similar problem when I purchased my computer in 1991. I was offered three choices: a 286, a 386 and a 486, and was given to understand that the only real difference was processing speed. The store recommended the 286 for my needs but I elected to opt for the 386. Now of course the 286 and 386 are never mentioned anymore. Instead, you see advertised a 486DX2/66, 486SX2/54, etc. What on earth is a DX2? They seemed to suddenly appear when an OAN like me forgot to read one daily paper.
I would like to suggest that you encourage the authors of your articles to provide, just once in each article, the meaning of these alpha-numeric abbreviations to make life a little easier for those of us on the fringe.
Looking forward to being able to fully understand the articles in your future magazines.
Qualicum Beach, British Columbia