Archive for January 6th, 2010

Less is more

FCC Disclaimer: The following are my very own personal & truthful opinions.

Enthusiasts usually want the latest and greatest. They often go and buy expensive camcorders, dSLRs, or even 35mm adapters for them, only to never use them again after the novelty wears thin (and I’ve been guilty of it too). Or, more often than not, they use them, but they never fully use the equipment on its best of its ability. I know people who bought an HV20, and yet they always shoot in “auto” mode. They don’t take advantage of all the other features and settings the camera has to offer.

As some of you know, I’m a fan of the Canon SX200 IS, a $300 digicam that shoots 720/30p, and has more video manual controls than any other P&S digicam (read my review about SX200 IS’ video mode here). Around the same time the SX200 IS was announced, Canon also announced the SD780 IS. The SD780 IS has almost the same manual controls the SX200 IS has: exposure compensation & locking, contrast/saturation/sharpness control, manual white balance, macro/infinite focus modes, and focus lock. The only thing that’s missing compared to the SX200 IS is that it doesn’t have a manual focus mode, and that its lens is smaller, therefore letting less light hitting the sensor (so it’s noisier). But it’s $200, compared to the SX200 IS’ $300, so it’s acceptable.

My point is that these cams shoot good-enough video for the kinds of videos most people shoot. There is no reason to buy a camcorder, or even a dSLR if you’re not really serious about video. While a few more options would be nice (e.g. additional 24p frame rate, shutter speed support), even without these features, these digicams can offer amazing quality for the price. All it requires is to know how to shoot properly.

I wish people stop buying these terrible digi-recorders instead. They buy a Flip HD or the Kodak Z-series, while these Canon cams are actually much better for the same price: they have optical zoom, they’re smaller, they shoot still pictures too, they have optical stabilization, better lenses, higher bitrate codec, some exposure control, and other settings. Apparently, they also have a better microphone than any digirecorder, or Panasonic/Kodak P&S digicam too. In fact, the Sony and Panasonic digicams announced today at CES still don’t offer all the Canon video features, and Sony seems to be playing with our nerves for using just 6 mbps bitrate for their 720/30p video capture! Consider Canon’s 24 mbps.

I found this useful add-on for the SD780 IS that allows you to attach an ND filter and sunhood. For $50 you can get all three. The ND filter would help bring down the shutter speed, that’s normally too high on these cams, and the sunhood would help to not get CCD light artifacts.

So, while I already own an SX200 IS, I’m thinking of buying an SD780 IS to shoot a music video for a local band. Sure, I own an HV20 and a 5D MkII too. But I want to use the SD780 IS as part of “a project”. A project that details how to shoot properly, and what you can do with these small cams, in order to get an acceptable result out of them. I just want to prove to many people that you don’t need the best tool to create something that’s viewable. It’s not the camera that matters, it’s how you use it. From the moment you have the minimum acceptable tool in your hands, then all it takes is talent, not hardware. This proof of concept idea will end up costing me over $200 (I will probably buy some extra batteries too), but if I can convince one consumer, and one rock band to go that route instead of spending hundreds or thousands of dollars in equipment they don’t really need, it might actually worth it.

What has both surprised me and saddened me deeply is that after relentlessly searching for “artistic” or “atmospheric”, let’s say, videos on Youtube and Vimeo that were shot with either the SX200 IS or the SD780 IS, I found almost nothing! Except my own SX200 IS videos on Vimeo and this video, I found nothing else similar around. Every person who bought these cams (and they’re a lot of them) seem to be busy shooting their cats instead — handheld. They could do so much more! Same goes for most of the people who actually bought camcorders that don’t use in their fullest.

Such a waste.

Music deconstruction

I spent two very nice hours with JBQ tonight deconstructing music. JB has studied theory of music, so he delivered on my hopes to make me understand why I don’t like the hipster bands, namely Animal Collective (AnCo), Dirty Projectors (DP), and Grizzly Bear (GB). So we compared them with my favorite experimental band, the Cloud Cult, and a few other bands. Here’s what we found out:

1. We found that Cloud Cult, one of the few experimental bands that I like, actually pass themselves as experimental, but the constructions of their songs is very classic: there is always a rhythm, albeit usually hidden from the listener, but still there to not throw him/her off. And there’s melody and harmony at all times. One of the great features of Cloud Cult songs is how they start with 1-2 instruments, the song then transforms to a classical piece, and then somehow transforms back to rock. In contrast to most experimental bands out there that change their songs mid-way, Cloud Cult never change their tempo, even if they change music styles within the same song. Also, the songs’ transformation is slow enough that the listener can follow the genre changes without feeling that he has had the carpet pulled out of his feet. So basically Cloud Cult is more of a smart classic band rather than full-on non-accessible experimental.

2. I always thought that what drove me crazy with AnCo’s music is that it has no melody. Apparently, it’s not the melody, but the rhythm/beat. AnCo’s electronic music is very jazzy usually, where the instruments don’t play in sync with the vocals or other instruments. This jazzy feel confuses me musically because I don’t know to which instrument I should be holding on to in order to find enjoyment. A massive proof for that is that I LIKE the few AnCo songs that are faithful on a rock-style (as opposed to jazz-style) rhythm! Namely: Grass, My Girls, Summertime Clothes. I can’t stand jazz, so it’s no surprise that I don’t like most of AnCo’s songs. I need a “beat” to music. An instrument or vocal that tells me WHERE to latch my brain and follow it. Jazz is the exact opposite of that, and I guess, I’m just not used to it. Then again, most people don’t like jazz (at least in the environment I grew up). Some of their songs, also lack harmony (e.g. “Guys Eyes”).

3. Further proof for all that is the fact that I don’t like Nine Inch Nails either (I like maybe 2-3 songs overall from them too). While NiN are not as jazzy as AnCo, the vocals are usually off the beat, enough for me to dislike their songs. Red Hot Chili Peppers are also off in their drum and bassline, but they somehow complement each other every time in a way that does not throw me off. So NiN are out, Red Hot Chili Peppers are in, even if they’re not exactly classic in terms of music construction.

4. For Dirty Projectors, we agreed that they have no harmony. There is a melody, and there is rhythm. But there is no harmony in the vocals, so their songs sound like a bunch of kids who don’t know how to sing. The music itself feels bare and undeveloped too. The band tries to break conventions in order to “break new ground”, but all it does really is breaking well-researched parts of music theory. This is no different than the market being full of finger-friendly capacitive screen smartphones, and these guys decide to create a new phone that uses a stylus! It’s not pretty. It’s doing it differently for doing it differently, and that’s just not good enough for me to like something. As JBQ put it, that’s just a band to piss off your 40 year old parents when you’re 16 and angry at them. They offer nothing more useful than that to my ears. Without harmony in the vocals, some of their songs feel like when my neighbors are fighting for attention.

5. Grizzly Bear have harmony, rhythm, and some melody. But they’re boring as hell. It feels like they didn’t even try to write music. It’s like a bunch of lazy kids sitting on the balcony and getting sun, and someone walks to them and orders them to “write music, or there’s no dinner for you tonight”, and then they looked at each other and say “you write something”, and then they all reply “no, I don’t feel like writing anything, you do it”, “no, you do it, take one for the team”. Finally, someone replies, “oh, whatever, I’ll do it”.

Tonight we established that we don’t want to hear DP & GB ever again in our lives. They’re annoying as hell. We established that we, like most humans, require both rhythm, harmony, and melody, plus a joyous, and/or catchy beat. If all these requirements are met, we usually like the song. If not, they fall apart for us.