Every year or so I write an article that has the same variation on a constant theme. I wrote the first of these back in around 1991 off memory, and it went something like this;
Many people watch TV shows such as Startrek: The Next Generation, or movies like Star Wars and think, “Wouldn’t it be great if we had that technology today”? I then go on to suggest that much of what is shown is available now, one only has to dig a little deeper in what they already have to discover some wonders they never knew existed.
Examples at the time (and DO remember this was nearly 30 years ago!) included the humble digital watch, the personal organizer (who remembers the brilliant little Palm Pilot) and even what was then the beginnings of the mobile phone revolution. Software such as the early versions of Windows (ver 3.1) existed as did the early Macs, and so did software including Word, Excel and Access. As this was before the now almost monopoly of Office (an Australian initiative by the way from the marketing genius and all-round good guy known as Daniel Petrie), there were many others alternatives – Lotus 1-23, Supercalc, dBase IV, Wingz, Filemaker, WordPerfect and dozens and dozens of others.
My mantra was simple. Go and read the manual of your watch, personal organiser, word processing program, microwave, VCR etc etc and learn something NEW it can do.
Today of course that list has expanded beyond anything we may have contemplated back then. The internet on a commercial basis did not exist, not in Australia anyway, with the closest being services such Compuserve that were diallup at 28K. Mobile phones were horrifically expensive and the realm of the “Yuppie”, hard drives in PCs were limited to around 10MB due to costs and memory fixed at 640K.
In our world of video and photography, the consumer digital camera was not around yet and video was very much still to analogue tape.
But we still made some amazing stuff and to do this, we had to experiment and learn from mistakes that were often time consuming and expensive. Imagine for a moment taking 36 photographs. Today, no big deal as within seconds you can view then, discard the crap and even fix any basic flaws right there inside your smartphone.
But back then the roll of “film” was sent to a laboratory via a dedicated shop, your local chemist or by post for processing and printing and then came back to you either via mail or you could pick it up again from the shop or pharmacy you dropped it off at. This more often than not, took a few days, and of course, in most cases you had to pay extra on top of what the original film cost.
Then and only then could you go through the shots and discard – put ‘em in the bin – the ones that were useless, out of focus, had the head cut off, had camera shake and so on. Fixes as are used to today via digital processes such as Photoshop were simply not available.
So you had to be good at your craft if you were a pro (you cannot easily reshoot a wedding or rerun a sporting event) and learn how to do it as an amateur, otherwise it got bloody expensive!
Fast forward to today and nothing has changed in many respects in terms of creating imagery.
Everything Old is New Again
The humblest of smartphones is far more capable than the point and snap cameras of the 90s, and yet so many people leave it in A for Auto and never experiment or even try and find out what things are possible by having a play to vastly improve their results (and enjoyment).
And software too has come so, so far. The original Word for Windows was an amazing piece of software and most users never scratched beyond 5% of its power. Today, the most basic of the basic of video editing programs – many that are free such as Hitfilm Express – can do things back in 1995 I could not even dream of as rudimentary as titles or transitions beyond cuts and wipes.
Today in my eternal quest to master my DJI Air2S drone – a technical marvel that in 1994 would have been almost witchcraft – I was over the moon when it followed me as I went for a walk, faithfully turning corners, weaving among trees and never letting me out of sight or stray more than a couple of meters away, all the time shooting in 4K video.
Yeah, so a DJI Mini 2 won’t do the Active Track party trick, but for $750 you get a hell of a platform that even 5 years ago most people only dreamed of to get the shoots capable, but back then cost $000’s!
Or look at the GoPro ecosphere. My first underwater camera (not video camera but a still camera) was a Nikonos 3 that in 1990 cost me in excess of $1500 with the necessary housing, strobe lights and so on. And it could not a 10th of what a humble GoPro of even 5 years back (say a Hero 7) can do!
Oh and for older readers, and we have quite a few, please do not give me the crap I hear on a daily basis that “I am too old to pick this stuff up”. For that I have 2 responses; the first is to tell you our generation (and for those that are not aware, I am 65) INVENTED this stuff. Nothing has really changed; it has got smaller, faster and more capable but the basics we all learned such as aperture, shutter speed, ISO (ASA) are still the same, just with more flexibility. Simply transpose your existing knowledge to the new medium and do this by reading the manual. Everything old is new again.
My second response comes courtesy of an encounter today during my part time day gig at the local Bunbury (WA) Jaycar store. A gentleman asked me about digital weather stations of which there a number of flavours, all doing different things based on price. You know, colour screen v monochrome, Wi-fi connectivity, real time updates, connectivity with weather services such as BoM and so on.
What he was going to do was write software on a Raspberry Pi, possibly interfaced with an Arduino board to collect all this data and analyze it using the Wi-fi connection capability of a digital weather station that retails for $349.
Not bad for someone that taught himself programming on a Raspberry Pi in 2017 and is now 76!
Age be damned!
So Have a Crack!
My point here is that we all have the opportunity to do something wonderful with the tools – hardware and software – available to us already, or readily available for a fraction of the cost in was in the past.
Much stuff is free too – take something like DaVinci Resolve, probably the most advanced video editing package on the market today. It used to cost 10s of thousands, but Grant Petty, the Aussie owner of Blackmagic Design bought the company that developed it and has made it free along with its sibling Fusion.
You want to make the next The Matrix? The tools are all there, and as I said, are free.
But it all starts with a desire. Look at what you have, discover what it can do already and think of how you can utilise those capabilities. And learn them.
So read your camera manuals, software, gadgets and other PDFs and go out there are try the examples and tutorials. And then vary them slightly and see what happens. Watch YouTube tutorials, search out special effects tips, join Facebook forums for products you own and expand your horizons.
It’ll be fun on the way through I promise you, and ultimately VERY satisfying.