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Still Photographers Take on Digital Video

Professional photographers,
who have traditionally been left out of the moving-video world due to the cost of the gear, are beginning to participate in the digital video revolution, and their work is finding its way to traditional broadcast television.

Thanks to products like Canon's XL1 and Sony's PD-150 DV camcorders, still photographers, who have always owned their own equipment, can now afford to purchase a DV camcorder that can be used alongside the still camera to expand the types of work that can be done.

"The whole DV camcorder area is a parallel universe to the broadcast camcorder universe," says Dirck Halstead, who shot 51 covers for Time
magazine during his 29 years there. "You can now get a professional broadcast-quality camera for $3,500. There is absolutely no difference in the end quality of the signal from an XL-1 or PD150 and a Sony Betacam or even Sony Digital Betacam camcorder."

Over the past decade, Halstead has led the way toward a new style of video journalism, both in his own productions and by founding the Platypus Workshop, which teaches still photojournalists how to cross over the traditional boundaries in the media landscape with DV technology.

Halstead says these outsiders to the video and film world have the inside track as a new universe of opportunities unfolds with cable, DVD and broadband.

He points to Nightline
as an example of how broadcast television is tapping the DV projects completed by still photographers. Six of his graduates from the first class, in 1999, had projects on Nightline
within a year of graduation. "We specialize in teaching still photojournalists the language of broadcast."

One factor encouraging the use of DV photographers' work is that the new economics of the increasingly fragmented media marketplace demand projects that are less costly but of professional quality.

Halstead sees that as a niche where his platypi can thrive. "Nightline's budget for acquisition was $19,000 per half-hour show. How many reporters, producers and cameramen can you send to Africa for $19,000? The people perfectly positioned for this were photojournalists. We don't have producers. We are our only expense."

Today, more than 300 still photographers have emerged from the workshop to join—and redefine—the mainstream commercial video industry. Halstead continues to nurture his platypi monthly as editor and publisher of The Digital Journalist
(, an online publication that, among other things, serves as a showcase for their work.

The key, in the end, is the technology. Halstead's current kit includes an XL1s with the Canon 16X manual servo zoom lens. He also trades this off for a Canon GL2, depending on the assignment. Of course, he continues to work as a photojournalist, too.

"I never underestimate the still-photo angle. When I'm out there shooting, I've got my XL1s and also my Canon EOS10D and EOSD60, too. For me, imaging is an integrated thought process."