Thursday, November 9, 2006

HVX200 Sports: College Basketball

Look Out!!

Terrapins fans watch Maryland Terrapins guard DJ Strawberry head for a crash landing as he hustles to retrieve the ball that he slapped from the possession of Vermont Catamounts guard Jason Green in the first half of the College Hoops Classic men's college basketball in College Park Wed., Nov. 8, 2006.

I guess this is my first "official game," shooting with this HVX200. And please, read below, for a statement that I may post in my main page.

A day after staying at work late, and I was still a little groggy because of lack of sleep. Honestly, I feel the effects of some clinical depression, which makes it somewhat tough to keep up the enthusiasm. But Chuck made me feel so good when he told me that I'd be covering a Maryland Terrapins men's basketball game in College Park. It was a preseason against the Vermont Catamounts (I always think about amber maple syrup when I think about Vermont) which was supposed to benefit "Coaches vs Cancer." After shooting my first job (a quick portrait of a high school football player), I drove through the mist and afternoon rush hour traffic from Lake Clifton-Eastern to the basketball arena, with a Nikon 300mm lens in tow, intending to shoot some stills.

But something in my mind made me switch to the HVX200, while I gathered my gear from the back of the car. A shooter from the Washington Post walked with me, asking about the elections and how things are at work. Still carrying my 2 still cameras as backup, I parked my gear in the photo room, set up my laptop, and went to the court to take some test shots of a consolation game going on.

The lights are a little dark for shooting high speed shutter, so I wound up cranking the gain all the way to -12db. "Gain" is a term that makes a camera more sensitive to lower light situations. It forces the scene to brighten inside the camera, but the drawback is that the image quality degrades. But I had tried some gain-up before, and figured that I would give it a whirl, which allowed me to crank up the shutter speed to 1/500th second - fast enough to stop moving action without much motion blur. An Associated Press shooter scoffed as he saw the digital camcorder in my hand. A freelance photographer sitting beside me shook his head. "You'll never get me to shoot with one of those," he glared. "I'd retire before using that."

I had once thought the same. I never knew that the profession would go so digital. I didn't think it would happen so many years before I considered even imagining this time. Back in the mid-1990's, we had a staff shooter named Perry who was issued a Canon XL-1 digital camcorder. Our boss Jim gave him the task of shooting video for the web, a task that newspapers hardly gave a thought. But suddenly, after a short period, the effort was scrubbed. Just to think what inroads might have been made, had we continued.... Perry was so far ahead of the curve, but the curve is now here. And I'm catching grief or stares from the still shooters as well as the TV videographers. How ironic that I'm in the middle, and what I'm doing is merging the two mediums together. I just sat quietly, adjusting my butt to the hard floor, while the game continued, trying to shoot while manually focusing the lens, anticipating plays on the court.

The far basket? The HVX showed it was 121 feet to the net. Midcourt, about 60 feet. The near hoop, 19.1 feet, all shown in the lower right corner of my digital viewfinder. Missing the first basket since I was shooting horizontally, I began flipping the camera to a vertical position. Soon, I was getting into a groove, shooting the Terps attempting a defensive trap at the far basket, capturing the hustle after trying to steal the ball at mid-court, and leaping to slam dunk on the near side.

It's quite a change after learning to anticipate and squeeze the trigger of a still camera. And the process of extracting a movie file, dragging the file for a moment in Quicktime, copying the frame (Apple C) and pasting the image (Apple V) in Photoshop adds several more steps than simply dropping images from a digital card and editing them. Adding to the ingredients would be saving the first images as raw files, then using Photo Mechanic to add captions on them, then opening the files again in Photoshop to prepare them for transmission. Yesiree, it makes for more work. Will that change? Perhaps if someone comes up with some kind of program to automatically work out the steps. Or maybe create a "droplet," which can be programmed to automatically do certain steps for the user.

But the automatic steps can happen only within Photoshop, and can't be flopped over to, say, Quicktime. If I had to work on a short deadline, I doubt if I'd be ready to do all the steps, unless I know every file's contents in order to zero in on a moment.

As I wound up my shoot in the first half, I stopped at the other end of the court to shoot a little of coach Gary Williams. At first, I had thought about shooting some still frames with the Nikon but abandoned the idea, since such a decision would be the same as not trusting your effort. A rather bull-headed way of looking at it, but hey: The game action was captured all right on the HVX200, do you think?

Do I seem like some kind of plant to sell people into purchasing this camera? Perhaps some might wonder, but I'm simply writing about what I'm shooting with. The equipment has been issued through where I work, and nothing is donated. None of the gear has been sold to us at some kind of discount that I know of, unless it's volume discount. And I'm not being paid to write anything here.

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