Guest post by Jonah Kessel:
A few months back at a music festival in Beijing a man walked by me dragging a cabbage. Perplexed and trapped between two mediocre metal bands, I asked my friend what the deal was. She told me that the cabbage symbolized economic inequality and the act was a form of protest.
In China the cabbage has quite the history compared to other vegetables. In harsher times, it was the main source of sustenance for many and having cabbage actually symbolized wealth — because you could afford to eat.
However, when I got home I started seeing reports online with other explanations. “Lonely teenagers in China who feel life is pointless and who struggle to find friends have taken to befriending the lowly vegetables as the perfect, undemanding companions,” said the Austrian Times, complete with quotes from psychologists and Chinese teens.
Within days, lots of explanations started surfacing. But a quick Google search actually showed that this was something of a performance art and it wasn’t a new thing at all. In fact, its been going on for over 10-years by the Beijing-based artist named Han Bing. A couple of text messages later and some quick networking and I found the guys contact details and decided to give him a call.
A week later, I spent a day with Mr. Bing to get to the bottom of it. After all, how often would I get a chance to strap a GoPro to a cabbage?
While this video is relatively simple there’s a couple tech details going on here of note. It was filmed with the Canon C100’s relatively new Dual Pixel CMOS AF upgrade. When Canon announced this was going to happen I actually had mixed feelings about it. I asked myself if I needed, or even wanted to autofocus at all. Would it be better to have auto focus? or use the Zeiss primes I have grown to love?
I let my curiosity get the better of me and paid for the upgrade A couple months after getting the installation the answer is very clear: if you shoot journalism with the C100 the update is an absolute necessity. I’ve found the feature useful in number of common situation for solo video journalists. With my Glidecam I can not only follow people with a much more shallow depth of field, but I can change my position in relativity to the subject and still maintain focus without a focus puller and wireless system (not that I have ever had those in the field).
Another tremendously useful use is the ability to track things at longer focal lengths. Tracking a fast moving cabbage at 300mm is simply much easier now. With video journalism, we tend not to have the ability to ask subjects to do things twice, so getting a shot on first take is essential.
Breaking news environments is another scenario where I’ve found the feature to be extremely valuable. On a recent assignment in Hong Kong, I attended a protest where over 500,000 people voiced their concerns about Chinese growing influence in the territory. The video was filmed, edited and published within 48 hours. There wasn’t too much tracking or focus pulling going on, but in a large crowd I could get shots quicker and more accurately with the AF. It was a tough situation to navigate and the AF just made life easier, which actually helps meet deadlines.
The feature has become invaluable to me but I do hope for continued firmware improvements to it. Currently, the system does not allow you to change the point of focus within your frame – unlike cameras like the Panasonic GH4 or Canon’s own 70D. This means you can’t chose what point the camera is tracking – it is always in the centre. I’ve reprogramed my camera’s buttons to have a quick focus lock, I can focus and recompose if needed, but it would be nicer to have more control here.
Being able to control the speed at which the camera focuses would also be very useful. Currently the AF is so quick it can look a little bit unnatural – perhaps lacking emotion. Having the ability to tell the lens to pull focus more gradually would give you the ability to change focus with a little more style.
While I hope Canon will give us these features with an update (ed – don’t hold your breath), the Dual Pixel CMOS AF already makes the C100 more valuable for video journalists and documentarians. It has in fact changed the way I shoot and sped up my workflow in fast paced environments.
Jonah M. Kessel is a video journalist with the New York Times. He contributed to a Pulitzer Prize winning series and been awarded the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Justice and Human Rights. See more of his work at jonahkessel.com.