in reviews, videography

DSLR Dynamics Video Tour Review (2013)

I was excited to attend the DSLR Dynamics Video Tour today at the Seattle Hilton, which was held from 9 AM till 6 PM. As longtime blog readers/listeners know, I’ve been working hard on improving my video work and finally feel like it’s getting to the point where it’s pretty respectable. Having experienced some excellent photography workshops before, I was optimistic that this workshop would help me build my skill set. The class was run by Mitch from Planet 5D and cinematographer Barry Anderson. I paid about $160 for the class and attended the first 8 out of 9 hours of the class, along with 10 other people.

Firstly, let me say I have the utmost respect for both Mitch/Planet 5D (a resource I’ve used time and time again) and Barry, whose e-book provides an excellent overview of DSLR filmmaking. I can also say that if you have never shot DSLR video before, this class offers a great survey about the history and basics of the process.

That being said, the opening five hours were overview of the concept of DSLR filmmaking, including a detailed run down of things like what lens you should buy, what camera body you should buy, as well as the basics of shutter speed, shutter angle, aperture, and ISO. This was followed by discussions on basic lighting equipment, basic sound concepts, a sales pitch from Spyder4, and some basic tips and tricks for post-production. If all of that sounds like it would interest you, then this is totally the class for you.

In general, the workshop was frustrating to me personally for a variety of reasons. Primarily, I already knew most of the things discussed on the agenda, and I imagine that many of my colleagues also did (most had already shot video professionally, or at least had done photography professionally). Secondly, it felt to me like the vast majority of this information is easily available online. Sites like Philip Bloom, LearningDSLRVideo, nofilmschool, DLSRvideoshooter, Film Riot, Vincent Laforet, and yes, Planet5D already give you a lot of the information that is provided in this class.

It is pretty clear that they are still working out the kinks of this presentation, both from a content perspective and from a delivery perspective. On numerous occasions, Barry and Mitch did not take pretty clear social cues from the class about where we wanted the class to go. For instance, at one point, Barry went into a section about the use of circular polarizers and asked the class whether they had ever used polarizers before. Every one in the class had used one before! So why continue to spend time describing the benefits and showing examples (which is what happened)? Just move it along.

I have to confess, I’m a bit puzzled by who the target market of this workshop is. Presumably, if you’re a follower of websites like Planet5D, which was a part of the desired audience here, you already know a great deal about the benefits of DSLR filmmaking as well as much of the basics. I mean, we’re talking about a site that details how to implement the latest Magic Lantern Hack on your Canon 5D Mark III. You don’t learn about that unless you are already ready to take things to the next level. This workshop provides an extremely broad but shallow survey of the world of DSLR filmmaking. As a result, it doesn’t end up doing any one particular thing very well. This is in stark contrast with the Strobist workshops, which only focus on off-camera lighting but are incredibly informative. To be most effective, this class needs to decide what it wants to be and who it is for.

I still have fond memories of the life-changing seminar I took with legendary photographer Jerry Ghionis. That was a class that catered to both beginners and people who had been doing photography for decades. Ghionis’s sheer skill and the strength of his presentation skills and charisma made it so that everyone could learn something. I did not feel like this workshop lived up to that level, though the vast difference in price between the two workshops helps to ease that pain.

It wasn’t all bad. Barry is a very engaging instructor and clearly knows his stuff. Plus I got some solid gear recommendations out of the proceedings. Nonetheless, there are a few simple things that I feel could have improved the class significantly:

  • I think the class would’ve been dramatically improved if the instructors had been a little bit more serious about asking what the class’s needs were. For instance, while Mitch did survey the class and ask about what their experiences were (e.g. have you shot photos before? Video?), that Q&A took literally 1-2 minutes and it felt like none of that feedback was integrated into the class. If nobody needs to learn what aperture and shutter speed are, then maybe spend that 1-2 hours on something the class would find more valuable?
  • The format of the class could use a lot of work. 80-90% of the class is a powerpoint presentation, with either Barry or Mitch talking directly at the audience. For a trade that requires as much activity and hands-on know-how as videography, this is a huge disappointment. For instance, why not spend more time shooting rather than talking about shooting? The lack of showing (rather than telling) was mind-boggling to me. The class began at 9 AM. There wasn’t any demonstration with real-world equipment until 3:30 PM, when Barry did a lighting lesson. 
  • By far the best components of the workshop were when Barry and Mitch spoke from real-world experience. They would occasionally show footage and then discuss what went into making it. This was totally fascinating. Barry’s experience in particular was truly insightful, as he has worked on a variety of productions of differing scope. The prospect of getting a mentored is one of the reasons why people might come to something like this in person. More of this, please.
  • The lack of audience participation was a missed opportunity. Presumably, a lot of the audience members had already shot videos before. Why not allow them to share videos and open them up for critique? This is pretty standard for these types of workshops, and I firmly believe it would’ve been more useful than learning what aperture is.

It is easy to criticize (I would know). Conversely, it’s difficult to design a workshop that will be useful and applicable to wide swaths of people of varying skill levels. I truly believe that with the level of skill behind this project, it is possible to put together an amazing class that is beneficial for everyone. I hope the DSLR Dynamics Video Tour improves in the years to come and that it enables people to tell some great stories. But in my opinion, it is not there quite yet.