Ikan Corporation CEO Kan Yeung on Trends in Film Gear.
The Strength of the Media Economy
“The film making and video industry are really quite strong,” says Houston-based ikan CEO Kan Yeung. “The problem is that it is changing so rapidly it is hard for those who work in or around the industry to keep up with where it is heading. The explosion of mobile media and its constantly shifting market place mean what you were able to make money doing yesterday is not going to work in the near future.
“There are drastic shifts in distribution and use of video, and the shifts are nowhere near finished. I think it will be hard to see where everything will end up, but it will never go back to the way it was before. The increase in avenues for distribution, the accessibility to the tools of production, and the ease in making content now means what is produced will become more of a commodity. How to make money – if at all – from producing will be a question for us to answer. This is going to be the biggest challenge the industry will face.”
Trends in Gear
Yeung’s ikan Corporation manufactures and sells a range of film equipment: lights and lighting kits; teleprompters; broadcast-evaluation monitors; on-camera monitors; tabletop dollies; tablet production slates; and bags and batteries. Ikan focuses on the independent filmmaker, who normally works with a limited budget.
From his perspective as CEO, Yeung sees “better for less” as the biggest trend that shows no sign of stopping anytime soon. “The cost of equipment over the last few years,” he says, “has plummeted. In the not so distant past a cinema grade video camera could easily cost in excess of $100,000. Now, with the release of the RED camera and others like the Canon C300, you can pretty much shoot the same quality of video for less than $20,000.”
The result: “This makes a cinema grade camera much more accessible to many more people.”
Yeung cites another major trend – the convergence of still photography and video equipment. “In the past the equipment was specialized and you had to pick one or the other, depending upon your needs. The newer cameras now often overlap in many capabilities.”
“The HDSLR was a welcome but unexpected change. When the cameras first hit the scene most manufacturers didn’t know what they had. Most in the (film) industry, on the other hand, immediately recognized that the large sensors and lens choices made the HDSLR a viable alternative to larger, more expensive, dedicated video cameras.”
Yeung says they were never designed for dedicated video use, and so there were trade offs in operations and capabilities. “Now that the camera manufacturers are catching up and making new products with the capabilities the DSLR still cameras offered in a form tailored for video and cinema use, there will eventually be less reason to choose an HDSLR for many projects. It will take several years for those cameras to come down in price to match the exceptional price-to-performance value an HDSLR still offers, but there will come a point where the quality and price match and the difference in overall function will lead a user to choose a cinema/video camera more often if they work primary in moving images.”
“For a new filmmaker,” Yeung says, “the HDSLR offers an exceptional value. If they are willing to really learn their craft on a technical level, something shot on an HDSLR can be indistinguishable from a dedicated professional camera.”
He offers a cautionary note. “Since HDSLRs were never designed as a dedicated video/cinema camera, they are plagued by compromises and require more care and trick-arounds to allow them to perform to the top of their capability. Unless a new filmmaker has solid technical knowhow, an HDSLR can be a liability and actually make their end product worse.” He emphasizes, “Shallow depth of field and 24 fps alone will not win any awards.”
Yeung sees a clear movement towards smaller, more compact gear. “As a byproduct of the creation of dedicated chips and full digital processing, imaging tasks that at one time took several circuit boards to achieve can now be done on a few programmable chips. Fewer chips mean smaller power supplies. Smaller power supplies lead to lower power consumption. Less power consumption leads to smaller batteries. All digital processes mean digital storage instead of tapes. No tapes mean no more bulky mechanical mechanisms. When combined, these newer, smaller technologies have made the overall size of equipment smaller.”
Yeung goes on to say, “The technology required for recording video and audio is now so small they can be embedded into everyday devices, handheld devices such as cell phones.” He notes, however, there is a limit to the shrinking. “There will always be a need for the device to be large enough to work with on a daily basis. There will still be a need for buttons and switches to access, or control features and (ports) to make connections.
“So there is a limit to size for most professional uses. If a monitor gets too small it becomes difficult to use the monitor for viewing. If a light source gets too small it changes the physics and quality of the light. As the technology gets more efficient you can do more with a smaller package, but only until it starts to interfere with usability for its task.”
Film and Television Gear Usage
Are there significant differences in gear usage between film and television? “In the past,” he says, “the equipment differences between film and video were created by the physical nature of the recording medium. Film had the edge in quality but lost when it came to timeliness. Video was electronic and instant, but its quality did not match that of film.” He says that most television required the immediacy provided by electronic image capture, while film required the quality to project on theatre screens. “Once digital technology reached a certain level of quality it started to replace the traditional electronic and traditional film methods of capturing images. Modern cameras can be used in either workflow.”
He sees ikan Corp. products being used almost equally in both traditional television and cinematic production. “The gear is becoming ubiquitous between the two. What is different is the workflow. Film has a slower, more deliberate workflow while television usually requires a faster pace.”
Yeung says the techniques used in capturing moving images are pretty much standard, and have been for a long time now. “The tools and techniques are in many ways very similar to what they were 50 years ago. It’s just cheaper and faster and better quality with the newer equipment.”
What’s the one piece of supporting gear a new filmmaker must have? Yeung recommends, “Gear like lights never really go out of date, and monitors will work with any level of (camera equipment).” He believes that investing in the gear that surrounds the camera in the production process will always result in a longer duty cycle than the camera, which, he says, “is still in an evolutionary phase.”
The ikan website features a Theater page, with winning videos from recent ikan competitions, as well as descriptive product videos. Yeung says ikan Theater showcases the video content they created to supplement and complement their web and print message. “End users nowadays require more information than they can get through the traditional word.”
Kan Yeung’s entrepreneurial spirit, sparked almost 30 years ago when he founded a company called MicroSearch, continues with his ikan philosophy – provide affordable, reliable solutions to filmmakers and event videographers.