Nervously Going Back to El Salvador

I recently booked tickets to El Salvador for a week in December. I’m going down for a cousin’s wedding. This will be my first time back since 1998 and I’m a little nervous.

Since the end of El Salvador’s civil war the situation in the country has steadily declined. The war was supposed to improve life for its people. Instead the country has become less economically stable and more violent. Now a country the size and population of Massachusetts has an average murder rate of 16 people per week. Over 2,000 people have already been killed this year alone.

My family is no stranger to this violence. A cousin of mine almost died when her husband went on a shooting spree, attacking her, killing their baby and himself. She recovered both mentally and physically but other family members were not so lucky. An uncle on the other side of the family witnessed his son’s murder when they were carjacked.

I hear a lot about how violent the country is. It always makes me ask if everything my parents did was in vain. They gave up so much to try and change things. Here we are 30 years later and it’s about the same if not worse. My family made it and are better off now, but what about everyone else?

Maybe it’s the violence or the state of the country, but the thought of going back “home” makes me uneasy. I don’t think anything bad is going to happen but I know this will not be like visiting Panama, which is much safer. My family has been asking me to come back and I never go. I feel bad sometimes but it’s tough when my immediate family is not living there anymore. Even though I’m nervous I think the trip will be good. It has been a long time coming and I can’t wait to see my family.

On the Cutting Edge: Digital Still Cameras for Film, Part 3

Photo by v8media
In part 2 I talked about some of the advantages to using digital still camera for film. In this post I’ll be talking about the disadvantages to using this kind of camera.


Since this technology is so new there are going to be a lot of challenges. Most of the challenges that come from using a digital still camera involve its very sensitive focus.


Most of the cameras we are looking at do not have an autofocus that is usable for filming. A still camera’s autofocus is very different from a camcorders auto focus. A still camera is made to focus on a specific point, while a camcorder  is made to focus on a specific subject. Digital still cameras also have a very short focal length. This is the distance from the lens in which the subject is in focus. If a person is in focus two feet away from the camera and they move a foot in either direction they will be blurry. A camera operator must be very good at adjusting the focus as the subject moves around.

Moving Subjects

We have also heard that these cameras have a hard time dealing with a lot of movement. Part of the problem is the focus issue I just mentioned. The other problem is image stabilization. Holding a camera steady is very hard. Many camcorders have software that make this easier. Most digital still cameras do not.

Extra Equipment

Due to the problems mentioned here it is nearly impossible to create high quality video without extra equipment. This equipment is attached to the camera like the image above. It helps the operator maintain focus, improve audio and reduce movement. There is also a need to have a different lens. The main drawback here is that the extra equipment adds more to the price tag.

More to Come

I just want to point out that these issues are based on research and not hands on experience. We do not know how big these problems will be for our project. When we get more time with the cameras we will have a better idea.

On the Cutting Edge: Digital Still Cameras for Film, Part 2

In part 1 I talked about why we are looking at using digital still cameras for this documentary. In this post I’ll be talking about the advantages of using these cameras.

In order to make a proper assessment of this equipment we researched what the capabilities of these cameras were and why someone would want to use them.

Image Sensor

One of the big advantages of a still camera is the image sensors. They are designed to mimic film, and the imagery they produce is exceptional. They work very well in daylight and low light. There are some limitations in low lighting. If you need to film in very low light, then you may lose some image quality. However, for our project which consists of a lot of well lit interviews, we felt this was not a problem.

It’s a lot easier to show you what these cameras can do. Here are a couple of short videos that really highlight image quality of these digital still cameras.

This first video is from CrunchGear’s review of the T2i.

Canon T2i demo reel from CrunchGear on Vimeo.

The second video is by Philip Bloom who is a director of Photography and knows how to make these cameras shine. Shot with a Canon 7D and Canon 5D.

Skywalker Ranch from Philip Bloom on Vimeo.


Another big advantage to the digital still camera is their price. For example, a Canon T2i is about $900. On the higher end, a Canon 5D is about $2,500. These prices are for the camera body and a basic lens. In order to film this project we will need to buy lenses and rigging that will help get the best shot. The extras will bring the cost of equipment up but these cameras are still a lot less expensive than high definition camcorders that can be as much as $30,000.

One of the goals of this project is to produce something that could be shown on TV. Part of the challenge of this goal is making something of this quality can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. This can include equipment as well as salaries. So using this camera to do most of the filming is one strategy we are using to keep costs down.

Do They Stack Up?

It’s great that digital still cameras have high quality sensors and are reasonably priced, but how do they stack up against real film cameras? Well we are no experts in this field but we found some people who are.

If you are interested in a very geeky breakdown of how digital still camera stack up to film cameras I highly recommend Zacuto’s Great camera Showdown of 2010. It’s about an hour and half long and they put these cameras through a number of very scientific tests. Then they get feedback from various professional filmmakers. It’s interesting to see what these camera’s can do and the promise they hold.

Stay tuned for part 3 where I’ll talk about the disadvantages we found to using digital still cameras in a film.